Building a top League of Legends team is a long rigorous process fitting together pieces to a puzzle, except you also have to hone the pieces to fit. Conventional wisdom would then say that investing in the long term is the best way to ensure eventual success. But sometimes conventional wisdom is dead wrong.
The NA LCS has always been a league of risk, opportunity, and reward. And not always in that order.
Teams take major gambles on unproven talent, foreign imports (even the stars,) and in almost every decision they make. The smallest of slip ups could result in a deadly imbalance to a very delicate ecosystem, something needed for success. With that said, how can the risk be worth it?
If you want a recent reference, ask Echo Fox, and Phoenix1. Oh, and Dignitas. And Team Liquid.
Though mostly hidden as a process from the public eye, team owners time and time again take risks with their teams that try to maximize success and growth. For rosters that become sinking ships, and even for rosters that seem to be stagnating, we’ve seen rocking the boat work plenty of times to the tune of massive successes.
Echo Fox took a relatively below average top lane presence and quickly turned it into a player of the game generating machine with the starting of former Phoenix1 player Brandini, a player who shared starting time with Zig. Another solo lane threat to take pressure off of Froggen is something Echo Fox fans greeted with open arms, and Brandini has offered this and plenty more. The team also made another roster transition, but we’ll save that one for later.
Team Envy may not have had the worst mid laner around in Pirean, but it certainly made major improvements in picking up one of the late stars of the Summer Split in Nisqy. Both playing similar champions, the team went through little change in its play. It’s results, however, certainly spiked. Nisqy can take plenty of the credit for that. With Nisqy at the mid lane helm, Team Envy fought to battle CLG in the Summer Split Playoff quarterfinals, bringing the series to an incredibly close 2-3. It’s looking even brighter next season.
Phoenix1 struggled to find their rhythm early on in the Summer Split, that is until they were reborn with new players in jungle and in the support roles. Picking up LCS super-veteran Xpecial alongside rookie jungle talent MikeYeung was a headscratcher for some at first. Then it became the best decision the org had made in a long time, as MikeYeung proved to be a sponge for development and knowledge and pushed his talents to the top battling it out evenly with greats. Xpecial, with some doubting his return, showed that he certainly deserved the spot as well.
Team Liquid made major acquisitions in the end of the Summer Split, and though we have gotten to see little of its newest faces amongst the 10 man TL roster, they’ve looked formidable so far. Returning jungle superstar Dardoch has shown his skill on the Rift even in losing games, though he’s had better days. The notorious Gragas would certainly be considered a great move for a struggling Team Liquid roster, alongside another good move in LCK veteran Mickey. The former ROX mainstay has since donned the blue and white, and will likely overtake the two seasons of disappointment from Goldenglue.
But Team Dignitas above all others made the greatest strives forward, and it shows in how far they’ve propelled since. In dropping many games to much weaker teams during the Summer Split, Dignitas lost a lot of the respect it had earned in its strongest showings. 2017 saw Dignitas put together the vital pieces of ad carry Altec, support Adrian, and jungler Shrimp. These three plugged the biggest holes in Dignitas’ lineup and joined Ssumday (voted NA LCS All-Pro top laner,) and Keane, the relatively strong newest weakness to the team. Together this 5 surged to playoffs and knocked off a very strong Cloud9 in the Quarterfinals, poised in a form that may take them all the way to the top of the region.
Of course, it isn’t all sunshines and rainbows in the world of mid-season roster changes.
Sometimes even the best looking roster moves go sideways, and you’ll never know unless you try. While the gains are major, the losses can be just as crippling. Let’s take a look at some roster moves that didn’t quite go well for their respective teams.
CLG’s loss of prodigy jungler Dardoch was a deeper wound than many thought after being the result of a very major roster move at the beginning of the Summer Split himself. While the player certainly has a bad reputation for conduct and attitude in his professional career, likely leading to his departure, the loss was a blow to the team’s success and it was immediately apparent. Replacement OmarGod has come from a proven history on CLG’s CS squad, but certainly hasn’t shown to be quite ready to step into Dardoch’s shoes as jungler for the main squad. Though he’s grown and powered alongside CLG for its Quarterfinal victory, it was an expected win over Team Envy, and it didn’t come easy. The team is much weaker as it stands with OmarGod in the jungle, and he might not sit the role long enough to see that change before CLG makes moves to retain dominance in North America now rather than later.
Echo Fox made magic in building up top lane star Brandini, but not every move the team made worked out well. That’s exemplified in Echo Fox switching from Keith, who proved his worth early on in the Summer Split before stagnating, to Mash, a player who’s very experienced in the scene. Despite Mash’s experience, he simply underperformed heavily in his time on the team. It felt like everything he did in the slot would be better done by Keith, and left a bad taste in the mouth of fans while simultaneously watching the better side of the bargain hunt in Brandini’s top lane success. While his time wasn’t a disaster, it was certainly worse, and leaves Echo Fox between a rock and a hard place in finding the best ad carry for Gate to support.
While the good changes can make a season, and the bad changes can break a season, none can do more damage than the ugly. But the ugly isn’t a list of impossibly bad player transitions, because no player change has truly been that backbreaking for any of their teams. No, the ugly is team’s that face glaring weaknesses and chose to not pull the trigger on fixing them.
Let’s take a look at the worst indecisions and failures to improve we saw in the Summer Split.
Team Envy had perhaps the weakest player in the 2017 NA LCS Summer Split in charge of their top lane in Seraph. Time and time again the team, with one of the best junglers in the region (if not the best,) failed to close out games on account of their incredibly behind or simply ineffective top lane presence. When Seraph wasn’t losing lanes he was likely making bad decisions that simulate the same result for Team Envy. This weakness was even more glaring meeting CLG and perhaps North America’s best top laner in Darshan. Not only was the weakness in the top lane glaring, one horrendously below top level standards, that weakness is undoubtedly what holds this stellar roster’s comeback moment in fighting their way to the playoffs. Seraph quickly became the crack in the armor that CLG used to break through, so much so that Envy couldn’t exploit OmarGod’s weaknesses fast enough to do it first. From start to finish, Seraph had Team Envy fans shaking their heads, and he leaves them just as puzzled.
Team Liquid end the season on a couple roster changes that serve as a paltry repayment for the ridiculousness this organization has put its fans through in its welcomed stagnation early on. After acquiring DoubleLift as a last second season-saver last year, Team Liquid decided to field the same roster that put the team in relegation positioning in the first place. That team took beating after beating, season after season, and proved that whatever glimmer of hope kept Team Liquid’s better judgement at bay had been sorely mistaken. With adjustments like Dardoch and Mickey, this team may make the jump to being as competitive in North America as it once was, but the fact that it almost took two full splits to decide on even these pickups is a bad sign. Team Liquid has taken steps to fundamentally improve its infrastructure beyond what we’ve seen from any other League of Legends team in North America yet, but their restraint from spending this money to right their wayward season before it was too late is one that still puzzles many.
Though the ugly hurts so badly for fans to see, sometimes that mid-split indecision lets great players return from slumps. We saw this with the public’s outcry at Svenskeren as a TSM weakness, which has since reversed to Svenskeren returning to dominant form, and as well in Immortals’ faith in Xmithie despite his lack of form as a standout star, which he quickly and dominantly became.
Though it may seem easier than it is, bringing 5 or more top League of Legends talents together is far from creating a team. It’s a process that takes a very long time, and entirely depends on the pieces to the puzzle you’ve chosen. When things click, the success is incredible, when they fail, the floors seem to just keep dropping.
Part of the impossible juggling act is managing decisions that could change the entire course of an organization’s future. And when it comes to stepping up to that plate, that’s where teams and ownership are truly measured. As we battle through Playoffs and on our way to Worlds, we see the aftermath of these adjustments under a lens. It’s time to see who strikes out.
What do you think of the Summer Split mid-season changes? Are there any changes you wish your team had made? Let us know in the comments below!
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