The temperatures are rising in Los Angeles, which means the North American League of Legends Championship Series is about to begin its summer season. Ten teams will enter; field will be whittled down to three by season's end. One will be crowned league champion and two other teams will tag along to the 2017 World Championships in China. With Riot Games' recent announcement of franchising coming to the league in 2018, teams will have one last chance to make their case to be accepted into the competition next year -- to the victors go the spoils.
To commemorate the special 10th edition of the NA LCS (the inaugural league with eight teams occured in the spring of 2013) let's take at the top 10 storylines heading into a new season.
10. Can Echo Fox finally make the playoffs?
Three seasons Rick Fox's club has been in the NA LCS, and all three have ended with the team looking from the outside in at the top six teams heading to the postseason. In the fourth season for Echo Fox, this is where the club needs to take the next logical step and make the playoffs. Henrik "Froggen" Hansen is the reliable ace of the team and putting up numbers worthy of playing in the knockout rounds, but it'll be up to the side lanes, especially the bottom duo of Yuri "Keith" Jew and Austin "Gate" Yu, if Echo Fox wants to make it into the upper half of the standings.
Phoenix1's marksman Noh "Arrow" Dong-hyeon won the league MVP award in his first season, but it wasn't without backlash. Team SoloMid fans took to social media to protest that Kevin "Hauntzer" Yarnell, the runner-up in voting, was the true MVP. In his second season in the NA LCS and one of the best players mechanically in the league, this is his chance to quiet anyone who doubts him with an encore performance. The meta shifting away from utility champions in the bottom lane to more hyper carries such as Xayah, Twitch, and others will give Arrow the opportunity to prove he's more than just a maestro on his signature Jhin.
8. Rookie of the Split goes to...?
After the best Rookie of the Split race in NA LCS history last year (with four players worthy of possibly winning the award) we come into 2017 summer with... no one. All the new rookies signed to clubs are currently in a sub position, and if any of them can get off the bench, like Team Envy's Yasin "Nisqy" Dinçer, they might win the award by default. This is an awkward position Riot Games has never really been in before -- there might not be enough rookies playing enough games to have three candidates to put down on the ballot.
Can we just vote who the best sophomore of the split it? Because, right now at least, that seems more interesting.
7. BIG if true
Dignitas was one of the better stories at the end of last season. The team stalled in the first few weeks of the league, and yet, with a bit of tinkering to the coaching staff in the mid-season, made a run in the final games of the season to snatch a playoff position. Although the team got waxed in the first round by Phoenix1, it was a solid first season back into the NA LCS for the Dignitas organization and something to build off of. This split, the team has made a change in the support role, moving veteran Alex "Xpecial" Chu to substitute while bringing in Terry "BIG" Chuong, former shot-caller and starter for Echo Fox, to replace him. DIG did struggle at times last split with late-game decision making, so if BIG can bring more decisive (and smarter) decisions around Baron, a top four spot isn't out of the question for the men donning the black and yellow.
6. Fly high, Turtle
Jason "WildTurtle" Tran is on his third team in three splits, and FlyQuest hopes that the wild gunman of the NA LCS can bring the team one step farther than the semifinal placement it finished in last season. Yiliang "Doublelift" Peng's return to TSM prompted discussion of a six-man roster, but WildTurtle, wanting a full-time starting job, joined the upstart FLY. With the move he rejoins old teammates like captain Hai "Hai" Lam from his early days on Quantic Gaming.
As a destination, FlyQuest might be the perfect fit for Turtle. An offensive player through and through, FLY's up-tempo, devil-may-care attitude playing the game aligns more with how he plays the game than TSM's more plodding approach. It was the same for WildTurtle when he won All-NA LCS first team honors with Immortals last year, and playing for another high-octane club might be just what he needs to play at his ceiling.
5. Spear, Shield or both for Cloud9?
Last season, Cloud9 bet on a top lane battery of South Korean imports Jeon "Ray" Ji-won and Jung "Impact" Eon-yeong. Ray was the sword -- strong in attack, but flimsy playing around his teammates and on tanks. Impact was the shield -- the consummate veteran, with the talent of knowing every in and out of the game, and providing a strong voice in the macro game. By the end of the split, the two were interchangeable for C9, the players swapping back and forth in the league final against TSM depending on what side they were on. Coming into the summer, the biggest story surrounding C9 will be if the swapping continues, if the younger Ray finally overtakes his senior in Impact, or if the former world champion takes over full-time as the split gets closer to the playoffs and the looming World Championships.
4. Goldenglue one shot
For mid laner Greyson "Goldenglue" Gilmer, this is it. Team Liquid entrusted him with the starting position to begin the season, and this, for all intents and purposes, could be his last chance to prove himself. After failing to make a positive impact last split, Goldenglue, on his own money, traveled to South Korea to find himself and become a better player, eventually returning and winning back his old spot. If this was a Hollywood sports movie, Goldenglue would right all his wrongs and become the hero Team Liquid needs to make its first finals appearance in club history. The LCS Arena is close to Hollywood, so we'll see if any movie magic rubs off on Goldenglue for the summer split.
3. No 'Me' in Immortals
When Immortals first formed, it was a team that succeeded through raw talent. It was a team that resembled the Harlem Globetrotters on occasion, beating teams through fantastic skirmishes and individual outplays. Today's Immortals has an entirely different philosophy. Gone is team ace Joshua "Dardoch" Hartnett, and in is veteran Jake "Xmithie" Puchero. Immortals have switched lanes from an offensive dynamo to a team that hopefully can work well as a single unit, as Counter Logic Gaming has done so to two league titles in the last few years.
The best signing of the offseason for any North American team was Immortals getting head coach Kim "SSONG" Sang-soo. He was one of the top assistant coaches on the ROX Tigers, and was a large reason why Longzhu saw a small resurgence last split before leaving the team due to personal reasons (the team subsequently fell apart at the seams without him). Xmithie isn't going to bring the highlights or stats that Dardoch did to the team, but a unified Immortals with SSONG and a bounce back season from former top lane great Lee "Flame" Ho-jong could be the big surprise of the split.
2. Counter Logic Dardoch
Speaking of Dardoch, he's on CLG now. CLG, playing role reversal with IMT, is seemingly going towards a team with high-skill players, and hopefully for them, a strong foundation of teamwork that has been present the last two years. Dardoch is one of the best individual talents in the league, and it'll be up to CLG and its people in leadership to make sure they can harness his talent. A CLG with Dardoch that is all-in and believing in his teammates is a club that could not only win the split but be a threat on the international stage. A CLG with Dardoch that is unhappy with his teammates and not believing in the family mantra of the club might crumble, barreling down the standings faster than Team Velocity in its heyday.
1. Can TSM make it 10 for 10?
Ten seasons, and a possible 10 final appearances for Team SoloMid. Doublelift's return to the starting lineup will make TSM the favorite once again to not only make the final, but win it. A lackluster showing at the Mid Season Invitational should be all the motivation the team needs to come into the split hungry for redemption. And yes, TSM has failed on the international stage, and even a third straight league title might not change that, but if the club can make it to Boston come August for the final, it will be one of the greater accomplishments any team has completed in League of Legends.
Year after year there have been drastic changes to the NA LCS, but TSM, rain or shine, super team or fractured team, has made it to the final. TSM is closing in on history, and the rest of the league, wanting to make the final for themselves, will do everything in their power to break the streak.