The North American League Championship Series is back with its summer edition, and the league's 10 franchises will each have the same goal in mind: making it to South Korea in October for the 2018 League of Legends World Championship. After a spring season that saw a logjam of teams battle for the No. 1 seed until the final day of the season, more than half the league will be confident that with one or two differences this split, the championship is in their crosshairs.
For Team Liquid, the returning spring champion coming home from Europe where it failed to make the knockout rounds at Mid-Season Invitational, it'll be a season where it needs to prove itself as the region's best after a disappointing show on international soil.
Here are three burning questions we have going into the prelude of Worlds.
1. Will Team SoloMid and Cloud9 Return to prominence?
With Liquid failing at MSI, it opens the door for the two most successful organizations in North America, TSM and Cloud9, to get back into the hunt for a title. What appeared to be another season where TSM would find itself at the end of the season before making a majestic run to the final was stopped prematurely by Houston's Clutch Gaming in the quarterfinals. The same story happened over at C9, where it sailed through the season in the No. 1 or No. 2 seed for a majority of the split before falling apart at the end and getting eliminated by Liquid in the quarters.
Although neither team made the top-4 in spring, it still feels unlikely both clubs will miss the festivities in South Korea in a few months. Maybe one, but both? No way. TSM was seen as a clear frontrunner along with Liquid in the preseason but never found the chemistry necessary to make a deep run last season. For C9, it was the inexperience of the team's top laner and a lack of production from its newcomers that halted the team's progression.
What is a Worlds without TSM ready to make a semifinal run but failing in groups, and Cloud9 becoming NA's only late-round representative? Unless the pair fixes its issues, we might very well find out.
2. What is FlyQuest doing?
The team to make the most changes to its starting roster coming into the summer split is FlyQuest. While this would seem to be a good thing for a club that didn't make the postseason last split and was eliminated from contention with two weeks to go, the roster coming into the second half of the year looks weaker than the one they finished the season with.
Gone is Song "Fly" Yung-jun, who signed with South Korea's Gen.G in the offseason, Andy "AnDa" Hoang at jungle and William "Stunt" Chen in the bottom lane. While AnDa will stay on the team as the club's Academy jungler, he is being replaced in the roster by LCS veteran and former NA LCS rookie of the split, Lucas "Santorin" Tao Kilmer Larsen. In mid lane, fellow LCS veteran and FlyQuest Academy mid laner Jang "Keane" Lae-young has been promoted to the main team, and league journeyman Kevin "KonKwon" Kwon will round out the lineup as the support.
Altogether, the team is littered with experience at every single role, but outside of the team's lone bright spot from the last split, Lee "Flame" Ho-jong, there is little to be excited about on the surface for FlyQuest. Flame can still be considered one of the league's elite top laners and Jason "WildTurtle" Tran can be a starting AD carry on a top team with talent surrounding him. But it's difficult to fathom this team's starting five doing much unless KonKwon has improved leaps and bounds from his previous stints in the NA LCS, and Santorin discovers the magic that he had on TSM for his first few seasons.
3. Show us the magic, Mickey?
Son "Mickey" Young-min is one of the most individually talented players in the world. Or, well, he used to be at least, when he was a member of the Afreeca Freecs in South Korea. Back then, he was one of the top point-getters in the league MVP voting in the LCK and the team's undenied ace. His erratic style and me-first mentality made it so that the team's success lived and died with his own personal triumphs, but that was still good enough to get Afreeca in the playoffs in the world's most difficult region.
Since moving to North America, Mickey hasn't been given the keys to his own team until this split, where the Golden Guardians -- the team most needing an ace -- is giving Mickey the entire complex to work with. This is Mickey's team from this point forward, and if the supporting cast can play as well as they did towards the end of the season, the Golden Guardians very well could be in a position to be a playoff contender. If the Guardians gets the Mickey that can lead the league in kills (and probably deaths) while getting ahead of his mid-lane opponent and being the show stealer that he can be, there's an outside chance the Guardians can play in front of its hometown fans come the final weekend of the season at the Oracle Arena in Oakland.
That isn't a guarantee, though. If Mickey isn't at his best -- and honestly, that's the more likely scenario -- then the Golden Guardians could be worse than it was last season. At his best, Mickey is Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok reincarnated. At his worst, you'd be better off subbing in a Silver IV one-trick Veigar main.