For two consecutive years, Western teams in League of Legends have shown growth in their competitiveness.
In 2018, three of the final four teams in the League of Legends World Championship were Western teams (G2 Esports, Fnatic and Cloud9). This past October, all three European participants at the world championship advanced to the quarterfinals, with G2 making it to the final.
On the flip side, there have been some blunders: Team Liquid comes to mind. Ahead of free agency opening on Monday, the six Western teams that qualified for worlds this year -- G2 Esports, Fnatic, Splyce, Team Liquid, Cloud9 and Dignitas -- will have big decisions to make after experiencing success (looking at you, LEC) and failures (looking at you, LCS) at worlds.
Will they stick with their core players? Or will they decide to make significant changes in order to make up for disappointment? Here's our breakdown of what we think needs to happen.
Expiring contracts: Substitute support Hampus Mikael "promisq" Abrahamsson
One move to make: Sign a high-tier backup support
Of all six Western worlds contenders, G2 Esports should be the last to try to update their roster. But with starting support Mihael "Mikyx" Mehle's history of wrist injuries, G2 Esports should be in the market to look for another support -- particularly someone with playoff or international experience who could jump in at a moment's notice. The support market is pretty slim this year -- only five supports, including promisq, are on expiring contracts in Europe this offseason -- and many of those deserve starting spots. But if G2 is making any moves, having a solid backup should be the one.
Expiring contracts: None
One move to make: Pick up a successful head coach
Coming into the offseason, Fnatic have no expiring contracts, but that doesn't mean they can't make changes. The trade market is ripe for their jungler Mads "Broxah" Brock-Pedersen, whom several teams have inquired with Fnatic about, league sources told ESPN.
But Fnatic's biggest loss so far came last Tuesday when head coach Joey "Youngbuck" Steltenpool resigned from his post. A former pro himself, Youngbuck's transition into management and coaching netted him a handful of trophies; his tenures on G2 Esports and Fnatic were particularly successful. Fnatic's top priority needs to be replacing Youngbuck, who landed with Excel Esports on Thursday, with someone who can fill those big shoes.
Expiring contracts: Top laner Tam "Vizicsacsi" Kiss, jungler Andrei "Xerxe" Dragomir and AD carry Kasper "Kobbe" Kobberup
One move to make: Work to retain their free agents
Coming off a quarterfinal appearance at the world championship, Splyce have three expiring contracts. Both in Europe and North America, teams await the opportunity to court jungler Xerxe and AD carry Kobbe, who had incredible seasons.
Splyce are under new upper management after being acquired by Toronto-based investment firm OverActive Media last November. That firm has made big financial bets on Overwatch and Call of Duty, but it remains to be seen what the interest level in League of Legends is. Now is the time to show League matters, with three of the Splyce starting five being available come Monday.
Expiring contracts: Jungler Jake "Xmithie" Puchero
One move to make: Keep other teams from signing Xmithie
Team Liquid had yet another incredible year after making two major offseason changes with the transfer of Nicolaj "Jensen" Jensen from Cloud9 and addition of Gen.G support Jo "CoreJJ" Yong-in at the end of 2018. Despite their poor finish at the world championship, Team Liquid should run it back with the same lineup. They can't do that, though, if they lose Xmithie, who will be a coveted free agent come Monday.
Xmithie is arguably the best North American resident jungler, and his value this offseason will be enormous as three new organizations enter the League Championship Series and teams look to use their two import slots elsewhere. Retaining Xmithie, no matter the cost, should be the No. 1 priority for Liquid. If not, the team has another available import slot -- top laner Jung "Impact" Eon-yeong and Jensen have both declared themselves as North American residents -- that it could use on a jungler. But Xmithie meshed well with this team, and there were times where he saved games, so losing him could be a big detriment.
Expiring contracts: None
Moves made before Nov. 18: Traded away jungler Dennis "Svenskeren" Johnsen, support Tristan "Zeyzal" Stidam, AD carry Matthew "Deftly" Chen and top laner Ziqing "Kumo" Zhao
One move to make: Be aggressive in the bot lane free agent and transfer market
Despite all of Cloud9's roster being contracted through at least 2020, the veteran team made a big splash on Nov. 9 by agreeing to make a four-player transfer to Evil Geniuses, sending away Svenskeren, Zeyzal, Deftly and Kumo.
With long-time AD carry Zachary "Sneaky" Scuderi's competitive future uncertain, according to sources, and Zeyzal on the way out, Cloud9 should be aggressive in the bot lane free agent and transfer market this offseason. The team has a competitive young core in top laner Eric "Licorice" Ritchie, jungler Robert "Blaber" Huang and mid laner Yasin "Nisqy" Dinçer and one remaining import slot, which provides the team a lot of flexibility. Now it's about supplementing those three with strong teammates.
Expiring contracts: Jungler Nam "Lira" Tae-yoo
Moves made before Nov. 18: Re-signed top laner Heo "Huni" Seung-hoon through 2021
One move to make: Sign a North American jungler
Clutch Gaming are now Dignitas. Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment and the Houston Rockets formed a new entity over the summer and merged Dignitas and Clutch Gaming, with Dignitas as the front-facing brand for the League of Legends team moving forward. Under new management, Dignitas have already made moves this offseason, the first being the two-year, $2.3 million guaranteed contract extension for top laner Huni, as reported by ESPN on Monday.
Lira is the team's other expiring contract this offseason, and renewing him does not seem likely at this time, sources said. In that case, Dignitas should be in the race for Xmithie, William "Meteos" Hartman, Andy "Anda" Hoang, Michael "MikeYeung" Yeung and Maurice "Amazing" Stückenschneider. They all have North American residency and will be available this offseason. Securing a North American jungler allows Dignitas to makes moves elsewhere, if they wish, with the flexibility of another import slot, rather than using it in a role where there are ample domestic talents.