This year's League of Legends free agency started off Monday with a whole host of Wolf Bombs, with phrases like "TSM Kobbe" and "Immortals Xmithie" becoming a reality. As the dust settles, who's come out on top? We've got Jacob Wolf, Emily Rand, Tyler Erzberger and Arda Ocal to give their takes on the burning questions after Day 1 of the free-agency period.
Who was the biggest signing?
Jacob Wolf: Former Team Liquid jungler Jake "Xmithie" Puchero was the most sought-after free agent in the North American offseason, and his deal with Immortals was the most surprising of the Day 1 moves. Among teams with interest in Xmithie, there was Liquid -- who offered a renewal deal for him to split time with Mads "Broxah" Brock-Pedersen, sources told me -- as well as Team SoloMid, Dignitas and others. TSM seemed like the obvious option, but his former team, Immortals, made him an offer he couldn't refuse.
Emily Rand: The largest signing by far was Xmithie. We were waiting for that name to drop for a reason: He was the cornerstone of many free-agency discussions. Xmithie has proven to be the most stable and consistent jungler in North America, and Immortals have a solid foundation to build their lineup around in their return to the LCS.
Tyler Erzberger: I have to go with Broxah heading over to Team Liquid. It remains to be seen if the move will be more like TL bringing in Nicolaj "Jensen" Jensen and Jo "CoreJJ" Yong-in last year or TSM's failed gambit of signing decorated European bottom lane of Jesper "Zven" Svenningsen and Alfonso "mithy" Aguirre Rodriguez, but Broxah's move to Liquid is a transfer that we'll look back on at the end of 2020 as one that defined the year in North America. Either TL will continue their domestic dominance and possibly pull off an unprecedented six-peat, or, like when TSM tried to trade in domestic titles for international results with Zven and mithy, they will see their gamble come back to bite them.
Arda Ocal: The entire free-agency show we were waiting for news on Xmithie (of course it dropped 20 minutes after we went off the air), who we thought was going to lead the way for all other deals at the jungler position. Instead, we got Broxah to Team Liquid first, and that caught us completely off guard -- not the signing itself, but the fact that it happened before we heard about Xmithie. Big moment for sure.
Which team is going to be the strongest going into 2020?
Wolf: Origen made a big splash on Monday with the signings of Andrei "Xerxe" Dragomi, Elias "Upset" Lipp and Mitchell "Destiny" Shaw, but I have to tip my hat to Team Liquid. Losing Xmithie is a big deal, but the acquisition of Broxah makes for a great replacement. Team Liquid now have a chance to get better than last year -- after becoming the greatest North American team of all time but failing to find success at worlds.
Rand: I think the answer without a doubt is the new Origen lineup. I viewed Xerxe as one of the strongest free agents out there, and the addition of Xerxe and bot laner Upset makes this team remarkably strong on paper. The pickup of Oceanic support Destiny is surprising, but with Xerxe, Upset and two powerhouse carries in top laner Barney "Alphari" Morris and mid laner Erlend "Nukeduck" Våtevik Holm, this Origen roster is looking to contest G2 Esports for the LEC title.
Erzberger: It has to be Origen if we're only factoring in the teams that have made major moves so far in free agency. Fnatic and Team Liquid both have tremendous upside with their new starting jungler signings, though neither team is guaranteed to be better than it was in 2019. Origen, meanwhile, have reshaped their lineup and put themselves in position to challenge G2 Esports for the throne in Europe.
Upset has the potential to not only be the best at his role of AD carry but one of the best players in the entire Western region, and Xerxe is right there with him as one of the world's best young junglers. Destiny is a shocker down at the support role, but the strong core Origen have put together will allow the 22-year-old Australian some time to find his footing on this championship-ready roster.
Ocal: I'm going to take the easy route and say G2, because they didn't have to do a single thing to still be the strongest team on paper in either the LCS or LEC. With that roster and that team culture, you can totally see G2 winning LEC titles and having another good run at worlds. I put a lot of stock in motivation: That G2 roster was elite without the sting of a finals loss and on the precipice of a grand slam at the time. Imagine how they will compete with that gasoline on the fire?
Who was the riskiest signing?
Wolf: The biggest risk for me is Schalke 04 Esports picking up AD carry Konstantinos-Napoleon "FORG1VEN" Tzortziou after he completed his military service in Greece. FORG1VEN was once considered arguably the best Western AD carry but always struggled to rack up trophies. The unfinished Schalke roster isn't likely to be an immediate contender against G2 Esports, but if FORG1VEN is able to achieve his previous form, Schalke could make a big splash.
Rand: The riskiest signing for me is Origen's pickup of Destiny. Destiny has been on several successful Oceanic lineups, but the competition in Europe is significantly stronger, and he's being placed on a team that, given the other names on paper, will be expected to do well in the LEC from the start of the season. Destiny is a veteran player, so it's not like Origen are picking up an unknown quantity, but if this team doesn't work out, he'll be an easy community target unless he's playing spectacularly well individually.
Erzberger: My biggest signing of the offseason so far is also my riskiest. Team Liquid, after four straight domestic titles, are rotating out the most successful jungler in the region's history with Xmithie for a perceived upgrade in Broxah. Yiliang "Doublelift" Peng wanted to continue playing with Xmithie, but now Doublelift will have to stand as the only North American-born player on the Liquid roster, the rest of the projected starting lineup hailing from South Korea and Denmark.
If Team Liquid can continue sweeping up titles in North America and make a deep run in China next year at the world championship, the signing of Broxah will be seen as one of the smartest moves of the offseason. If not? There is going to be a lot of finger-pointing and wondering of what could have been if they had just re-signed Xmithie.
Ocal: Misfits tried to assemble a superteam last season, and it didn't pay off. This year, they are taking the opposite approach: Bring in young players who aren't as expensive, and see how they do on the big stage. Iván "Razork" Martín Díaz and Petr "denyk" Haramach were part of the Spanish regional champion Vodafone Giants. There is something to be said about bringing two players from the same team with time playing together on their side, but it's still a risk because now they are at the top level of competition. How will they fare against G2, against the newly buffed Origen roster? Time will tell.
Who was the most underrated signing?
Wolf: The changes for Excel Esports -- picking up head coach Joey "Youngbuck" Steltenpool, signing AD carry Patrik "Patrik" Jírů and buying out Tore "Norskeren" Hoel Eilertsen from Splyce -- get me excited. A bottom-of-the-barrel team in their first year as a franchise, Excel is looking to improve their position in 2020 with the two changes and the potential addition of a new mid laner (or the re-signing of Son "Mickey" Young-min). Definitely feel people are underrating the team's moves.
Rand: Over in League Champions Korea, discussion has been dominated by the announcement that T1 top laner Kim "Khan" Dong-ha, star jungler Kim "Clid" Tae-min, and long-standing coach Kim "kkOma" Jeong-gyun have all become free agents. Major changes to the Afreeca Freecs roster, meanwhile, seem to be flying under the radar: Mid laner Son "Ucal" Woo-hyeon and bot laner Kim "Aiming" Ha-ram have both left the Freecs. Aiming was immediately picked up by KT Rolster, and while it's not the most high-profile signing, Aiming has improved significantly over the past year or two and is now on the precipice of proving that he can be a team's star carry. This is a strong pickup for KT if they can organize a good team around Aiming that can facilitate his carry potential.
Erzberger: Junglers are going to be the headliners this offseason with names like Broxah, Xmithie, Xerxe and Clid all finding new homes, but I really like what FlyQuest did with bringing in Lee "IgNar" Dong-geun. The No. 1 thing we've learned in the past few years when it comes to finding success domestically and internationally is that it pays to have an identity of some sort. Be it ultra-aggressive play, roam-heavy strategies, counterpunching or building a late-game team centered around the bottom lane, sticking to your bread and butter has been what brought teams like FunPlus Phoenix, Invictus Gaming and Samsung Galaxy world titles.
FlyQuest sorely needed an identity, and they might have one now with IgNar teaming up with veteran Jason "WildTurtle" in the bottom lane. Both of these players, along with growing young top lane talent Omran "V1per" Shoura, love to play with their foot on the gas pedal, and this could be the first sign of a team stuck in mediocrity finally finding its voice.
Ocal: We talked about it on the show a little bit, but Greyson "Goldenglue" Gilmer to Golden Guardians has a lot of upside -- the cultural fit, the memes, however you want to slice it. This is also a player who has had opportunities in the LCS and hasn't quite been able to stick in the league. This might be his last chance, but it is also his best chance.
What are the largest holes remaining on contending teams?
Wolf: My biggest variable is Immortals. The team made a huge splash with the signing of Xmithie on Monday, but the rest of their roster is up in the air. Top laner Niship "Dhokla" Doshi's contract expired on Monday, mid laner Lee "Crown" Min-ho is available for trades and both supports, Terry "Big" Chuong and Austin "Gate" Yu, are now free agents too. The team has a lot of flexibility and could make use of either one import slot, if they move Crown, or potentially even two, if they part ways with Noh "Arrow" Dong-hyeon.
Rand: Again I'm going to the LCK for this one and looking at T1. Although Khan, Clid and kkOma haven't officially left T1, it was a shock to hear that they hadn't been signed immediately when the free-agency period opened. Clid was one of the driving forces that pushed T1 this past year to go for more aggressive early game plays. While they fell short at worlds, the transformation of T1 seemed ongoing, and they easily could have run this roster back for 2020 given how much they grew as a team in 2019.
[T1 Official Announcement] pic.twitter.com/R6PIiOunw5— T1 LoL (@T1LoL) November 19, 2019
The fact that kkOma could not come to terms with T1 floored me. I cannot think of a T1 without kkOma coaching Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok. With looming retirement of OGN Champions staples like Gu "imp" Seung-bin and Go "Score" Dong-bin, the idea of kkOma leaving T1 would fit the trend of the old guard fading away or seeking new challenges. But kkOma has coached T1 since its inception in 2013, and the void he'd leave behind would be just as tough to fill as it would be to replace a world-class top laner and jungler.
Erzberger: Evil Geniuses, Evil Geniuses, Evil Geniuses. They have shown they have money and aren't afraid to use it to compete right away with the buyouts of almost half the Cloud9 roster, most notably reigning North American MVP Dennis "Svenskeren" Johnsen. Svenskeren could choose to declare as a North American resident this offseason, which would open up two import player slots for EG to go out and create a starting five capable of matching Team Liquid in terms of raw skill. EG's upcoming signings will tell us a lot about if their aspirations of usurping Liquid and making worlds are more fantasy or reality.
Ocal: Splyce are a team that went to worlds but will very likely retain only one starter from that roster this season. Norskeren went to Excel. Tamás "Vizicsacsi" Kiss retired. Xerxe (Origen) and Kasper "Kobbe" Kobberup (TSM) have new homes. Only Marek "Humanoid" Brázda remains. Will this be a rebuilding team full of young talent once the 2020 season begins?