It’s hot outside. Sweat drips down my brow as I write this sentence, and I have a nice frosty jug of water nearby. When I was a kid, the most exciting thing about summer was getting time off school. Now that I’m old and graduated, I looking forward to the LCS Summer Split. There’ll be more games (NA has transitioned to a Best of 3 format, while EU is temporarily using the Best of 2 format with ties) some very exciting rosters (NRG for pure fan appeal and style, while Immortals, CLG, C9, and TSM all have some incredible talent lined up) and of course this is the split that leads to Worlds. Here are some of the most exciting storylines that fans should be keeping an eye on.
Liquid, Dardoch, and a new jungler?
Dardoch was the rookie of the split, the star of Liquid’s roster during a spring in which it seemed everything was doomed. World champion or not, it’s tough to imagine Liquid’s situation turning out as well as it did at the beginning of spring. They were down three veterans, and replaced them with three rookies. Matt turned out to be an incredible Bard, and Lourlo a perfectly serviceable top, but the real success story was Dardoch. Dardoch, he of the Ghostblade Lee Sin and the NRG stomp, he of the native NA talent and occasional trash talk—Dardoch was seen as one of the strongest parts of not just Liquid’s roster, but North American native talent in general.
As it turns out, you can be the best jungler in the world, but if Liquid thinks you’re less of a ‘strong personality’ and more ‘outright insubordinate’, they’ll put you on the bench. Dardoch still had a lot of room to grow and evolve, and it’d be a shame to see a young career to put an early end... but on the other hand, we simply don’t know the facts that led to Dardoch’s suspension, beyond that they were considered seriously. This is likely just one more step in the evolution of esports, although it’s difficult to see how Liquid can replace their rookie of the split without resorting to an import.
The EU top five
In some ways, Europe has been less devastated by roster changes and switch ups than their cousins across the Atlantic. A lot of the trades have been more focused and tactical. The end result is that H2K, Fnatic, Origen, G2, and Vitality could all potentially be representing Europe at Worlds—and the competition between all of these teams will be fierce. (Who knows, maybe the rest of the league will be full of surprises as well?) Vitality is one of the relative newcomers to the EU LCS, after they purchased Gambit’s spot, but all five of these teams have a lot of history with each other.
The return of the king
Of course, there’s one story from the top five teams that I’d be remiss not to mention at all—the return of Yellowstar, the man who captained Fnatic through their 18-0 regular Summer season in 2015. Even though he achieved an admirable second place finish in North America with TSM, that was a vacation—or so the marketing goes—and now it’s time to go back to work. For better or for worse, vacations and hard work are both two storylines that are going to pervade Europe after the memes that haunted G2 at the Mid-Season Invitational in Shanghai. The truth is, Yellowstar never really did have a vacation. NA never seemed his style, and he was working to the bone the entire time. Now, he returns to Europe to restore his legacy and bring Fnatic, the team that gave him so much, to the finish line as number one. Speaking of Yellowstar’s former team...
TSM roars back
It’s odd to categorize a second place finish as ‘bad’, but TSM had worked so hard to be at the top of North America, and their star studded roster of Svenskeren, Doublelift, Hauntzer, Bjergsen, and Yellowstar seemed so unstoppable, that it was a shock when they made a mere fifth during the regular season. Even their second place finish was odd, considering the fact that they suddenly clicked and suddenly looked like the monster roster that had been promised so early on.
Now, Yellowstar has been replaced with young former Dream Team support Biofrost, and in an even bigger move, Reginald has shipped in one of esports’ best coaches, Weldon Green... and Green’s family. While this is for a five month trial, it shows that TSM is serious about improving every aspect of their team to make it further in the summer—and their sights are likely set on Worlds.
NRG and fan appeal
Usually when people discuss teams, it’s all in terms of how many wins they’re expected to rack up and how many sweet combos they’ll score on the Rift. Very few players have marketed themselves purely off the merits of being fan favourites. Even a team like the Immortals, who have five really, genuinely likable guys (Wildturtle, Reignover, Pobelter, Huni, and Adrian) never really seem to lean on the personality aspect of their team too much. Instead, it’s the Immortals: the 12 win streak monsters, the unstoppable beasts.*
*oh, and they’re all incredibly likeable guys you’ll love to cheer for.
NRG’s new lineup flips the script and pushes the big smiles and likable attitudes of its roster to the front: Santorin, Quas, and KiWiKiD are all massive signs that NRG are looking to balance the potential to reach number one with a likable crew. Their pastel photoshoots and bow ties just add to the appeal. We’ll see whether this is a valid strategy for getting through a split soon enough—although personally, I’m really happy to see more teams focusing on goals beyond being #1—after all, not everyone can win.
With that being said, all of the above mentioned teams are definitely going to try. It’ll be exciting to watch this split play out.