The recent games at IEM Gyeonggi have given us a glimpse of two exciting roster rebuilds heading into Season 7 of the NA LCS. Both Immortals and Team Liquid have made sweeping changes to their line-ups after disappointing ends to last season. Both rebuilds were met with very mixed reviews when the original line-ups were announced and the truth is that we still don't know enough about these teams to judge them fairly. However, the two teams both qualified for the play-off bracket of IEM and these wins should provide fans of Team Liquid and Immortals reason for cautious optimism heading into the main split. The truth is that in spite of very different roster building philosophies, both teams are in nearly identical positions after their debut competitive matches.
The story of Team Liquid and Immortals begins and ends with their junglers, arguably the best players on each respective roster. Funnily enough, both teams essentially traded their junglers, as Dardoch had been the starting player for TL in the majority of their games last split and ReignOver had been the consensus franchise star of Immortals. However, the trade between both teams is about more than just the individual players - it also led to a much better player-team fit in terms of franchise decision making.
Team Liquid: New contexts lead to new opportunities
In terms of their decision making, Team Liquid has almost always favored reliability and known names over picking up new talents. Ever since then-Curse traded for Saintvicious in Season 2, team GM Liquid112 has preferred to focus around brand-name superstars while shoring up his rosters with veteran players. This kind of roster construction has sometimes come at odds with Liquid's devoted management of his Academy teams. Even when Curse/TL had very strong rookie players on their Academy rosters, Liquid112 generally took the safe bet and stuck with his veterans on the main squad.
One of the biggest shifts to Team Liquid's veteran-focused mentality came when they replaced the retiring IWillDominate with Dardoch in the Spring Split of Season 6, a move which galvanized the team moving forwards. The old Team Liquid line-ups had gotten somewhat stale after failing to find success over the last season and a half, and the addition of Dardoch was a clear breath of fresh air for the team. However, Dardoch soon came into conflict with the rest of the lineup and TL was forced to make a late-season adjustment during their gauntlet campaign. Once again, the team went with a rookie player, bringing in ex-mid laner Arcsecond for the jungle position. Although Arcsecond made some impressive early game plays, it wasn't enough as TL was swept by an uninspiring EnvyUs squad.
This season, TL has returned to their old standby of pairing veteran players with superstars. The team is clearly built around the Korean duo of ReignOver and Piglet. Flanking these 3 stars are veterans Matt, Goldenglue, and Lourlo. When the roster was announced, fans and analysts criticized Team Liquid for using Goldenglue and Lourlo, two longstanding veterans who had only put up mediocre production in spite of multiple LCS opportunities. After struggling from personality issues last split, it was fairly clear to outside observers that the team was hoping that some reliable veterans hungry for an LCS spot would do a better job of simply fitting in and playing around their star players.
However, yesterday's strong performances by both players gave Team Liquid a higher ceiling than previously accounted for. TL's big hope with this team is that a new context will be able to push these veterans to the next level. Although Lourlo and Goldenglue have played many LCS games, they've never done so alongside a jungler like ReignOver. Dardoch only occasionally visited the top lane and was much more focused on snowballing himself than his laners. Meanwhile, ReignOver has firmly established a reputation for making all of his teammates better, especially when he was snowballing his inconsistent carries in Huni and WildTurtle last season. It's possible that playing under a more stable system alongside ReignOver will give TL's vets a chance to hit the next level in their careers, which is the ideal mix between TL's preference for veterans and their need to increase their level in order to become title contenders.
Immortals: Go big or go home
Team Liquid's acquisition of the stable ReignOver is a good fit for their reliable organizational philosophy. But meanwhile, Immortal's acquisition of Dardoch pushes the org's penchant for risk taking forwards. Last season, Immortals had a very stable supportive core of ReignOver and Adrian, who were generally considered two of the best players on the team. However, the org complemented them by adding in the wildly aggressive Huni and WildTurtle as their carry players before rounding out the team with a reliable veteran mid in Pobelter. WildTurtle's poor showing in Season 5 had scared many teams off of him but Immortals was still willing to take the risk. Meanwhile, the team committed to playing Huni's aggressive all-in style, having ReignOver camp the top lane and repeatedly picking glass-cannon counterpicks for the brash Korean import top laner.
This season, Immortals has taken their risk taking to the next level, making several rather unprecedented moves. The result is an exciting roster that comes with not just one of the highest ceilings in the entire LCS but also a wide variety of question marks. Dardoch had already established himself as one of the best junglers in the LCS but he's never really had a fair environment to demonstrate his potential. On IMT, Dardoch will have the opportunity to keep growing on a line-up that is roughly constructed to fit in with his early game talents and carry-oriented instincts.
Aside from keeping the ever-reliable Pobelter, the only holdover from their Season 6 roster, Dardoch might be the least riskiest of Immortals's moves. Like TL, Immortals decided to use two Korean import players, but their imports are nothing like ReignOver and Piglet, two proven products that have shone in the LCS already. Flame is on a whole different level historically than ReignOver and Piglet, having been the legendary "pilot" of the near-undefeated Season 3 OGN Winter Blaze team. However, Flame has been a substitute player for the last 2 years, first on LGD in Season 5 and then LongZhu in Season 6. While he's still shone flashes of his high carry potential, he also hasn't played consistently for twice as long as Immortals has even been an organization. For their other Korean import, Immortals picked Olleh, who has spent most of his career playing out-of-sight in Brazil and Southeast Asia. Immortals then decided to round out their bot lane with Challenger AD Carry Cody Sun. Between two controversial Korean pickups and an NA talent, Immortals are sure to draw criticism for their decision making if this roster experiment goes poorly - but it seems like they don't care. These are the players the organization wanted and if Tuesday's games are anything to judge by, the team has a ton of potential even if there's a lot of kinks they have to iron out.