A little notice before we go on: These thoughts have been written as time has allowed over the last month. Some of the items may have already been dealt with in some fashion between adding them to the list and publication. Also, QG, ESC Ever and Kongdoo have been omitted from the list due to my unfamiliarity with them. My apologies for that, but I would rather not do them the disservice of guessing.
It’s offseason time and already the delicious rumour mill that I’d anticipated before even Worlds started is delivering on its promise. It’s always intriguing to see the cat-and-mouse game that teams adopt with their pursuit of players – do they go early for the big name, or wait and see if you can get good “value” on players once the orgs offering the biggest dollars have filled their slots. This year in particular I’ve heard of a bigger part being played by agents and lawyers in driving the valuation of players. Shout out to these guys and gals, I’m sure the players and even (albeit maybe begrudgingly) the owners appreciate the important work they do for the scene. In this piece I’m going to whip around four of the major leagues (with apologies to the LMS as I just don’t watch enough of it to comment without guessing, and I won’t disrespect the region to postulate about it by guessing.) and suggest one thing that’s on their “Christmas shopping list” of things to acquire this offseason. This won’t always be an “essential” grocery item that I think they need to acquire, some might be more of a “luxury” purchase that they can get if they really want to, or perhaps even a different way of structuring their team or organisation that isn’t necessarily a strict upgrade, more of a change in direction.
Let’s get started.
1. The Rox Tigers need…a new identity. After the breakup of the roster, they just need to work out whether they still want to position themselves as a top-2 team in the league or if they’re going to attempt a second building project like the one they did around “Smeb and the Najins” that we all fell in love with. It seems like they might be leaning towards the latter. I really hope they can find the magic again. As fun as they were at the end of their run, the beginning of it was enchanting to watch.
2. SK Telecom T1 could use…better succession planning, for want of a better way to look at it. They’ve done a great job at keeping a fantastic core together since sister teams were done away with, but it does need mentioning that they’ve not kept any new player on that roster more than a year since they rolled T1 K and S in together. Blank will be the first, which is odd when you could look at him as arguably the worst out of himself, T0M and Easyhoon. But does he really count when he’s unlikely to get a gig over Peanut?
3. KT Rolster should…do nothing. They’ve already done it. I think they needed to decide if they want to continue to fight the Telecom wars, or just be a consistently good LCK team. It felt like if they want to really take it to SKT on a consistent basis they needed to be able to roll out a bottom lane duo or a mid laner that you could say “we expect this lane to match or better Faker/Bang & Wolf every game in a Bo5”. And I don’t think you could have said that about Arrow and Hachani.
4. The Afreeca Freecs need…this reset they’ve managed. After dumping their roster led by mercurial mid-laner Mickey and ADC Sangyoon they’ve turned the roster into one I think has incredible dark horse potential. If there was to be a roster that can crash the Samsung/SKT/KT Rolster unholy trinity, then I’m looking here. They have a Sleeper bot lane in my opinion, and I don’t mean ResidentSleeper. Kuro will need to be a solid if unspectacular mid laner, and not become a liability. A line he’s flirted with while in the Tigers.
5. Samsung could add…some bot lane consistency? I don’t think they need to change much at all but if we’re going to pick out something, this is where I look. I think it’ll be best for them to decide the best two for them and stick with them. I imagine this is Ruler + X, despite the Free agents available. Maybe some stability in the support position will help them consolidate their late-2016 run and go one better.
6. Jin Air needs…to blow it up and start over. I think TrAce can be dynamite, but they haven’t been able to get it together around him. Now without him, I think they need to go back to the drawing board, dip into the FA pool or into SoloQ and come up with a new plan if we want to see an ongoing gladplane in LCK. Going for Raise was hardly the most encouraging of starts. While he was the most positive part of ROCCAT (after Steeelback left), he was also only the most encouraging member of ROCCAT after Steeelback.
7. Longzhu needs…From the outside, it looks like they need some leadership. A young coach (though experienced in the League scene) in Lustboy coupled with some experienced players left this team seeming rudderless. By starting over, it enables them to hopefully be able to set their team up with some vision (not as in wards) and direction as to how they’re going to win games. Adding the leadership of GorillA is exactly what they’ll want, and keeping Pray with him will be great for them. Hopefully they can do better than the last Longzhu super team.
8. MVP could…consider an upgrade, any upgrade, if one’s available. I don’t have anything specific in mind, but if they can find a clear upgrade at a carry position in the roster shuffling, it’s one I’d be looking at making. They seem to have lower-to-bottom tier laners just by the numbers, so that’s an area to target. I think they’re going to want to look to steal games and matches off of teams and avoid relegations. I don’t think the firepower is left on the Free Agent market to propel them to being a playoff team.
9. TSM needs to…figure out the Doublelift situation before Spring, not before Summer, or be prepared to sacrifice Spring. They need to know now whether or not they’re solely looking for a Doublelift stopgap, or if they’re going to give the Spring ADC a genuine shot at competing for the spot with Doublelift in Summer. I can’t imagine they get that great of a replacement if they can’t give an honest expectation of the player’s future to whoever they want to get in for Spring. Wildturtle doesn’t fill anyone with much hope, so does he expect to compete in Summer, or is this TSM throwing in the towel for Spring?
10. Counter Logic Gaming needs to…replace Huhi. It’s become an overused meme, and this is low-hanging fruit, but to me it’s also a no-brainer. He’s was bottom-3 in all basic metrics except Gold Share at MSI, and consistently was no better than middling in these fields during summer and worlds. Considering the rumoured ten-ban system being implemented, I can’t imagine a legacy organisation like CLG tolerating a mediocre mid laner with huge questions in his champion pool. I believe it’s a huge weight that’s anchoring what is a very competitive bottom lane that CLG can depend on.
11. Cloud 9 needs to…stand firm. At least for this split if not this year. Bit of a boring answer but I think what they accomplished was very good for their timeframe (only 1 split back with Meteos) and very important for them as a team. I’d like to see them build on that, see if Meteos can improve from a lacklustre Playoffs-and-Worlds form and grow from some obvious gaps in his approach to the game. Having said that, if they’re offered a clear local upgrade at Jungle or even Support, I’d take a strong look at it. Someone like maybe BunnyFuF-…oh.
12. Immortals need to…Flame to start all the games. This has been a message sponsored by CHF Swip3rr. Seriously though, retain Pobelter. At all costs. Let me run through with you the list of starting mid laners that either played Summer Split 2016, Qualified for Spring Split 2017, or are confirmed for Spring 2017: Pobelter, Bjergsen, Huhi, Jensen, Ninja, Froggen, Fenix, Keane, GBM, Pirean, Goldenglue and Hai. Now group these into three categories: “Import”, “NA Resident” and “NA Resident that isn’t good enough.” It’s a very lonely group that Pobelter finds himself in. You can build an internationally competitive roster with two imports, but it becomes significantly easier to do so when you don’t need to import a mid laner.
13. Team Liquid needs to…upgrade the mid lane. In a big way. This another Huhi-like piece of low-hanging fruit, but if I’m a TL fan, the Goldenglue signing is unforgivable. It’s hard to see the narrative of TL/Curse’s supposedly-amazing ability to construct rosters continuing to withstand this. Signing Goldenglue just feels like they tried for better, couldn’t get it and are settling…or worse, waving the surrender flag. There’s talk that he’s substantially improved, and if that’s the case, then I’ll be really happy for Goldenglue that I’m wrong. But I just don’t see it happening.
14. EnVyUs needs to…work out their solo lane/jungle play for this split. NV did well with a carry-style top in Seraph, but Procxin was wildly inconsistent. They lost more games than they won at only 40% but Procxin was 5-15 on his two most played Champions (Rek’Sai and Graves). With the meta seeming to favour tanks in the top lane and snowballing the rest of the map, NV may need to pivot away from what made them successful, pick up a proactive jungler and look to depend on Seraph in different ways than they did previously.
15. Dignitas needs to… Reverse course. I liked the way it started with the jettisoning of Ray and Saintvicious, and then later adding LOD. But now it seems like it’s gone pear-shaped. Obviously getting Ssumday is a fantastic pickup, but for my money there’s glaring talent gaps at mid lane and support. Xpecial’s best days seem long, long past him and as for Keane, in North America putting imports in top and jungle and NOT mid lane is not the best way to build a team. I honestly expect him to get eaten alive by most of the mid laners in NA.
16. Phoenix1 should…keep this build going as long as they can stay in the league. Zig and Inori are talents worth developing in my opinion - it’s worth investing the time into seeing what you have with each. Career anxiety is a problem for most league players, one that is handled to some degree by the franchising model. If Phoenix 1 can use Arrow and Ryu, two really stable imports to maintain a steady place in the league and perhaps even challenge for playoffs, I think that Inori in particular could turn into a very solid North American jungler.
17. Echo Fox needs to…find some diamonds in the rough. The problem I see with them is that they’ve spent their two import slots already and their weakest players last year occupy their leftover spots (Jungle and Support). As far as imports go, Looper is clearly at least *some* upgrade over kfo, but now they either have to go with mediocre-at-best options that are known quantities, or take a gamble on local talent from elsewhere, which means taking a less-than-appealing option from the pile of leftovers, or delving into SoloQ. Maybe they spotted something at Scouting Grounds?
18. Cloud 9 Challenger needs…a time machine to go back to before all the good NA talent has been signed. Either that or they are going to play all the C9C guys. There aren’t a lot of appealing North American free agents left – which means a similar problem to Echo Fox. The benefit they have is that they played a full-US roster in Challenger which means if they want to compete out of the gate they can go down that path. There are huge question marks over the talent that this team can field, especially seeing as Contractz seems to have been called up to the main squad.
19. Edward Gaming needs…the next great Chinese solo laner. Or to take a serious look at Clearlove. I’ll deal with these in reverse order: Not that Clearlove is bad. Far from it. But he has almost a…baffling…ability to whiff in big games specifically in international play. Sometimes even in big domestic games (though notably that mainly involves Hecarim). Either EDG think that there’s something here that needs to be fixed, or they don’t (of course). The question then becomes do they fix it by fixing Clearlove, or by removing Clearlove and starting over? Moving on, I think the ADC’s coming through are a step below China’s lofty heights, and that they’d likely look to ADC imports to replace Deft. Which means that if they decide they still want to be a dominant domestic team instead of going through an American-sports style rebuild, they’ll need a really strong Chinese solo laner to enable them to import the other solo lane.
20. Royal Never Give Up needs…to retain Uzi. Look, he comes with his flaws, and for better or worse he’s a known quantity. But keep him and you have a super-competitive Jungle/ADC combo that you can build around. Sure, he’s contracted through Christmas 2018, but Chinese contract end dates seem to be more indicators of cost to buy the contract out than actual indicators of end dates. RNG have lost their imports, which sucks but at least by doing that they have options. They can plug two new imports in, they can look to within domestic talent. The only concern is that if they go shopping for an import top laner they might end up competing with EDG, which I’ve no idea one way or the other if they’re in a financial position to do.
21. IMay needs to…stem the bleeding. I was a big believer in what this team could do in 2017 after watching their run toward and into Worlds. I felt the one thing holding them back was the same insularity that both makes the LPL such a delight to watch on a week-to-week basis but also seems to have inhibited LPL teams over the last two Worlds events. If they were able to be successful with a bit less of a prototypical Chinese style then I was optimistic for them. But they’re losing players rapidly over the very recent history and now they need to retain what they have left or they risk trying to repeat a fairytale like they pulled off last season rather than building on top of that season’s efforts.
22. Team WE should…actually, I don’t have anything for WE to go get. I really liked this team and would love to see them stick at it another year and see how they can grow with the esports-rare “second year together”. If they can find a clear upgrade I guess there’s no reason not to take it, but I like watching WE play. They’re fun to watch.
23. Invictus Gaming will…have to rebuild. Rookie is still fine, but after that the cupboard is really bare. After losing Zzitai to Vici, they only had Save in the top lane, who hasn’t been seen in so long that four of his last six competitive games have been on Smite/Teleport top laners. Adding Duke was really important there. Invictus can do something around Rookie and Duke. However, they shouldn’t do anything around Rookie and Duke that involves most of what they have left from last season’s active Roster.
24. Vici Gaming needs to…upgrade their bottom lane, or play really well around their solo lanes. It remains to be seen how Bengi will be without Faker at his side, but Easyhoon is A) no slouch of course and B) offers an element of familiarity to Bengi. Loong is serviceable – certainly not elite tier, but can offer tank play and even a little mage play. So you have a top half that will offer you something. What they’re missing is a reasonable bottom lane. Neither Endless nor Xuan fill me with confidence, though Xuan’s basic numbers are perhaps slightly better, and Caveman, to be frank, is utterly pedestrian. For someone who went 6-1 on Alistar in Summer Split he sure ended up on Braum a lot.
25. Snake needs to…get it together, for all our sakes. The “Little Chinese Team That Could” in many a pundit’s heart, Snake already went out and did their Christmas shopping. They added dynamic carry player Zzitai to move from Top lane back down to the mid lane and much like an LPL version of Seal Team 6, went in and rescued Ohq from NRG, just one split later than we all would have liked L There’s bona fide stars at four roles here, assuming it was just the stink of NRG keeping Ohq down and I think Snake have shopped smartly to add onto their roster that we, for the most part, already liked.
26. Game Talents need to…upgade their bottom lane, as well. They had a death-happy bot lane with PentaQ and Savoki. They changed Savoki for City by the end of the split, though I don’t recall if that was for performance or health reasons. They’re shopping in a similar aisle to Vici but don’t have the horses in the other lanes that VG do and so it’ll be interesting to see how they compete next split as they seemed to beat up on a week LPL Group A early before tailing off as the split progressed.
27. Newbee needs to…Get rid of Swift, honestly, at this point. I was never sure who really caused all the issues within the old QG team out of him and DoinB, but after that blew up and DoinB left, the team went into free-fall. As an import jungler there’s a number of options that they could take still on the FA market. I just don’t see what the passage of another four months is going to do that the first eight months of the year didn’t already do. I think they need to make a move, and this is the one that stands out to me. Maybe CoCo will help, but I still think Swift is the move that needed to be made. Sometimes you need to make a sideways-or-worse move at talent level to progress in results.
28. OMG needs to…sort out how they have their ADC play. S1mlz has been a boom/bust player that has been death-prone more often than I would like to have seen. Some of that might have been because OMG as a whole were truly, truly dire at times. But for my money it doesn’t make much sense to put a feast-or-famine ADC in a lane with playmaking supports as often as 5 was on them. Occupational Safety and Health matters, so get 5 on champions that give S1mlz a bit more room to work safely.
29. LGD needs..to have the real We1 Shady to please stand up. And while he’s up there, get the whole team to stand up for the first six weeks of a split. LGD seem to have engaged in some sort of tribute to League of Legends edging where they see just how close they can be one of the worst teams in the league and still make playoffs. Spring was the pinnacle of this, as they blew it in Summer and missed. I think the mid lane is the place to start here, as if they can get peak We1less in more than just brief flashes, they can finally deliver some satisfaction to their fans. As an unabashed Imp fan boy, I want to see LGD at the top.
30. G2 needs…more support staff. Which they’re looking for, thankfully. This team has delivered big games in big moments domestically. They’re not chokers. To not be able to do it internationally to me strikes me as being more of a preparation thing outside the game than performance in it. There’s only so much Youngbuck can do on his own. I think they have the tools to go back to international competition, though both winning the EU title itself AND the international competitions they would attend require a level of preparation in game plan I don’t think we’ve seen from G2 yet consistently.
31. H2K needs…to unbreak my heart. I’m fiercely unhappy with the roster moves H2K have made. Without knowing their negotiations it is hard to be able to ascribe any amount of “Well that’s fair enough” to the reasons, but to turn Ryu and Forg1ven into Febiven and Nuclear doesn’t strike me as making improvement as it does making the best of what options they have left. Odoamne and Jankos are still at the very top of their position in Europe, if not the West and I suspect they’ll have a lot of work to do. Ryu and Forg1ven are two of my favourite players, so it hurts to see them leave pr0lly, one of my favourite coaches and one with a top-2 tie game in Europe.
32. Splyce could…consider a stability option in the top lane. It’s hard to argue with the phenomenal growth Splyce showed in 2016 and Wunder was one of the great success stories within the wider story of Splyce. He went from looking like he might have shaky job security to being an in-demand free agent in a region that probably only goes about 3-3.5 deep in terms of top lane talent. That said, sometimes his 1v1 laning had a hint of “SOMEBODY is coming out of this lane fed” to it. This is not something that I personally like to see in my top laners and Splyce might want to add someone with a bit more stability in their play as an alternative in case Wunder’s aggression begins to go south for him and the team.
33. Fnatic should…keep a close eye on the present, and not be so engaged with the past. Funnily enough, I actually think that last split was the first in my time following the EULCS that Rekkles has actually managed to live up to his billing. I thought he was really fantastic at times on a team that couldn’t control its freefall, so this isn’t the best possible timing over the last two years for this. But that said, I also think that MrRallez is a stellar AD Carry and is at times criminally underrated. On his very best day, he can be better than an average Rekkles day. If Rekkles regresses at all, I wouldn’t hesitate at putting MrRallez in.
34. Unicorns of Love should…whatever they get, buy it at the finest cheese shop they can find. The thing with UOL is that they’ve made a sideways move in the jungle, at least initially, and they still have one of the weakest AD Carries occupying an import slot. I don’t see them blowing opponents off the rift with pure skill. What has been called “cheese tactics” or “chaos style” in the past I actually see as the league application of David strategies that Malcolm Gladwell has written about in the physical sports world. Of course, the chaos style could just be mindless fighting, but if you look at it through the lens of “maybe this is all being done for a reason” then they’re fascinating.
35. Giants need…the mental resilience to break the curse/pattern. There was enough to be encouraged by in Giants’ IEM performance that there’s hope to avoid the Relegation/Playoff cycle that they’ve followed in the previous two years’ worth of Spring/Summer splits respectively. However, one would expect Misfits to compete for a 5-7 slot and so Giants may drop out the bottom of the playoff picture. Yet the important thing for me is at least to be competitive. It makes it so much harder to compete for Playoffs, EULCS Titles, or worlds positions trying to rescue a team from the emotional low of yet another relegation battle.
36. Vitality needs to… make a big-picture decision on the direction of the team. I’ve been beating on the Shaunz drum for over 12 months now. I won’t immediately go back to it here, but this team really needs to work out what the problem is, because this is now two consecutive underperformances from the team. Is it the roster, or is it the coaching? They’ve turned over every non-solo lane role. If they don’t bring it together in this iteration of the roster, they’ve gotta blow it up, INCLUDING the solo laners, or change the coach. Something has to give here. I’d love to be wrong about this team.
37. ROCCAT needs…players? Have I missed the announcements or rumours? I’m only saw the Phaxi/Maxlore rumour. That’s at least the right place to start, the entire top half of the map is where I’d look, I thought Parang was a walking disaster area and for my money Airwaks was simply the worst jungler in the league, even more so than perennial underperformer Gilius. Betsy and Memento weren’t completely hopeless, but far from par performers as well. Given some of the names that are on EUCS and Open Qualifier squads, one would assume that ROCCAT have their pieces in place – it will be interesting to see who they’ve lined up over these players.
38. Origen needs…oh boy, everything. This pains me. To see xPeke’s dream go like this is sad. Mickey and Wisdom is an intriguing pair, and while I am genuinely happy to see the ghost of Tabzz get another shot, it’s not 2014 anymore. It’s just not. Either Mickey and Wisdom tear the league up like Night and Trick somehow on the same team, or this might plummet into another long dalliance with the bottom of the ladder.
39. Misfits need…some conflict resolution skills. With apologies to the Bjergsen-destroying wonder we saw at IEM at the end of 2014, but what I’ve seen out of PowerOfEvil in 2016 is a huge downgrade on Selfie. Get some people in a room and sort your nonsense out, it’s hard to imagine a problem so bad that you go to this length instead of keeping him. As I said for Goldenglue before, maybe POE finds himself again and proves me wrong, in which case I’ll be happy for him. Just as I said for Goldenglue before, I can’t see it. The remainder of this roster I think will turn on whether or not Alphari is the real deal he’s said to be and which KaKAO we see. They ought to compete for playoffs regardless, at the least.
This brings us to...
40. Someone, somewhere needs to…sign Forg1ven. Please. I think we’re all much happier watching League of Legends and taking in the competitive environment when he’s a part of it.
And that’s 40 thoughts on what type of issues the teams from North America, Europe, China and Korea should be out “shopping” to fix this offseason. Got any names you think your favourite team should go get? Any other things you think they should be shopping for? Drop me a line!
Until next time, god bless and always mind your KDS.
Post: LoLTies on LoL: 40 Thoughts - Christmas Shopping 2016