Top Free Agents for the 2018 NA LCS Spring Split
Worlds is over, SK Telecom T1 has been dethroned by Samsung Galaxy, and preseason is here. Although Runes Reforged has brought about the elimination of runes and masteries as separate entities, the overhaul may not be the most interesting event to occur before the Spring Split of the 2018 North American League Championship Series begins. Beginning next year, franchising, something organizations have been requesting for a long time, will finally be implemented. As something more akin to the infrastructure of traditional sports, franchising introduces permanent partnership with the league, doing away with the end-of-split relegation nerves and allowing teams to invest more into their players and management.
After Riot Games’ announcement back in June, over 100 teams, including the existing 10, applied to be a permanent part of the NA LCS. Six of these 10 were selected to remain: Team SoloMid, Counter Logic Gaming, Cloud 9, Team Liquid, Echo Fox, and Flyquest. Team EnVyUs, Phoenix1, Team Dignitas, and Immortals were denied entrance. The remaining four slots have been filled by familiar names, but perhaps not in the way most people would imagine, with only one of them — OpTic Gaming, having history in the esports scene. The Cleveland Cavaliers, Houston Rockets, and majority owners of the Golden State Warriors are the triumphant trifecta rounding out the rest of the field. They’ve also named their new teams, respectively, as 100 Thieves, the same brand of the former Call of Duty team, Clutch City Gaming, and Golden Guardians.
So here’s where the league stands: four full teams of players, coaches, and analysts are now out of jobs, including the entire Immortals roster that recently represented North America at the World Championships in China. Since all of these individuals’ contracts are essentially rendered moot, there is now a plethora of free agents available. Of course, theoretically, they could all be picked up by the incoming four teams and the only changes would be in ownership and management; realistically, however, that’s not going to be the case. As with every preseason, roster swaps are inevitable, so steel yourself for the potential whirlwind of trades coming to an NA LCS near you. What follows is a short tiered list of what I consider to be the top free agents from the players of the four former LCS squads. As a note, the entire Immortals roster will be left off this list because they are all notable.
- DIG Ssumday — The ex-KT Rolster top laner, once considered one of the best in the world, followed in the footsteps of former World Champions Piglet and Impact by leaving the LCK for North America. He’s only played for two splits, and while Dignitas has had dominating runs, the team has mostly fallen short of expectations with him on board. That being said, Ssumday is far from his peak. Even considering his team’s overall performance, he has the 3rd-highest KDA (3.8) of all top-laners, behind Counter Logic Gaming’s Darshan (4.2) and Immortals’ Flame (4.1) and has the highest kill participation (69.6%) of all top-laners, period. He would be a strong addition to any of the 10 teams participating, let alone the four roster-less newcomers.
- NV LirA — Despite being on one of the worst-performing teams throughout their NA LCS tenure, LirA has consistently been a top-performing jungler. After the 2017 Spring Split, a split where NV was dead last in the standings, he was voted to the 1st NA LCS All-Pro team, beating out IMT Dardoch by 11 points. In the 2017 Summer Split, he led the league in kills (129) and XP difference at 10 minutes (196), with the latter more than doubling the next best player in the same category, CLG OmarGod (88). On a team with better laners, LirA’s full potential could be unlocked.
- P1 MikeYeung — Mike ‘don’t call me Mike ‘Rookie of the Split’ Yeung’ Yeung was the breakout jungler last Summer, coming in 2nd in kills (118) and 3rd in kill participation (74.8%). Unfortunately, although MikeYeung had a strong debut, Phoenix1 struggled as the split went on and they ended in 10th place. As an NA local, however, MikeYeung is one of only two junglers from the four teams that is not an import, the other being IMT Xmithie. Since this affords owners more flexibility when setting rosters, MikeYeung is in tier S.
- NV Hakuho — For some, this may come as a surprise. Just like his jungle counterpart, NV’s support actually played incredibly well given their performance in the split. He led in wards cleared per minute (0.54) and placed top 3 or better in wards placed per minute (1.49) and KDA (4.3). He was also 2nd in percentage share of team deaths (17.1%), with only P1’s Shady having a lower percentage (15.4%) through 13 games compared to Hakuho’s 47. With impressive recent showings on Ardent Censer supports and tank supports alike, Hakuho has come a long way; don’t be surprised if he’s one of the first free agents picked up.
- DIG Altec and Adrian — Dignitas’ bottom-lane stepped up a lot and was a large contributor towards their surge towards the end of the split. When they were on separate teams, Flyquest and Phoenix1, respectively, they performed about average. Once they joined together on DIG in the summer, they were arguably in the top 4 bottom-lanes in the league. Their contracts have expired at the same time, but that doesn’t guarantee they stay together. If one of the new teams picks up both of them, they may find success again in the coming split; otherwise, they may return to their mediocre form.
The remaining players left off this list were simply unimpressive in their recent performance. Although Phoenix1 placed 3rd in the Spring Split, the team came crashing down in the summer. Arrow, the Spring MVP looked lost in the bottom-lane and his laning partner, Xpecial, is a far cry from his time as the best support in the NA LCS. Similarly, Ryu has fallen from his time on KT Rolster, placing middle-of-the-pack in almost every meaningful statistic (KDA, kill participation, gold and XP differential at 10 minutes).
The same can be said of the rest of Team EnVyUs. Seraph has long been a liability in the top-lane and the hype surrounding him when CLG first brought him on-board has never been lived up to. Apollo is average at best and Nisqy, though he seemed alright through half the split, has failed to prove himself next to the other mid-laners in the league. These factors, combined with the Scouting Grounds set to begin in late November, cement the fact that not all of these players will return to the NA LCS stage.
Or not. Perhaps the new teams will value some veterancy in their players. Perhaps no one from Scouting Grounds will prove their worth and all of these players will be picked up by one of the incoming teams. It’s too early to say, but as the 2018 Spring Split draws nearer, all will reveal itself.
’Til next time.