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NA LCS offseason report cards -- CLG survives, NRG rises

After what turned out to be the most topsy-turvy offseason in North American LCS history, zero rosters house the same starting five players as the previous split. With the dust settled and the teams prepared for their 2016 campaigns, let's take a look at all of the league's transactions to see which squads won the NA LCS offseason game of musical chairs.

Team SoloMid (TSM)

Departures:

Top lane: Marcus "Dyrus" Hill (retired)
Jungle: Lucas "Santorin" Tao Kilmer Larsen (Huma)
AD carry: Jason "WildTurtle" Tran (Immortals)
Support: Ham "Lustboy" Jang-sik (Longzhu Gaming -- strategic coach)

Roster:

Top lane: Kevin "Hauntzer" Yarnell
Jungle: Dennis "Svenskeren" Johnsen
Mid lane: Søren "Bjergsen" Bjerg
AD carry: Yiliang "Doublelift" Peng
Support: Bora "YellOwStaR" Kim

You couldn't ask for anything better as a TSM fan. When TSM failed to make a mark at the 2015 world championships in Europe with a lowly single-map victory in the group stages, the future of North America's most decorated organization looked unclear. But in the following two months, it signed former heated rival Yiliang "Doublelift" Peng from Counter Logic Gaming and worlds semifinalist shot-caller Bora "YellOwStaR" Kim from Fnatic.

The two main issues that TSM faced last season was its lack of influence in the early game through the jungler role and spotty decision-making in the latter stages of the game. YellOwStaR's addition to the lineup should give TSM the clear veteran leadership it sorely lacked last year, and the signing of one of Europe's strongest aggressive junglers, Dennis "Svenskeren" Johnsen, is the type of player who could open up the first 10 minutes of the game for the new-look TSM.

TSM put together one of the best rosters possible without sacrificing cohesive communication. Former NA LCS MVP Søren "Bjergsen" Bjerg, as the only returning member from last year's TSM lineup, has been been put into a position to succeed with possibly the strongest NA LCS roster of all time on paper surrounding him.

Grade: A-plus


Immortals (IMT)

Roster:

Top lane: Heo "Huni" Seung-hoon
Jungle: Kim "Reignover" Yeu-jin
Mid lane: Eugene "Pobelter" Park
AD carry: Jason "WildTurtle" Tran
Support: Adrian "Adrian" Ma

The first of the many new teams making their debut in NA LCS this season, Immortals took over Team 8's spot in the league. Not only did Immortals bust its way into the competition, it also has built one of the better rosters leading into opening day. Its starting five is headlined by Fnatic's South Korean duo from last year, the explosive Heo "Huni" Seung-hoon in the top lane and his partner Kim "Reignover" Yeu-jin at the jungler position. The two made it to the worlds semifinals last year alongside TSM's new support YellOwStaR in a campaign year that saw the European organization take home two European titles and a summer split regular season, when it went undefeated.

Huni and Reignover aren't the only 2015 domestic champions on the roster, though, as Immortals signed Eugene "Pobelter" Park, formerly of summer NA LCS champion CLG, to be its starting mid laner. Jason "WildTurtle" Tran and Adrian "Adrian" Ma round off the impressive lineup, with four of the five players on the roster having played previously in the world championships. The year of playing in Europe should make the transition easier for Huni and Reignover coming over to North America, and the communication for the squad shouldn't be an issue a few weeks into the season. Pobelter, considered a defensive mid laner on CLG, is the perfect centerpiece for a team that will play around the brash attacking styles of Huni and WildTurtle.

Grade: A


Cloud9 (C9)

Departures:

Support: Daerek "LemonNation" Hart (head coach)

Roster:

Top lane: An "BalIs" Van Le
Jungle: Lee "Rush" Yoon-jae
Mid lane: Nicolaj "Jensen" Jensen
AD carry: Zachary "Sneaky" Scuderi
Support: Hai "Hai" Lam, Michael "Bunny FuFuu" Kurylo

Cloud9 enters the 2016 season having pulled off one of the greatest Cinderella runs in League of Legends history last year. It was left for dead in the middle of the summer split, but came to life in the second half of the season to make a miracle run to the 2015 world championships. C9 returns with an upgraded roster on paper, having added reigning league MVP Lee "Rush" Yoon-jae to the mix. Besides adding the West's most mechanically gifted jungler, the former two-time NA LCS champion also switched longtime captain Hai "Hai" Lam from the jungle down to the bottom lame into the support role. Hai, having played mid and jungle in 2015 lone, will now be moving onto his third new position in little more than a year.

The big question mark for the boys of blue in this split will be its veteran top laner An "Balls" Van Le. Balls was the focus of constant criticism throughout the 2015 campaign, as the once-elite top lane star had fallen into a slump, leaving him in the bottom ranks of players at his position in the league. Instead of replacing him for a newer NA talent, C9 has reaffirmed its trust in the former star, hoping that 2016 will be his road back to his former status.

Grade: A-minus


NRG eSports (NRG)

Roster:

Top lane: Jung "Impact" Eon-yeong
Jungle: Galen "Moon" Holgate
Mid lane: Lee "GBM" Chang-seok
AD carry: Johnny "Altec" Ru
Support: Kevin "KonKwon" Kwon

If you want to talk about pure talent, NRG eSports might be up there with TSM as best in the region. Like Immortals, NRG took over a previous team's spot in the league (Coast), and has built a starting five worthy of challenging for the North American crown. While many teams in the West strayed away from importing Koreans without fluent English this offseason due to a heavy priority on communication, NRG wasn't afraid to pull the trigger on one of the best mid laners in South Korea. Lee "GBM" Chang-seok might not be able to speak perfect English, but he has the talent and experience to become one of the league's top stars.

NRG is a fusion of Korean and North American talent, with a mix of known names and fledgling rookies looking to make a name for themselves. The player to keep your eye closest on this season is newcomer Kevin "KonKwon" Kwon in support. Although it'll be his first full stint in the LCS, KonKwon will be seen as a linchpin for the team, as he is fluent in both English and Korean, allowing him to bridge the synergy issues between the NA/Korean hybrid squad.

Grade: A-minus


Renegades (REN)

Departures:

AD carry: Mohammad "Safir" Karim Tokhi (ROCCAT)

Roster:

Top lane: Oleksii "RF Legendary" Kuziuta
Jungle: Alberto "Crumbz" Rengifo
Mid lane: Alexey "Alex Ich" Ichetovkin
AD carry: Aleš "Freeze" Kněžínek
Support: Maria "Remilia" Creveling

As the only new team in the NA LCS this season that qualified through the Challenger series, the Renegades bring in a competitive roster that has the ability to make the postseason in its inaugural split. The team's core carries come from the European region, with legendary Russian mid laner Alexey "Alex Ich" Ichetovkin and former Copenhagen Wolves AD carry Aleš "Freeze" Kněžínek making their debuts in the NA region. Although the Renegades will need to rely on rookies Oleksii "RF Legendary" Kuziuta and Maria "Remi" Creveling to make an impact to have any shot of contending for a title, the gunslingers did just enough in the offseason as a transitioning challenger-to-pro team to give it a fighting shot.

Grade: B


Counter Logic Gaming (CLG)

Departures:

Mid Lane: Eugene "Pobelter" Park (Immortals)
AD Carry: Yiliang "Doublelift" Peng (Team SoloMid)

Roster:

Top Lane: Darshan "Darshan" Upadhyaya
Jungle: Jake "Xmithie" Puchero
Mid Lane: Choi "Huhi" Jae-hyun
AD Carry: Trevor "Stixxay" Hayes
Support: Zaqueri "Aphromoo" Black

Take a deep breath, CLG fans -- I still think your team has a chance to finish in the top three. But if we look at CLG's offseason as a whole, it's hard to give it a higher grade when it went from the champion of the last season looking like it could do damage at the world championships to now needing to adjust without Doublelift for the first time in the LCS. Trevor "Stixxay" Hayes is my pick to be the top performing rookie of the season (not counting imports making their NA debuts), and he has all the tools to be a player a year from now that CLG can look upon to carry games.

Until then, it'll be on the heavy shoulders of CLG's new ace, Darshan "Darshan" Upadhyaya, to produce in the top lane like he did during the IEM San Jose tournament a month ago.

Grade: B


Echo Fox (FOX)

Roster:

Top lane: Park "kfo" Jeong-hun
Jungle: Anthony "Hard" Barkhovtsev
Mid lane: Henrik "Froggen" Hansen
AD carry: Yuri "KEITH" Jew
Support: Terry "BIG" Chuong

While there are holes in the Echo Fox lineup and questions about the inexperienced starting five sans Henrik "Froggen" Hansen, I think the Rick Fox-owned team could be the biggest surprise of the spring split. Korean import Park "kfo" Jeong-hun is the quintessential boom-or-bust signing; one of Korea's brightest top lane prospects, kfo will either take the league by the storm, as fellow Korean top lane rookie Huni did last year with Fnatic, or have growing pains acclimating to a new country, language, and the world of professionals.

Also watch out for Yuri "KEITH" Jew, who will finally get a chance to be a starting AD carry in the NA LCS after being used as a successful substitute last year with both Team Liquid and Team SoloMid.

Grade: B-minus


Team Dignitas (DIG)

Departures:

Top lane: Noh "Gamsu" Yeong-jin (Fnatic)
Jungle: Shin "Helios" Dong-jin (no current team)
AD carry: Jo "Core JJ" Yong-in (Samsung Galaxy)

Roster:

Top lane: Lennart "Smittyj" Warkus
Jungle: Thomas "Kirei" Yuen
Mid lane: Danny "Shiphtur" Le
AD carry: Apollo "Apollo" Price
Support: Alan "KiWiKiD" Nguyen

I'll be honest: Looking at the Dignitas roster doesn't fill me with predictions of championship glory. But that's OK. Not every team is going to spend a truckload of money to grab the best imports available and try to build a super team. Dignitas, in its current iteration, is a team that will grow throughout the season with a young head coach at the helm in Barento "Raz" Mohammed. Its newly signed imports, Lennart "Smittyj" Warkus and Thomas "Kirei" Yuen from Europe, are green rookies, meaning that if Dignitas wants to get back into the playoffs, it'll need to scrap its way to get into the top six. While Dignitas was nowhere near the flashiest team in the offseason, its roster is solid enough to surprise some squads this spring.

Grade: C


Team Liquid (TL)

Departures:

Top Lane: Diego "Quas" Ruiz (retired)
Support: Alex "Xpecial" Chu (no current team)

Roster:

Top lane: Samson "Lourlo" Jackson, Derek "zig" Shao
Jungle: Christian "IWillDominate" Rivera, Joshua "Dardoch" Hartnett
Mid lane: Kim "FeniX" Jae-hun, Jung "Youngbin" Young-bin
AD carry: Chae "Piglet" Gwang-jin, Jovani "fabbbyyy" Guillen
Support: Andy "Smoothie" Ta, Matthew "Matt" Elento

Unfortunately for Team Liquid, its grade isn't really due to poor scouting, not making any moves, or putting together a weak team. The regular season champion, TL was a team that dominated the laning phase and petered off as the game went along. One of its strongest points was its top laner, Diego "Quas" Ruiz, who is now off the team after he was suspended from the roster for an undisclosed reason, and subsequently retired from pro gaming. In his place will be one of many North Americans making their professional debut, as Samson "Lourlo" Jackson will have big shoes to fill.

All in all, Team Liquid is still one of the best five or six teams in the league, but it has gone from heavy favorites to win a title last summer to now being a team that will need to rise once again with its unique 10-man roster.

Grade: C


Team Impulse (TIP)

Departures:

Top lane: Jung "Impact" Eon-yeong (NRG eSports)
Jungle: Lee "Rush" Yoon-jae (Cloud9)
AD carry: Apollo "Apollo" Price (Dignitas)
Support: Adrian "Adrian" Ma (Immortals)

Roster:

Top lane: Wang "Feng" Xiao-Feng
Jungle: Kim "Procxin" Se-Young
Mid lane: Choi "Pirean" Jun-sik
AD carry: Brandon "DontMashMe" Phan
Support: Austin "Gate" Yu

This roster leaves me confused, fearful and strangely intrigued at the same time. The team's starting jungler, Kim "Procxin" Se-Young, is a native Korean who last played in the Japanese premier league before vanishing in the summer. Top lane will be manned by the mysterious Wang "Feng" Xiao-Feng, a North American Challenger player who is more known for his support Bard than anything else. Austin "Gate" Yu is the only remaining player left from the last year's Impulse team, but he'll be moving back to his former role of support instead of playing mid lane like he did to finish last split. The player replacing Gate in mid lane, Choi "Pirean" Jun-sik, is an exciting Challenger prospect from Korea, but he has never played professionally. And rounding it all off, we have Brandon "DontMashMe" Phan, who has the distinction of being the AD carry of the worst team in NA LCS history, Team Coast, which went 1-17 last spring.

All I can say is: Grab some popcorn and enjoy the show, folks!

Grade: D-minus