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Here Are the 10 Teams You'll Be Watching In NALCS

With NALCS starting back up tomorrow, it's time to take stock of the teams heading into the Summer Split. Some teams have stayed largely the same, while others have seen shakeups, and some new names are entering the fray as well. it's an exciting time for North American League fans.

Who will rise to the top in the coming weeks — and who might fall off? Let's take a look at where the ten NALCS squads stand.

Counter Logic Gaming

The 2016 Spring Split saw Counter Logic Gaming exercise some demons. In capturing their second consecutive NALCS championship title, CLG proved they could perform without their former star ADC, Doublelift, who they dropped following their porous 2015 Worlds appearance. In making it to the finals against SK Telecom T1 at the Mid-Season Invitational – the deepest any North American team has gone in a Riot-sanctioned international tournament – CLG proved they’re a world-class organization.

The dominant lineup remains the same coming into the Summer Split. Once simply known as an effective split-pusher, Darshan in the top lane has evolved to also become a dynamic tanky team fighter. Xmithie in the jungle stepped up for huge plays throughout MSI, including a dragon steal that helped CLG overcome a massive deficit against Royal Never Give Up. HuHi, who replaced Pobelter at mid lane, showed a willingness and flexibility to adapt to new champions and strategies, like jumping into high-pressure games with Aurelian Sol. Replacing Doublelift before the start of the Spring Split was rookie Stixxay from CLG Black, who was a revelation during the NALCS finals and throughout MSI with incredible positioning and champion diversity. And, of course, Aphromoo, whose playmaking and leadership at MSI demanded his inclusion alongside the best supports in the world. Any player on the young roster at a moment’s notice could draw targeted bans and carry a game.

Along with Zikz as the head coach, CLG exhibit a level of talent, confidence, and cohesiveness unlike any other in the NALCS. Which is saying something given the 2016 Summer Split may be one of the most competitive yet. CLG are still the kings of the playground, with a seemingly unmatched team dynamic to go along with their organizational depth.

Team SoloMid

Much of the Spring Split regular season was a struggle for the North American mainstays, though it was to be expected with the massive roster overhaul following their porous 2015 Worlds performance. Longtime top laner Dyrus retired to be a streamer for the team, and jungler Santorin and support Lustboy left. Perhaps the biggest shocker of the offseason: former rival Doublelift of CLG replaced ADC WildTurtle, who then left for Immortals. Joining Doublelift was former Gravity Gaming top laner Hauntzer, former SK Gaming jungler Svenskeren, and former Fnatic support and captain Yellowstar. The only remaining member from the previous season was star mid laner Bjergsen.

Though a stacked super team on paper, the team did not coalesce until the final week of the regular season. With a patch that complemented the team’s strengths, TSM rode a hot streak into the playoffs, where they dismantled Cloud9 and swept the heavily favored Immortals squad before losing steam against Counter Logic Gaming in the finals. During the offseason, the team lost Yellowstar to Fnatic, but recently replaced him with a promising young NA player in Biofrost. They remain a collective of some of the strongest individual talent in the NALCS, but as CLG demonstrated during the finals, team play trumps individual skill. TSM will look to continue building synergy throughout the split.

Team Immortals

“We’re already practicing for MSI.”

Unfortunately, those poor choice of words from Huni before the start of the Spring Split Playoffs will likely haunt the team throughout the Summer Split. Immortals’ loss to TSM in the playoffs was an unceremonious denouncement of an otherwise stellar season. But as often is the case in sports, the regular season darlings underestimated their competition and fell to a hot TSM squad.

Unlike TSM, Immortals was a super team which started and ended the regular season strong. The team dominated on the top side of the map with former Fnatic top laner Huni and jungler Reignover. Along with former TSM ADC WildTurtle, former Team Impulse support Adrian, and former CLG mid laner Pobelter, Immortals quickly dispatched their competition week in and week out. Huni and Reignover nearly replicated their undefeated season on Fnatic during the 2015 Summer Split. Immortals dropped a single game against CLG on their way to a 17-1 finish.

Immortals were unprepared for the changes in the new patch, simply relying on the one-note strategy that carried them throughout the regular season. Huni avoided tanky top laners, despite the patch being very generous to them. Because of their dominating early finishes, the players rarely moved away from comfort picks. When it came to a best-of-five series, they were unable to flex and adjust, and lost 3-0 to TSM. The roster remains the same, and should continue being a powerhouse in the NALCS. But hopefully with the new Bo3 format, they can learn to adjust throughout a series and play outside their comfort zone.

Team Liquid

Team Liquid found themselves in a familiar place at the end of the Spring Split: in fourth place. But unlike previous years, this result wasn't so much a letdown as it was defying expectations. A roster overhaul prior to the season resulted in the introduction of three North American rookies who got their start on the organization's Challenger squad, Liquid Academy. Lourlo replaced suspended Quas in the top lane, Dardoch replaced retired captain IWillDominate in the jungle, and Matt replaced Xpecial in the bot lane. Joining the three rookies were returning stars FeniX in the midlane and Piglet at ADC.

What seemed like a mad scramble to prepare a roster for the start of the split soon turned into one of Liquid's most promising regular seasons. The three rookies soon grew into their roles, becoming top-tier players in their respective positions as they rolled into the playoffs. Dardoch even nabbed himself Rookie of the Split honors. Their season ended in a tough-fought five-game series against the eventual Spring Split champions, CLG, before being swept in their 3rd place game against Immortals. But going as far as semifinals in the playoffs – and taking two games off CLG – was a major achievement for the young team. However, their Summer Split is getting off to a rough start with the two-week suspension of Dardoch for “recent behavioral problems and team dynamics issues,” according to a statement from the team. Another fourth place finish would be a disappointment.

Cloud9

After their loss to TSM in the 2016 Spring Split quarterfinals, it seemed like the biggest roster move would be the insertion of BunnyFuFu into the support role, who sat behind Hai during the Spring Split in order to learn and grow as a shot caller. This was an important but entirely anticipated move. However, the removal of Rush at jungler and Balls at top lane was not. Former NRG Esports top laner and world champion Impact will step in for Balls, and in a surprising move, Cloud9’s old jungler Meteos will return to the fray. Meanwhile, C9’s Challenger is stacked with LCS vets: Balls (top), Rush (jungler), Hai (mid), Altec (ADC), and Smoothie (support).

The reasoning behind their machinations isn’t entirely known. The return of Meteos may be due to the limit on imports, with Jensen and Impact not yet considered NA residents. The Challenger squad hopes to train young NA talent, but it also can serve as a formidable scrimming partner for the LCS roster. Three roster moves before the start of the Summer Split is significant, but the team still has Jensen in the mid lane and Sneaky at ADC, two of the best at their prospective roles in the NALCS.

The team seems to be making a concerted effort to not only field a strong team for the Summer Split, but also build a stable future for the organization. But despite everything else, Cloud9 needs to answer a single question this split: Can they effectively replace the leadership and shot calling of Hai, something they’ve struggled to do for over a year now? If BunnyFuFu can step into the role and prove himself, then Cloud9 will indeed have a bright future ahead of them.

NRG eSports

With the backing of Sacramento Kings co-owners, who purchased the spot from Team Coast, NRG entered their first split with a sensible mix of young, raw talent – jungler Moon, support KonKwon – and veteran talent – top laner Impact, ADC Altec, mid laner GBM. The team managed to enter the playoffs with a 9-9 record before being swept by Team Liquid. GBM, formerly of CJ Entus and Jin Air Green Wings, was a clear standout, which is why he’s the only player remaining on the roster for the Summer Split.

NRG drastically retooled their roster, adding significant names alongside their mid laner. Quas, Team Liquid’s former carry top laner, returns after a hiatus from pro play. Santorin, Team SoloMid’s former jungler, returns after spending a split in the Challenger scene. Fan favorite support player KiWiKiD jumps back into another LCS split following the relegation of his old team Dignitas. Ohq, formerly of Team Dragon Knights and NaJin Black Sword, joins as NRG’s ADC.

Though touting big names, players like KiWiKiD and Santorin tend to be inconsistent, and it’s yet to be seen if Quas can recapture his peak performance on Liquid. But with an extremely deep support staff and the organizational stability that comes from NBA ownership, NRG’s veteran roster could click and surprise many.

Echo Fox

After showing his stripes during many a televised sports broadcasts, former LA Laker Rick Fox finally entered the eSports scene by purchasing Gravity Gaming and renaming it Echo Fox. Fox picked up raw rookies like top laner kfo and jungler Hard and young journeymen like support Big and ADC Keith. Joining the fresh-faced squad was legendary mid laner, Froggen, who previously played for Elements in the EULCS.

Echo Fox got off to a rough 1-7 start due to visa issues that kept Froggen, kfo, and Hard from playing. They were forced to borrow players from Team Ember of the NACS, including LOD, Stunt, Solo, and Goldenglue. But once the full lineup came together, Echo Fox played well enough to finish with a 6-12 record and avoid relegation in the seventh place spot.

Fox is remaining patient in keeping the roster the same for the Summer Split and allowing its young players to continue growing under the tutelage of Froggen and head coach Cop. However, with many of the bottom tier teams looking resurgent, Echo Fox will need to prove themselves to avoid relegation. That means taking some weight off its mid laner’s shoulders, who had the highest kill participation among players with more than three games in the split.

Apex Gaming

Apex Gaming is one of the more intriguing teams coming into the Summer Split after qualifying through the Challenger Series by sweeping Team Dragon Knights. Led by coaches Saintvicious and Crumbz, Apex is fielding a ten-man roster and will likely spend the early parts of the split finding the best combination of players for both their LCS squad and likely a Challenger team as well. The roster is oozing with talent: Ray (former Edward Gaming) and Cris (former NRG) at top; Shrimp (former NRG) and Diamondprox (former Gambit) at jungle; Keane (former Gravity) and Shiphtur (former Dignitas) at mid; Apollo (former Impulse) and Roar (former CJ Entus) at ADC; and Xpecial (former Liquid) and KonKwon (former NRG) at support.

The veteran depth and leadership make them strong contenders as at least a bubble playoff team, but they first must coalesce to a strong five man roster. The team likely starts Cris, Shrimp, Keane, Apollo, and Xpecial.

Team EnVyUs

This offseason brought with it the most significant competitive ruling in LCS history. With the Renegades management having “been found to have knowingly violated the competitive ban against Chris Badawi, misrepresented their relationship with TDK, and compromised player welfare and safety,” the organization’s ownership were forced to sell. In comes Team EnVyUs, who are already an established name in games like CS:GO.

Renegades opened the split with a roster of RF Legendary top, Crumbz jungle, Alex Ich mid, Freeze ADC, and Remi support. The Challenger qualifiers opened the split with a win and then proceed to lose twelve straight before picking up a second win in Week 7. It wasn’t until Week 8, when Korean top laner Seraph and mid laner Ninja joined, that the team found a bit of success, winning four of their last five games. They then staved off relegation against Team Dragon Knights.

Seraph, Ninja and support Hakuho were the only remaining players following the sale of the team. Envy subsequently added former Team Impulse jungler and fellow Korean Procxin, as well as ADC vets LOD and Nientonsoh to round out the lineup. Despite all the controversy, the core of the team finished strong and have the talent and proper infrastructure to make waves this split.

Phoenix1

The management of Team Impulse and the former LMQ has historically been regarded as spotty, but it finally caught up to them this offseason with another major competitive ban that forced the team to sell their LCS spot. Team Impulse as an organization left its roster out to dry, resulting in a 5-14 finish that forced them into regulation, though they were able to ultimately retain their spot.

TIP found buyers in the Vice Chairman of Paramount Pictures, Rob Moore, his son, Michael Moore, and film producer, Jack Giarraputo. Hopefully the business acumen of the owners leads to a more stable environment for the players. And luckily, three of those TIP players will be given another shot. Returning to the team will be mid laner Pirean, ADC Mash, and support Gate. Rounding out the roster will be Slooshi in the mid lane, formerly of Team 8, Inori in the jungle, formerly of Dignitas, Brandini in the top lane, formerly of Team 8 and Apex Gaming, and zig also in the top lane, formerly of Liquid Academy.

Phoenix1 is a massive question mark, but unlike the Team Impulse roster, they’ll at least be given a fair shot at proving themselves during the split.

Summer is Here

With NALCS Summer Split starting up tomorrow, it's time to see who sinks and who swims. Will CLG and TSM continue their dominance from the spring playoffs? Or will a new time rise to challenge their spots? Only time will tell, but summer is here — and things are about to heat up.

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