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The State of NA LCS Going Into 2016

2016 brings with it a brand new North American LCS. Roster swaps abounded during the offseason, with star players jumping from organization to organization, all hoping to help their new squads make a run at the NA title. Or, perhaps, Worlds. Talent is steaming in from all over the world, leading many to wonder exactly how strong NA is going to be this season.

In short, the pros think NA will be better than ever.

Outside Influence

“I think every year, the region keeps getting stronger,” says Counter Logic Gaming's top laner, Darshan. “All this talent keeps coming in. I think this is definitely going to be the most stacked year in NA.”

Many players we spoke to agree with Darshan. With strong foreign talent streaming into the region from all over the world – former Fnatic players Huni, Reignover, and YellOwStar, notably – the scene is about to get that much more competitive. NA players are going to have to step up every facet of their game in order to keep up.

Says former Team Liquid support Xpecial, “When you bring in so many good players, then the scene gets better, just because of those players. Then, they’ll force other teams to get better just to compete.”

According to Xpecial, even if one team establishes complete dominance over NA like Fnatic did across the Atlantic, teams will continue to improve in spite of the adversity. “Origen, for example, got really good as a result of Fnatic,” he says. “It will be the same thing. If there’s one team that’s really dominant, teams will get better because of them.”

The practice and solo queue environment will improve too, says current Liquid support Smoothie. “NA solo queue, right now, isn’t as serious,” he explains. “But I think with bringing good players to NA will increase the skill level of NA significantly, just by playing solo queue and playing with players that are really good.”

Importing Issues

New players coming over isn’t all positive, however. Many players have expressed a variety of concerns, particularly with the way incoming players will affect homegrown talent’s ability to grow. With many teams looking outside of NA when reworking their rosters, some believe that upcoming native North American talent isn’t being given a chance to play on the biggest stage.

While Xpecial understands the concern, “the whole issue is about showcasing homegrown talent,” he says of some of the controversy. “[The lack of homegrown talent is] primarily because of the small population of people that are playing ranked at the highest level. So if you can’t get talent from home, you import. It’s not weird when people import players from all over the world for soccer teams. It’s the same thing with hockey, and it’s going to be the same thing with League. Yes, you should have some North American talent, but at the same time, if there are better players elsewhere, why not? I have no issue with that, because it forces the homegrown talent to be even better to compete. It makes every team in that region stronger, as well.”

However, Darshan believes that the current environment in NA isn’t as conducive to high-level play and practice as the other regions may be. “A big part of North America is making that money and streaming and building fan bases and being entertaining,” he says, “Sure, you can teach things about the game, but I think the culture here in general is more about entertainment than actually striving to be the best. People can say that they want to be the best, people can say that they’re here to win everything, but I think there’s still a lot that needs to change.”

That mentality seems to be changing, though. Smoothie, in particular, doesn’t quite see things the same way. “I do think that, yeah, some players might come here just for the fame,” says the support. “But most players at the top level, unless they’ve already won Worlds and are already globally known, still are hungry for just to win.”

The State of the League

The question remains: Which NA team won the offseason? The answer seems to be universal: Team SoloMid.

“I think it’s pretty fair to say TSM had the best pickups,” says Xpecial. “They have the best North American mid laner. Top two, top three AD. The best support in the west, and a really good shotcaller. They’re really solid. Svenskeren’s a pretty good jungler, definitely top-tier. And then a pretty good North American top laner. It’s pretty hard to argue that isn’t the best roster, on paper.”

Most people point to one of those players as the biggest pickup of the year, though: YellOwStaR in the support role. Says Darshan, “I think had TSM not picked up a support like YellOwStaR, they wouldn’t have had the direction they needed to really be a strong team. But with his addition, that definitely cements them as a contender for the best team in NA.”

Smoothie, as a younger support player, says he looks forward to playing against the legendary former Fnatic player. “I strive to be what he is right now,” he says.

The North American LCS starts up Saturday, January 16th with a rematch of the 2015 NA LCS finals between CLG and TSM.

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