An Overview of the LCS in 2022 Part 1: The Contenders
Updated: Jan 31, 2022
The new year is upon us and with it comes the start of a new League of Legends Esports season. It has certainly been a wild offseason with big names shuffling around left and right and hype and despair all around. With the Lock In tournament (that has turned into the NA equivalent of the Demacia/KeSPA cup as teams deal with Visa issues) kicking off, it is as good a time as any to take a look at where everyone ended up and get a good feel for how these 10 teams are expected to do.
The first part of this two-part preview will take a look at the top of the table. These 5 teams are the ones with the most realistic shot at lifting the LCS trophy and securing international berths. Many of these teams have lofty ambitions and expectations, only matched by their budgets. There will be few lifelines given to them, and even fewer excuses for failure.
Let’s get this started with the defending champions.
Roster: Top: Ssumday/Tenacity (from 100 Thieves Academy) Jungle: Closer Mid: Abbedagge ADC: FBI, Support: Huhi Head Coach: Reapered
Players lost: None
2021: 4th in Spring, 1st in Summer, 9th-11th at Worlds 2021 (3-3 Group B)
Offseason: 100 Thieves followed the golden rule of roster building in the offseason: “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. They are running back all 5 players, and only made small additions by letting their Academy star Tenacity split time with Ssumday, and grabbing Cloud 9’s head coach Mithy, to serve as an assistant to Reapered. Tenacity has quickly made a name for himself as one of the bigger names on the very deep 100 Thieves’ talent pipeline as the academy squad had solid finishes throughout the year. Tenacity himself impressed 100 Thieves so much he was selected as an emergency substitute for Worlds 2021. While he didn’t get to play, it speaks to his talent that 100 Thieves were willing to bring him along.
While it wasn’t the most exciting off seasons, it certainly was one of the most effective.
Expectations: 100 Thieves are going to be one of the top teams to watch in the LCS for 2022. Despite already having a title and a Worlds run under their belt, I believe that this roster is nowhere near its celling. Reapered and Abbedagge were only brought in during the Summer, and the Worlds run was hamstringed by Visa issues that didn’t allow the team to practice at full strength and there were doubts that Closer was even going to make it to Iceland. Now the team has had international experience and a full split to gel as a roster.
And that is why I believe that 100 Thieves are going to be a front runner for Spring. Although there are rosters on paper that can match and even surpass the defending champions, those rosters are also loaded with big question marks and uncertainty. They will likely take time to gel, and there is always the risk of one of these “super teams” crashing and burning. 100 Thieves have no such issue. It also helps matters that the current meta (what champions and strategies are powerful) also should fit 100T like a glove. Closer will get to play many of his best champions while FBI and Huhi will be allowed to shine without the threat of massive early teleport plays from enemy top laners.
Expect 100 Thieves to come out of the gates swinging. They will be a top contender for the title in Spring and my only real concern is whether they can keep it up in Summer after their biggest competition has had time to work out their issues. Either way, all 5 of these players have tons of talent and are not done getting better. Defending the title is no easy task, but I believe the 100 Thieves organization is up for the challenge.
Roster: Top: Bwipo (From Fnatic) Jungle: Santorin Mid: Bjergsen (From TSM), ADC: Hans Sama (From Rogue), Support: CoreJJ, Head Coach: Guilhoto (From Immortals)
Players lost: Top: Alphari (to Vitality), Mid: Jensen (Free Agent), ADC: Tactical (to TSM)
2021: 2nd in Spring, 2nd in Summer, 12th-13th at Worlds 2021 (3-3 Group D)
Offseason: Team Liquid have been pulling from the same playbook in the offseason since the dawn of franchising. Cut off the weaker branches without remorse or hesitation and drop massive amounts money on the biggest names on the market. This year was not much different, but this is perhaps TL’s biggest all-in push yet.
Tactical had a very volatile 2021. While he showed flashes of his stellar rookie season, he was just as likely to lose TL a critical match all on his own. He was dropped after the Worlds run.
Alphari was one of the most historically dominant top laners in the LCS and almost singlehandedly carried TL out of the fire when the rest of the roster wasn’t clicking. He also was unlikely to play a game in a TL jersey after all the drama and turmoil throughout Summer. He went back to his home region in the LEC to join a budding super team in Vitality.
They picked up Guilhoto from Immortals. That squad punched well above their weight class for almost all of 2021, and Guilhoto was seen as a big reason why. They hope he can take the revamped giant to new heights.
But the headline making moves were who they got as replacements, and what happened in the mid lane.
After a roleswap in Summer and taking Fnatic on a Cinderella run of the ages through the lower bracket of the LEC playoffs (we don’t talk about what happened afterwards at Worlds), Bwipo has decided to go back to his main role and take his talents overseas.
In the bot lane, Hans Sama, one of Europe’s most elite ADCs (and Europe has some very good ADCs) also decided to dawn the blue and white of TL. His stock is at an all-time high after 2021 where he had amazing regular seasons where he consistently stayed at the top of the leaderboard for 2v2 kills, was one of the only members to show up when Rogue pulled their classic habit of choking in playoffs, and nearly dragged 4 teammates who were having Worlds runs that ranged on the scale of “mediocre”, to “how did you even make it to Worlds?” out of the group of death.
In the mid lane, Team Liquid made one of the biggest headlines of the offseason. Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg, 6-time LCS champion and one of the best players the LCS had ever seen, was coming out of retirement. And he would not be playing for his longtime home in TSM. He instead joined one of their biggest rivals. It may have cost them their previous franchise mid laner Jensen, one of the only LCS mid laners who can compare and even surpass Bjergsen, but the biggest name of the LCS offseason was theirs.
Expectations: Needless to say, the expectations for this team are sky high. Anything less than making it to two finals and out of groups to Worlds would be considered and absolute embarrassment. And honestly that is probably being generous to them.
There is no way around it, with the talent and names in all 5 positions and Team Liquid’s history as one of the big 3, this team should win both splits and be a contender at Worlds. There are no real weak points, and no excuses. If TL is ever going to get back their old throne and soar to new heights, this is the year they need to do it.
Or at least that is what it should be on paper.
There are quite a few reasons I am pumping the breaks on the TL hype train and expect them to not be as advertised coming out of the gate. For all the massive amounts of talent, there are questions in almost every position. How well does Bwipo make the swap back and can he keep his name out of the headlines? Can Santorin stay healthy? How quickly does Bjergsen adjust to being back in pro play? How well will Hans Sama make the jump between leagues? When will CoreJJ get his green card? And can Team Liquid not self-destruct and play down to competition for the first time since 2019?
That question is perhaps the biggest one, as Team Liquid has consistently made headlines for reasons off the rift ever since the turn of the decade. Despite all the roster changes and big spending, there is always something that keeps them from performing quite as advertised. And the less said about their Worlds runs the better. This is the equation Team Liquid will have to solve to make 2022 a success. A 5th straight year of 3-3 and getting bounced in groups will be unacceptable.
This team probably has the loftiest expectations of any team in the LCS this year, but with the talent on the roster, they are more than capable of meeting and surpassing them.
Roster: Top: Summit (from Liiv Sandbox) Jungle: Blaber Mid: Fudge (swapped from Top Lane) ADC: Berserker (From T1 Challengers) Support: Isles (from C9 Academy)/Winsome (from Shadow Battilica) Head Coach: LS (From T1)
Players lost: Mid: Perkz (to Vitality), Zven (to C9 Academy) Support: Vulcan (to Evil Geniuses), Head Coach: Mithy (to 100T)
2021: 1stin Spring, 5th at MSI (3-7), 3rd in Summer, 5th-8th at Worlds 2021 (2-4 in groups, 0-3 to Gen. G)
Offseason: For a team that had the most Worlds success of any NA team in 4 years (since their previous iteration), Cloud 9 had quite the busy offseason. Their biggest signing of 2021 and one of the greatest western LoL players of all time left the team after a very volatile year. Luka “Perkz” Perković, the superstar mid laner of the LEC, was gone.
Despite the success and money that came with the LCS, Perkz found that he did not want to build his career in LA, and desired to move back closer to his friends and family. A very understandable decision for the 23-year-old Croatian superstar. He departed the team on good terms and will be joining Alphari in Vitality’s attempt at a super team.
Strangely enough, despite all the moves Cloud 9 made, perhaps their biggest one was at the Head Coaching role. It was one of the most notable moves any LCS team made in the offseason, and it can be traced back to most of C9’s 2022 roster decisions.
If there is one word to describe former T1 streamer/bbq Olivers coach Nick “LS” De Cesare’s relationship with the League community, it would be “divisive”. LS has a very different way of looking at the way League of Legends is played then many players, coaches, analysts, and fans, and he is not shy about expressing these opinions. As such, he has a very love/hate relationship with the LoL esports community. The love part comes from his thousands of fans, who take his words to heart so much they are jokingly called “The Church of LS”. The hate part comes from those who disagree with his takes and his attitude, which got so strong that when rumors of him becoming a coach for T1 surfaced, people drove an LED truck outside T1 headquarters to protest the move, and sent constant death threats to not only him, but his grandmother as well.
As you can see, a lot of people have very strong feelings about LS one way or the other. But Cloud 9 decided to give him a shot to take them to new heights, and with his guidance, the organization quickly got to making moves.
In the top lane, C9 picked up Summit from Liiv Sandbox. A very strong Korean top laner who made his name on bruisers like Gnar and Renekton, with solid laning stats despite not getting many resources in the draft phase. He is a very well-rounded player with few real weak points and strong play throughout all phases of the game. A good pickup, but C9 already had a top laner in Fudge. So what did they do with him?
Simple, they roleswapped him to mid lane to replace Perkz. While the move seems like a confusing headline, Fudge showed massive amounts of growth throughout 2021. He went from someone who was having his head called for during the Lock-in tournament, to one of the most consistently good members of C9. Even during the tumultuous Summer regular season, and the very up and down Worlds and MSI runs, he was almost always at least serviceable. And he will have to grow more in a new role to continue C9’s momentum.
In the bot lane, even more changes occurred. While Zven is a very skilled ADC and certainly deserving of his contract, he also made a name for himself in NA for choking away key situations. While it looked like he finally got over the 2019 Spring finals this year, there was simply new material with game 3 of the quarterfinals against Gen. G. As such, T1 have decided to roll the dice on the T1 Challengers star Berserker for the regular season. Despite only really popping into the professional scene last year, he has put up some solid performances in the Korean Academy and Challenger circuits. He has plenty of room to grow, and I am excited to see how he develops.
The final change came at support, and the only one I am somewhat questionable on. Moving on from Vulcan to promote C9 Academy support Isles and Korean armature Winsome feels very much like a “we have reached our celling” type of move. I question if they really did hit that celling and I am not quite seeing what gave them so much confidence in these two. They aren’t bad but it doesn't feel like a “win now” move as the two look like immediate downgrades from Vulcan. And I’m not sure why you would go with another developmental player when you are already running one in bot lane and a young roleswapped player in mid.
Expectations: If Cloud 9 can overcome the language barrier with 2 ½ Korean players, If Fudge’s roleswap works as well as they obviously hope it will, if Summit and Berserker can adapt to life in LA, If Berserker develops fast and properly alongside Winsome, and/or he establishes synergy with Isles despite the language barrier, if LS’s views on LoL are both practical in game, and the team proves they can implement them, Cloud 9 can and will compete for LCS titles and be suited to take on the international competition on the Worlds stage.
As you can clearly see, that is a LOT of ifs.
Cloud 9 has quite possibly one of the highest gaps between their ceiling and floor of any LCS team. They are making a lot of gambles this season and are making them with absolute confidence. LS even said in an AMA that his goals for C9 are “Semi’s at Worlds at least with Fudge and Blaber becoming the best western Mid and Jungle players. And that even 2nd in Spring/Summer is a failure”. If they do all click together, their unconventional way of looking at the game may surpass even the defending champions of 100 Thieves, and the western super team of TL.
However, if this team starts to stumble, things could get very ugly very fast. This team lives and dies by players developing quickly to elite levels of play. If any combination of Berserker/Isles/Fudge/Winsome stall out in development, Cloud 9 will lose a lot of the firepower they were counting on. And it could get even worse when talking about intangibles. Seeing as this team was essentially built by LS, for LS, all those haters I mentioned earlier are waiting for the first opportunity to rip C9 to shreds. And while LS, Blaber, and Fudge have had time and experience dealing with it, I cannot say that Summit, Isles, Berseker and Winsome have had experience taking the lashings the LoL community will give them at the first sign of failure. The mental strength of the young players on C9 will certainly be tested throughout the season.
All eyes are on Cloud 9, for better, or for worse. This team will either go down as one of the great successes in the LCS, or crash and burn in ways not seen since “Breaking Point”. There is unlikely to be a middle ground. And it is up to the Cloud 9 players and staff to make sure they end up on the correct side of the coinflip. Good Luck.
Roster: Top: Impact Jungle: Inspired (from Rogue) Mid: jojopyun (from EG Academy) ADC: Danny Support: Vulcan (from C9) Head Coach: Peter Dun
Players lost: Mid: Jiizuke (Free Agent) IgNar (still under contract, but unlikely to play)
2021: 5th-6th in Spring, 5th-6th in Summer
Offseason: After an explosive Summer Split that ended with a whimper, Evil Geniuses took the next step in maintaining the success of the Summer regular season and getting over the 5th-6th place hump. Their rock in the top lane Impact, and their Rookie of the Split Danny both remained with the team. But they made quite a few changes in the other 3 positions.
One of the more storied homegrown supports Vulcan, fell right into EG’s lap as the C9 dream team was being assembled. Vulcan is an elite LCS support and a huge pick up for any team who has his services. The jungle on the other hand, saw a huge upgrade out of nowhere. The 2021 LEC Summer MVP, and one of the core members of Rogue decided to head overseas to wear the EG jersey. Inspired’s mechanics, pathing, game knowledge, and more are all very good and have earned him praises as one of Europe’s fastest rising and most elite junglers. While their previous junglers were not bad, this is a huge upgrade any way you slice it.
It was in the mid lane where they took a huge gamble. Despite Jiizuke mostly shaking the reputation of a coinflip player and playing well enough to make the first team All-Pro in summer, Evil Geniuses decided to move on from him in favor of their 17-year-old prodigy Joseph Joon Pyun. Fervrant academy watchers know him as “jojopyun” and he has been one of the most hyped-up young NA talents in years. Everyone from fans, to analysts, to other players have been singing his praises. He is a lane dominant player who is more than willing to make an explosive play when the situation calls for it and can snowball a game with his excellent mechanics if his jungler enables him to.
Expectations: If there is any team, I think is going to be fun to watch, regardless of whether they can contend for a title and a Worlds spot, it is Evil Geniuses. EG are betting their entire 2022 on two players who are either just barely or aren’t even old enough to be UNT students. Danny and jojopyun are cut from the same cloth. Young, aggressive players with great mechanics who aren’t afraid to make plays that snowball the game if they go well, but have issues with consistency and turning off the aggression when the situation calls for it. Quite frankly, this team’s ceiling is defined by how well jojopyun’ rookie season goes, and whether Danny can avoid the sophomore slump. That is not to knock on Impact, Inspired, or Vulcan. Not at all. Impact has been one of the best and most consistent top laners in the LCS since 2016, Inspired is one of the fastest rising young junglers in the west, and Vulcan has proven time and time again he is an elite support in the LCS. But it really feels like those 3 are the “supporting cast” in a way. They are known (very good) quantities while Danny and jojopyun are the mystery box. If they meet or exceed expectations, perhaps EG will grab one of those coveted Worlds spots.
Regardless of results, you can expect this team to be aggressive, explosive, and a treat to watch any time they take the rift. If you want a new team to root for, you could do much worse than Evil Geniuses.
Roster: Top: Huni Jungle: Spica Mid: Keaiduo (from ThunderTalk Gaming Young) ADC: Tactical (from TL) Support: ShenYi (From FunPlus Phoenix Blaze) Head Coach: Chawy (from Hong Kong Attitude)
Players lost: Mid: PowerOfEvil (to Immortals), ADC: Lost (to Golden Guardians), SwordArt (to Weibo Gaming) Coach: Bjergsen (to TL)
2021: 3rd in Spring, 4th in Summer
Offseason: TSM had to navigate an offseason filled with pitfalls and dark clouds. They were coming off a devastating 3-2 loss to their biggest rival Cloud 9 to deny them a Worlds spot despite finishing the regular season in first. Their biggest signing in SwordArt, who they spent $6 million dollars on, was a flop. The team had hit their ceiling, and that ceiling just wasn’t high enough.
The beginning of the offseason brought the most hope, just before bringing the most despair. Bjergsen, one of the LCS’s G.O.A.Ts and the face of the TSM franchise, was leaving his job as TSM’s head coach to return to pro play in 2022. After TSM announced they were dropping PowerOfEvil it seemed like a shoe in that fans would be seeing TSM Bjergsen in the mid lane once again. There was only one small problem…
Bjergsen came out of retirement to play with CoreJJ.
Team Liquid were not willing to sell CoreJJ.
And thus, the face of the franchise and quite possibly the best player TSM had ever had, signed with one of their biggest rivals. For the second time, Team Liquid ripped away TSM’s player that gave them most of their identity.
This is the scenario that TSM had to rebuild from. An unenviable task for any org, but one even less so for a team with as much history and name power as TSM.
TSM began by looking back to an old face to compliment the remaining players of Spica and Huni. Tactical, who began his LCS career as a TSM Academy signing came home. This was after an up and down split where his over aggression on Tristana in Spring turned him into a meme and a punchline for most of 2021, followed by a slight resurgence in Summer that almost saw TL win another LCS title, capped off by an underwhelming Worlds that had fans calling for his head again. This time, with Hans Sama on the market, TL complied with their fans’ wishes. He will look to bounce back on the organization he called home for most of 2019.
As for the other two, despite rumors of TSM managing to snag G2’s support MikyX, TSM looked to one place to plug the holes in Mid and Support. China. More specifically The LDL.
ShenYI served as the support for 2019 World champion FunPlus Phoenix and made a very good impression on TSM in the tryouts. He learned from the main roster’s starter Crisp the fine arts of being where he needs to be at the right time, and pulling the trigger in the key moments. He was a little risk averse at times, but a solid pickup nonetheless if you want a support with plenty of room to grow.
The mid lane on the other hand was a point of mystery for a while with plenty of rumors. First it was Bjergsen, then it was Icon from LNG, then it was Faker with a $40 dollar contract for like an hour, then it was Creme from OMG, before finally settling on Keaiduo from ThunderTalk Gaming Young. A 20-year-old player with one year of competitive experience on a bottom feeder organization whose academy team was only mediocre.
Certainly, no Bjergsen, but he looked serviceable with good performances on champions that could roam like Ryze and Twisted Fate. He was inconsistent at times, but that can be attributed to more to the team he was playing for rather than the man himself.
Expectations: When looking at this team, it feels like a solid roster, it is just weird to call a TSM roster solid when they have been getting big names for years. The roster has some good potential with 2 essential rookies and 2 young players alongside the veteran Huni. It certainly isn’t a bad roster, and TSM had to navigate some perilous circumstances to get here. But I don’t really get the same feeling that this team can win it all that I get from the teams above them. This very much feels like a rebuilding year, which is something TSM hasn’t really had to do much. I could see this team taking out the bottom to middle of the pack without much trouble, and even upsetting one (if they don’t develop well), or multiple (if things go right) of the top teams. I just can’t see them running the full gauntlet of top teams when the top of the league is so stacked. Maybe they will sneak into a 3rd place spot and summer and return to Worlds if everything breaks right. This could be one of the quieter years for TSM, but the roster still has potential and could climb up the ladder if they develop fast or if a top team slips up. This is probably the last team on this list that I feel has a realistic shot at first place (And even this is a bit of an outside looking in situation). While the others could certainly surprise people, pull off an upset or two and maybe even sneak in as a 2nd or 3rd seed if things really break right, this is about the end of the true contenders. And as such, it makes a great place to leave off.
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