The 2018 season looms. Speculation regarding Team SoloMid's jungle signing in North America, top teams in League Champions Korea (LCK) retaining rosters, a so-far-so-quiet League of Legends Pro League (LPL) in China, and Europe's tepid shuffle have all been subject to scrutinization. But before the roster shuffle ends, it's important to reflect on last year's buzz and point out a few things the people misjudged and what lessons can be gleaned to evaluate predictions for next year.
LPL: Roster retention means next to nothing
While appraisers were mixed on Royal Never Give Up and EDward Gaming after the departure of Kim "Deft" Hyuk-kyu and Cho "Mata" Se-hyeong, the true surprises came from Oh My God and I May. OMG and I May made only subtle changes to the jungle role before debuting -- I May acquired Tu "Ben4" Xincheng and OMG picked up Chen "World6" Yutian, neither having any LPL experience in 2016.
I May had a strong start with Son "Kezman" Dae-young's drafts outclassing his competition, but the team seemed to hit a ceiling. For much of I May's run in 2016 and 2017, the team insisted its players weren't particularly high-level individually, but working around that elevated it. Growth stopped, I May stagnated and found itself outside playoffs looking in by the end of the year.
To contrast, OMG played relegations in both 2016 splits, but World6's fearlessness gave it direction. Individual progress from Han "S1mLz" Jin demonstrated that a less concentrated team had at least a reliable carry. OMG's rise wasn't due to "an overall decline in competition" either, as LPL teams demonstrated at all three international events.
EU LCS: Splyce, staying together, and vying for the top
In their preseason assessment, EU LCS casters Martin "Deficio" Lynge and Mitch "Krepo" Voorspoels place Splyce under the category of competing, alongside G2 Esports, for first place. As Krepo said at the time, "A lot of the growing pains that we talk about for potentially Fnatic, Origen -- all these other teams -- that's not going to be the case for Splyce."
The community at large tended to agree. Splyce placed top two in the 2016 summer split, and it would tighten its coils around the rest of Europe in a new season. Problems with poor development and stagnation plagued Splyce, a team that hadn't changed a single member.
Krepo and Deficio at least acknowledged Splyce had demonstrated signs of stagnation even as early as the tail end of last summer. The team hadn't come up with game plans outside "just gank top," and the Snake crumbled. Many might say it came down to not having enough to challenge it internally or the general leveling up in Europe, but a team already failing to develop before a major meta change shouldn't have earned so much leeway in the eyes of the public. It isn't just about sticking together, but about gauging potential pitfalls in the system.
NA LCS: The disaster FlyQuest really wasn't
For every disaster story in esports, there's a story of heroes. When FlyQuest purchased the Cloud9 Challenger roster without making substantial changes, to say that initial reactions were skeptical would be an understatement. Power Rankings for major outlets, including ESPN, had Hai "Hai" Lam's team pegged for eighth in the league at best. Galen "Moon" Holgate was even considered a downgrade from C9C's previous jungler.
With a flood of ex-LCK prospects like Kim "Ssumday" Chanho coming to the NA LCS, it wasn't unreasonable to think FLY's roster would get outclassed. Even the team started playing cheese strategies to get an edge when opposition uncovered its formula.
Tim Sevenhuysen pegged FlyQuest 10th in his power ranking and said Hai "Hai" Lam "is not a miracle-worker." While that's true, Hai has demonstrated repeatedly that decisiveness wins games in the NA LCS. Teams over-complicated situations by bringing in stars from abroad without considering team identity. FlyQuest had a simple approach to Baron control and mid roams that gave it an easy identity and allowed it to progress much further in the season (besting Dignitas in the Worlds Qualifier as its last act).
But beyond that, the lesson FlyQuest teaches is that, historically, the public has quickly dismissed individual players for perceived individual skill. There's a lack of understanding regarding what makes a team successful, and players like Hai and Daerek "LemonNation" Hart have had their careers called before they've exhausted what they have to offer.
LCK: The most competitive season to date
When SK Telecom T1 announced star acquisitions like Han "Peanut" Wang-ho, and ex-Samsung players Deft and Mata ventured to KT Rolster, excitement for the LCK was in full force like it hadn't been since 2014. This year, SKT fell, but more than that, no one would touch the LCK powerhouse at international competition in 2017.
The gap is closing. https://t.co/exUuL8yjBZ
- MonteCristo (@MonteCristo) December 1, 2016
SKT gave its worst Worlds showing to date, taking series against Misfits and RNG to five games. A non-LCK team came out first in a group with an LCK team for the first time since 2015. Samsung felled a struggling Longzhu, but still took time to ramp up.
If there's any lesson that should be taken from 2017 preseason assessments, it's the LCK's. This was the year teams that long since believed in developing their own talents from scratch had begun to buy into the "super team hype." This was the year brand value and star power mattered more to South Korea than a defined identity. This was the year Samsung stuck with its previous band of rookies, misfits and rejects and won a World Championship.
When analysts sit down to power rank and haggle over top and bottom performances, keep the lessons of 2017 in mind. It isn't about sticking together. It isn't about growing pains. It isn't about stars. It's about knowing who you are as a team and how to work with it. Don't be so quick to dismiss the rejects because, this year, they ruled the League of Legends world.