How the Mighty Coin is Creating Chaos in the 2021 LCS Offseason
This offseason content is brought to you by Coinbase.
I remember when the League of Legends offseason was a more peaceful time. Teams would take a break during or immediately following the League of Legends World Championship (Worlds) to reset, relax, and get themselves ready for another long and thrilling season. Rosters would be leaked in a slow, methodical fashion with finalized versions released a few weeks before the start of the regular season as a sort of Christmas gift to fans everywhere. You probably remember this too, because it was merely three seasons ago.
Now the offseason has become a chaotic battleground filled with heightened ambitions, tidal waves of roster leaks, and gale-force swirling rumors. This has been the trend for the last couple of offseasons, but nothing has ever come close to 2021 in terms of the sheer speed and mass of chatter.
Hell, Edward Gaming (EDG) had yet to even lift the Summoner’s Cup before we were bombarded with the early waves of offseason leaks. I saw twice as many posts with an animated Pocket Monster sheep on Twitter than posts about what skin Scout was going to choose for his MVP finals performance.
Such is the new reality in the global war for League of Legends power. Fall behind for even a second, and your prized free agent could be gone and your roster along with it.
If you haven’t been able to keep up with the torrent of information flowing from the likes of Caedrel, Travis Gafford, Bloop, and Upcomer, never fear. We’re going to dive into the current offseason moves and what they mean for each organization and player. We’ll also provide updates as new moves break, so you can avoid falling behind like a North American team at Worlds.
If you’ve ever tuned in to Caedrel talking about esports free agency, he describes players as giant dominos waiting to fall. Often, it requires a couple dominos to fall onto a roster to tip the rest over. I find this a very apt description of how offseason moves occur.
To help you best digest how and why the offseason moves have occurred so far, and what their general impact will be on the 2022 season, I want to provide some additional context to give you a sense of the scope and magnitude of certain moves.
I’ll start by categorizing the rosters.
- Power Broker: These organizations have made massive moves that will cost them a ton of money but will put them in position to win their respective leagues and make it to Worlds. The tremors from their impact will be felt in every other roster move.
- Appreciating: These organizations have made roster changes that will either put them in a better position financially, competitively, or both. They are teams that will be on the rise and will likely be contenders for Worlds slots.
- Neutral: These organizations have made roster changes that put them in a slightly better or worse position financially, competitively, or both. However, these changes are not enough to truly move the needle from last season’s results and will likely leave them outside of realistic contention for Worlds slots.
- Depreciating: These are organizations that have made roster changes that either put them in a worse position financially, competitively, or both. They are groups on the decline and might be fringe contenders for Worlds slots or rebuilding teams.
- Coin Flip: These teams have taken significant risks in their roster construction for next season. They might have the talent to be contenders but also carry enough risk to underperform. Their changes mean they will have unpredictable, high variance final results this year.
No teams really gutted their rosters or decided to sell their talent in pursuit of a rebuild, so I don’t expect too many teams to finish extremely far below their final position last year.
With all that said, let's dive a bit into the players that were acquired or divested and talk about their impact on their new homes.
Team Liquid (TL)
Bwipo (New, Fnatic)
Bjergsen (New, Free Agent)
Hans Sama (New, Rogue)
It's like Steve Arhancet saw Vitality’s offseason moves, looked at whatever Team Liquid employee was closest to him and said, “Hold my beer.”
Team Liquid has never been an organization to be outdone in the offseason, but this is yet another level of massive for Arnhacet and company when it comes to player acquisition. Hans Sama was coveted by nearly every contending organization in the LEC after his performance with Rogue last season. To be able to pry him away from all of the suitors surrounding him is an absolute coup. Yet that still pales in comparison to what has occurred at the heart of TL’s roster.
Upon announcing his return to competitive League of Legends, there was not a doubt in anyone’s mind that Bjergsen would return in the black and white of Team SoloMid (TSM).
Until he didn't.
To steal the heart and soul of TSM, and arguably of the League of Legends Championship Series (LCS) as a whole, will go down as one of the greatest heists in League of Legends history. PapaSmithy and the 100 Thieves could barely dream of a theft as grand as this. This is Caps to G2, Rekkles to G2, levels of spicy for the LCS.
It must be said, however, that the only thing guaranteed to come with this outlay is pressure. You cannot spend this much money and make moves this bold without expecting, no demanding, overwhelming success. If TL does not deliver, at the very least, a summer split LCS title and a berth in the knockout stages of Worlds, all this outlay will look like frivolous waste.
Questions will swirl all season, but you can bet Arnancet and TL will be prepared. This team and this organization have already proven they thrive under pressure and in the spotlight, and they hope that those factors make their run to yet another set of LCS titles all the more memorable.
Evil Geniuses (EG)
Inspired (New, Rogue)
Jojopyun (New, Evil Geniuses Academy)
Vulcan (New, Cloud9)
While they spent less money than some other western teams, Evil Geniuses still made quite the positive splash this offseason. Vulcan needed a change of scenery after an emotional year with C9, but he still looks to be a top tier support in the LCS. Pair this with the inspired signing of, well, Inspired from Rogue and EG has already upgraded on two key roles. The big juicy news, though, is the addition of 17-year old Jojopyun in the mid lane. Barely old enough to meet the LCS’ age requirement, Jojopyun will now be the focal point of a roster that is looking to qualify for Worlds.
Additionally, rumor has it that EG turned down the opportunity to sign Jensen and Doublelift in favor of Jojopyun and their other homegrown talent, Danny. That’s a lot of pressure for a young player. Danny already showed us he can handle it in his single split. I have full faith that the incredibly talented Jojopyun will do the same, and with perhaps the most intelligent Jungler in the west by his side, EG are looking like they might finally #LiveEvil and disrupt the hierarchy at the top of the LCS.
Tenacity (New, 100Thieves Academy)
If it ain’t broke don’t fix it and maybe add a little something shiny. That’s the approach PapaSmithy and reigning LCS champions 100T will be taking into the new year as they made absolutely zero changes to their starting roster. The only addition to the squad is a sixth man in the form of academy top laner Tenacity, who will likely share time with the incumbent, Ssumday. This move is the cherry on top of the culmination of 100T's incredible youth development project over the last year and a half that sees three players from their academy team now starting in the LCS (Luger and Poome as a part of CLG). 100T have already reloaded their talent pipeline by adding 15-year old wunderkind, General Sniper, to their amateur team amidst interest from literally every single other LCS team. Life is good for 100T, and they can sit back and enjoy the fruits of labor with what should be yet another exciting and successful season.
Jenkins (New, Team Liquid Academy)
Contractz (New, Evil Geniuses)
Palafox (New, FlyQuest)
Luger (New, 100Thieves Academy)
Poome (New, 100Thieves Academy)
The new management at CLG is ringing in their inaugural season with a fully overhauled roster. Five new players will grace the LCS stage for CLG as they try to finally shake off the malaise that has dogged them for the past three years. It seems a bit over the top, but building a roster of young, hungry talent is absolutely the right way to go for a struggling team. I particularly like the addition of Contractz and Luger, who have shown the ability to pop off and take over games on several occasions.
So why is CLG in the neutral category if I’m so high on their offseason moves? Well, the LCS is trial-by-fire and young rosters typically don’t manage to earn berths to the playoffs or Worlds. So, while CLG is making the right investments to work toward being competitive again, we won’t be seeing any big positive returns right away.
Golden Guardians (GGS)
Pridestalker (New, MOUZ)
Lost (New, TSM)
Olleh (New, Free Agent)
GGS has had a busy offseason, yet when the dust settled, it seemed that very little had changed. Three new players arrived, but it only feels like two, considering Olleh’s last stint in the LCS was with GGS. This has also forced the demotion of Chime back to academy along with jungler Iconic, which seems like a step backwards considering they were promoted just last year in the hopes of growing into mainstays.
Additionally, while Lost performed decently for TSM, he doesn’t feel like a massive upgrade over former starter Stixxay or academy ADC Prismal, who now plies his trade for CLG. GGS should still be very excited about their talented solo laners, but two players can only carry you so far, and it feels like GGS will end 2022 as a bottom-four squad, just like in 2021.
PowerOfEvil (New, TSM)
WildTurtle (New, CLG)
IMT will roll into the new year with a fairly similar roster to last season,since they kept three of their starting five players from 2021. That said, they have made two changes to freshen up from last season’s seventh place regular season finish. WildTurtle has replaced Raes at ADC, but, most notably, PowerOfEvil (PoE) moves in as IMT’s new mid-laner. PoE is a definite step up from Insanity in experience and pedigree and is the caliber of player that does not become available all too often for teams like Immortals. His quality and relationship with jungler and fellow European Xerxe will likely define the ceiling for this improving squad, which is why I still have my reservations. PoE is undeniably talented, but he often relies on a slow, methodical playstyle centered around scaling control mages. These champions often warp the way his team must approach the game in both draft and on the rift.
It was certainly a damper on Spica’s freedom to make plays last season for TSM, and it might be the same for Xerxe this year. Furthermore, IMT lost their coach, Guilhoto, to TL and must now find a way to finish above seventh place with a similar roster under their new helmsman, Invert. I don’t quite see IMT improving on last year’s results as a team, even if the players themselves improve.
Toucouille (New, Gameward)
Aprhomoo (New, Dignitas)
FLY has put together another interesting combination of players for 2022, which has given me a lot of room for contemplation. Similar to SK, FLY also has no place to go but up after having a mid-season roster shuffle between their academy and LCS squads and still finishing ninth place.
The reason they end up in this descending category instead of neutral largely has to do with their decisions around their academy talent and the moves of their competitors. Each squad in the bottom five teams, with the exception of Dignitas, has made moves that will make them at least equally competitive in the short term but better off in the long run. For FLY, Toucouille will be a massive question mark, and Kumo, for as good as he can be in stretches, has still not shown quite enough to help a team punch above its weight and move into the upper tier of the LCS. While Aphromoo is a solid upgrade at support, we’ve seen this bottom lane before at Dignitas, and it didn’t exactly blow the LCS out of the water.
Finally, the decision to let Nxi leave the organization after a great showing in his LCS stint last split feels like a big mistake. All these decisions considered, I feel like FLY could end up in the same spot they were last split with even less talent to rely on for the future.
River (New, PSG Talon)
Blue (New, SK Gaming)
Biofrost (New, Free Agent)
DIG has been busy in the offseason hoping to improve on their sixth place regular season finish and dismal playoff performance. They made a decent splash upon acquiring Blue from SK Gaming, and then made a really big one when they landed River, the starting jungler from PSG Talon. Bringing in two imports for the most important part of the map is a big statement of intent from a team that has struggled to punch above its weight in the past.
Unfortunately, I don’t think these changes are quite large enough to get them to the point of true contention. River is excellent, but we have seen struggles from import junglers like JoseDeodo very recently, and his partner in the mid lane might not even be in the top five mid lakers in the league.
Furthermore, I believe that bringing back Biofrost from free agency is a downgrade from the departing Aprhomoo, who was pivotal to the team’s shotcalling and often dominant bottom lane. There are exciting pieces here, but I don’t think this jigsaw puzzle comes together in a way that keeps DIG as a middle of the back or better squad.
Summit (New, Liiv Sandbox)
Berserker (New, T1 Challengers)
Winsome (New, Shadow Battlica)
Isles (New, Cloud9 Academy)
After nearly a month of radio silence following the departure of Perkz and Vulcan, C9 came into the limelight with a shocking announcement. Three Korean players, two without any LCK experience at all, were imported for C9’s new roster. This move also forced Fudge to role-swap to mid lane after a season of marked improvement from the young Australian.
C9 has essentially hit the eject button on North American talent and decided to try to tap into the LCK talent pipeline. That might sound harsh, but consider the ramifications of what C9 has done. Communication in League is vital and has been a major reason why teams in the west have been hesitant to import some Korean or Chinese players in the past. Summit, Berserker, and Winsome will almost certainly not speak English well enough to truly communicate with Blaber and Fudge. That is a massive risk when you need to set up the team fights or the aggressive plays that Blaber is known for.
It is a huge bet on the talent and inherent understanding of the individual players on the roster in lieu of coordination. The bet could, of course, be a good one and C9 could end up overwhelming teams with their sheer skill and playmaking. They could also be incapable of being a true team and fall apart. The variance between floor and ceiling is about as large as I could imagine, and they will draw excitement, intrigue, and questions from the first day of the split until the last.
Keaiduo (New, TT Young)
Tactical (New, Team Liquid)
Shenyi (New, FPX Blaze)
While Steve and TL were clearly inspired by Vitality’s bold moves this offseason, TSM has drawn their inspiration from C9, with one major difference. While C9 has elected to tap the LCK pipeline, TSM has turned to the LPL, acquiring two Chinese rookies with minimal stage experience. Shenyi got a tiny taste of top-tier action subbing into a couple of games for FPX, but Keaiduo is as raw as they come and was plucked straight from the LPL challenger series.
It’s clear that TSM is taking the same bet as C9: the talent of players in the LPL and LCK is worth more than the risks presented in the communication and team-building departments.
TSM will benefit a bit more on the communication front, considering jungler Spica is fluent in Mandarin, which will ensure easier coordination with Shenyi to impact the map. The risk, however, will still be present with the rest of the roster in Huni and new ADC, Tactical.
Once again, it makes it difficult to predict how the season will play out for TSM. If their bet pays off, it could make them contenders or one of the best teams in the league outright. If it doesn’t, they could regress back to the form that saw them struggle at Worlds in 2020 and miss out on Worlds in 2018 and 2019.
This offseason has seen a major shakeup for LCS League of Legends. The power players continue to control more and more of the offseason moves by wielding their monetary and organizational resources. This continues to push the timeline and the pace of acquisitions higher and higher. It’s a very similar story across the pond in Europe, which you can learn about by checking in on our follow-up article featuring all of the teams from the LEC.