Growing Pains

When the NALCS moved towards franchising, there was a frantic scramble for players from multiple teams. Many were speculating on teams’ strengths in the Spring Split and hoping that franchising would be the push NA needed to become more relevant internationally.

When push came to shove, teams still favored veterans and imports over local talent; resulting in a simple shuffle of players in the NALCS instead of the injection of home-grown talent into the mix.

Only 2 rookies in Matthew “Deftly” Chen and Eric “Licorice” Ritchie were inducted into the NALCS from what was supposed to be a large overhaul of the system. The Spring Split ended with a result of 4 teams tied at 3rd before tiebreakers.

Said shuffle resulted in the overall growing pains exemplified by TSM’s failure to make anywhere near the Finals. While the change in pace for NALCS was welcome, questions were raised towards the overall strength of the region as a whole.

Constantly Cultivating Talent

Meanwhile, EULCS has been consistently losing their star players to the NALCS. Year after year, teams were forced to rebuild from scratch via their Challenger talent pool. Fnatic brought in Gabriël “Bwipo” Rau. Vitality brought in Daniele “Jiizuke” di Mauro, Amadeu “Attila” Carvalho and Jakub “Jactroll” Skurzyński. The list goes on.

Looking shaky in the Spring Split, the EULCS only managed to get stronger over time, still managing Top 4 at MSI with Fnatic beating the veteran line-up of Team Liquid in a tiebreaker for the extra third seed for Worlds.

Trusting the Coaches

Looking further east, the LPL finally embraced their home country’s players. RNG, the eventual winners of MSI 2018, sported an all Chinese line-up save for Hung “Karsa” Hau-Hsuan from the LMS (Taiwan). Instead of relying on imports to carry in-game, LPL finally matured into trusting their Korean Coaches in their drafts and strategies. LPL finally looked like they were privy to side lanes and wave-management before jumping to the fray during objective contests.

A stark contrast to that of NA with how teams could take teamfight wins in the river but the losing team still somehow manages to take Dragon anyway.

On Cloud-Nine

It was only until Cloud9’s Bok “Reapered” Han-gyu made the tough call to bench veteran players for their complacency that sparked a flame in the NALCS. Owner Jack Etienne put his trust in his coach to bench Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen and Zachary “Sneaky” Scuderi. They were made to learn a painful lesson as they watched helplessly while Cloud9 struggled to take any wins against the competition.

When Jensen and Sneaky eventually came back into the roster, Cloud9 found new strength in a flexible roster that inducted rookies Robert “Blaber” Huang and Tristan “Zeyzal” Stidam into the NALCS. As the only team that finally embraced the franchised model to its fullest, Cloud9’s miracle run from 10th to Worlds Quarterfinals is a historical accomplishment.

Nerves aside, it was ultimately Blaber’s performance in the Play-Ins and Zeyzal’s clutch Thresh hooks that gave Cloud9 hope against the best in the world, taking down the MSI champions and reigning World Champions.

Cloud9’s success in the World Championship should set a precedent to all other teams in the region to look closely at NA talent instead of always looking east for imports. If TSM’s acquisition of Jesper “Zven“ Svenningsen and Alfonso “Mithy” Aguirre Rodríguez proved anything, it was that team ability and synergy was not just a sum of its parts.

There are many NALCS hopefuls in the region that gave up on their dreams simply because the pro scene never had room for them to enter. This hasn’t changed since franchising. If NALCS wishes to have better performances next year, they should take a long hard look into the talent pool that exists in their front yard.