First, a rant.
I’ve seen a lot of people asking what the point of Lock In is if teams aren’t able to start their LCS regular-season lineups. And I thoroughly disagree with this sentiment. In fact, I posit that if we were speaking of any other major region and their players coming up from a development system to play in what is essentially a preseason tournament, we would be getting geared up to see what new talent could show us. Perhaps this is a difference in marketing — although Lock In isn’t the regular season, it’s still LCS — yet Demacia Cup and KeSPA Cup are marketed separately from their regular seasons. Still, there’s a lot to be excited about in watching new talent debut, or old talent surprise you. It’s why Demacia Cup is one of my favorite tournaments to watch of all time.
With that rant over, as the least traditionally hype person on the LCS Analyst Desk, it is now my job to hype you up for Lock In, without being able to fully say who will start in some cases. Also I’m currently writing this with a high fever from my booster shot so apologies in advance if the writing is a little wonky.
Let’s get it.
These are in group and then alphabetical order. No power rankings to see here. Ten teams, ten thoughts.
One of the oft-repeated sentiments of this past offseason was the 100 Thieves won the offseason without doing much of anything at all, save promoting Academy top laner Milan “Tenacity” Oleksij to the main roster as a backup for long-time veteran Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho. They retained their LCS Championship-winning lineup for another year.
I don’t think this roster reached its full potential last year despite the LCS victory, and with the changes to Teleport affecting early game timing, the new meta is rife with potential for the 100 Thieves bot lane duo of Victor “FBI” Huang and Choi “huhi” Jae-hyun. Early meta reads from the jungle haven’t changed all that much from 2021 yet, so Can “Closer” Çelik should be completely comfortable on the likes of a returning Diana, Lee Sin, Xin Zhao, and of course, Viego. While 100 Thieves made a name for themselves early on last year for diving both bot and top at will, the start of this year will be all about the bot lane 2v2 and I’m looking forward to seeing the FBI/huhi duo improve while contesting at early levels.
A cursory glance at last year’s LCS teams reveals a surprising amount of different playstyles across all teams. Going into this year, 100 Thieves’ natural playstyle should suit the start of this meta well, and they don’t have to concern themselves with building synergy but maintaining the synergy they showcased as a team in 2021. Players to watch during Lock In will include Tenacity and 100 Thieves Academy jungler Shane Kenneth “Kenvi” Espinoza should they start.
People talk about the Nick “LS” De Cesare coaching and scouting tree in a similar way to how NFL enthusiasts talk about the Bill Belichick coaching tree or the way I talk about the Kunihiko Ikuhara animation tree that came out of the production of Sailor Moon at Toei. The Cloud9 coaching staff for 2022 and their LCS starting roster — in particular, top-turned-mid laner Ibrahim “Fudge” Allami, top laner Park “Summit” Woo-tae, and bot laner Kim “Berserker” Min-cheol — has all of the pieces in place for LS to succeed along with the full confidence of his organization, something he’s not had during his past coaching stints.
One thing I particularly appreciate is that LS himself clearly stated the goals of this roster: win both splits and make semifinals at Worlds. Only two orgs in LCS history have won both splits in the same year: TSM (2017), and Team Liquid (2018) (2019). It’s a difficult task and one that won’t ever fully be under any coaching staff’s control due to patch changes.
The fact that C9 has already been affected by travel/visa issues prior to Lock In also throws a figurative wrench in the organization’s plans. Last year, C9 used the Lock In tournament well and you could visibly see the team’s improvement from start to finish. Similarly, their run through 2021 Spring showed the team improving incrementally from week to week. This Lock In tournament was a chance for what presumably will be their starting lineup to have a grace period on top of their bootcamp to gel as a team. By contrast, since the organization has stated players will be evaluated constantly and “the best player will play,” it’s a chance for certain players to prove that they deserve a starting spot.
The early scrim rumors regarding the performance of mid laner Loïc “toucouille” Dubois involve phrases like “this kid is cracked.” Similar sentiments followed his time in France’s LFL on GameWard despite the team’s seventh-place finish in 2021 Summer. If these rumors are true, it’s a great benefit to FlyQuest, who have retained Argentinian jungler Brandon Joel “Josedeodo” Villegas. The challenge for Josedeodo last year wasn’t in his mechanics but in visible miscommunications with his lanes. With stronger lane communication and a stronger mid laner, he can easily take over a game.
Also interesting for FlyQuest is the bot lane reunion of Johnson “Johnsun” Nguyen and Zaqueri “aphromoo” Black. Johnsun was initially heralded as the next potential North American bot lane prodigy during his rookie debut on Dignitas with aphromoo at his side. Last year, aphromoo also was seemingly an instrumental part of facilitating Toàn “Neo” Trần’s success. With the meta trending towards more bot lane 2v2 action, I’d like to see revitalized performances from them both going into 2022.
Since I’ve already spent time talking about coaching staffs, or one particular coaching staff, let’s talk a bit about Golden Guardians’ coaching staff and Nick “Inero” Smith. Inero has consistently been able to get the most from what power rankings enthusiasts and analysts earmarked as 10th-place lineups in the LCS. You could make the argument that 100 Thieves wouldn’t have their title last year without the building blocks that Golden Guardians and Inero established starting in 2020 Spring.
Golden Guardians have been transparent about their lack of spending — amongst the five haves and the five have-nots in the LCS, they are by their own admission the latter — yet, they still managed to surprise during LCS Summer last year. Bringing back rising star mid laner Nick “Ablazeolive” Abbott and veteran top Eric “Licorice” Ritchie makes sense given their contributions to the team last summer. All eyes will be on the bot lane duo of Lawrence “Lost” Hui and Kim “Olleh” Joo-sung as well as Dutch jungler Milo “Pridestalker” Wehnes.
It’s odd to say that TSM are flying under the radar, but in a way, they are. At least compared to their previous iterations. While everyone is talking about the LS coaching tree, Bjergsen’s return, and Evil Geniuses’ new rookie mid laner, TSM and their commitment to scouting LoL Development League talent has been a tertiary narrative.
In signing Wong “Chawy” Xing Lei, TSM locked in yet another building block, alongside coach Peter Zhang, of having a system in place to hopefully transition Mandarin-speaking players into the LCS from the LPL talent development system rather than looking towards Europe or South Korea for players outside of North America.
I still remember the first time I saw Peter coach. It was at Scouting Grounds and he was disappointed with how quiet his team was. Waving his arms enthusiastically, he shouted at the team to yell more. “In China, we yell!” Peter said. And he didn’t mean at each other angrily, but getting pumped up and excited over a good play. His enthusiasm quickly spread through that team. Hopefully his infectious optimism combined with TSM’s two LPL/LDL prospects — mid laner Zhu “Keaiduo” Xiong and support Wei “Shenyi” Zi-Jie — can create a strong, Mandarin-speaking mid-jungle-support trio. With the recent Teleport changes, veteran top laner Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon can no longer make some of the TP plays he’s been known for in his career, so all eyes will be on the new TSM bot lane of Shenyi, an aggressive engage support player who acquitted himself well while substituting in for FunPlus Phoenix’s Liu “Crisp” Qing-Song last year, and Edward “Tactical” Ra and how well they can play their 2v2.
All this being said, TSM will be starting their Academy lineup during the Lock In tournament. Players to watch include top laner Omran “V1per” Shoura and the jungle-mid duo of Seo “Hyper” Young-hoon and Ji “Takeover” Cha Hyeun-min.
No team cleaned house quite like CLG.
During their massive struggles both on the Rift and internally last split, CLG remained a team where I didn’t particularly want to go in too hard on the players because the environment seemed so bad and not at all an accurate reflection on their abilities. That being said, after last year, a clean sweep is definitely what CLG needed. In the words of new Head of CLG Greg Kim, his goal is to make CLG a place where players want to play again.
And the roster that Jonathon McDaniel, Thomas “Thinkcard” Slotkin, and their coaching staff have put together is both interesting and full of North American talent that I’ve wanted to see actually start rather than rotate in and out cough Jenkins cough Contractz.
Amidst rumors of internal struggles on Team Liquid last year, Thomas “Jenkins” Tran was one of the best-performing top laners while substituting in for Barney “Alphari” Morris. Juan “Contractz” Garcia had a massive redebut on Evil Geniuses with a phenomenal Diana performance on his first day back. It’s good to see them get starting positions where they both are definitively the starters and can develop much more quickly throughout an entire season or year. Mid laner Cristian “Palafox” Palafox, bot laner Fatih “Luger” Güven, and support Philippe “Poome” Lavoie-Giguere round out the rest of the lineup.
The first player that people have talked about on Dignitas at length is Belgian mid laner Ersin “Blue” Gören. Blue is in an awkward spot, having received the starting role on Dignitas following an unsuccessful season with SK Gaming riddled with health issues, among the height of the offseason NA talent discourse. He’s not in an enviable position here due to no fault of his own.
While everyone is talking about Blue, the most interesting offseason pickup for me is Kim “River” Dong-woo who has impressed me at multiple international events despite looking fairly average in-season. Communication for him will be key, and interestingly he has spent efforts on past teams ensuring that he knows the language as to better communicate with his teammates.
Dignitas have already announced that River will not be able to make it in time for Lock In, so Dignitas Academy jungler Lawrence “eXyu” Xu will make his LCS debut before his Academy debut.
Returning to Dignitas are top laner Aaron “Fakegod” Lee and bot laner Neo, the latter of whom will partner with support Vincent “Biofrost” Wang, another somewhat surprising announcement for this Dignitas team.
I remember when Evil Geniuses’ mid-season roster change replacing bot laner Matthew “Deftly” Chen with Evil Geniuses Prodigies bot laner Kyle “Danny” Sakamaki next to no discussion in the community, overshadowed by other mid-season roster shake-ups. In interviewing Danny shortly after, I noted he was both nervous and straightforward. His goal was to not be the reason why his team lost. At that time, I knew him as “that good Samira player I saw once.”
Come the end of the LCS split, Danny made the most eye-catching pop-off play, that even had people who regularly denigrate the quality of the LCS impressed. Now in Evil Geniuses’ next internal promotion, Joseph “jojopyun” Joon Pyun will debut as EG’s starting mid laner this year.
Again, take scrim rumors with a grain of salt, but word on the street is that he’s performing very well. Additionally, a highlight reel of jojopyun was one of the factors in signing top LEC jungler Kacper “Inspired” Słoma to the EG 2022 lineup and according to coach Peter Dun, the two have been queuing together frequently (in bot lane, but hey it works for synergy and bot lane is fun right now.)
In a world where people profess to support North American talent and then see promoting any NA talent as both a massive risk and also a spot to be yoinked away after one bad performance, there’s a lot of pressure on jojopyun’s shoulders. He’s surrounded by strong talent on all sides, and if this EG lineup gels, they will be one of the best teams in NA. I’ll specifically be looking at the bot lane duo of Danny and Phillippe “Vulcan” Laflamme (whose signing has gone oddly unnoticed) and how they approach the 2v2 together.
I said repeatedly last year that Immortals were one of the teams I had my eye on and enjoyed watching, even if I disagreed with or heavily-criticized their draft and gameplay. Returning from that team are top laner Mohamed “Revenge” Kaddoura, jungler Andrei “Xerxe” Dragomir, and support Mitchell “Destiny” Shaw. Joining are veteran mid laner Tristan “PowerofEvil” Schrage and bot laner Jason “Wildturtle” Tran the latter of whom continues his LCS starting streak.
Xerxe was a top jungler last year and can be one of the most creative in the league. With the stability that POE provides, it should give him more coverage on the map to do what he wants whether that’s power-farming until a good dive timing or shadowing his opponent. Revenge improved significantly throughout the season, and should be comfortable in a world where he’s more focused on his lane and individual matchups in this new world of Teleport changes.
The largest questions come from the bot lane and while Destiny will likely be banned off of the Glacial Augment Thresh rising in popularity (or at least, he should be if opponents are paying attention) it’s Wildturtle that people will have their eyes on. I personally thought that individually, Wildturtle didn’t perform too badly (especially last Spring) and by all accounts he’s significantly revitalized going into this season with a new team after last year’s likely draining time on an unsuccessful CLG.
It’s obvious who the headlining player is on Team Liquid this year. The player who had an entire returning-to-the-LCS photoshoot and media day before hopping a flight to South Korea to train in the offseason.
Bjergsen is back.
In speaking with Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg on that media day, the thing that struck me the most was how much he felt like his skill had deteriorated from his time in the LCS and, in turn, his utmost confidence that he could return to that or better after putting in the time.
“I don’t want to be delusional and be like, ‘Oh I’m just going to come back and be as good as I was.’ That’s not true. I have to put the work in. I have some catching up to do, and I told my teammates that too. ‘You guys should trust that I’m going to work to where I was and then become better.’ I’m not at a point where I think it’s going to be easy. It’s going to take a lot of work from me.”
Team Liquid’s starting LCS lineup on paper is a championship lineup. Gabriël “Bwipo” Rau will make the top lane just as volatile as some of the bot lane 2v2s we’ve already seen in competitive play, bringing action top side. His map understanding last year grew exponentially as he settled into his time as a jungler, and his understanding of both sides (jungler, laner) should be of great benefit to this TL team. What compliment is there to say that hasn’t already been said about Jo “CoreJJ” Yong-in? He and his new bot lane partner Steven “Hans sama” Liv will easily contest the title of best bot lane in NA. Lastly, Santorin, provided his health issues remain mitigated, should be an excellent facilitator for this experienced team.