With the NA LCS about to return, we can probably start making a few guesstimates as to the rankings of the teams going in. Not all positions are in place yet, but ESPN has been remarkably accurate thus far, so it seems safe to assume the last rumours they've put out are as correct as those that came before.
The teams below have been ranked according to their expected placements at the end of the spring split. We've also chosen to highlight which player we reckon people should keep an eye on.
No. 10: Echo Fox
Key player: Seong "Huni" Hoon Heo
Echo Fox weren't great last year, and while they did fare better than Team Liquid, that scenario seems unlikely come this split. Echo Fox parted ways with the majority of the roster recently, but their replacements haven't been the revolutionary changes one would feel were necessary in order to usher in a big change — with one notable exception.
If the rumours of Huni coming to Echo Fox are true, then the former EU darling — turned NA lane-bully, turned SKT top-laner — might be coming back to North America. If Huni is indeed coming back, then Echo Fox's position may very well change.
The move itself is a bit questionable: Huni is reportedly coming from one of the best teams in the world to one of NA's worst, so we're cautious to buy into this particular one. It's also worth noting that even if true, Huni alone won't suddenly make Echo Fox click. The team has suffered since its decision to only scrim against itself, and its use of Delta Fox didn't help.
No. 9: FlyQuest
Key Player: Song "Fly" Young-jun
Wonderful pun aside, Fly has to be the carrying factor of FlyQuest. With a very poor showing last split, the team is facing an uphill struggle to break from their position. The addition of Fly to the roster gives them a mid-laner with a bit of punch, but he's a far cry from the likes of Bjergsen and PowerOfEvil.
No. 8: Golden Guardians
Key Player: Juan "Contractz" Arturo Garcia
The former C9 jungler is known to be an aggressive playmaker and he'll be needed to apply pressure all over, which will help GGS get settled into their first LCS as a team. The players aren't new to the game, but they're new to each other, and coupled with the fact that, while good, the players are worse versions of what other teams have, it's unlikely that they'll be a top contender this time around.
No. 7: Clutch Gaming
Key Player: Fabian "Febiven" Diepstraten
Clutch Gaming don't have the experience as an organisation. They might not have all the biggest names either, but Febiven is a perfect example of why EU mids tend to get more attention than their NA brethren. He's a strong player with a wide range of champions in his pool, which is something CG will need if they're to stake their claim on their rank this split.
Febiven needs to control mid for his team to flourish, however. As with the Fly example above, the competition he's facing is simply better. To his luck Febiven is experienced enough to contain his opponents, which means he's still freeing up his jungler and ADC to make plays and giving CG a fighhting chance.
No. 6: OpTic Gaming
Key Player: Tristan "PowerOfEvil" Schrage
On paper, OpTic's line-up looks very promising, with one little caveat: Daerek "LemonNation" Hart hasn't been relevant in years. The former C9 support peaked seasons ago, and has had a hard time producing the results needed since. By no means a bad player, he nevertheless lacks the raw potential that so many others are showing this year.
It will, therefore, be up to the likes of PowerOfEvil to carry his team across the finish line. The mid-laner has shown time and again that he can hold even Faker at bay, revealing a form of uncanny ability to read map movements and disrupt them, thus preventing enemy mid laners from roaming down and disturbing his bot lane. This skill will be necessary to give Arrow and LemonNation the breathing room they need to get ahead.
No. 5: 100 Thieves
Key Player: Zaqueri "Aphromoo" Black
100 Thieves suffer from a potential "peaked" problem, in that all its currently announced players are established veterans. While this means they all know what they're doing and have seen their share of big scene matches, it also indicates that they're fully formed. Unlike rookies, none of these players will suddenly grow in skill. They're a known entity, but that might be exactly why their coach Neil "PR0LLY" Hammad chose them. By-the-book meta picks saw H2K heading to quarters time and again in the EU LCS, so a team that can do as its told might go far with him.
Which is where Aphromoo comes into the picture. The iconic support is considered one of the best NA has to offer, and his leadership and shot-calling skills will be needed if Pr0lly's vision is to be executed. He has the talent to play what the meta demands, regardless of pick, while leading his teammates in doing the same. This should hopefully alleviate any "TSM walking vision ward"-like tendencies, in which a player can't perform a role that falls outside their comfort zone.
With Aphromoo at the wheel, all they have to do is follow.
No. 4: Counter Logic Gaming
Key Player: Vincent "Biofrost" Wang
CLG were the second best team of those who currently remain last split, but despite this, they didn't manage to make it to world, instead handing that honour to C9. They're a strong, dependable team, however, and the addition of Biofrost is two-fold. One half is a shot-caller and solidly performing support player, adding a pillar to build the team around. The other, like Doublelift on Team Liquid, is that he has a bone to pick with the reigning kings. The TSM / CLG rivalry has received an extra layer, in which this discarded bottom laner will seek to redeem himself.
No. 3: Team Liquid
Key Player: Yiliang "Doublelift" Peng
Team Liquid didn't fare well last split, but after replacing almost all of their players and buying nearly everyone in the LCS, they've got quite the line-up coming in this year.
Doublelift's departure from TSM gives them some much needed "oomph" in the bot lane, and he'll be fighting extra hard, as he has a grudge to settle. The only reason the team doesn't rank higher is that the players haven't played together like TSM and C9 have, meaning the synergies might not be as tightly woven.
No. 2: Cloud9
Key Player: Dennis "Svenskeren" Johnsen
Having the best NA LCS showing at Worlds definitely speaks to C9's favour, but with the changes TSM have made, we felt they were still better on paper. It will, however, be interesting to see how Svenskeren fares, now that he's been taken off the TSM leash.
Notorious for castrating their junglers, TSM moved Svenskeren away from the jungle style he truly excels at — aggressive invades — and put him on unimpactful tanks. If C9 let him fly, they'll be adding another potential carry to their team. Playing much like Juan "Contractz" Arturo Garcia, Svenskeren has a higher ceiling off the bat, which means C9 should be stronger next split than last.
No. 1: Team SoloMid
Key Player: Mike "MikeYeung" Yeung
Looking stronger than ever, the area to focus on here was a tough call. On one hand, Alfonso "mithy" Aguirre Rodriguez is considered one of the brightest shot-callers and strategists in LoL. On the other, MikeYeung is something of a jungling prodigy, and if he can maintain his carry potential instead of being turned into a living ward like his predecessors, then he will prove to have the biggest impact on TSM's laning.
MikeYeung's fast style might shake up the team's regular carry, Soren "Bjergsen" Bjerg, to play a more proactive and aggressive League of Legends, instead of the somewhat defensive "lane kingdom" focus that TSM have been preferring all year.