I vote for the official North American LCS Awards at the end of each split -- well, unless Riot Games takes my vote away after reading this -- and I like to be transparent with my voting.
I could keep my ballot under wraps until the season ends, but that's no fun, is it? So I decided since we're at the almost-halfway point of split (each team needs to play one more match this weekend to finish their first round-robin go around), why not show you who I would pick for Rookie of the Split and the Most Valuable Player awards if the season ended today?
Rookie of the Split Award
1. Matt "Akaadian" Higginbotham (Echo Fox)
There is a good chance a majority of the NA LCS audience hadn't heard of Akaadian before the season. His announcement as part of the Echo Fox roster almost felt like an afterthought, with the brunt of the headlines going toward the Foxes picking up former world champion top laner Jang "Looper" Hyeong-seok. Akaadian, a player on 11 different amateur and minor league clubs before being picked up by Echo Fox, was expected to hopefully be an upgrade over 2016's Echo Fox jungle battery, but nothing more.
Almost halfway into the season, Akaadian has not only been an upgrade in the jungle, but he's the reason why Echo Fox is in the playoffs and boasts a 4-4 record after starting the season with two straight match losses. The Foxes have the best early-game in the entire NA LCS, and that's thanks to Akaadian getting himself (and sometimes his laners) rolling in the first 10 minutes of the game with his slick ganks and strong mechanical outplays. Even when Echo Fox has been awful this season, Akaadian has been putting up good numbers and getting the Foxes leads in the laning phase.
His 115 kills lead all players in the NA LCS through eight matches, and he has the highest gold differential at 10 minutes, as well, leading the likes of Dignitas ace Kim "Ssumday" Chan-ho and FlyQuest leader Hai "Hai" Lam. Following Echo Fox's 2-0 sweep of Team SoloMid to close out Week 4 of the NA LCS, Akaadian's case for Rookie of the Split (and maybe even a bigger award) will strengthen if the Foxes match its early-game success with better maneuvering in the latter stages.
2. Juan "Contractz" Garcia (Cloud9)
The jungler that was expected to pick up this award in a runaway, Cloud9's Contractz has had a great season. Don't take him being No. 2 as a judgment that he's been underwhelming or poor. It's quite the opposite. In most seasons, Contractz would be the leader for the Rookie of the Split award by playing on an undefeated team and putting up big numbers. His first few games of the year couldn't have gone better; his first-ever professional match, a Cloud9 win against TSM, showcased the mechanics that made the 17-year-old a must-sign player before he even became of-age to play in the LCS.
What was a close race between Akaadian and Contractz going into Week 4 swung heavily in the Fox jungler's favor with a soft weekend from the Cloud9 rookie. C9 picked up two more match victories to keep its record spotless, but Contractz met resistance for the first time in his career and was beaten in the jungle in both contests against former league MVP Yeu-jin "Reignover" Kim of Team Liquid and Galen "Moon" Holgate of FlyQuest.
3. Cody "Cody Sun" Sun (Immortals)
1. There are only three players eligible for the award this split. So however things shake out, Akaadian, Contractz and Cody Sun will be in the top three of voting.
2. Although Cody looked like a rookie AD carry in a poor meta for AD carries for the first three weeks of the season, constantly missing key ultimates on Ashe, he came alive in Week 4. His decision to play Miss Fortune in the marksmen role against Team Liquid was the right choice at the right time for Immortals. Cody Sun soared on the champion in two decisive victories. In a game during the weekend against Dignitas, he delivered more than 60 percent of his team's damage on Varus, almost certainly a record for damage percentage by a rookie in LCS, and maybe League of Legends, history.
Cody Sun might sit at the third spot now, but Immortals has started to play as a team, and there is still a lot of season left to play.
All in all, if the three continue improving, this very well could go down as not only North America's smallest rookie class, but its best, too.
Most Valuable Player Award
Let's throw out some honorable mentions first:
Galen "Moon" Holgate (FlyQuest)
If there was a Comeback Player of the Year/Split award, he would win it without question. His transformation from NRG and TL this past year to the confidence he is playing with now on FlyQuest is almost indescribable.
Soren "Bjergsen" Bjerg (TSM)
I would still vote him as the best player in the region, but neither the three-time MVP nor his club are having their best season. While it'd be stupid to count Bjergsen out of the race, he's going to need an amazing second half to win his fourth MVP accolade.
Joshua "Dardoch" Hartnett (Immortals)
Similar to Akaadian, even when Immortals doesn't play well, Dardoch almost always does. He's grown into more of a leader on Immortals, and the team, despite a weak start, has started to thrive. That turnaround has brought Dardoch's play to an even higher level.
No "Arrow" Dong-hyeon (Phoenix1)
It's a close race between the best AD carries in the NA LCS, but my vote today for the all-NA LCS team for the marksmen position would be Arrow. He's not been super flashy, but his play has been consistent, and he's had a great start to his career in North America.
Jung "Impact" Eon-yeong (Cloud9)
The best top laner in NA, he's split time this season with understudy Jeon "Ray" Ji-won. After a so-so performance this past week against FlyQuest, Impact, who I'm sure is on many people's MVP lists, is off my ballot for now.
And now, to the main course:
1. Nicolaj "Jensen" Jensen (Cloud9)
The best player (you can argue if it's him or Impact) on the best team in the league usually wins the MVP award, especially when they're undefeated like Jensen and C9 are at the almost-halfway point of the split. Jensen came into the league with lots of buzz around him from his days in European solo queue, and it took time for him to adjust to his new surroundings. He eventually needed former C9 mid laner Hai to come in as jungle and help push him to his full potential.
Now, though, Jensen is in no need of help and is far ahead of the competition in terms of kills/deaths/assists at an outstanding 7.1 ratio. He has 94 kills to his name, second at his position behind, you guessed it, FlyQuest's Hai. In 2016, Jensen was considered a star player, but he's truly blossomed into a Bjergsen-level superstar this season, if only for at least the first half of the split. If Cloud9 had replaced him with an average mid laner in the offseason, it wouldn't be anywhere near an undefeated record.
2. Hai "Hai" Lam (FlyQuest)
Hai is an interesting player to rank. If we were to ask which player was the most important to his team, then Hai might be the tops in the league, even over Bjergsen. Hai's shotcalling, leadership and personality have been the catalyst for Moon, a player that looked lost this past year on NRG and TL. His turning into one of the best junglers in the league through the first half of the season is, in part, thanks to Hai.
FlyQuest is one of the best early-game teams in the league, and that's mostly because of Moon and Hai's partnership in roaming across the map and opening up the field with brash four-man ganks in side lanes. Hai has brought his philosophy of going after early Barons to FlyQuest, and the team regularly goes for the purple worm within the first few minutes it is up. Only Echo Fox, the best early-game team, has been better at claiming the first Baron.
Hai's individual play has been as MVP-worthy as his leadership this split. He leads all players at his position in damage per minute, kills and gold differential at 10 minutes.
3. Matt "Akaadian" Higginbotham (Echo Fox)
We already talked about Akaadian in the Rookie of the Split section, but his play has been strong enough to bump him over some veterans to make it on the MVP ballot for at least this part of the split. Without Akaadian, Echo Fox is nowhere near 4-4, and the team is probably discussing which players to bench going into Week 5. His ability to assert himself early in games can not be understated, and as long as Echo Fox can sync up more with Looper in the top lane, the Foxes could be a dangerous foe come playoff time.