Offseason moves with the LPL have been marred by cash grabs for the biggest names without thoughts for synergy or team play since the gap between 2014 and 2015. Royal Never Give Up's success with investment in young Chinese players and a cooldown of the streaming industry have since increased the region's appetite for rookie (or at least very young) talent with a high upside.
With very few blockbuster moves in the League overall, the report card looks to evaluate teams, not by how well they'll do, but how intelligently they made moves with the resources and reputation available to them. A team like Suning Gaming made some of the smartest pickups, but they aren't expected to take over the throne from the likes of EDward Gaming, Team WE or Royal Never Give Up. By the same token, though many would applaud RNG's big choices, some of the pickups leave question marks and room for improvement.
Bilibili Gaming (formerly I May): C
After representing the LPL in the 2016 World Championship, I May experienced a lacklustre 2017 season by finishing the Summer Split in fifth out of six teams in its group; a placement that would have sent it to relegations if not for franchising. Though I May shuffled its subs and replaced Son "Kezman" Daeyong with Chinese coach Yang "Maokai" Jisong, its largest change came when major video-sharing platform Bilibili purchased the I May roster, professing faith in the current lineup.
Bilibili's success will depend largely upon jungler Yang "Sks" Daizhi, who, in the recent Demacia Championship, demonstrated growth in playing in conjunction with his teammates, holding the early game for Shek "AmazingJ" Waiho's Gangplank. Since his rookie debut in the summer, Sks has synergized better with Bilibili than the erratic Sung "Flawless" Yeonjun, and there is hope for its World Championship-experienced members, but it's hard to hold back the feeling that Bilibili could have made bolder moves to shake up the status quo.
EDward Gaming: A
Despite perceived talent downgrades to its roster before the 2017 season, EDward Gaming ended the year reclaiming the LPL trophy. The mysterious pickup of Hae "Zet" Sungmin made more sense after the sensational rookie Hu "iBoy" Xianzhao impressed on the international stage barely two months after he turned 17.
For more than two years, top lane has looked like the sore spot of EDward Gaming. Chen "Mouse" Yuhao struggled on the international stage in both 2016 and 2017, and attempts to bring in Zhao "Audi" Aodi as a rookie upgrade were met with the vocal displeasure of fans. Jeon "Ray" Jiwon's return to the EDward Gaming organization after serving time on North America's Cloud9 has stirred the most interest, but EDG has long been a more bottom lane and jungle-centric organization. Ray's quirks also no doubt make him difficult to rein in, but coach Jeong "NoFe" Nochul's experience working with high-calibre carry top laners like Song "Smeb" Kyungho could shake off EDG's reputation for being unable to nurture that side of the map.
Focusing too much on Ray, however, undersells the addition of rookie Chen "Haro" Wenlin in the jungle. Without an appearance from Ming "Clearlove" Kai, EDward Gaming still won the Demacia Championship in December. Haro fell in step with Tian "Meiko" Ye in using backs for vision, and he may be rough around the edges in engagements, but EDG may have finally found a jungler to carry on the lauded Clearlove's legacy.
FunPlus Phoenix: B
As one of two new teams to the LPL, FunPlus Phoenix took over the spot from Newbee Gaming, the only organization rejected from franchising. Without experience in Chinese LoL team-building, FPX could have done considerably worse. It smartly snatched up the promising Newbee bottom lane of Lin "Lwx" Weixiang and Liu "Crisp" Qingsong that contributed to Newbee's last-minute surge to top six. It also secured ex-Royal Never Give Up substitute jungler Hu "Pepper" Zhiwei, the only talent of many capable of filling Liu "Mlxg" Shiyu's shoes properly. These three young players could form a solid core for the new LPL team to carry it into the future.
The main question marks linger around the solo lanes. While Kim "Gimgoon" Hansaem has gained accolades as one of the region's most exciting flashy top laners, his inconsistencies were an occasional burden for his former team, Game Talents. After Saint Gaming's disappointing flop in 2016 LPL Summer, most players from that lineup were marked as non-performers, including mid laner Feng "bing" Jinwei, but he showed glimpses of promise as a rookie, and this Fun Plus team could turn out to be the right place for redemption for both him and Gimgoon.
Invictus Gaming: A-
If you paid any attention to scrim rumors surrounding the recent World Championship, you know that Invictus Gaming showed up to help not just the LPL teams, but the visiting competition in scrims. Reportedly, after narrowly missing a World Championship berth after a five-game regional qualifier final with Team WE, the addition of young AD carry Yu "JackeyLove" Wenbo (finally old enough to play in the LPL) turned iG into the Chinese team with the highest win rate in scrims.
Invictus Gaming, or as I like to refer to it, "Rookie and his rookies," has gone back to the roots of the team in 2012 and recruited extremely young talents to rebuild. During the 2017 Summer Split, Kang "TheShy" Seunglok and Gao "Ning" Zhenning delighted with hyperaggressive combinations like Kayn and Rumble. As soon as the game began, Invictus Gaming slammed its foot on the gas until it rammed itself through the Nexus.
JackeyLove marks the only real change to iG's main lineup, and his performances in offseason events haven't impressed. It isn't uncommon for young players to freeze up in their early stage games, so iG and JackeyLove may well need time to match the hype. Luckily, iG's established solo lane focus will serve as a safe nest where a young AD carry can find himself. Just temper your expectations; aggressive, lane-dominant teams often do better in scrims than on stage.
JD Gaming: B-
JingDong purchased the QG Reapers team between 2017 Spring and Summer with a long list of plug-and-play rookies. Seemingly unsatisfied with many of its choices, it continued to cycle players in and out while the team fell in the standings.
The trend seems to have continued; JD replaced both its solo laners with rookies again, but Zhan "Zoom" Xingran was one of the standout top laners of the 2017 Summer LSPL season, and Ceng "YaGao" Qi displayed a hint of flair on Moss Seven Club. Moving away from Kim "Doinb" Taesang (allegedly out of necessity) may actually prove a smart move for JD to open up its options on the map. Macro principles like lane assignments set JD back more than anything in 2017 Summer with the bottom lane put in poor positions off wave bounces. JD has solid hope for the future, but won't be world-beaters.
LGD Gaming: D
After three years, it may be time for the longest-running bottom lane duo of the LPL to call it quits. Gu "imp" Seungbin and Chen "pyl" Bo have fallen so far from their peak at 2015 that one has to wonder if they're only just now going through the motions and staying together for the sake of the children.
As for the the top side, Lim "Jinoo" Jinwoo and Xie "Eimy" Dan finally looked like they had found a cadence, but Yu "Cool" Jiajun has departed in favor of ex-Team Fighter Luo "Nanzhu" Jiarong. Despite Nanzhu's status as a promising talent from EDward Gaming's academy program, one cannot help but feel that LGD is more like the organization where promises are made to be broken.
To increase LGD skepticism, Choi "Acorn" Cheonju is the next through the organization's constantly revolving head coach door. He has returned to LGD after a disappointing run getting relegated not just from LPL, but form LSPL as well. The one shining light is that his old relationship with the team may be enough to finally command the respect that so many of his predecessors have failed to claim.
Oh My God: C
Oh My God spiraled from its Spring split glory into a disjointed mess. In Summer, the actions of Hu "xiyang" Bin and Xie "icon" Tianyu were over-aggressive and lead to needless deaths in confusing positions on the map. Bottom lane remained a reliable anchor, but OMG over-relied on Han "Smlz" Jin's hyper carry performances to compensate for early-game faux pas. Many questioned why jungler Hu "Jiekou" Zixiang started on the lineup after the success of Chen "World6" Yutian.
Not only did OMG lose Smlz, but it added yet another jungler in Zhao "Iceloli" Zhiming. With the improvements Iceloli made on EDward Gaming, he may provide a nice and controlled balance between World6's flashy aggression and Jeikou's plodding slow reactions. Yet the absence of Smlz gives no clear direction for a team that seemed to revolve around randomness early on, especially since most of Li "Chelly" Yuzhou's performances on Game Talents have been underwhelming. The OMG coaching staff hasn't earned enough faith to make us believe that OMG's 2017 Spring success was more than just 15 minutes of fame.
Rogue Warriors: C+
Despite excitement from commentators for the new Rogue Warriors lineup, a list of underwhelming supportive players pads out a roster featuring Doinb and Smlz as crown jewels. During the Demacia Championship, Doinb's Abyssal Mask-Iceborn Gauntlet Kassadin raised eyebrows almost as much as Kleptomancy Lulu mid. Early game fell into tatters with poor synergy between Sung "Flawless" Yeongjun and Liu "Killua" Danyang. Then, surprisingly, Mouse was put in a position to bring games back from behind. Though he achieved better results than expected, the entire team looked as if it had yet to find a thread to pull it together and out of a solo queue simulation.
My hope for the roster comes largely from Chou "Steak" Luhsi, who has experience to draw on in working with mid lane and jungle duos, but he may be lost leading a team without a decisive support like Hu "SwordArT" Shuochieh, who sometimes seemed to define the Flash Wolves. Based on the names on its roster, Rogue Warriors had more cash at its disposal than FunPlus Phoenix, but of the two new teams in the LPL, I'm more optimistic about the latter.
Royal Never Give Up: B+
B+ may seem like a harsh ranking for what many perceive to be an upgraded World Championship semifinalist team. But signing multiple AD carries, and going for a bold star jungle pickup and the coach of a team that worsened when Royal Never Give Up's 2017 head coach left his post as I May's analyst is a little disappointing compared to some of the options on the table.
Rumors of conflict between Liu "Mlxg" Shiyu and Jian "Uzi" Zihao have largely subsided, but a player like Hung "Karsa" Hauhuan and RNG's long list of AD carry subs feels like an insurance policy (at least in case Uzi's wrist injuries act up again). While that could be a smart thing, Karsa's track record of relying upon a heavily roaming support to aid in vision doesn't necessarily fit the bill of a 2v2 focused roster and Shi "ming" Senming's general style.
Meanwhile, Kezman has a flair for showmanship, but I May's 2017 decline, and Kezman's famous quote: "We don't play well, so we just drag everything out. When you drag it out, your record becomes 50 percent. So it isn't that we are experts at BO5s, just that we are able to drag things out" doesn't inspire confidence. He has the Spring split to prove he can pull together a roster like RNG's while simultaneously nurturing new prodigy Dai "Able" Zhichun, whose pickup is forward-thinking, and saved the team from a B or B- score.
Snake Esports: B-
After firing the entire coaching staff between Spring and Summer of 2017, Snake slowly began to turn its result around to the point where it landed in playoffs. To close the year, Snake took the only game from EDward Gaming in its Demacia Championship run during a brutal Grand Final best of five.
Snake stopped its desperate plays to fill the support role by rotating in Yang "kRYST4L" Fan and Lê "SofM" Quang Duy when it finally bothered to scout for promising Chinese supports. The addition of Liu "Hudie" Yanzhu defined Snake's improvements throughout 2017 Summer. Though it's sad to see Liu "Zzitai" Zhihao go, Ceng "Guoguo" Junli is one of the more promising young mids in the league, and while he may just be side grade for now, his upside is high.
Overall, Snake's best move was to shave off one of the three languages that weighed its communication system down. With only Mandarin Chinese and Vietnamese speaking players, Snake saw a higher rate of improvement.
None of these changes, however, took place in the offseason. Snake's only big move was dropping excess substitutes from payroll, but it made a smart move in consolidating its changes and resisting the urge to fiddle.
Suning Gaming: A-
After a near-abysmal LPL debut in 2017 Summer (it requires dedicated effort to scrub the memories of JD and SNG's first battle from the mind), Suning hit a stride around its bottom lane and began a steady climb to playoffs. Building off that success, Suning maintained a commitment to its reliable top laner, Xie "XiaoAL" Zhenying, by dropping his substitute and won the rookie lottery in jungle and mid lane.
Zhou "Knight" Ding has campaigned hard on the South Korean ladder, hitting Rank 1 multiple times to raise his stock. As the final standout of Young Miracles, a team that produced exciting rookies like Ning and Ming, it was clear Knight would be the offseason's prize. He and Yang "H4cker" Zhihao already demonstrated strong synergy in the Demacia Championship, giving SNG a well-rounded roster to work with.
Certainly, Suning's moves lack the blockbuster quality of a player like Karsa, but it made smart choices to continue a steady climb. It's hard to disagree with any of its choices assuming a relatively conservative budget.
Team WE: A-
After staying with the same four-man core for two years running, many would argue that 2018 is the year to shake up the Team WE core. But if it isn't broke, don't fix it. Despite skepticism that Team WE could do more than become "conservatively good," the team has continued to evolve in macro understanding and mid-to-late game control. It improved upon last year's results with an LPL Spring win, a World Championship seed, and semifinal appearances in both landmark international events of the year.
Though Team WE may be receiving diminishing marginal returns in improving its play, it still continues to improve. With the departure of Yoon "Homme" Sungyoung, picking up Chae "viNylCat" Woocheol, often credited for his work with one of China's first mixed-language rosters in Star Horn Royal Club, isn't a bad move for the organization. Team WE is still expected to contend at the top of the league.
Topsports Gaming (formerly DAN Gaming): C
The Barons of Baron is back under new ownership with almost no changes to the lineup save for the addition of a substitute jungler and a change to coaching staff. DAN still has a decent talent base to work from, but with a bevy of top lane talents in the new LDL, I'd be lying to say I wasn't a little disappointed.
Most worrying, DAN didn't evolve past a Kalista-Cho-Cassiopeia reliant, Baron-centric style, and its vision patterns didn't change after a promising initial start. Little hope can be said that Topsports has the reserves to change, but with franchising in place, it has time to marinate.
Vici Gaming: C-
In retaining the same starting lineup that won Vici Gaming the last split of the LSPL, it has strong synergy to go into the next season of the LPL. Unfortunately, because Vici has retained the same core for the third year running, spectators can expect the same variation on a theme as when Choi "DanDy" Inkyu led the lineup.
As already demonstrated in the Demacia Championship, the top side held the map while Lee "Easyhoon" Jihoon scaled, making games long and reliant on mistakes from the opposing team. Tan "Martin" Qi served well in the LSPL against less coordinated teams, but higher levels of competition await Vici Gaming in the LPL. Though Vici Gaming should perform better than the slow-building Bae "bengi" Seongwoon iteration, especially with Duan "caveMan" Deliang continuing to improve, its offseason moves and potential are left at simmer.