Seven enter the North American League Championship Series summer season as veterans, and three incoming challengers are making their debut. Apex Gaming was promoted from the minor league of the North American Challenger circuit, prevailing over fellow minor league squad Team Dragon Knights in the NA LCS summer promotional tournament. Team Envy and Phoenix1 entered the league due to the organizational bans of the Renegades and Team Impulse, respectively. Envy is an old school esports club with deep roots in the first-person shooting genre, while Phoenix1 are a brand new team owned by Hollywood movie moguls Rob Moore, the Vice Chairman of Paramount Pictures, and Jack Giarraputo, a co-founder of Adam Sandler's Happy Madison Productions.
The question now is: How far can this trio of newcomers push the old guard this summer?
If you're new to NV
Out of these new clubs joining the NA LCS, Team Envy is most likely your best bet if you want to support a team going to the playoffs in its first split. The team is made up of three starters from the former Renegades organization it acquired the LCS spot from. Those three players, especially the South Korean pair of Shin "Seraph" Wu-Yeong and Noh "Ninja" Geon-woo in the solo lanes, were a large part to why the struggling Renegades turned its season around to become a force by the end of the spring regular season. You could reasonably compare them to the Minnesota Timberwolves from the NBA, a team on the rise and chock-full of talent.
Player to Watch: Benjamin "LOD" deMunck
Keep a close eye on the 19-year-old Canadian rookie this split. LOD has been a player on the fringe of the major league for the past few years, and Team Envy will be his shot at making sure he never goes down to the Challenger scene ever again. He substituted for three NA LCS teams last season and did relatively well for the short-term notice, but the NV team built around him should give him the necessary tools to fulfill his potential. North America is deep in talent when it comes to the AD carry position, and LOD wants to be the next great product from the region that has produced the likes of Yiliang "Doublelift" Peng, Jason "WildTurtle" Tran, and Zachary "Sneaky" Scuderi.
It'll be interesting to see if this makeshift Renegades roster can continue the momentum it had at the end of last season. The core of Seraph and Ninja is still there, and although the departure of Aleš "Freeze" Kněžínek is sure to hurt with a relative rookie starting in his place, the team could thrive if the chemistry comes together quickly. Kim "Procxin" Se-Young, the third South Korean in the starting five, is the make or break player for this roster. He started his NA LCS adventure with Team Impulse poorly but picked up steam as the season went along like the Renegades. The Korean jungler has the mechanical talent to be one of the best at his position in the league, and a better team around him with two Korean solo laners sandwiching him on the map could be the key to a breakout split.
If you're new to APX
From the north of the Timberwolves, we'd move to the Philadelphia 76'ers for Apex Gaming. Not to say that Apex should be expected to perform as poorly as Philly did last year in the NBA (last in the league), but the structure of the teams are similar. There is a "Process" going on with Apex and its 10-man roster, and there is a whole bunch of talent to go along with its extensive starting lineup. However, similarly to the Sixers, just because you have a lot of young talent and keep grabbing players with potential doesn't mean results will follow. You need a good coach, which Apex hope they have in former NA LCS jungler Brandon "Saintvicious" DiMarco, and a team that works well together on the playing field.
Player to Watch: Cristian "Cris" Rosales
Cris has one of the more interesting, and sorrowful, pro-gaming careers in the history of League of Legends. When it comes to the minor leagues and the Challenger scene, there might not be a better top laner. He has consistently performed in the second tier and has led countless teams to the promise land of the NA LCS. The issues come when he actually gets into the NA LCS, and that's where he completely falls apart. There is an argument he's simply not good enough to stack up against the premier top laners in the league, yet he's been able to perform well against some of the same teams and players in the Challenger circuit.
On Apex, this very well could be his last chance at shredding his "gatekeeper" reputation and becoming a full-fledged NA LCS top laner. He's slated to start for the regular season, but the watchful eyes of Korean import Jeon "Ray" Ji-won will also be looking for his chance to take ahold of the starting job and not letting it go.
Honestly, who knows? Team Envy seems to be trending upwards, and Phoenix1 downwards due to how late it put together its roster, but it could go either way for Apex. A good coaching performance by Saint and the analysts on the roster could create the perfect five-man unit to get into the playoffs in Apex's inaugural season. There are ten talented players on this roster, but none of these starting five have really played together professionally before. The longer it takes for Apex to find its identity, the farther away it'll drop back in the standings.
If you're new to P1
Phoenix1 would be the traditional sports equivalent to the current Philadelphia Phillies in the MLB. Their roster doesn't look too hot, and the owner to the coaching staff should know that it might take a season or two for them to even become competitive for a playoff spot. The team has big money owners and legitimate infrastructure behind them, but the lateness of Team Impulse's sale meant the potential players Phoenix1 could realistically sign was shallow. For P1, the summer split should be about learning, grinding, and gaining a spot in the spring season of 2017 so it'll have a chance to upgrade the starting five if needed.
Player to Watch: Austin "Gate" Yu
Out of all the players from the former Team Impulse, Gate suffered the most. He had to play in three different positions last split due to the team's topsy-turvy roster, and since joining the squad, it's been a never-ending string of changes and issues. Now that he's finally transferred to a seemingly better organization with Phoenix1, this could be his very own rebirth.
There are no expectations for this Phoenix1 roster. Unlike the other nine teams in the league that all have at least a bit of hype around them, P1 has been picked out as the consensus last place team in the league even before it started. As long as it doesn't go 0-36 and get embarrassed by losing every game in under 30 minutes, any result for P1 wouldn't equate in laughter, but simply despairingly apathetic silence. In a league where they'll be a heavy underdog against everyone they face, Phoenix1 shouldn't play scared. It should go for the massive knockout every time it loads up onto the Rift.