This grade isn't a prediction of how EDG will end up by season's end. The team has won with weak-looking starting fives on paper -- it perfected that last split even with Yuhao "Mouse" Chen as starting top laner -- but to compare last summer's roster to this year's can only be met with a heavy downgrade. The club lost one of if not the best AD carry in the world, with Kim "Deft" Hyuk-kyu replaced by ROX Tigers' mid substitute Hae "Cry" Sung-min (now "Zet") in a move that will probably take a year before bearing fruit. Heo "PawN" Won-seok is gone for good, Lee "Scout" Ye-chan will have an even bigger and more stressful role on the team, and the team's glaring weak link, Mouse, is still on the roster. Star jungler Ming "ClearLove" Kai might not even be slated to start every game, with substitute Zhao "Fireloli" Zhi-Ming also on the roster.
At least EDG kept hold of world-class support Tian "Meiko" Ye and added one of the best coaches in the world in fellow former ROX Tiger Jeong "NoFe" No-chul.
Consistency is important, and an above-average team that keeps its starting five together should receive an A in my book. Team WE appear to be one of the front-runners with the massive shakeups on top for the elite teams in the LPL, and a steady roster that knows how to play and communicate together should help them do well in the spring split. After failing to make it to the World Championships since its infamous quarterfinal series versus Counter Logic Gaming Europe in 2012, the five-year anniversary of the everlasting series might mark the return of China's inaugural dynasty to the world stage.
Royal Never Give Up
Losing Koreans Cho "Mata" Se-hyeong and Jang "Looper" Hyeong-seok will hurt to start out of the year, but the formation of an all-Chinese roster could reap benefits come the end of the season. Mata, the mastermind of RNG's success last split, has returned to South Korea, and this leaves the other members, Li "xiaohu" Yuan-Hao and Liu "Mlxg" Shi-Yu, in the mid and jungle roles. Ace AD carry Jian "Uzi" Zi-Hao was open and honest about the team's overreliance on the bottom lane during last season's World Championships, and RNG will need to do a better job of varying its avenues of attack if it wants to return to Worlds this year without the former world champion MVP at the support role.
Qiao Gu Reapers
The champions of the secondary league last year, Newbee Young, now rebranded the QG Reapers, are looking for more than just safety in its first season in the LPL. Kim "Doinb" Tae-sang is back in the main league after his disastrous fallout with Newbee last year and is on the path of redemption following a drop that could have ended his career in China. The team's "A" rating comes from its coup of a bottom lane in the offseason. Lee "Loken" Dong-wook, formerly of ESC EVER, was on the verge of blossoming into one of the new stars of the LCK, and his support partner, Hu "Cloud" Zhen-Wei, has been regarded as one of China's most talented homegrown talents, albeit held back through personal issues.
If Loken can adapt to playing with a hybrid roster and Cloud can make a prominent return after a year-long retirement, the Reapers are a team to watch out for in a season where EDG and RNG might have cold beginnings to the split.
Gone is Bae "Dade" Eo-jin -- maybe he'll find a new team in the summer of 2017 -- and in is a questionable two-headed monster with worries of how much firepower either of the heads possess. The first new mid laner for Newbee, Yu "Cool" Jia-Jun, used to be the poster boy of Chinese League of Legends. Back in 2013, when Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok made his debut at Worlds as South Korea's MVP, Cool was China's, and the two split a pair of games in the opening-round group stage. Since then, Faker has three titles, and Cool last season was demoted to a substitute on one of the worst teams in the LPL, OMG. After playing for four years with OMG (essentially his entire career), the new scenery and teammates could do Cool some good in a make-or-break year.
The other mid laner, Shin "Coco" Jin-yeong, enters the squad with a similar storyline: really good a few years ago but stagnant last year, getting benched on a lowly Longzhu team that failed to make the playoffs in either of its splits. Like Cool, a change of teams could bring back the Coco of old, who was regarded as one of the best mid laners in the world during his time on CJ Entus. However, there is also the possibility that, like Dade the year before on Newbee, this is the end of the road for a once top-flight talent.
Is it safe to believe in Invictus Gaming? Could this be the year both Team WE and iG make it to the top of the LPL and reignite the most famous rivalry in China? It's still too soon to decide, but iG, at least on paper, did a bang-up job crafting its roster in the offseason. It did the most important thing possible and kept ahold of ace mid laner Song "RooKie" Eui-jin for another year. To aid the superstar mid laner, Invictus signed current world champion top laner Lee "Duke" Ho-Seong, and that gives the team possibly the strongest one-two punch in the solo lanes this split in the LPL.
Things look good for Invictus. Promising young talent mixed with experienced winners, and at the middle of it all is RooKie, one of the better individual players in the world. What possibly could go wrong?
It's hard to give a grade to I May. When it comes to individual talent, the team has gotten better, adding Sung "Flawless" Yeon-jun, a South Korean jungling prospect who had similar buzz around him as Han "Peanut" Wang-ho when the two amateurs debuted around the same time on SBENU and NaJin, respectively. If Flawless can reach his full potential -- a large asking for a player who has failed to make a huge impact in Korea and is moving to a hybrid-speaking roster -- then I May will have a dangerous weapon that can rival the likes of Mlxg of RNG in terms of mechanics.
The downside, especially when looking at IM, is that this team worked in spite of how weak the lineup worked on paper. I May's strength was its scrappiness, as it put together victories through wars of attrition and team efforts more than through one player standing out. Fan "Avoidless" Jun Wei was arguably the best player on the team last year, and the addition of Flawless, another imported player, will also bump out Yun "Road" Han-gil, another one of IM's conductors from last split. All in all, this appears to be a shortsighted transaction period for I May, investing in flash over substance, something which is the opposite of the team's motto from last year.
I don't know what exactly LGD is doing with its roster. It kept Gu "Imp" Seung-bin, which can only be seen as a plus, but it didn't do much to upgrade an inconsistent roster that almost -- almost -- horseshoed its way to the World Championships. At least, if everything else fails, it has the intact core of Imp at AD, Chen "Pyl" Bo at support and Wei "GODV" Zhen at mid lane. As long as GODV stays healthy, Imp is motivated and Pyl can play at a standard somewhat resembling the summer of 2014, this team could contend for a playoff spot from a pure raw skill standpoint.
The team also got a new logo, a dragon now proudly representing the team. We saw how well that worked for Longzhu in 2016, so we'll see how it works out for LGD here.
Win or lose, this team is going to be fun to watch. The team sports the unpredictable Chinese/Vietnamese/Korean trio of Li "Flandre" Xuan-Jun, Lê "SofM" Quang Duy and recently acquired AD Oh "Ohq" Gyu-min. Any of these three players can go off -- good or bad -- at any time, and that's what makes this Snake team so interesting. Ohq was one of the biggest disappointments in the pro-scene last year; he was expected to tower over opponents in North America, but a lack of comfort in the country and a disjointed team dynamic led to his having little to no impact, leaving the NA LCS with a whimper instead of a bang.
The choice to move to Snake could be a rebirth of his career, one that was expected to be similar to Imp's before he left for North America. Now, in a league in which Imp resides, Ohq, a firecracker of a marksmen, will want to make people forget about his time on NRG Esports. Flandre might have the highest skill ceiling of any top laner, Chinese or Korean, in the league, and SofM, the Pride of Southeast Asia, will hope to continue his ascent up the ranking of junglers in the LPL. In the middle, hoping to control the chaos of his three psychotic teammates, will be veteran Liu "Zzitai" Zhi-Hao, moving to Snake after four years on Invictus Gaming.
Show us your moves, Bae "Bengi" Seong-ung. How you view Vici Gaming's offseason is reliant on your feelings about Bengi and the player he replaced, Choi "DanDy" In-kyu. Both world champions, DanDy is the more proactive of the two, while Bengi has been saddled throughout his career as the Postmates of warding, always showing up where his laners need him to grant vision and protection. The issue for VG is that Bengi, when on a team with proven carries, can help a team reach its full potential with veteran leadership, experienced jungle movements and knowing the map from top to bottom with warding. VG, as it stands now, is a team without an offensive ace, and Bengi isn't the type of player you put on a team to be a leader in the damage category. The club will need to cross its fingers that the addition of Bengi unlocks something inside Lee "Easyhoon" Ji-hoon to become a top-three mid laner in the league. If not, the signing of Bengi could be a fancy paint job on a car that can't go more than 10 mph.
OMG is a team in the LPL. Last year, the team was second-worst in the league. This year, the team, pretty much the same, will enter the LPL with the goal of surviving relegation for another season and not falling into the secondary league. The logo is the same, but the teams of old, which challenged the best on the world stage, are gone and buried. The loss of Cool in the offseason was a final goodbye to the OMG of old (yes, I know Hu "Xiyang" Bin is still there), and all we're left is memories of the past. We'll always have 2013 and 2014, OMG. Even the year with Uzi in 2015, while dysfunctional, was interesting. Today? Not so much.
Like OMG, Game Talents is a club looking at the bottom half of the table more so than the top. The team was a surprise in the first part of the summer split before eventually coming down to Earth, and the good times will be hard-pressed to return this spring. GT has the honor of being in a group with defending champion EDG, a well-structured Team WE, promising QG and retooled Newbee and VG. Anything but last place would be a major boon for GT in its campaign to survive in the LPL throughout the year.