Last season was a mixed year for fans of the League of Legends North American Championship Series (LCS). Team Liquid reached the Mid Season Invitational final only to falter in the Group Stages of the World Championships, as did Cloud9 and Clutch Gaming.
A new year offers a fresh start and it's all change for the LCS as three new (technically returning) organisations have joined the league. As North America continues to catch up to the other major regions, here are the biggest talking points heading into the LCS Spring Split...
1. Dardoch's last chance?
One of the biggest surprises this season is Team SoloMid taking the risk of signing Joshua "Dardoch" Hartnett to fix their issues in the jungle. His talent and ability is unquestionable but his career has been overshadowed by his toxicity and attitude outside of game.
He's lucky to get another chance, let alone one on such a talented roster. TSM have a new bot-lane with Vincent "Biofrost" Wang returning to the organisation to join new ADC, and perhaps the org's most exciting signing of all, Kasper "Kobbe" Kobberup.
This is a roster that can and should challenge for the LCS title, after years of turmoil this is the time for TSM and Dardoch to step up.
2. New teams on the block
Dignitas, Evil Geniuses, and Immortals are all back in the LCS and have taken interesting approaches to their rosters.
Dignitas have gone for experience, paying huge bucks for Heo "Huni" Seung-hoon to be the star of the team with reliable players like Henrik "Froggen" Hansen and Zaqueri "Aphromoo" Black alongside him. Immortals also have experience with top-laner Paul "sOAZ" Boyer and former Team Liquid jungler Jake "Xmithie" Puchero.
Meanwhile, EG have an exciting mix of characters with Summer Split MVP Dennis "Svenskeren" Johnsen leading the way alongside exciting European mid-laner Daniele "Jiizuke" di Mauro. With former world champion Bae "Bang" Jun-sik among the ranks too, this is a team with an extremely high ceiling.
3. Zven's redemption
As TSM have struggled, so has Jesper "Zven" Svenningsen. Formerly touted as one of the best ADCs in the world, the Dane hasn't been able to recapture that same form in North America.
However, with an abundance of ability Cloud9 has decided to take a chance on him rather than keeping legendary ADC Zachary "Sneaky" Scuderi who has served the organisation since 2013. It's a move that unsurprisingly hasn't been popular among C9 fans but after the organisation failed to make a splash last year perhaps it'll be for the best.
Zven will be relieved to have a strong support alongside him as C9 broke the bank to sign Canadian Philippe "Vulcan" Laflamme, one of if not the strongest native support in the league.
4. Can NA's domestic talent prove itself?
Probably the biggest talking point to come out of the LCS during the offseason, there is a severe lack of North American rookies being given a chance this season. In fact, there aren't any. EG's Colin "Kumo" Zhao played a handful of games last year while Tommy "Ry0ma" Le and Jérémy "Eika" Valdenaire are imports from Australia and Europe respectively.
And it doesn't end with young players either, some of the league's most recognisable players have been dropped. The aforementioned Sneaky has been replaced by European ADC Zven but the real issue is in the mid-lane. In fact, Golden Guardian's Greyson "Goldenglue" Gilmer is the only resident mid-laner on a starting line-up in the LCS this split.
Tanner "Damonte" Damonte was in sensational form last year and helped Clutch Gaming go on a sensational Playoffs run which took them all the way to the Worlds Group Stages. However, he has had to settle for a place in Dignitas' academy with Froggen in front of him. Eugene "Pobelter" Park has had to settle for a positional coaching role at Team Liquid as he couldn't find a team he was happy with. However, he may get a little bit of playing time as new signing Mads "Broxah" Brock-Pedersen sorts out his visa.
NA's Academy League has a new format with more matches being streamed than ever before as the region's up and coming players desperately need more experience and exposure, especially if the LCS wants to perform better internationally.
5. 100 Thieves reunion
Last year was far from ideal for 100 Thieves so the organisation has returned to the routes that made the organisation so successful in its debut year by signing back jungler William "Meteos" Hartman and ADC Cody "Cody Sun" Li-Yu who originally left the organisation under controversial circumstances.
Cody Sun is particularly exciting after his heroics for Clutch in the Summer Split last year proved he is one of the best bot-laners in the league. The return of Korean top-laner Kim "Ssumday" Chan-ho to the starting line-up will also be an
encouraging sign for 100T fans. However, Australian mid-laner Ry0ma will leave a lot of uncertainty around this team.
Related: League of Legends predictions for LEC Spring week one.
Pictures: LoL Esports / Flickr