A look back and a look forward at the newest re-entrant to North American League of Legends.
The League of Legends landscape in North America has been quietly teetering on the brink of change for the last year-plus. With discussions surrounding the leagues ever-controversial import rule, the turnover rate of superstars in the league, as well as the outside possibility of teams moving to Europe, the LCS had been holding its breath, waiting for the first domino to fall.
And on April 3, that domino came toppling down.
Just days after reports circulated that legacy organization TSM was exploring the option of leaving esports altogether, news broke that CLG would be doing away with its stake in esports. Consequently, the team sold its brand and franchised slot in the LCS on April 6 to another legacy organization, NRG Esports.
For newer fans of the LCS, NRGs comeback to the league may be a no-brainer. The organization has one of the strongest presences in esports, with successful teams in big-market games including Overwatch, VALORANT, and Apex Legends. But seasoned LCS fans should know this isnt NRGs first stint in the league. NRG was a part of the LCS during its fourth season in 2016 and only lasted in the North American League scene for one year.
While NRGs first stay in the league was brief, it laid the foundation for what the LCS could become in the future. Its entrance into the LCS was among the first of its kind, as the organization shattered the pre-existing mold that had lived and died by the rigid systems of relegation and qualification. The purchasing of a teams slot in the league was still a relatively foreign concept to the league, but it signaled that the landscape of the esport was changing.
The last time NRG was in the LCS, the league looked incredibly different, and the team itself didnt stick around for all that long to see it evolve into what it is today. Still, NRGs impact as a lasting name in esports was enough to bring it back into the fold. Its unique status as a fresh-faced legacy organization could be enough to win an LCS championship seven years after its last chance, too.
NRG initially joined the LCS ahead of the 2016 season following the purchase of Team Coasts slot in the league in November 2015. NRGs first appearance in the league came prior to its franchising era, meaning promotion and relegation series were still very much a part of the leagues ecosystem. NRG completely bypassed that step, however, as the purchase of Team Coast gave the org an instant buy-in to the league.
This seasons acquisition of CLG should be strikingly similar for longtime LCS fans since its the second time the organization purchased a slot to make its way into the league. With the purchase, NRG became the second franchise to gain entry to the LCS by way of a merger or acquisition on two separate occasions. Dignitas was the first, doing so in both 2017 and 2020.
NRG entered the 2016 LCS season with a roster of veterans and rookies alike, with only one returning player from the Coast lineup it acquired making a return. Support KonKwon was the only Coast member from the previous season to play on NRGs starting lineup in the 2016 Spring Split. He played alongside top laner Impact, jungler Moon, mid laner GBM, and AD carry Altec during the teams first full split.
This upcoming Summer Split, NRG will re-enter the league with a slightly different roster than the one CLG left it with. The team has made two reported moves during the downtime between the Spring and Summer Splits, replacing Luger and Poome in the bottom lane with veterans FBI and IgNar.
The teams CEO Andy Miller promised in an April 6 announcement video to keep the League branch fully intact, including the LCS team, NACL team, and the team’s coaching staff and personnel. But now, the org seems to have walked back on some of those promises. In addition to reported midseason roster moves, NRG is among the seven teams to opt out of the 2023 NACL season.
In 2016, NRG started its first tenure in the LCS by winning three of the team’s first four games but regressed to the mean quickly, finishing with a middling 9-9 record in the Spring Split. They were knocked out in the first round of the Spring Playoffs by Team Liquid and came back in the summer with an almost entirely new roster.
In the Summer Split, NRG took a leap of faith, bringing in veterans across the board and building around mid laner GBM. Free agents Quas and Santorin were ushered into the topside, while former Team Dragon Knights ADC Ohq and recently role-swapped Dignitas support Kiwikid made up the teams reinvented bottom lane. Unfortunately for the team, NRGs record took a step backward in the second half of the year and they finished the split with a 4-14 record.
The 2016 LCS season uniquely featured one of the highest team turnover rates in the league. The season featured a total of six teams (excluding NRG) who no longer compete in the LCS, with three teams who played in the Spring Split failing to qualify for the second half of the season.
After its 4-14 Summer Split, NRG was gone as quickly as it arrived. The team was relegated out of the LCS following the 2016 season after losing two straight qualification matches in the 2017 Spring Promotion Series. After being swept by C9s Challenger team (which later became FlyQuest), NRG suffered another 3-0 sweepthis time to Echo Foxending its first run as an LCS organization.
Seven years after its initial stint in the LCS, NRG is entering a league that looks vastly different from the one it entered in 2016. The esports boom of the mid-2010s has quieted immensely, and venture capitalists who were once attaching themselves to teams are starting to explore alternative options within the space. NRGs bullish attitude toward the LCS is surprising, although the purchase of a cornerstone brand in the League space like CLG immediately gives it legs to stand on.
The biggest question for NRG is whether CLG fans will immediately turn their loyalties toward the leagues newest face. While NRG is getting all the pieces of a new League team essentially handed to it as an extra add-on to its purchaseincluding infrastructure, a well-built roster, and an award-winning coaching staffthe multitudes of fans who supported CLG for years are not automatically a part of that deal.
Of course, the fans will jump on board if the team starts winning, as is the case with all sports and esports teams. A successful on-stage product is the quickest way to a growing fan base, and NRG already has a decent shot at competing in its first split back in the league. The organization is acquiring the roster of a team that qualified for two consecutive LCS postseasons. Plus, with how wide-open the LCS field appeared to be in the spring, NRG could very well make a run at a Worlds bid in its first split.
CLG was one of two League of Legends teams to play in every split of the LCS since its inception in 2013. Some CLG fans dedicated the better part of a decade to their team, and although NRG represents a smooth transition for the now-displaced fans, there are still nine other teams in the league who can present just as strong of a case.
NRG will make its return to the LCS stage when the league returns to action on June 1.