During the NA LCS 2016 Summer Split, we were treated to some excellent performances by rookie players. There were eight choices made available for Rookie of the Split for voters, and many of them have a solid case for the award.
Team Liquid AD Carry Jovani “fabbbyyy” Guillen was put in a tough position, replacing former World champion Gwang-jin “Piglet” Chae, and performed admirably, playing mostly utility AD carries like Jhin and Ashe as he helped his team secure a spot in the playoffs.
Apex Gaming’s rookie duo of top laner Ji-won “Ray” Jeon and jungler Byeong-hoon “Shrimp” Lee deserve some consideration, as well. Ray performed especially well at the beginning of the split, bringing out unconventional choices like full AD Jarvan IV, while Shrimp built off a strong Challenger split to ensure his team’s safety from the promotion tournament.
But for most, I imagine the choice comes down to two (or perhaps even just one): Team SoloMid support Vincent “Biofrost” Wang and Phoenix1 jungler Rami “Inori” Charagh. ESPN’s Tyler Erzberger made a strong case for Biofrost last week, and it seems likely he’ll run away with the award.
But I want to make the case for Inori, because I feel his season better fits the criteria for the award. As stated in Riot’s email to voters:
You should vote for the rookie who you think performed the best during the summer regardless of their team's success.
This isn’t meant to be a slight to Biofrost’s performance: coming from Challenger to help take TSM from sixth place last split to 17-1 and the No. 1 seed is no small feat, and he played a big role in that transformation.
But as big of a transformation as Summer TSM was from Spring TSM, pre-Inori Phoenix1 to post-Inori Phoenix1 was even bigger.
Consider this: when Inori was ruled eligible to play following visa problems, he joined a team that was 0-7 in matches at 2-14 in games, hopelessly in last place and a certainty for relegation. That same team ended up 5-13 in matches and 15-31 in games, becoming the only team to beat TSM in the regular season, finishing in eighth place and qualifying for the 2017 Spring Split after taking down Echo Fox in the promotion tournament.
This is a team that went from losing the entirety of the first half of its schedule to beating the top team in the league, within just weeks. With Inori for a full split, it’s not hard to see Phoenix1 as a playoff team -- and that’s exactly what they’ll be shooting for next split, as owner Michael Moore said in a recent AMA:
To answer your question, playoffs is our hope for next split as well. This will be our first off season as a team and we're going to make it as productive as possible. We hope to continue the tremendous growth and improvement the team has shown this split and come back even stronger in spring.
As much as Biofrost’s success was important to TSM’s, part of the reason he works so well with that team is there are already established proactive playmakers and shotcallers elsewhere on the roster. With a young group of inexperienced playmakers, Inori had to take that responsibility on himself, as he told us in an interview following the TSM win:
I think [P1] were used to having me, and when I was gone, there was like a gap in the comms where normally I’d be the one saying all this stuff, so it was hard for the team to really win games when I wasn’t there.
Phoenix1 is Inori’s team in a way that TSM isn’t Biofrost’s (through no fault of Bio’s), and that’s why he’s getting my vote. Oh, and he’s willing to play jungle Mordekaiser against Immortals. That’s also why he’s getting my vote.