10-man rosters in professional League of Legends can be tricky. On the surface, the premise seems ingenious. What could be better than having a million different combinations for your starting line-up to surprise the opposing team? You're playing against a team that is weak at lane swapping and has a suspect bottom lane? Put in your AD carry and support who play forward in the lane and can snowball the game through pure raw power.
A starter is slumping? No problem. You have a player right behind him to take his place and push him to improve. That's not even mentioning the added bonus of having two separate five-man teams you can scrim against and bounce ideas off of.
But like all great premises there are possible consequences. As great as a 10-man roster sounds on paper with the multiple line-ups and caveats, it doesn't always work when applied to League Championship Series games on Summoner's Rift. We saw Longzhu Gaming, a team with arguably the most skilled roster pound-for-pound in Korea, completely embarrass itself last season and miss the postseason. The number of starting fives possible turned from a luxury to a major detriment, and none of the combinations were given enough time to gel and become comfortable with one another.
The game of League has never been more teamwork based. Gone are the days where one player could win an entire series. While there are still instances of a lone player like Faker winning a game through a supreme carrying performance like back in 2013, the game has transitioned into being more about how teammates interact with one another. Large team fights, smart rotations around the map, and objective control are what the elite teams utilize, and we're not in the era anymore where a superstar player can say "one-on-one me, bro" and win through talent alone.
With teamwork comes comfort and trust. You can only build that through repetition. When you constantly swap out Top Laner A for Top Laner B, the rest of the players on the squad have to switch their brains and rethink how they play. Instead of always knowing the tendencies of one set lineup through tribulations you've gone through together, you're left with a thousand different possibilities and off-balance in your timings.
Apex Gaming has one-upped Longzhu Gaming from last split. Not only is the newly promoted North American LCS team employing a 10-man lineup with its major and minor league squads, but it's a melting pot of nationalities. It has all three main countries of North America represented in Canada (Danny "Shiphtur" Le), United States (Apollo "Apollo" Price, Alex "Xpecial" Chu), and Mexico (Cristian Rosales).
There are also five South Koreans on the roster in Jeon "Ray" Ji-won, Lee "Shrimp" Byeong-hoon, Jang "Keane" Lae-young, Oh "Roar" Jang-won, and Kevin "KonKwon" Ken; and that's not even including currently suspended jungler Seo "Eve" Jun-cheol. Rounding out the globetrotting roster is one of Europe's greatest legends, Danil "Diamondprox" Reshetnikov, who had to leave his home region of Europe last split due to not being able to get a work visa in Germany, the homeplace of the European LCS.
Staring at the roster, how can you even make a prediction of where Apex will land in the standings? Although the common consensus currently is pointing towards the bottom end and fighting out of the relegation zone, there is a vast amount of talent on the roster. Ray, while not a starter in China, was in the Edward Gaming system for two years and was considered a potential rising prospect. Opposite of him is Cris, the man dubbed "King of Challenger" for his knack of always performing in the clutch down in the minor leagues and carrying his teams to the NA LCS. Unfortunately, he's not the king of the majors, as he's always found himself back down in the lower rung sooner or later.
Apex is the most interesting squad coming into the summer split. The team, from a writer's perspective, is a dream. Can Cris finally become a force in NA's premier league? Or will Ray fulfill his potential and become the next great Korean import top laner like Immortals' Heo "Huni" Seung-hoon? How will Diamond adapt to playing in a region where his former Moscow 5 comrades Alexey "Alex Ich" Ichetovkin and Edward "Edward" Abgaryan failed to make a major impact?
Can Xpecial prove himself to be an upper-echelon LCS support once again? How will Roar adapt from playing in Korea his entire career? Will KonKwon's ability to speak English and Korean fluently be the key in uniting the native Korean and native English speakers? Is Keane's unique and unorthodox flair going to take Apex to the playoffs like he did a year ago on Gravity, or can Shiphtur find the form that made him one of the league's most talked about mid laners in 2014?
The storylines and pairings on this team are endless. The key, though, will come from behind the scenes in the locker room and not in front of the computer screens under the main stage lights. Two of North America's former junglers, Brandon "Saintvicious" DiMarco and Alberto "Crumbz" Rengifo, will be Apex's premier and minor league coaches respectively. It'll be up to them to find the right balance for the two sides. If Saint and Crumbz can find the correct starting five that can trust and play off each other well in the NA LCS, the talent is there for the lions of Apex Gaming to make a postseason trip in its debut season.
Apex isn't your normal Challenger team coming up through the ranks with rookies. This is a squad where none of these players are true rookies. Even Ray, who played on EDG's secondary team, has been around in the professional world the past two years and has learned under an organization that has been at the forefront of the Chinese scene.
This band of international talents is the true definition of a dark horse, slightly overlooked yet equipped with firepower and a solid coaching team behind them. Come these next few months we'll see if they're truly galloping horses, or if things don't come together, a beautiful trainwreck in flames.