Why NRG’s return to the LCS will be both exciting and bittersweet

by Brian Bencomo

This summer, a new team will compete in the 10-team League Championship Series. NRG will take Summoner’s Rift for the first time since 2016, the one and only year when the organization fielded a team in North America’s top LoL league.

A lot has changed for the organization and the LCS since then. But the team and staff that will be competing under the NRG banner this summer will be mostly familiar to fans of Counter Logic Gaming, whose roster NRG acquired when the two organizations merged earlier this year.

Sign up for the next Nerd Street event!

“We have the same League staff, we have the same chef. We're at the same facility. Our day-to-day has been exactly the same as it was,” NRG head coach Thomas “Thinkcard” Slotkin told Nerd Street ahead of the start of the LCS summer split.

You might have seen Chef Phillip Kovalev’s mouth-watering meals on Twitter. Although he has only been posting since joining NRG, he was actually originally with CLG too.

“Chef Phil is just the GOAT,” Thinkcard said. “You have amazing meals. They're so healthy. I've never eaten healthier in my life than what I'm practicing at the NRG facility. And it tastes great -- it's like I said, super healthy. I don't feel better ever in my life than when I'm eating Phil's foods.”

Thinkcard oversees a large coaching staff. Photo credit: Riot Games

Thinkcard’s large coaching staff also has made the transition. CLG notably has had one of the bigger coaching staffs in the LCS with numerous position coaches, including Tanner "Damonte" Damonte, Apollo "Apollo" Price and Paul "sOAZ" Boyer.

Read more: The best events and tournaments at Localhost in May

“I think our positional coaches are like the backbone to our program. We get insane individual attention for all of our players,” Thinkcard said. “You can see just over the past year and a half how much our players do improve week to week, month to month, year to year, and it's because of the way we can structure our practice and it's because of the insane coaching staff that I'm working with.”

NRG’s key roster changes

But NRG isn’t just sticking to the same five-man roster that competed for CLG this spring. The organization has made some changes as AD carry Ian Victor "FBI" Huang and support Lee "IgNar" Dong-geun have replaced Fatih "Luger" Güven and Philippe "Poome" Lavoie-Giguere in the bot lane. The team’s new bot lane duo joins Niship "Dhokla" Doshi, Juan Arturo "Contractz" Garcia and Cristian "Palafox" Palafox, who have been playing together on CLG since last summer.

Read more: Nerd Street opens first collegiate esports venue at Rowan University

“I think they have a bunch of strengths that the team is going to benefit from and there's a pre-existing synergy as well with Contractz and Ignar having worked together previously -- so jungle-support synergy, super important, the way that they play and their playstyles really match up,”

FBI, left, and Ignar, right, recently joined NRG. Photo credit: Shannon Cottrell / Riot Games

FBI brings more firepower to NRG. With 100 Thieves, he had the third-most kills of any LCS player last spring and second-most last summer. This spring, he had the third-most while with Evil Geniuses. FBI was better than Luger this spring by multiple metrics, according to Oracle’s Elixir, including KDA, gold difference at 10 minutes, XP difference at 10 minutes and CS difference at 10 minutes.

Both FBI and Ignar also bring domestic championship potential and international stage experience. FBI won the LCS championship with 100 Thieves in 2021 and attended Worlds with the team in both 2021 and 2022. Ignar went to Worlds in 2017 with Misfits and 2020 with FlyQuest.

Winning with NRG

For a team that has finished top six in the playoffs last summer and this spring and has been steadily improving, top four is definitely in play for NRG this summer. Besides Cloud9, Golden Guardians and FlyQuest, no other team can clearly lay claim to be next in the league’s pecking order.

If NRG finish in the top four, it’ll give them a chance to go to Worlds because this year fourth in the LCS means a head-to-head series with a European team from the LEC to determine the last Worlds qualifier.

Ignar and FBI should undoubtedly make NRG a contender to finish top four in the LCS and go to Worlds, but Thinkcard said he’s not feeling any additional pressure to win with a new organization.

NRG has top four potential this summer. Photo credit: Shannon Cottrell / Riot Games

“I think when you join a new org, there's always kind of like this sense of pressure you put on yourself to make sure you perform, make sure you show your value,” Thinkcard said. “But I've talked with the NRG people -- they are very big on kind of learning from us and learning from what we can show we're able to do, so it definitely is kind of a process for both of us.”

Read more: The top 10 esports orgs in the world in 2023

If NRG’s new League team can exceed expectations, they’ll be adding to the winning legacy that NRG has built over the past few years. NRG’s Rocket League team won the RLCS world championship in 2019 and were North American champions in 2021. NRG’s Overwatch team, the San Francisco Shock, won back-to-back Overwatch League championships in 2019 and 2020 and were runners-up last year. In VALORANT, NRG signed a championship core this past offseason and the team finished second in the inaugural VCT Americas league this spring.

Will CLG fans support NRG?

Fans of NRG’s League team should be excited about the upcoming season. Some of those fans might be fans of CLG. However, many more CLG fans might be hesitant or even strongly against supporting NRG.

As mentioned previously, NRG did replace two players from the beloved CLG roster that had competed together last summer and this spring. Perhaps more than any other team, CLG’s spring roster truly embodied a team that was greater than the sum of its parts as none of the players were named to the LCS first, second and third teams, yet the team finished fourth in the standings.

Photo credit: Riot Games

NRG also did themselves no favors in choosing not to field a developmental team in the North American Challengers League. Riot Games’ decision to allow teams to drop their Challengers teams this summer was met with a fierce backlash from North American League of Legends fans and led to a walkout from the players that delayed the season by two weeks. Considering much of CLG’s former roster was built with former Challengers (previously Academy) players, it wouldn’t be surprising if fans of CLG are even more anti-NRG now.

Above all though, CLG was a beloved brand that had a lot of success in the early years of the LCS, so Thinkcard knows it might be hard for fans of the now-defunct organization to suddenly change their allegiance.

Read more: Burn it all down: How CLG rose from the ashes to be competitive in the LCS again

“I do think that fans, die-hard fans of CLG are still going to be upset. Their favorite team died … and it's sad -- that team was around for a very long time. I played on in 2015. I was a sub and it's always gonna have a special place in my heart,” Thinkcard said. “In terms of NRG, we do have the same systems, the same staff that we had on CLG. And we do have some of the core players, and I hope that those fans of those players and of the staff and of everything we've built do see that we are building the same thing at NRG and trying to build a great roster from the ground up through North American talent.”

NRG’s return to the LCS begins this week as they face Evil Geniuses on Wednesday in their first game of the summer split.

Lead photo credit: Shannon Cottrell / Riot Games

Upcoming Events

Discord Logo

Nerd Street Discord

Discord is our online chatroom and meeting place. Join up to ask admins any questions you have, or just play games with us!

Join Our Discord