In the wake of four-time NA LCS MVP Soren "Bjergsen" Bjerg announcement that he's staying at league champion Team SoloMid for another year, it leaves the question: Who is the most important player that can move to a new team during this bananas period known as free agency?
Eugene "Pobelter" Park didn't finish in any of the All-NA LCS teams last year, but the multiyear veteran and twice league finalist has a case to be called the most valuable piece in all of the North American free agency. Reportedly, his contract was moved over to Team Liquid in the aftermath of his former team Immortals being rejected from NA franchising, and as of now, the team plans to start him at the mid lane position.
While I wouldn't rank Pobelter at the moment as one of the top 10 players in the NA LCS, what differentiates him from the others is his position and residential status, meaning he doesn't take up an all-important import spot. Oh, and he plays the mid lane, where the past split there were more full-time Danish starting mid laners than there were North Americans.
North America, truth be told, is shallow in most regions when it comes to League of Legends, but the lack of talent coming through the pipeline is never more apparent than at the mid lane position.
Besides Pobelter and Bjergsen (who, though Danish, has residential status since he came to the region before the import rules were put in place) at the mid lane, the only other two NA residents with significant playing time the last year are Hai "Hai" Lam and Greyson "GoldenGlue" Gilmer. Hai is a veteran who seems to be close to retiring every offseason due to wrist issues, before getting roped back in for "one last ride." GoldenGlue struggled and was replaced as starter on Team Liquid last season.
In the mid lane, a weak player can break the entire team. The mid lane gets pushed in, the jungler needs to react in turn, and the whole map breaks in favor of the opposition when a tower goes down. It's difficult to hide a weak mid laner, and Liquid, who went through more mid laners last year than TSM has played in its history, knows all too well the difficulties of trying to build a team around foreign-born players who aren't in the mid lane.
Liquid wanted to build its 2017 roster around two South Korean standouts: former world champion Chae "Piglet" Gwang-jin and 2016 league MVP Kim "Reignover" Yeu-jin. Reignover at the time was considered one of, if not the best jungler in the western region. The team gave Reignover one of the largest contracts in the history of the NA LCS, and having gone through thick and thin with Piglet, wanted to make it work with the mechanically gifted marksman. Liquid's decision to build around these two players meant that it would need to use a resident position in the mid lane, and that's where everything fell apart.
In a meta where AD carries were more supports than carries, Piglet struggled, the middle lane was often broken early, and Reignover lacked the effectiveness he had on Fnatic and Immortals, where he had winning lanes he could constantly snowball. It got so bad that in the middle of the season that, inexplicably, the team moved Piglet to the mid lane in an attempt to shore up the massive hole in the lineup. It didn't work, Liquid embarrassed itself, and left us where we are now.
Pobelter might never win an MVP award, but aside from a terrible 2017 spring split which he bounced back from in the summer, his play has been consistent throughout his career. You know what you're going to get from Pobelter: smart, above average play with a possibility of greatness every so often when he's in the zone. He is a player who can stand with the best in the league and hold his own, and as a North American resident, freeing up the rest of the team to two other import spots, Pobelter is one of the greatest weapons in the league.
Pobelter's residential status allowed Immortals to sign two South Korean stars, Lee "Flame" Ho-jong and Kim "Olleh" Joo-sung, earlier this year instead of needing to possibly dip into the North American top lane talent pool, which is almost as dried up as the mid lane. Although Immortals failed to make the quarterfinals at Worlds, the team was on the doorstep, and with a few better decisions at crucial moments, Pobelter would be playing in a best-of-five for the semifinals.
A team can go far with Pobelter, and that's something, as pessimistic as it sounds, you can't say about almost any other North American mid laner. Bjergsen is signed to TSM and not moving, I don't even know if Hai is returning or not, and though Goldenglue performs in practice and has a strong work ethic, how many chances can one give until enough is enough?
That leaves you either having to use an import spot, or, in the case of Liquid this year, learning from its past mistakes and securing Pobelter, the last bit of water on an otherwise barren wasteland.