LCS: Why Golden Guardians are An Easy Team to Root For in 2021

Golden Guardians, LCS. Photo by Colin Young-Wolff/Riot Games.
Golden Guardians, LCS. Photo by Colin Young-Wolff/Riot Games. /

Golden Guardians are taking a big risk with their roster in 2021, but it should make LCS fans excited.

Golden Guardians were one of the biggest surprise teams in 2020. With a roster made up of a lot of unheralded veterans and imports, GGS made a shocking and deep run in the LCS playoffs, knocking out the eventual LCS champions TSM in the first round (before sadly losing to them in the loser’s bracket). Everything looked like it was trending up for Golden Guardians heading into 2021, so of course, they had to throw us another curveball.

The organization made a stunning decision to offload its entire 2020 roster. Closer, FBI, Damonte, and Huhi were all shipped off to 100 Thieves while Hauntzer was released to free agency. Yesterday, Golden Guardians finally revealed their starting line-up for the 2021 LCS season.

This prospective lineup features three rookies – two of whom are coming straight from the collegiate system from Maryville University – an import from the LLA (Latin American pro league), and veteran ADC Trevor “Stixxay” Hayes, recently of CLG. While this is not a lineup that is going to strike fear into the likes of, say, Team Liquid and Cloud9, it’s a lineup that should be a lot of fun to watch develop and may even surprise some people!

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Starting in the top lane, Aiden “Niles” Tidwell, was heralded as one of the top prospects at the 2020 Scouting Grounds, where he was picked fourth overall by Golden Guardians. With an aggressive and diverse champion pool (his five most-picked in collegiate play last year were, in order, Gangplank, Camille, Ornn, Kayle, Sett), Niles is certainly going to be a player to watch next year.

Along with Niles is his Maryville U teammate Ethan “Iconic” Wilkinson who will be playing the jungle role. While Niles is the one with the early attention, delving deeper into both of their stats in 2020, I actually think Iconic could be the better player, at least initially. Not only does he stack up better based on his 2020 performance, but I think the pool of players he’ll be facing in jungle is considerably weaker than Niles’s top lane counterparts.

Like Niles, Iconic has a diverse champion pool (his top five most-played are Graves, Kindred, Trundle, Nidalee, Sejuani) but his pool is a bit shallower. Those top five champions account for almost 80% of all games he played in 2020. He’ll need to work on expanding that champion pool because teams might try to exploit that in LCS.

Moving to the mid lane, we have another rookie in Nicholas “Ablazeolive” Antonio Abbott. A veteran of the Academy system, Ablazeolive spent two years with TSM Academy before moving over to play for GGS Academy last year. He impressed enough to earn a spot on the team full time, but he’ll have to show that he can level up his play in a position where he’ll have to face the likes of Perkz, Jensen, and PowerofEvil.

The AD Carry role is the one area where I do think GGS swung and missed. Stixxay has always been fairly overrated, in my opinion, because he tends to be a weak laner and is a player who needs others to enable him (it’s no coincidence his best seasons were when paired with Aphromoo and Biofrost). However, he does bring veteran leadership and experience to the team, which is going to be very valuable.

Finally, the team used one of their import slots to bring in Leandro “Newbie” Marcos, from the All Knights of the LLA. Newbie is a player without a ton of international experience (he did go to MSI 2017 with Isurus Gaming), but he’s been one of the best supports in Latin America for a few years now. Maybe he can translate that success to North America.

This is a roster with a lot of question marks, yes, and I won’t be picking them to win LCS in 2021, but this is a team that has a lot of upside. I tip my hat to GGS for going with young, promising players in both their main and Academy teams, including two players on the Academy team – RoseThorn and Yunbee – who were signed out of 2020 Scouting Grounds.

As someone who has been pounding the pavement for years to get teams to utilize the collegiate system more, I’m in love with this team having multiple players coming out of that pipeline. I also think that they are taking a smart approach given their financial status relative to the rest of the LCS. Rather than going for big fish, I like seeing GGS taking younger talent and imports from less-scouted regions like Latin America and using them to build a cohesive system.

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I don’t think Golden Guardians are going to be a team that will win a lot of games, but I am definitely hopeful that their philosophy will allow these young, talented players to grow together into a team that can grow stronger as the year goes on. At the very least, it’s great to see an LCS team finally giving a path for young, native talent to make it to the top tier and test their skills.

Whatever the outcome, I’ll be rooting for Golden Guardians to succeed. Because, if this works, it should change the paradigm of how LCS organizations build their teams for the better.