European LCS team Elements is set to replace their top laner Mike "Wickd" Petersen, multiple sources tell theScore. Many sources state that the team has been scrimming with Kevin "kev1n" Rubiszewski and will be the most likely replacement.
So far this season, Elements, who rebranded from Alliance in 2014, have been struggling. The team suffered a major setback last week when they lost to both Gambit Gaming and H2k Gaming in convincing fashion. Elements has been criticized for their passive playstyle, and Petersen in particular has come under heavy fire for his performances throughout the 2014 League of Legends World Championships and the 2015 LCS Spring Split.
While the reasoning for the benching is unclear, a source told theScore that it may have been due to stylistic clash between Petersen and the rest of the team. The source alleges that Petersen’s aggressive and reckless playstyle did not synergize with their more passive midlaner Henrik “Froggen” Hansen and AD Carry Martin "Rekkles" Larsson.
Hansen and Petersen have been on the same team for over three years, spanning multiple organizations such as Counter Logic Gaming, Alliance and Evil Geniuses.
The best places to watch the LoL Worlds finals
Thumbnail image courtesy of Riot Games/lolesports / MSI 2016 / Riot Games
Can't make it out to the Staples Center to see SK Telecom T1 and Samsung Galaxy battle it out in the finals of the 2016 League of Legends World Championships? If you'd rather not squint at the action on your laptop, check out one of Coca-Cola's viewing parties which are taking place at 150 theaters across Canada, the US, and Europe —Twitch chat not included.
Regal Union Square Stadium, New York, NY
Coke invites you to an off-Broadway production of the Worlds final at the Regal Union Square Stadium at Broadway and East 14th street. Near the famous Union Square Park and the East Village, this viewing party offers a chance for LoL fans to explore the concrete jungle without the risk of getting ganked by Bengi. Who knows? You might find a blue buff or two.
Cineplex Cinemas Yonge-Dundas, Toronto, Canada
Toronto proved it was an esports city when 15,000 fans filled the Air Canada Centre, home of the Maple Leafs and the Raptors, to capacity for the NA LCS Summer Finals. Considering that, we can only imagine how packed the viewing party at Yonge Dundas Square's Cineplex Cinema will be. Located in the heart of the city, LoL fans can get the best of Toronto's food, shopping, and culture without straying too far from the LoL action.
Choctaw Casinos The District Cinema, Durant, OK
Like a side of slots action with your League of Legends? If you're in the Midwest, check out the viewing party at Choctaw Casinos' District Cinema in Durant, Oklahoma. The original Choctaw location, the resort has two casinos and two hotels for a total of 4,200 slot machines and 776 hotel rooms.
Regal Cinemas South Beach, Miami Beach, FL
Miami: home of sun, sand and now League of Legends. Head on down to the Regal Cinemas South Beach viewing party and watch SKT vs. SSG, Tony Montana style. Punctuate the LoL action with a trip to the beach or immerse yourself in the rich culture (and food) of the city's Cuban community. And remember not to forget your sunscreen.
Edwards Houston Marq'E Stadium, Houston, TX
Everything is bigger in Texas, and that extends to the viewing party at Edward's Cinema at the Marq*E Entertainment Centre in Houston. Located just outside downtown, Edward's was declared best movie theatre in the city by the Houston Press in 2013 for its proximity to shops, restaurants and its 23 screens.
The face cams drifted between Fabien "Febiven" Diepstraten and Lee "Spirit" Dayoon as the Unicorns of Love dismantled Fnatic's final Nexus in Game 3 of the 2016 Regional World Championship qualifier. Febiven’s anger was palpable. Spirit, after his final death, covered his face before sinking into his seat and hanging his arm across his stomach, uncoiling all of the tension he’d kept locked down tight through his year in the EU LCS.
In the EU LCS studio, Zdravets "Hylissang" Galabov teased his bangs before he stood from his chair. Unicorns, stunned by their victory, huddled together in quiet celebration, while excited fans in pink jerseys punched the air and cheered.
When Unicorns crossed the divider for the handshake, the cameras hovered on Mateusz "Kikis" Szkudlarek as he met his former teammates. He managed to nod and hug both Tamás "Vizicsacsi" Kiss and Hylissang before the Unicorns moved to the front of the stage to tag the crowd. UoL manager Romain "Khagneur" Bigeard crossed Fnatic’s name off his bare chest in black marker. Febiven lagged behind his team, clearing his peripherals one more time before he slogged backstage.
Not once — from his final death to the followup analysis on the desk — did the production team focus in on Bora "YellOwStaR" Kim, team captain and fixture of Fnatic since the start of the LCS era. The loss to UoL meant YellOwStaR wouldn’t attend a sixth consecutive World Championship. His streak had at last come to an end. Yet there's no footage of YellOwStaR’s reaction to the last professional game he played in the 2016 season — the last, it turns out, that he would ever play.
Fans have an idealized narrative that sports heroes are supposed to follow. The seasoned veteran works excruciatingly long hours to achieve an end, he climbs the ranks and makes a name for himself. When he’s reached his peak, when he’s won it all, he retires gracefully because he can rest well on his laurels.
That ending can also be that of a coward who is afraid to want to achieve more. YellOwStaR was no coward. He didn't quit at his peak; he kept doing what he loved until he became weary of the game. His final year in the LCS was a disappointment, likely not just for his fans but for the widely celebrated support player himself. But no pro should know his limit until he reaches it and the drive to push it vanishes. That sort of heroism is what kept us searching for YellOwStaR's face when the camera panned away from the Nexus to show us the emotions of the players and the crowd.
A year prior to his retirement announcement, at the height of YellOwStaR’s career, he attended the 2015 World Championship with Febiven, Martin "Rekkles" Larsson, Heo "Huni" Seunghoon and Kim "Reignover" Yeujin, a squad rebuilt around him. They advanced to a World Championship quarterfinal against EDward Gaming, and though EDG didn’t have the tight form expected of them going into the tournament, Fnatic played clean games their way and closed a 3-0. It was the first best-of-five win by a European team over a Chinese team in the history of League of Legends.
Fnatic had made their definitive mark on the international community. They were the strongest Western team to attend a World Championship since the start of the LCS era. Yet their triumph was punctuated by a 3-0 defeat at the hands of KOO Tigers in the semifinal. Rekkles, commenting on KOO’s unexpected performance and the fact that he personally felt he pushed himself too hard, acknowledged the Tigers were a better team. It left fans with a sense the roster could have achieved more.
By the very nature of competition, those who don’t limit themselves often succeed. That doesn’t mean an individual should set unrealistic goals, nor does it mean he should skip steps along the way and try at something he isn’t ready for. But if he sees something he wants to achieve, he should at least work toward it, insofar as he has the energy to do so.
In his retirement statement, YellOwStaR reflected on the moment he last considered leaving the game: after a disappointing World Championship showing where he failed to escape Group Stage. "Back in 2014 when I was having second thoughts," he said, "I turned to my loved ones for advices and they told me to pursue my dreams as long as I was genuinely happy doing it." Because he chose to continue playing then, YellOwStaR gave LoL fans one of the greatest storylines of 2015, with an 18-0 run in the EU LCS summer regular season and an exciting appearance at the World Championship. I imagine he still felt genuinely happy playing the game then, and he strove to push himself even further.
Following Fnatic’s semifinal appearance at Worlds 2015, it would be ridiculous to think YellOwStaR was satisfied, that his goals had been met and that he didn’t want to achieve something else before he hung up his mouse. Of course he didn’t want to retire before 2016. He wanted a serious run at Worlds with teammates boasting pedigrees of experience that matched his own.
His determination led him to Los Angeles, where he played for League of Legends’ most iconic squad, Team SoloMid, alongside North America’s most renowned AD carry, Yiliang "Doublelift" Peng. He failed spectacularly. It would be dishonest to YellOwStaR’s reputation to call his time on TSM anything other than disaster, even though the team managed to place second in the spring playoffs. Doublelift would later refer to him as "one of the worst supports [he’d] ever played with," going on to criticize both his mechanics and his decision-making.
When YellOwStaR did return to the EU LCS for Fnatic, the expectation was he would replicate Rekkles' triumphant return the previous year. Fnatic’s famed bottom lane, though hardly ever regarded as lane-dominant outside early spring 2014, had a long familiarity that made them reliable and safe, that allowed them to prep the rest of the team and control vision.
Somehow, YellOwStaR managed an even worse performance returning to his old organization. He and Rekkles looked for a way to exert early pressure with the jungler and mid lane farming more passively, but they often misplayed trades and simply fell further behind. Fnatic were aided by the lane swap meta when the team could dictate the pace of the game after turret trades, but the 2v2 emphasis in summer playoffs and regionals proved debilitating.
Much of the blame fell on YellOwStaR. He doesn’t deserve of all of it, not by a large margin; Johan "Klaj" Olsson, Fnatic’s spring support, wouldn’t have been a noticeable improvement, and Fnatic had problems with unity and early pressure in more than just bottom lane. But YellOwStaR didn’t feel as stable on Fnatic anymore.
In their heartfelt farewells, commentators and former teammates of YellOwStaR have often ignored the disappointments of his final year, as if they have been minor black marks on an otherwise steady and stable part of his career. I’ve personally gone into detail to track him from 2011through 2014, an as-yet incomplete account which leaves off just before his peak in 2015. But I don't want to ignore 2016, his most disappointing year — not now, as I watch one of League of Legends’ most iconic players transition to a new role in 2017. It isn’t a part of his story to be ashamed of.
If YellOwStaR had retired at the end of 2015, I would always wonder what he could have achieved in 2016. Romantic notions are one thing, but the reality of watching him confront difficulty this year, of accepting that he had struggled and failed to replicate results, was almost more fulfilling. I will always remember that in his final year of professional play, YellOwStaR wanted to keep playing and challenged himself until he came to a realization he felt too exhausted to continue.
Bringing up YellOwStaR’s failures in his final year isn’t a disservice to what he achieved. It would also be unfair to say he held his teammates back, based on the struggles Fnatic had and the way TSM bounced back in the spring playoffs and then again in the summer split with a new support.
YellOwStaR simply dared to dream. It would do us well to remember that, sometimes, to fail is also heroic.
Thumbnail image courtesy of Worlds / lolesports flickr
Albus NoX Luna had already picked Caitlyn. It was H2K-Gaming’s final champion rotation of the first game of the 2016 World Championship quarterfinal, and Konstantinos "FORG1VEN" Tzortziou-Napoleon’s stare was locked on his screen. He spoke quickly with his coach, and then he took Sivir.
As the casters reminded the audience that Sivir's range disadvantage against Caitlyn makes for a poor matchup, those familiar with the mythos of FORG1VEN heard the lines they left out. FORG1VEN is too stubborn to give up a laning advantage for his teammates — he refuses to play a matchup that doesn't crush lane.
But his approach to the game is more nuanced than the popular narrative would have us believe. He is stubborn. He knows what he wants and how he wants to play. The rest is up for interpretation.
Since his entry into the LCS, FORG1VEN hasn't lasted more than a split on a single team, but his return to H2K for the final week of the EU LCS Summer Split delivered hints that this time would be different. He is the same AD carry he always has been, but H2K have begun to identify that his ability to dominate the lane is his own way of being a team player. They have learned how they can use him to find advantages, not just in his lane, but everywhere on the map.
"I was always kind of a flexible player," he told me after the match. "I mean maybe not many people see it, but the reason that I'm dominant as a player in laning phase doesn't mean that my team has always played around it."
Sometimes FORG1VEN does take up a large share of his team's resources, as he often did in the spring season with H2K. Marcin "Jankos" Jankowski would, at times, spend a great deal of his time sitting in brush around bottom lane or hesitate to head to the top lane and give up pressure.
That didn’t necessarily mean FORG1VEN was demanding attention from Jankos. FORG1VEN is the kind of player who believes he can still succeed when he's at a disadvantage, and whether or not the team decides to support him, he will play to win his lane. In the Albus NoX series, the fact that Caitlyn out-ranged Sivir hardly factored into his decision. "I'm obviously better than my counterpart, so I got to do what I want to do regardless," he told me. "I kind of dictated the way that bot lane or bottom side of map would go."
Whenever he explains a decision he makes, "because I’m FORG1VEN" is inevitably part of his reasoning. It's something he’s aware of and something he wants to use, but not in a one-dimensional way.
"I like Sivir a lot as a pick in general," he said, though he admitted it took him a long time to come around to the champion last year. "Obviously it's not as lane dominant as it should be, but as a player, I can get away with this because it's like what Tristana was in the previous split, where it was very bad in lane, but because of how bad players were against me, I was able to get away with it by taking Tristana. So Sivir is basically the same thing. It helps my team, it basically helps me to play my style still."
True to his prognosis, FORG1VEN broke even in CS for the early part of the first match. With his shorter-range pick he was able to push out creeps, and by 10 minutes he was leading in itemization and CS over his opponent.
H2K’s first-pick Jayce signaled that they were going to invest more resources in the top lane. In fact, they gave up Caitlyn early in all three games in the series, and FORG1VEN chose picks that were more off-meta. Though Lucian and Sivir haven’t been favorite choices for pro carries lately, aspects of their kit will always appeal to FORG1VEN. Sivir’s innate control of the lane's flow, Lucian’s mobility and his ability to get an easy lead and remain relevant — FORG1VEN looks at all of these things independent of whether or not he will have jungle pressure on his side.
Most of H2K’s successful games so far at the World Championship and in the 2016 EU LCS Summer Playoffs have relied more on Jankos coordinating with his solo lanes. The opportunity that FORG1VEN has in these kinds of games is not more jungle pressure in his lane, but everywhere else. The team is able to take advantages across the map at the same time he is building up his own bot.
FORG1VEN will find a way to take a lead, regardless of H2K's game plan. For example, since the lane swap patch, he has started to buy a Cull, an item that allows its owner to stack an extra unit of gold with each minion kill up to 100, at which point it's cashed in for an additional 350. In the lane swap meta, FORG1VEN shied away from this item — with his consistent farm, he felt he could do one better, buying a B.F. Sword by the time the first tier tower trades ended while competitors went with Cull plus Long Sword. With a B.F., he recalls, "I have 40 or whatever more damage on him, so I wish him good luck if he wants to contest or if he wants to be faster in the lane swap."
More recently, FORG1VEN has altered his build to take Cull more often. In the post-swap meta, he can buy it at nearly any point in the game and be sure to cash it in thanks to his farming efficiency. In H2K's Group Stage Week 2 match against ahq e-Sports, for example, he bought a Cull after already farming 105 creeps, meaning he would have to extend the laning phase and farm even longer to make the item worth it. Where that might cause other players to hesitate, for FORG1VEN the choice was trivial. Whether facing a 2v3 scenario, poor matchup, fast push or extended laning phase, he still believes he can play the way he wants, far forward in lane and in control. He doesn’t put limits on himself, and he pushes the advantages he has as far as they can go.
That doesn’t mean he's immune to misjudging his limits from time to time. For example, in Game 3 against Albus NoX Luna, FORG1VEN and Oskar "VandeR" Bogdan were forward in lane while Jankos and mid laner Yoo "Ryu" Sangook took dragon. Albus’ jungler and support planned a Bard Magical Journey gank and eliminated both of them.
Yet nothing seems to shake FORG1VEN's confidence. Even when H2K play to the top side of the map, or Jankos isn’t in a convenient position to provide a counter-gank, he will play like his jungler is nearby or like he knows where the enemy jungler is — not always, but often enough to notice. He believes he is smart enough to respond to threats as they arise.
Though lane matchups often dictate the flow of the game, FORG1VEN talks like they don’t apply to him and VandeR. "We basically absorb pressure or we play matchups that we should lose, but we don't," he said after the ANX match. "Junglers going to gank from wherever, so I have to be really smart, and I was really smart, I think."
This is a high-risk way of looking at the game, but it has worked out for H2K more and more often since FORG1VEN's return. The team feels more unified than it did in the spring. Improving bottom lane vision helps to facilitate this style, and at the EU LCS playoffs and Worlds a lot of H2K’s wards have ended up on the bottom side of the map. This time around, no one has tried to make FORG1VEN play in a way he wouldn’t normally.
This trend extends to the draft. In our interview, FORG1VEN said he hasn't been forced to play a specific champ, but largely has control of his own picks. "I obviously decide as a player," he said. "I advise my coach what I think is the best, then he thinks of it because we had discussion previously, and we go into a decision."
FORG1VEN can be a restriction on his team as much as a degree of freedom. But since the start of the past split, H2K seem to have learned how to play within his parameters. He is a known quantity, but when his play works, it opens up a great deal of opportunities on the rest of the map. Perhaps understanding that has made the synergy between Jankos and his solo lanes more effective as well. Jankos no longer camps lane idly — instead, his laners are good at prepping waves for him to gank as soon as he approaches, and he’s able to control much more of the farm in the jungle with pushes from his teammates. He falls behind less in CS than he did in either spring or summer’s regular splits.
It’s well-documented that FORG1VEN can be difficult to work with, but H2K seems to have learned to work around it. "I know if I do poorly in lane, he'll be really mad at me," VandeR jested after H2K's tiebreaker win in the Group Stage. Then he sobered up a bit and added: "I have to always consider this and always have to — I have to help the team a bit more, right? I am a support player, I carry wards and pink wards, so sometimes I have to go to enemy camp and ward it, or pink for mid lane — but I also have this in the back of my mind, that I have FORG1VEN in bot lane, so if I make him unhappy by roaming too much... you know? I have to be a bit careful for that."
Whenever FORG1VEN plays with a team, it seems as if they eventually reach a turning point, where they can choose to stick it out through the growing pressure and find ways to work around whatever obstacles FORG1VEN presents in-game or out-of-game, or they can part ways and go a different direction. Given this trend, and H2K's other difficulties this year, it’s almost miraculous that they made it to semifinals. Their opponents weren’t as challenging as they could have been — H2K’s run so far can be likened to Star Horn Royal Club’s in 2014, in that they didn't encounter a Korean team until there were no other options left — but the achievement is nonetheless commendable, because it seems like FORG1VEN has finally found a roster that fits him. After seasons of restlessness, he has found one that at least makes some effort to exploit the freedom he provides, while making concessions for what he takes away.
"The fact that we are in Top 4 is actually a huge success if you remember or if you remind yourself how H2K went through the last split," FORG1VEN said. "Personally, it isn't that I want to make our achievement a big deal, like wow or holy shit they are so good, but we have to come to a realization."
FORG1VEN's teammates have said that their success since he returned at the end of the summer hasn’t just been a result of their own sacrifices; they’ve noticed a change in him as well. “Now he's more respectful of where we're playing and on what side we're playing," Odoamne said before the group stage began. "He's accepted that in some situations he might not be our strong side.”
Arguably, this tentative sweet spot has always been there, but it required FORG1VEN and his team to carve out a mutual understanding to find it. It’s not that he doesn’t want to play a balanced team game, but he wants to be able to contribute to it with his own strengths, not force himself to focus on another style that doesn't suit him.
"You can either be an all around player and never be truly good at anything, or you can be a very good player with flaws that you can always cover. There are very specific and few parts of the game that you can actually be truly good at and shine in comparison to your position or to your competition," he said.
"It's what the game allows me to do. I'm not going to play the second best in one way. Yes, I'm very good at lane phase … It’s just a strength that I have, so shouldn't I play my strength sometimes?"
Success means being stubborn sometimes. It means pushing the boundaries of what you’re good at, demanding sacrifices of others around you. But it also means sacrificing things yourself. In subtle ways, it's something FORG1VEN is slowly learning. But on the other hand, it's something that's always been part of his identity as a player, he's just struggled to communicate it to his teammates. Like a 2v3, it's just another boundary for him to push. Maybe this extra time with H2K has helped him begin.
Perkz on his performance at Worlds and his motivation for the next split
Thumbnail image courtesy of Worlds / lolesports flickr
With the 2016 World Championship now behind him, Luka "Perkz" Perković took to Twitlonger to express his disappointment in his performance following G2's elimination.
"After Worlds I was pretty down, both because we played poorly and mostly because I played poorly...," Perkz said. "I was feeling sad that I disappointed my fans, friends and people who believed in me, but I was mostly sad that I disappointed myself because I had a lot higher expectations of myself after the whole Korean bootcamp where I felt like I had reached very high level and consistent performance in scrims and not being able to translate that on stage hit me really hard and made me change the way I think about the game and the way I approach everything else."
G2 entered Worlds as the first European seed, and were regarded as one of the top Western teams at the tournament. Yet hopes were dashed after the team finished Week One of the group stage with a disappointing 0-3 record, setting the stage for their elimination from Worlds in the second week.
Despite the loss, Perkz was happy with how his LoL career started, and said wants to use the loss at Worlds as motivation for the future.
"Nevertheless, this year has been a great experience and learning process for me and I will take so much from it for next year which will not only make me a better player, but a better competitor and there is yet so much more to learn," Perkz said.
"I'm very happy with how my [career] has started (winning both Regular and playoffs LCS splits) and this World's loss will only motivate me to work even harder in future, my biggest wish and motivation right now is to actually perform internationally and win a tournament. (Seeing SKT being so good for so long really motivates you to take the throne one day.)"
Hard 2 Know: How H2K's limits were tested at Worlds
Thumbnail image courtesy of Worlds / lolesports flickr
H2k-Gaming, Europe’s second seed, ended their run at the World Championship in near embarrassment. They escaped first in the only group without a Korean team, climbing over a Chinese first seed whose top laner's mentality had been called into question. Their path to semifinals was through a wildcard team that advanced over the first seed from their own region.
Then they fell out of the semifinals without a single win.
There’s no point arguing that H2K were magic, that they defied the status quo for the EU LCS. There are many ways that H2K were actually a bad team, despite their Top 4 finish. They ultimately didn’t belong next to Samsung, ROX Tigers or SK Telecom T1, either because they lacked the mental fortitude or cohesiveness of play.
That doesn't mean that H2K didn’t surprise us. Going into the tournament, they set low expectations: they weren’t a team and wouldn’t play like one. Commentators irreverently brandished the words “inconsistent” and “unstable.”
H2K corrected false assumptions, and some of that will stick even if the team splits up ahead of 2017. Andrei “Odoamne” Pascu showed greater depth and versatility, Marcin “Jankos” Jankowski developed as a jungler who works collaboratively with his lanes, and Konstantinos-Napoleon "FORG1VEN" Tzortziou demonstrated that, in his own way, he’s a team player. These were all qualities that EU fans could see hints of in the regular season, but were fully exposed in their run at Worlds.
None of this excuses the transgressions H2K made in drafting, mid lane control, poor adaptation or failed collapses in teamfights. But it does give us a better idea of who this team was, so that when we discuss them in the coming season, we won't pretend they were something else.
The laner, not the role-player
Prior to the World Championship, Odoamne told me “I'm not confident enough to demand it as much, but that's been something I've been working on lately — to demand more resources and get the team to play off of me,” he said.
These qualms had apparently vanished by the time quarterfinal against Albus NoX Luna began. Perhaps because of Odoamne’s success in Group Stage, he was given pick priority more often, and the team played strategies around Jayce. EDward Gaming, in their first encounter with H2K, banned Gnar and Kennen to keep Odoamne off a lane bully, already signaling that they recognized his strength. For ANX, H2K made sure to prioritize Odoamne’s Jayce pick, and against Samsung, he was given the counter-pick option more often, with FORG1VEN taking Sivir as a versatile choice earlier in the draft.
The later the tournament progressed, the more Jankos ganked Odoamne’s lane. The team's best synergy came from top and jungle, contrary to the common belief that Jankos' history with Oskar "VandeR" Bogdan makes communication easier around the bottom lane.
This combination made Odoamne look like one of the best laning tops at the World Championship. His success tended to get downplayed because of how weak EDG’s Chen "Mouse" Yuhao and ANX’s Dmitri “Smurf” Ivanov were against him, but he stood up just as well against more impressive tops like Chen “Ziv” Yi, Felipe “Yang” Zhao and Lee "CuVee" Seongjin.
Odoamne understands top matchups at a depth many of his counterparts don't. H2K has long been a team that takes top pick early in the draft, leaving him open for the enemy team to counter-pick, and as a result, he has learned to cope with matchup disadvantages. His colleagues have praised his strong 1v1 knowledge and ability to at least go even when he has the weaker champion.
When people think of strong laners in League of Legends, they think of carry players who take a powerful lane bully and snowball their way to control of the game. For teams with a strong top, the convention is to play around him as much as possible, choosing a matchup that lets him counter-pick and play with a lead. A consequence of that is those top laners can become one-dimensional, and will struggle in a bad matchup they aren’t used to.
In our interview before Worlds, Odoamne commented upon recent LCK series he had seen. "Two best-of-fives in Korea in a row or something, and every game, I see the person playing in the weaker matchup gets solo killed two or three times," he said. "Other players don't know how to play weaker sides of the matchup and just go even."
It's assumed that the other common type of top laner — the low-economy "role-player" who takes safer champions — has the reverse problem, and can't adapt to a carry role. But Odoamne has shown he can use his understanding of matchups to get small advantages in the laning phase and bring them into the late game. Though his reputation is as more of a role-player, when he was given the opportunity to pick a strong matchup on the international stage, Odoamne showed up.
He still has flaws. The team often relied on him to carry, and he didn’t always succeed — especially in the series against Samsung. In Game 1 of the semifinal, when Jankos emphasized the top lane, Kang "Ambition" Chanyong reacted by acquiring consecutive Earth Dragons. As the game progressed, CuVee, even with a deficit, had a stronger impact in split-pushing. The dragon buffs meant he could take structures incredibly easily while the rest of his team answered H2K’s Baron contest.
Of course, that's not all on Odoamne. Shotcalling often determines how a team will split its focus into side lanes, and Samsung, a team that spent most of the tournament giving up side lane pushes and pressure to force fights around Baron, adapted when teamfighting stopped working. They went back to stretching their team and keeping waves pushed, splitting H2K across the map. H2K were forced to pressure Odoamne’s lane, partly because Samsung’s duo lane pair pushed too easily in the bottom lane, and partly because Yoo "Ryu" Sangook performed poorly. But the advantages they gave up in dragons proved something they couldn’t properly overcome.
H2K may have slightly misappropriated Odoamne’s strengths. Rather than using him to reinforce their late game teamfighting, something they have struggled with all year, they're better off playing him as a split-pushing carry or laner. It's worth experimenting with his role as his career continues, especially if he stays with these teammates and their teamfighting woes linger.
Becoming a jungler
"Live or die by Jankos" became more of a joke than a meaningful phrase used to describe H2K’s playstyle in 2016. The adage reflected Jankos’ commitment to impacting his lanes, sometimes at the expense of his own farm.
Over the course of the year, Jankos’ jungling style slowly developed. In Spring, his main asset was warding, falling behind other top junglers in farming and actual lane pressure. A lot of this came from the fact that he spent his time camping brushes and looking for ganks which meant that he fell behind his counterparts in farm unless he did acquire a first blood or an early gank to help him snowball.
As time progressed, it became apparent that the Jankos mantra came from the fact that, if he didn’t have the impact he needed early on lanes, he slowly lost relevancy. Poor positioning in teamfights and awkward engages exacerbated the problem.
Though many blamed H2K's focus on FORG1VEN’s lane — including myself — the roster swap for Aleš "Freeze" Kněžínek appeared to make the problem worse. Jankos became increasingly desperate to snowball lanes, and a set pattern didn’t develop, which made his pathing less efficient and more indecisive.
Then, something very suddenly seemed to click part way through the summer playoffs. Jankos’ apparent obsession with making a play for First Blood dwindled. Ryu began backing and giving up waves to Jankos. He hesitated much less before going to lanes, in part because his solo laners became good at prepping waves for ganks which allowed him to path directly into lane and waste much less time. High values of farm began to accompany Jankos, especially in the team's third place match against the Unicorns of Love.
This trend continued for H2K into the World Championship. Jankos’ play had less of an "inconsistent" label attached to it. Many spectators didn’t notice the root of the change and began to say that he was simply "on fire," but even as H2K flagged against Samsung, Jankos played a much more relevant game. He looked for openings and isolated targets on Lee Sin without instantly dying because he could maintain farm levels and stay competitive.
If anything remains inconsistent about Jankos it’s his over-commitment. Several instances in H2K's series against Samsung saw Jankos stick to targets too long in fights or ganks, not satisfied with a summoner spell burn. This allowed his opponents to turn skirmishes around and win them.
It’s also worth noting that much of Jankos’ performance will suffer with the loss of mid lane control. Ryu’s poor performances in all three games against Samsung — backing in awkward locations, over-extending, etc., — cut down on the jungle control the team could maintain. Not all of this was completely Ryu’s fault and could be blamed on poor communication or warding from the team, but a lot of his misplays were made individually.
If a team doesn’t have control or can’t push out the mid lane, it becomes much harder to invade on either side of the map. To an extent, this forced Jankos into a predictable pattern in the final series where he repeatedly ganked top, looking for a lane to impact that wasn’t the weaker matchup bottom lane or Ryu’s suffering in mid.
A higher level of coordination and communication with solo lanes for Jankos in general, however, is something he should be able to take with him going forward. His jungling style has certainly expanded, and he’s become a more complete player as a result.
Pinching the AD carry pool
The height for H2K was undoubtedly their 4-0 day in the second week of San Francisco’s Group Stage. An extended laning phase gave FORG1VEN a Caitlyn soap box against ahq e-Sports and H2K showed an interesting approach to EDward Gaming that restricted some of the roaming nature of Tian “meiko” Ye and prevented them from extending their map pressure.
FORG1VEN was suddenly a lord of the tournament’s lanes. Snubbed from the list of top AD carries attending, in part because he simply didn’t play a lot in the summer split, FORG1VEN channeled his energy into dueling with a duo touted as the world’s best in Kim “deft” Hyukkyu and meiko. He earned his right to trash talk with three relatively close laning phases.
That wasn’t the surprising thing about FORG1VEN. Against Albus NoX Luna and Samsung Galaxy, FORG1VEN picked his champion later in the draft. As he stated after the game against ANX when discussing the Sivir pick, "Obviously it's not as lane dominant as it should be, but as a player, I can get away with this because it's like what Tristana was in the previous split, where it was very bad in lane, but because of how bad players were against me, I was able to get away with it by taking Tristana."
This didn’t necessarily hold true. Despite Sivir’s strengths in pushing waves, Samsung drafted stronger laning duos and kept the bottom lane pushed against FORG1VEN and VandeR.
In response to criticisms of his champion pool, FORG1VEN said the follwoign on Twitter:
Coach Neil “PR0LLY” Hammad reinforced the claim"
The problem with this statement is that, with the exception of the third and final game against Samsung, H2K hardly pinched the AD carry champion pool. In general, this wouldn’t have been a poor strategy, given Park "Ruler" Jaehyuk has been criticized in the past for his champion pool and the strength H2K get from their side laners. Yet they wasted time in Game 2 banning Miss Fortune when the pick typically doesn’t work as well without Ashe. FORG1VEN also didn’t get the opportunity to demonstrate his strength on the lane bully picks he mentioned.
Inconsistent and, at times, awkward drafting in series remains a flaw of H2K’s coaching staff. The strategy of pinching the AD carry pool may have been a strong one if it didn’t come in Game 3 when the team's morale had visibly depreciated. Other questionable choices included leaving Viktor up after banning Ryze and choosing Sivir early in Game 3 to give the top lane priority, but then choosing Trundle instead of a strong carry pick (even with the Poppy counter being a consideration).
When a team like H2K has had consistently intelligent drafts in best of one and best of two scenarios throughout the year, but seems to crash, fail to adapt, or fall apart in high pressure best of fives, one has to look at their support staff and how they're able to cope in semifinals.
As for FORG1VEN, in the group stage and quarterfinals, he displayed two strong dimensions to his play. He can make a lane go even in a strong a or a weak matchup, depending upon his opponent, and his one of the best laning forces in the World.
The problem arises when he can’t push out the lane to facilitiate the jungler. Jankos had one strong side to work from. Samsung’s series is one of the few instances where FORG1VEN couldn’t just get away with a weak matchup "because [he’s] FORG1VEN." That doesn’t mean he should stop thinking he can, as his confidence certainly gives him an edge, but he could also require more restrictions and guidance from team staff in that case.
H2K-Gaming may have surpassed the fabled Team Dignitas in Baron faux pas throughout the year. The World Championship was no different, and examples of poor Baron calls exist. What exactly is bad about H2K’s Barons?
It’s a clear combination of things. One is an inability to coordinate fights well. Odoamne will initiate a fight and the team won’t fall in lane (either because his call is bad or the team doesn’t react well), Jankos will over-commit to targets. FORG1VEN will take too much of a risk in positioning forward to maximize damage. Ryu will get caught out trying to set up a flank from brush. VandeR will take a straightforward path and get eliminated before he can use crowd control.
Each player on H2K has his peculiarities that makes team fights disorganized. It’s almost a complete wash of problems. For this reason, H2K have struggled to look more like a team. There’s no one struggle, and each player could work independently on his own flaws in coordination, but after a year they don’t look more unified. That spells roster changes.
It’s hard to say what this H2K team would need to make their team fighting more seamless. A more peel oriented support? A top laner with more consistent dive calls? A jungler that focuses less on engaging? A mid laner more in tune with traditional mage play? A cleanup AD carry? That’s a choice for H2K to make in the coming offseason.
Alternatively, if they do stick with the existing roster, H2K would likely continue to work on strategies that drift further and further from 5v5s. It’s imperfect, and restricts their ability to adapt. Samsung’s departure from team fights to split pressure and back throughout their semifinal series showed the wear and tear of H2K. They adapted before the eyes of spectators. Right now, that option didn’t exist for Europe’s second seed.
While H2K’s team play in some sense was very one-dimensional at the World Championship, they also showed signs of their individual players spectators hadn’t seen. Odoamne, Jankos, and FORG1VEN all presented alternate sides to their play that the team can work with to decide on a new identity for 2017. If the squad retains one or all five of the players, they have a foundation for understanding their limits that they could only attain at Worlds, where in a few instances they were pushed further than they were domestically.
No matter how it ends, this year for H2K has been an important one. They didn’t live up to expectations domestically. They surpassed expectations at Worlds, almost as if by a fluke. The 4-0 day against EDward Gaming, ahq and INTZ will serve a testament to what the roster could accomplish, while the Samsung series displayed the ugliest sides of this squad as well as the fact that, even at their lowest, this H2K is finally to a point where minimum reserves can be retained. We may have seen this H2K team at their limit, but not its individual players.