The necessary play: Comparing H2K's FORG1VEN and Origen's Zven

Thumbnail image courtesy of EU LCS / lolesports flickr

"He will do the necessary things — the necessary plays — in order to win a game. He will flash in with 0 HP, he doesn't give a f*** if he will die. He will build the right items. He will move correctly into the map. He will try."

—Konstantinos “FORG1VEN” Tzortziou-Napoleon on what he values in players and, in particular, Tristan “PowerOfEvil” Schrage, Summoning Insight Episode 41

On Friday, H2k-Gaming and Origen will play against each other for the second time in the 2016 regular season. Before the start of the season, this would have seemed like an exciting match with both H2K and Origen projected to top the European League of Legends Championship Series standings. With Origen’s recent performances, in particular their struggles with the draft and in-game coordination, few dare to predict anything outside of an H2K victory.

One thing this matchup has going for it — it’s still a clash between the two best AD carries in the EU LCS.

An unlikely rivalry

Unable to play for Fnatic due to age restrictions in 2013, Martin “Rekkles” Larsson went on loan to Copenhagen Wolves during their small rampage as a Challenger team in minor events. One of the region's most promising AD carry prospects, Rekkles joined Fnatic at the end of the year once he turned 17. Many expected Copenhagen Wolves to crumble without the young carry and jungler Ilyas “Shook” Hartsema, who left at around the same time to join Alliance.

The Copenhagen Wolves made their debut at the 2013 Intel Extreme Masters Cologne Amateur tournament with two relative rookies, Maurice “Amazing” Stückenschneider and Greek AD carry Konstantinos “FORG1VEN” Tzortziou-Napoleon. The Wolves flattened the Ninjas in Pyjamas — a team that featured three members from the World Championship qualifying Lemondogs — in the finals. FORG1VEN finished with a 21 KDA (the only KDA in the amateur tournament above 10) on three games as Lucian and one as Caitlyn.

If nothing else, the Copenhagen Wolves gave European audiences their first major taste of FORG1VEN. From the beginning, he favored lane dominant champions, sported high CS numbers, and a few dared to call him a direct upgrade over Rekkles.

Shortly after, FORG1VEN became a well-defined personality in the European League of Legends Championship Series. He rarely avoided expressing his opinion on a particular subject matter or discontent with a team environment. Since his debut, FORG1VEN has played for a different team every split he's participated in while facing champion bans, public conflict, and a temporary suspension for “toxicity” in solo queue.

With FORG1VEN, what you see is often what you get, but when teams weigh the pros and cons, he always seems to find his way back into the competitive scene. There’s usually at least one team willing to accept the possibility that FORG1VEN’s demanding attitude will create unrest for the sake of, not only his prodigious talent, but the dedication and focus that has apparently driven him to be listed next to some of the best Korean and Chinese AD carries in the world despite rarely having had the opportunity to play against them on the international stage.

By contrast, that’s an opportunity that Jesper "Zven" Svenningsen hasn’t lacked. Rather than talented AD carries, Europe has a much more storied history of fathering world class mid laners, and when one of their most storied, Enrique “xPeke” Cedeno Martinez, made the decision to raise a new team from Challenger, they elected to do so with only one rookie.

Rekkles returns to the story, but again not as one of its stars. As one of xPeke and Paul “sOAZ” Boyer's previous teammates, Rekkles recommended that they sign Zven (then known as Niels). As a result, initial comparisons were made between Zven and Rekkles, but over time they would prove unwarranted due to the fact that Origen devoted much more jungle pressure and resources to their bottom lane.

The star solo laners played more utility and wave clear roles as bottom lane and jungle became Origen's primary focus. High dragon control rates showed Origen’s willingness to focus on skirmishes with their bottom lane and jungler, giving Zven an opportunity to stand out. He relished in it, and used the limelight to become known for his teamfight positioning and his world-class Kalista play.

Unlike FORG1VEN, Zven’s LCS debut placed him on a team with a more defined sense of unity that seemed to improve over time. “I had a really good team,” Zven said when asked how he managed to become so successful in his rookie split.

On his lack of jitters at the World Championship, he added, “I had an entire Challenger Split and nine months of LCS to be bad, haha! I think personally that I didn't play so well in LCS until the final against Fnatic and then the gauntlet. From there on, I think I played really good in almost every match at Worlds and IEM.”

Most would agree. The 2015 World Championship Group Stage accelerated the advancement of Zven’s form when Origen’s superior cohesiveness allowed him to perform against the likes of Gu “imp” Seungbin, who was touted as the world's best AD carry going into the tournament.

In the current split, Zven leads the league in percentage of team damage dealt to champions at 35.6 percent and percentage of team gold at 27.7 percent. Despite Origen's rough start to 2016, they manage to consolidate around Zven to give them a sense of direction.

Even though FORG1VEN compared Zven's style to Rekkles and despite Origen failing to break the Top 5 in the EU LCS standings, there’s an argument to be made for Zven being the best individual AD carry in the league.

With both players exhibiting drastically different styles of play, it may genuinely come down to preference.

An unFORG1Ving sense for pressure

On multiple occasions, FORG1VEN has made it clear that he values players based on their laning phase. On his most recent Summing Insight episode, he attributed the sentiment “You judge an opponent based on the lane phase” to Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng, but stated that he agreed with it. Throughout his career, FORG1VEN has favored champions that lane well like Caitlyn, Lucian, Graves, and more recently, Corki.

While Zven deals the highest percentage of team damage to champions, FORG1VEN leads the CS@10 ranking among EU LCS AD carries and only trails behind Lucas “Cabochard” Simon-Meslet’s. A lot of this comes down to H2K’s lane swapping proficiency which allows FORG1VEN to benefit from the freeze and push of creeps more than many other AD carries, but CS advantages in 2v2s have also consistently characterized his pro career.

Outside the laning phase, FORG1VEN specializes in aggressive teamfight positioning and occasionally will double as his own initiator. FORG1VEN seems to favor Corki for his use of The Package ability to knock aside targets,and quickly burst down squishy enemies. In the past, many of his most picked champions have shared these characteristics to some extent. The upfront burst damage from champions like Corki and Lucian allow FORG1VEN to take more risks. As long as his reflexes allow him to escape quickly, or in so far as he can account for the crowd control on the enemy team, FORG1VEN takes advantage of champions that can toe the front line and burst down targets before escaping.

Yet, in FORG1VEN's own words, H2K "don't play solo queue."

As H2K have perfected their style, the team has relied less and less on FORG1VEN to do the majority of their damage. FORG1VEN went from dishing out 55.8 percent of team damage dealt and participating in 100 percent of his team's kills in their first game to 58.3 percent kill participation and 25 percent of team damage dealt in their last game against G2. H2K are in the bottom four for average combined kills per minute, which means FORG1VEN is often shuffled into side lanes to push turrets and farm.

While there's no shame in having a developed sense of team macro-strategy, this game approach minimizes opportunities for FORG1VEN's individual strengths to make an appearance. In fact, in part as a result of H2K drafting fewer champions designed to peel for FORG1VEN, there will be instances where H2K's poke and siege composition unravels, and FORG1VEN is left as the obvious target in a forced fight. This makes him look more at fault than he would be otherwise for an H2K "throw" if it seems he's been caught out of position in a team composition not designed to benefit him.

FORG1VEN Kill Participation and Team Damage Percentage over time per game

Far from a simple decline in damage dealt to champions over time, however, FORG1VEN has shown a difference in average percentage of damage dealt depending on the champion he picks. Fifty percent of FORG1VEN's games this split have been on Corki, and he has dealt, on average, 38 percent of team damage as the yordle pilot, but only 27 percent of team damage in their other five games. As a result of Corki's early power spike, this has also lead to a -.39 correlation between percentage of team damage dealt and game time for FORG1VEN in H2K's games.

As a player, FORG1VEN has thrived in situations where he's given the resources to take a lead. It seems as if we've seen that FORG1VEN less and less this split. H2K's fixation on out-rotating the opponent occasionally causes them to collapse when they're forced into a fight.

Perhaps the return of Yoo "Ryu" Sangook can improve H2K's teamfight coordination in addition to their more questionable Baron calls. Until then, the result looks more like FORG1VEN hasn't been able to be the same player he's always claimed to value. As H2K are winning, it's unlikely that he minds, but if H2K ever have a gap in their vision and find themselves caught, eyes fall to FORG1VEN, whose self-sufficiency and game impact has always been his strength. The undeveloped team fighting side of H2K may deserve a second look on the way to the European playoffs in Round 2, especially following a loss in a Baron fight against G2 Esports.

Doing more with the same

Zven has been less outspoken than FORG1VEN in his short career and, as such, the public has less of a sense for what he values in an individual player. Yet following Week 3, Zven made a comment that rings true of his development so far.

"Once I get to the point where I'm actually playing Lucian with Lulu, then I feel like I'm playing really good. I do more with this than some other people do," he said.

In moving from FORG1VEN to Zven, one becomes familiar with a very different kind of AD carry. Rather than relying on himself to initiate and enter a fight or burst down his target before they can turn a situation, Zven plays patiently, and he relies a lot more on his teammates providing utility and gold resources to be effective — but this is where he begins to set himself apart from the Rekkleses of the EU LCS. Zven seems capable of doing more with what he's given than other AD carries that have taken center stage for their teams.

Much of this comes from Origen's alternate approach. Rather than focus on avoiding fights, they sit in the Top 3 for combined kills per minute. Within this setting, Zven's kill participation has yet to fall below 50 percent. Lulu has become known as a formidable power pick for Origen, not because of PowerOfEvil's proficiency with the champion, but because of Zven's ability to use the peel and resources Lulu provides to turn Lucian into a hyper carry.

Origen still hold the highest dragon secure rate in the EU LCS, but this comes more from wanting to force fights with their bottom lane than actually placing value on objectives. They don't always find these fights, but old habits die hard, and Origen are falling back on something that always used to work for them.

Zven leads the league in percentage of team damage dealt and percentage of team gold earned. He's also completely avoided playing Corki so far this split, preferring champions with later power spikes like Lucian (in conjunction with Lulu) and Ezreal. Perhaps the best comparison between FORG1VEN and Zven comes through when one examines how they choose to build their Ezreals. Zven prefers to build the now-standard blue build that allows for kiting, while FORG1VEN rushed Trinity Force in the only Ezreal game he's played so far this split for the burst damage it provides.

FORG1VEN's signature Lucian has become Zven's most played champion this split with his own Kalista perpetually held out of his reach. While FORG1VEN seems to use Lucian as a front-liner, relying on his gap close as more of an escape mechanism after unleashing his cooldowns up front, Zven waits patiently for an opportunity to enter a fight. When cooldowns are burned on his front line, he'll use Relentless Pursuit to find the right opening and damage his opponent.

As with FORG1VEN, Zven's personality can be seen in his play. He isn't as outwardly vocal, but he's unexpected and at times difficult to read. Zven is in and out before the enemy team has time to react.

While FORG1VEN has taken more of a back seat for the sake of his team's fight-avoidance strategy this year, Zven has become increasingly central to Origen. Origen put pressure on Zven, hoping for a sense of unity while their communication struggles. This means slightly more Malphite and Tahm Kench picks for sOAZ than Andrei "Odoamne" Pascu. It also means more focus on laning for Alfonso "mithy" Aguirre Rodriguez.

So far, this system hasn't been perfect for Origen. A team that focuses on late game teamfights continues to make communication mistakes around the Baron pit. Even so, it does a lot to bring out Zven's strengths as an individual player. Unlike FORG1VEN, Zven shows an increased correlation in percentage of team damage dealt with game time (.60). Zven has also boasted a solid CS lead at ten minutes with more focus on his lane (8.2). He plays more aggressively in lane, as he is in a position where he's forced to get a lead, where he's forced to make that lead count and make the necessary play.

Perhaps if H2K's current style didn't de-emphasize some of FORG1VEN's strengths and Origen had a better grasp of coordination, we wouldn't even be in a position to make a comparison between FORG1VEN and Zven. A team of strong talents built around facilitating FORG1VEN might be better than team built around facilitating Zven — or a team with Origen all communicating perfectly and enhancing their current style could buck the trend of the meta, as they did at the World Championship, enough to contest H2K Gaming.

Zven's performance has been the rock to which the current iteration of Origen cling. FORG1VEN's ability to remove himself more and more from center stage and focus almost soleley on chipping down turrets is, in a strange way, nearly as fundamental to H2K's success.

So for now, the debate is open. Both FORG1VEN and Zven are making the necessary plays to make H2K and Origen win as many games as possible. For now, that's enough of a reason to watch H2K take on Origen this weekend.

Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for theScore eSports. You can follow her on Twitter.

Because I'm FORG1VEN

by 1d ago
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.

Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for theScore esports. You can follow her on Twitter.

FORG1VEN: 'I would like to dedicate our qualification to my father'

William "scarra" Li

A day after they qualified for the quarterfinals at the 2016 World Championship, the players of H2k-Gaming watched from the sidelines as Splyce were officially eliminated, leaving H2K as the EU LCS' last hope in the Top 8.

Speaking to William "scarra" Li after the results came in, Konstantinos "FORG1VEN" Tzortziou went in-depth on how H2K defied expectations to make it to the Top 8, the impact that his father has had on his pro career, his experience playing against different bot lanes at his first Worlds and the "circle-jerk" around other Western bot lanes.

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Ryu: 'If I can, I would like to make Europe a bit more proud'

William "scarra" Li 3d ago

H2k-Gaming have officially reached the semifinals of Worlds by sweeping Albus NoX Luna 3-0, matching the results of Fnatic and Origen from last year's event. Now, they will aim to do one better by taking down Samsung Galaxy in next week's semifinals.

Following the dominant series victory over ANX, William "scarra" Li caught up with Yoo "Ryu" Sang-ook to talk the pros and cons of Vladimir and Syndra, looking forward to facing Lee "Crown" Min-ho and hoping to do Europe proud.

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Freeze: 'Even if I would take a break from Spring, I would come back to playing...It's my passion'

William "scarra" Li 4d ago

Even though a hand injury has kept him sidelined since before the EU LCS Summer Playoffs, that hasn't stopped Aleš "Freeze" Kněžínek from supporting his team every step of the way. Now, ahead of H2k-Gaming's quarterfinal showdown with Albus NoX Luna on Sunday, Freeze has journeyed to the Chicago Theatre to cheer on his team as they attempt to advance to the semifinals.

theScore esports' William "scarra" Li chatted with Freeze during Saturday's series between the ROX Tigers and EDward Gaming about gaining inspiration by watching the likes of Kim "PraY" Jong-in, H2K's plans for overcoming ANX and what his ongoing hand issues mean for his plans in 2017.

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Talent Won: Comparing EDward Gaming's clearlove to H2k-Gaming's FORG1VEN

Thumbnail image courtesy of Worlds / lolesports flickr

The battle for the first seed of Group C wasn’t just about support roams, jungle pathing, top-side pressure, deft rushing an Iceborn Gauntlet or mid-lane counterganks. It was about talent and practice, an argument that recently rushed to the forefront of the community, and two players who have had very different approaches to practice throughout their careers.

Ming “Clearlove” Kai has been playing League of Legends since 2011. He’s been part of the two greatest rosters in Chinese League of Legends history, and he's won major international events against celebrated opponents, including the IGN Pro League 5 and the 2015 Mid-Season Invitational. This is no less than his fourth appearance at the World Championship — but he has yet to make it past the quarterfinals.

Clearlove cites the World Championship as one of the primary reasons he continues playing, but the title remains elusive for one of the most accomplished non-Korean players in the game’s history. Ahead of this year's Worlds, he joked that all he wants to do is “break the quarterfinal curse.” But with EDG going up against the ROX Tigers on Saturday, their odds of success are much slimmer than they could be.

Clearlove's personal performance has improved each year that he has attended Worlds, as he has practiced hard and slowly adapted his play. Prior to 2015, he wasn’t considered an especially impressive player beyond his zoning control and the flanking sense he has in teamfights. Despite high praise from his teammates and the devastating abilities he's demonstrated in solo queue, Clearlove’s low jungle pressure, combined with teammates who preferred to stall out the laning phase, made teams like WE and EDward Gaming much more effective in the late game.

In 2015, Clearlove expressed much more creativity in his pathing and was able to convert his personal leads into lane pressure. In 2016, EDward Gaming unified much more around Clearlove to control invades and place deep vision. This was the best domestic summer season Clearlove has had individually, taking EDG through an undefeated run and only disappointing when they lost control of mid lane in the semifinal against WE. 2016’s World Championship is the first Worlds in three years where EDG weren’t placed in the same group as the tournament favorite to win.

But it happened again anyway. EDward Gaming slid into second place in Group C, and are now on a collision course with the most difficult opponent they have yet to face in the Worlds quarterfinals.

Clearlove’s career is easily juxtaposed to that of H2K-Gaming’s AD carry, Konstantinos "FORG1VEN" Tzortziou-Napoleon. Though known for his exceptional skill and good individual performances, FORG1VEN has struggled to find domestic results, in part because his style has remained somewhat fixed. He has clashed with his teammates and found himself drifting from team to team, battling his own conflicts outside the game.

RELATED: FORG1VEN on making it to the quarterfinals and thoughts on his Western competitors

Since he first entered the LCS in 2014, FORG1VEN's lane-focused playstyle has been well documented. He’s developed a wider champion pool and been able to modulate his aggression in lane over time, but he has been essentially the same player throughout. This is something to be proud of, since it speaks to the consistency of his performance. On the other hand, he has been often criticized for his stubbornness and inflexibility.

Extreme circumstances brought FORG1VEN back to H2K-Gaming after a teamless split at the conclusion of the 2016 LCS Summer Split. H2K didn’t win the EU LCS like EDward Gaming won the LPL — in fact, they only qualified for the World Championship by way of points after a grueling loss to Splyce, thanks to G2 Esports’ first place finish. An unreliable collection of European superstar talent, H2K scraped into Group C with China’s undefeated team, and they came out first.

FORG1VEN criticized EDG after their matches against H2K. In his view, they funneled too much of their resources to their bottom lane duo, Kim “deft” Hyukkyu and Tian “meiko” Ye, and left top laner Chen "Mouse" Yuhao out in the cold. He went after Clearlove as well, referring to the “deft-meiko-Clearlove” bottom lane, alluding to Clearlove's long-standing history of playing to the duo lane.

“EDG['s duo lane] were good, but how they were playing the game is really unhealthy, not only for them," FORG1VEN said in an interview after Group C concluded. "While I could understand because their top laner is not ... the greatest player, but if he is not the greatest player, sure, don't you have to help him?"

Analysis of EDG and H2K's games does not support this assessment. FORG1VEN averaged a higher percentage of team gold in the group stage overall than deft, at 26.4 percent to deft’s 24.2 percent.

As for Clearlove, he spent less time below the mid lane than H2K jungler Marcin “Jankos” Jankowski in two out of the three matches EDG and H2K played in their group. In their second game, Clearlove spent 42.4 percent of the first ten minutes of the game on the bottom half of the map (not including time spent in the mid lane itself, or in base), compared to Jankos’ 56.1 percent; in the tie-breaker, Clearlove spent a startlingly low 22.1 percent of his first ten minutes below the mid lane, relative to Jankos’ 51.1 percent. Even in the one game where Clearlove did focus bottom more than Jankos, he still spent the majority of his time away from the bottom half of the map — only 36.1 percent of his first ten minutes were spent below mid, compared to Jankos' 31.1 percent.

Clearlove did adapt to spend more of his time on the top side of the map, especially in the last game, but in several instances, EDward Gaming top laner Chen "Mouse" Yuhao used the pressure to play overly aggressive, losing health needlessly. In some cases, even with Clearlove in the area, Mouse misjudged his positioning and fell drastically behind, or died solo to H2K’s Andrei “Odoamne” Pascu.

Teams that target mid lane have also been a sore point for EDG, as cutting mid lane advantages impedes Clearlove's ability to invade the enemy jungle. Jankos heavily targeted the mid lane in the first ten minutes of the three games, and Clearlove responded with counterganks 50 percent of the times it happened. Both Lee "Scout" Yechan and Heo "PawN" Wonseok buckled under pressure from Yoo "Ryu" Sangook, as they did against other mid lane opponents in the group, averaging -6 CS at 10 minutes and -4 CS at 10 minutes, respectively, across their group stage games.

Especially in the tiebreaker match, Clearlove moved to gank top with unimpressive results, while Jankos and Ryu had more success mid. Clearlove adjusted his pathing to respond to mid-lane gank pressure, and Mouse fell behind on his own. On Summoning Insight, Caster Aiden "Zirene" Moon suggested that part of the problem in Clearlove’s performances was being spread too thin with a struggling top laner, and it might even be better for him to revert to the bottom lane camp habit FORG1VEN accused him of committing to.

EDG have struggled with mid lane control all year, allegedly because of Scout's inexperience and PawN’s back injuries. Clearlove has taken partial responsibility. “Due to some injuries to PawN,” he said after the team’s spring LPL final loss to Royal Never Give Up, “the champions he's chosen are more team-oriented rather than assassin-oriented champions. So, in that sense, in the 2v2 lane and mid it causes some disadvantages for us, because we don't have a lot of proactive moves that we can make.” He added that EDG would improve as he did.

Following their five-game series against WE in the LPL Summer semifinals, Clearlove said WE’s mid and jungle duo was “better than ours.” He has played much less proactively without mid lane control — which made H2K’s dual-pronged strategy of targeting mid lane and limiting meiko’s ability to lay wards in the enemy jungle by banning mobile supports extremely effective.

If we really want to lay a damning criticism at Clearlove’s doorstep, it should concern his aversion to proactive plays without information. Even in games where he has a strong jungle matchup, he seems to rely on knowing the location of the enemy jungler before making a move. His inability to impact the top lane, even considering Mouse’s individual weaknesses, reflects a long career of awkward gank timings around top lane and an obvious preference for ganking for his AD carry.

That highlights the real difference between Clearlove and FORG1VEN. Clearlove has spent his career working to evolve from an underwhelming first several years of play. FORG1VEN rarely considers changing his playstyle, but his sheer skill has been enough to force others to adapt to him.

When Clearlove first joined WE, he wasn’t Coach Ji “Aaron” Xing’s first choice as a jungler. Aaron had been eyeing Liu “Lucky” Junjie, who eventually joined Royal Club Huang Zu instead. Clearlove’s work ethic and attentiveness to improvement got him the position, even though initially he seemed like the less talented player.

Clearlove has been described as the type of player who doesn’t just have an exemplary dedication to practice and self-improvement, but as someone who will push his teammates to do so as well, making him a valuable team core and captain. “I have to remember that no one is perfect,” Clearlove said in a fall 2015 interview. “You have to focus on your strengths because you will develop if you keep working, and sometimes you will fix your problems with dedication and time.”

Focusing on his strengths has been a common theme of Clearlove’s career, as he developed a focus on teamfighting first, followed by his attention to playing on the bottom side of the map. Eventually, he identified more ganking opportunities and became aggressive, but at times he’s predictable in his movements. Many teams in LPL could expect Clearlove to show up on the bottom side of the map, but he had a smart way of approaching it that at times forced them to make the first move while he waited for a countergank.

That doesn’t always work, and though Clearlove has adapted, the process has been slow. Before this year, Clearlove struggled to have an impact as Elise or Nidalee. In the post-game press conference after the 2016 LPL Summer final, he admitted that learning champions like Elise was part of the reason his solo queue ranking fell.

This sluggishness is also why Clearlove may never make it as far as he wants to at Worlds. Two years in a row, he’s been forced abruptly out of his comfort zone to play around the top side of the map. Last year, because the meta demanded it, and this year, because Mouse isn’t the same self-sufficient top laner Koro1 was — or will likely to be after he replaces Mouse in the quarterfinal.

Clearlove has definite habits. He’s demanding of his teammates and himself, and when he focuses on his strengths, he gets tunnel vision. When he’s forced to adapt too quickly, he doesn’t make it work.

By contrast, FORG1VEN doesn’t focus as much on adapting, and this has at times created conflict with himself and his teammates. Over the years, FORG1VEN has developed a distinct view of how the game should be played — not without reason — and he adamantly sticks to his convictions. He comes into each team as a known quantity.

“When we started playing with FORG1VEN [again],” Odoamne said before the World Championship, “even for these playoffs, we all knew what his tendencies are, so we all worked a lot more to try to go around that and not force him to do something he's not really willing to do.”

So far, H2K haven’t. They draft a strong matchup for FORG1VEN, and they set up an opportunity for him to lane in the 2v2, either by pulling jungle pressure elsewhere or relying on him to understand how to play his lane with more attention from the enemy jungler. FORG1VEN perhaps felt that Clearlove was always on the bottom side of the map in H2K’s game against EDward Gaming, because that’s part of his confidence.

FORG1VEN will frequently say that he’s facing a 2v3 (at least) in the bottom lane. This is only partly an illusion. He often does get focused by the enemy jungler, and he takes it in stride. In cases where he and Oskar "VandeR" Bogdan get the isolated 2v2, FORG1VEN might still say he’s 2v3, just because he knows he actually can 2v3.

That kind of confidence, and an unrelated willingness to place blame on his teammates instead of himself, actually says a lot about why FORG1VEN is successful, at least individually. He isn’t someone who doubts his own abilities, no matter how many times he's been shirked and shuffled to new teams, and with good reason — he’s intensely talented.

Clearlove believes that he can improve himself by dedicating more time to the game, but FORG1VEN sees only minimal benefit from a grueling individual practice schedule. He doesn't endlessly grind solo queue. He doesn't agonize over replays. He looks back on the times he has come back to LoL from an extended period with another game, and sees no apparent falloff. “All the effort you're going to put as an individual in terms of solo queue, in terms of mechanics, in terms of understanding the concept of the game, the meta, the picks — whatever — it's going to give you like 10 percent maximum, maybe a bit more, advantage,” he said following H2K's Group Stage run.

Clearlove is a talented player. His demonstrated skill in solo queue drew both deft and PawN to the team. FORG1VEN works hard when the situation calls for it, and he especially seems concerned with finding the right rhythm with his teammates, even while he remains committed to his personal convictions.

It's just that FORG1VEN's natural ceiling is higher.

In three games, H2K came out ahead. I can add caveats — I can point out the high blue-side win rate in group stage, especially concerning bottom-lane focused teams. I can point to the discrepancy in solo laners and the strength of H2K’s strategy. But that won't change that H2K was the better team on the second day of group stage, and FORG1VEN the better player.

It’s possible that no matter how many hours and how many years Clearlove practices, he’ll never get past the quarterfinal at the World Championship. He’ll hit the barrier of habit he’s created through repetition, unable to deviate from the core strengths he's trained.

“Clearlove,” ex-teammate Yu "Misaya" Jingxi said at the MidSeason Invitational in 2015, “to be able to progress the way he did, and be such a relevant jungler for all this time is mainly because of his persistence and because he put in a lot a lot of hard work first hand …

“I want to congratulate Clearlove on all his success and wish him the best of luck in … proving to the world that he is best in the world.”

A year and a half later, Clearlove still hasn’t proven himself the best in the world at the event he considers most important.

“…my goal is to win the World Championship,” Clearlove told Riot Games. “But if I really can’t get it, at the very least I fought and worked for it. As long as there’s no regrets, it’s okay.”

Someone like FORG1VEN is an obstacle Clearlove may never overcome. “No regrets” may have to cut it.

Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for theScore esports. You can follow her on Twitter.

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