H2K and the enemy on the same side of the rift

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Thumbnail image courtesy of EU LCS / lolesports flickr

At the conclusion of the third place match between H2K and the Unicorns of Love, the hometown heroes stood together on stage with the Polish flag draped over their shoulders. H2K support Oskar “VandeR” Bogdan expressed his regrets. “We should have taken the series against Splyce. We beat ourselves, I should say.”

Some might think this statement puts down Splyce, whose improvements and triumphs this split have been truly admirable, but VandeR’s words were heavy and genuine. “We beat ourselves” rings truer for H2K than many who have uttered the phrase. The laundry list of public problems has been recounted several times: Yoo “Ryu” Sangook’s visa, Konstantinos “FORG1VEN” Tzortziou military summons, as well as his conflict with Coach Niel “pr0lly” Hammad and Aleš “Freeze” Kněžínek’s injury.

The visible devastation H2K experience on stage after losing 2-3 to Splyce in their fourth consecutive semifinal forced me to have doubts. But this week’s third-place match wasn’t about any of those things — it was about what allowed the team to scrape by, to overwhelm Unicorns more convincingly than G2, the Summer champions, and qualify for the World Championship. The small changes the team made to their style and the difference between them and G2 made this match incredibly impressive.

Watching the early games of Unicorns of Love and H2K-Gaming, Kang “Move” Minsu received heavy criticisms for falling behind in farm. During the regular season, Marcin “Jankos” Jankowski could hardly be called a farming jungler. He averaged 48 percent of total jungle camps taken, usually underfarmed relative to his opposite — unless he made the early ganks work. This gave H2K-Gaming the famous “live or die by Jankos” tag line.

During the course of the set against Unicorns of Love, however, there were instances where other members of the team, Ryu especially, granted Jankos waves of farm by backing early. Because of Ryu’s strength over Fabian "Exileh" Schubert, he could trade very well in lane and remain ahead. This particular matchup made a significant difference. Throughout the regular season, H2K progressively focused on holding mid lane, and the synergy between Jankos and Ryu has grown increasingly strong.

For once, H2K were able to execute the style that has been incredibly popular in the EU LCS all year: running through mid-lane. There were several instances where H2K were able to use the terrain between first and second tier mid lane turrets for dives and invades. Jankos’ ability to invade through the bottom blue side jungle and utilize the part of the map between turrets proved effective for a red side team. This, as well as the team’s tactic of delaying the support pick to counter the enemy team’s strategies, could have been a major reason H2K continued to choose red side throughout the series.

With more farm, Jankos averaged 51 percent of jungle camps taken throughout playoffs, and Ryu came off as the star of the team in the third place match, constantly pressuring the lane and abusing Exileh’s champion pool. Yet this was only possible because of the stability of H2K’s side lanes.

With a strategy that relied less on a jungler farming, H2K teetered between spectacular and deplorable throughout the summer split. Their bottom lane often had limited effective strategies, perhaps because of Freeze’s injury and inability to practice consistently. Freeze tunneled on his famous Draven pick. This made playing around the bottom side of the map occasionally ineffective. It also cut down on many opportunities for the top side of the map to get ahead, as with the popularity of Teleport, the most effective way for a top laner to get a lead is often to Teleport to bottom lane skirmishes. In this way, top and bottom have a very strong link in the current meta.

During the semifinal match between Unicorns of Love and G2 Esports, top lane lacked any independent pressure. G2 were only able to have their most decisive victory over Unicorns of Love when Kim “Trick” Gangyun camped the top side of the map, allowing Ki “Expect” Daehan to finally get a lead. This discouraged a great deal of aggression in the bottom side of the map, as G2’s top lane had the ability to push out the wave and both get to the bottom lane before the enemy top laner as well as have a greater impact.

Top lane was never a weak point for H2K throughout the series. Jankos put more jungle pressure on the top side of the map, and Andrei “Odoamne” Pascu’s consistency shone through extremely well. This series, the bottom half of the map exerted a great deal of pressure without Jankos even traveling to the bottom half, and FORG1VEN and VandeR were able to play aggressively, abusing their advantage, knowing the rest of the team was winning top side.

This is the seamless symbiosis we’ve always expected form H2K this season, but never really encountered. For once, this was a team with more stability and freedom, yet it still hinged heavily on the skill of their individual players. This was H2K showing up in their meta against another semifinalist, not a bottom lane camp or a high risk-reward strategy based upon early ganks that don’t always pan out. This was H2K showing up when almost everyone had lost faith.

The question is how long it lasts.

If you’ve had a year like H2K, there’s always another shoe. FORG1VEN’s departure from H2K and return after pr0lly’s comments is incredibly admirable on both sides. H2K swallowed their pride and admitted they needed help. FORG1VEN swallowed his because it’s undeniable — if you play like that, no matter how high your Overwatch rank is, you love League of Legends, you love the competition and the feel of victory, however rare it has been in the past, on the competitive stage.

But the problems H2K had don’t just disappear, and with their inconsistent performances throughout the summer, it’s almost certain that they have even more issues that have nothing to do with FORG1VEN. This H2K is the H2K we’ve wanted to see all year. They’re flexible, they’re less reliant on either FORG1VEN or Jankos. They know how to use the solo laners who have always been there, braving the storm since H2K entered the LCS, two of the best solo laners in the world, though this is rarely acknowledged with the rest of the talent on the team.

“We beat ourselves,” VandeR said, and it rang true of H2K’s struggles throughout the year. Everyone who loves this team or loves the European LCS felt it, though it only lingered in the air for a minute.

H2K finally stopped beating themselves and started beating their competitors for perhaps the first time since Spring. As a fellow lover of League of Legends, I can’t expect this to last forever, but I can hope it lasts through the World Championship in October. I can hope that this is the H2K we see in San Francisco because this is an H2K that can win, this is an H2K that understands how to use the resources they have. This is an H2K that can beat almost anyone.

Remember, H2K, the enemies are on the other side of the rift, and you’ll do just fine.

Photo credit: lolesports flickr

Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for theScore esports who strives to bridge the gap between LPL and EU LCS fans for no reason in particular. You can follow her on Twitter.

Febiven: 'I don't think having Koreans over the best European players is that much of a upgrade'

by 19h ago
Thumbnail image courtesy of Riot Flickr

While H2k-Gaming's bottom lane has quickly found its footing in the 2017 EU LCS Spring split, mid laner Fabian "Febiven" Diepstraten has been on other teams, like Fnatic's 2016 roster, which didn't get the same synergy from their import players.

When ex-teammate Martin "Rekkles" Larsson mentioned Febiven's positive attitude in a recent interview with theScore esports, we reached out to the mid laner for his own views on mindsets and team dynamics.

Read on for Febiven's opinion on integrating import players, how he feels about the potential of all-European rosters, and what he would tell every solo queue player.

With your time on Fnatic and now H2K, it feels like you’re uniquely positioned to talk about this: in your opinion what are the major factors that determine if Korean players will fit into a European squad? Obviously on Fnatic it didn’t seem to work out too well, but H2K’s bottom lane has done very well this season. What’s the difference between those two situations in your view?

I think it all comes down to how well the players mash together and what kind of mindset the players have towards the game and life in general. Everyone is different and has different mindsets towards the game or attitude towards improving and usually people stick to their comfort zone and don’t like changing that much which happened in FNC to all the players. But right now our bot lane has a really nice attitude towards everything and don't show bad emotions at all which is great for the atmosphere and they are always positive and looking to better the team.

Do you feel there’s any merit to the idea discussed recently in EU that European teams should just build all-European rosters and foster EU talent?

I feel like in Europe there are many good players and they can make a ‘’super team’’ together and I don't think having Koreans over the best European players is that much of a upgrade simply because having five Europeans works better than with two Koreans if they lack the language or they have complaints about stuff.

Rekkles had some kind words for you in a recent interview. Did you make a conscious attempt to be an inspiring part of Fnatic or did that just happen?

I think it is just the person who I am. I am basically smiling naturally most of the time and being happy and trying to cheer up the mood and trying to see things positively.

Was there a specific moment when you decided that you wanted to focus more on improving your competitive mindset, and how did you decide what to do?

I always thought just playing the game is the way to go but I realized that how you think about the game and how you act as a teammate and how you work towards becoming better is the way to go, obviously with spamming the game. So after the bad season with FNC last split, I decided that a change was needed in the way I think about life in general and tried to understand myself better so I could be a better person for the next upcoming years that I am a pro, and I feel like it was a good change.

Besides skill at their chosen role, what is the most important thing you look for in a teammate? Is there a point where that thing becomes more important than skill?

I think the most important thing that I value from my teammates is a positive attitude towards improving and towards everything in general. I believe that if you always look to solve things or always try to look for ways that you can get better, it will make you the player you want to be, and everyone wants to be the best but not many people know how to become the best. I just love seeing progress because it means that you’re growing (in a good way)

If you could tell one thing to every EU solo queue player, what would that be?

Never give up.

Is there a champion you wish you could play right now, but doesn’t fit the current meta?

Riven.

Josh "Gauntlet" Bury is a news editor for theScore esports. You can find him on Twitter.

Match highlights: H2k-Gaming vs. Fnatic

theScore esports Staff

NicoThePico parts ways with Fnatic

by 4d ago
Thumbnail image courtesy of Fnatic /theScore esports

Fnatic head coach Nicholas "NicoThePico" Korsgård has left the team, the organization announced Monday. Team manager Finlay “Quaye” Stewart will step in as the team's interim coach until a replacement is found, while Michael “Garki” Bolze will take over as manager.

NicoThePico was previously Origen's head coach before being replaced by Alvar “Araneae” Martín in July. He himself replaced Luis “Deilor” Sevilla as Fnatic's head coach in August.

"After joining Fnatic at the end of Summer Split 2016, I got the chance to build a new roster together with the FNC management for the upcoming season. We started off looking good and had apparent synergy and meshed well together, both in and out of game. As time went on we started facing challenges on the inside. As a result, problems occurred that I could not foresee beforehand and fix in due time," NicoThePico said in a statement.

"As I have been unable to provide the needed remedy, I feel that someone else with an outside perspective on the team and its issues, in both draft and gameplay, might be a better solution than what I was able to provide. I’ve decided to step down as Head Coach of FNC effective immediately."

Fnatic are currently in third place of Group A of the 2017 EU LCS spring split with a 4-6 record. They face Giants Gaming on Mar. 25.

"I am of the belief that we have a truly talented group of players capable of far more than where we currently sit in the standings. I will do my best to give the players a better structure and the resources needed to succeed," Quaye said in a statement. "Together with remote coaches, analysts and our players, we will make sure to give ourselves the best chance at playoffs and making it to Hamburg. The situation is far from ideal but we strongly believe that we are moving in the right direction.

"I'd like to thank Nico for all his hard work and wish him the best of luck in the future."

Sasha Erfanian is a news editor for theScore esports. You can follow him on Twitter.

Infographic: What if NA LCS and EU LCS were still best-of-one?

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Thumbnail image courtesy of theScore esports

While Riot Games abandoned the best-of-one format for the NA LCS and EU LCS back in 2015, theScore esports wanted to see how the current standings would stack up if the leagues still used the format.

Though Team SoloMid are currently leading the NA LCS with a 12-2 match record, counting only the first game of each match, TSM would actually be tied for third place with Echo Fox, Counter Logic Gaming and Immortals, each with 7-7 records. Interestingly, even with best-of-one, Cloud9 would have the same 11-3 record.

In Europe, across both Group A and Group B, league standings would actually remain largely the same counting either first game record or match record. The primary difference would be G2 and Misfits being tied for first in Group A with 7-2 records. G2 are undefeated in the official standings with a 9-0 match record.

Sasha Erfanian is a news editor for theScore esports. Follow him on Twitter, it'll be great for his self-esteem.

Laying down the law: Legal professionals on unions, arbitration courts and contracts

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Thumbnail image courtesy of Lonpicman / Wikimedia Commons

This is the second part of a two-part series. To check out the first part, click here.

Blackouts, sub-par equipment, unusable internet and a manager who wasn't paid for two months: these are just some of the issues Tainted Minds' former LoL roster dealt with before terminating their contracts, according to a Twitlonger from former player, Tristan "Cake" Côté-Lalumière. The AD carry also says he has not received full payment for December or Weeks 3-4 of the OPL spring split.

"The part that bothered me is that every single one of the issues we had could’ve been prevented if Tainted Minds listened to Nick and Fas [the team's coach and manager], who were literally telling them what was happening and how it could be fixed," Cake wrote. "Every times we tried to communicate with the organization, be it through Fas, Nick, or any Tainted Minds employee, it felt like talking to a brick wall. They kept promising us things would get fixed and gave us deadlines, which they NEVER respected."

Cake's sentiment was echoed in a Twitlonger from his teammate, Aaron "ChuChuZ" Bland, who says he took in his fellow dissenters for four weeks as their lawyer attempted to get Tainted Minds to acknowledge they breached contract and remove them from their official roster.

"It started getting really depressing in the house, every day felt like another fight on top of the ongoing discomforts of the house," he said of their last days in Tainted Minds' team house. "The packet loss issue was still going on, and players started considering leaving. The entire atmosphere of the house was crushed, we didn't know what to do."

To date, Tainted Minds have made no statement since announcing their new roster and stating that they would not release the former players.

'It's really tough to ask somebody who might have a year or two worth of playing to sit out for half or all of that time'

For many esports players trapped in legal disputes, filing suit simply isn't a realistic option. Not only can getting a lawyer be prohibitively expensive, but navigating international jurisdictions and a burgeoning field with few legal precedents would be a daunting prospect for anyone, let alone esports players in their late teens or early twenties.

While players on the high-end of the spectrum might be protected by big name organizations and their own social media clout, those on the lower end have no such recourse. So the question remains, what will it take to make those players less vulnerable to predatory individuals and shady orgs?

One solution some have suggested is for esports players to take a page from traditional sports and form player unions and associations. Through a formal union, players would be able to bargain collectively to ensure equitable treatment across teams, as well as pool their resources to pursue legal cases.

"If you can create that kind of organization and you spread it around enough players so that they can pay some dues or something to create some body, then that body can pursue more easily," attorney and FGC commentator David "ultradavid" Phillip Graham said.

"You can sort of spread around the costs of an expensive law suit in a way that would hopefully at least dissuade future teams from making that kind of mistake. If there were some body that had a lawyer on its payroll that could spend the time and money to look into this case, then maybe the next jerk who gets involved in esports who just wants to run away with money thinks twice."

In theory, starting an esports union should function the same way a normal union would. When concerned about conditions at their workplace, a group of employees can form an organizing committee and petition their fellow employees to sign union cards. If more than a certain percentage of the workplace sign the union cards, then the organizing committee can petition their jurisdiction's labor board to hold a formal election to recognize their union. Once recognized as an official union, then employees can negotiate a collective bargaining agreement with their employers, which means the union's representatives would negotiate contracts on behalf of all its members to ensure everyone has equal footing with management.

However, ultradavid also notes that starting a union is easier said than done, especially when many players are independent contractors and not actual employees. An independent contractor is someone who does work or performs a service for a company or organization on a freelance basis, usually retaining autonomy but without the rights, benefits and protection legally afforded to employees under labor laws.

According to Paul H. Haagen, co-director of Duke University's Center for Sports Law and Policy, if players are not actual employees of a team or association, but independent contractors, then they wouldn't be eligible to form a union under U.S. labor laws.

"We want to break down a key word: player. The labor laws only apply if the player is an employee," he said.

"If they are either independent contractors or they're customers, then the labor laws don't apply and they can't unionize. And that's what you would be looking at is something like a trade association."

However, even for teams that are formed of bonafide employees, it may still be impossible for them to form an organization similar to the National Football League Players' Association or National Basketball Players Association. Because traditional sports leagues are all formed by team owners, they can constitute a multi-employer bargaining unit, which is what allows each team's employees to form a single union.

At the moment, no organizations like the NBA or NFL exists in esports, though the Professional eSports Association (PEA) and the World Esports Association (WESA) could potentially fit the definition given time and legal precedent.

According to Haagen, even without multi-employer bargaining units in the esports scene, players could still potentially unionize on a team-by-team basis, so long as, again, they were considered employees and not independent contractors.

"If you have an employer and an employee, and you're in private business and it affects inter-state commerce, then there is at least a potential to unionize," he said.

However, even if there's the slim hope that traditional sports precedent and labor laws could hold up an esports union, the fact remains most players are much younger than most potential unionizers and their careers will most likely be considerably shorter.

"Who knows how long a player is gonna have a playing career? It could be just a few years, if that, and it's very difficult to ask them to potentially sit out for however long it would take to get the owners of teams to recognize a player union, rather than just get some replacement," ultradavid said.

"It's really tough to ask somebody who might have a year or two worth of playing to sit out for half or all of that time. It would be great, I'd love it, I really hope that it happens at some point. It's just probably not something very soon."

'...the people that are actually gonna know a little bit better than a retired judge from the New York Superior Court what the industry standard'

So then, if unions are unrealistic at esports' current level, what other mechanisms could make it easier for players to pursue legal action?

According to Michael Strauss and Chris Hoffman of Reed Smith LLP, one mechanism that's developing are arbitration courts — independent bodies that pass judgement on team and player conflict on behalf of organizations like WESA and Riot Games.

"Riot has recently launched an arbitration court that is right now only handling on the field issues, which would consist of sort of suspensions or fines that the league might be imposing on a team or player," Hoffman said. "And they have not gotten into these sort of internal team housekeeping issues yet, but the WESA arbitration court is much broader and would be potentially an avenue that players and teams can take advantage of when these types of internal disputes arise."

Though both Riot and WESA's arbitration courts are still in their fledgling stages, the two say that one substantial advantage arbitration courts have over the legal system is that the adjudicators themselves understand the scene and don't have to interpret traditional legal precedent in the context of esports.

"When you go to an arbitration court that is esports-specific for example, they are going to understand the types of compensation that players are earning. The amount which is industry standard for some of these players and what would trigger, what would be a reasonable amount of money," Strauss said.

"And so when you talk about player recourse and team recourse for that matter, you can end up in an esports specific arbitration court like WESA, and have the people that are actually gonna know a little bit better than a retired judge from the New York Superior Court what the industry standard is for paying a player for prize moneys or salary, or their Twitch channel."

'All they look at is the amount listed on the contract and that kind of thing, if they even look at that. Sometimes they just sign.'

Ultimately, with unions and arbitration courts unrealistic for the majority of amateur and semi-pro esports players, the best thing someone can do to protect themselves is to know their rights, know their contracts and take care of as much of their own business as they can.

For instance, claiming your own prize money instead of allowing your team to accept on your behalf may result in extra taxes but doesn't run the risk of losing out on the money entirely, as happened to former Invasion eSport players Kevin "Harstem" de Koning, Juan Carlos "MajOr" Tena Lopez and Julian "Lambo" Brosig.

Harstem says that he strongly regrets allowing Invasion to handle his prize money and allowing them to regularly dole out his payments late until his former manager, Sebastien "Sebou" Dang, disappeared with several thousand dollars of his, MajOr's and Lambo's prize money.

"Don't accept late payments. Even if you know the people, have like a maximum amount of time for yourself what's late, handle your own prize money," he advised. "Make a — I'm not sure what it's called in English — but like a one-man company so you can basically get your own prize money immediately to you. It's a lot easier with taxes as well."

"When I have clients who are making a deal with a team that I don't know very well, that I don't have a ton experience with, I always try to get it so the money goes directly to them first, then they share whatever the amount is with the team if there is some split," ultradavid said.

He also says it's very important for players to do research on orgs before signing with them. Simply taking someone's word that they're on your side is just not enough.

"You have to look into who's behind the money, you have to look into what their incentives are, look into what the long-term plans of the organization are. Those are all really important things to look through from the players' perspective so that you can minimize the chances that you sort of get in bed with a huckster. You don't want to do that," ultradavid said. "Too often I have had clients or known about other players who get an offer and all they look at is the amount listed on the contract and that kind of thing, if they even look at that. Sometimes they just sign."

As chair of Duke's Student-Athlete Counseling Committee, Haagen has helped numerous young athletes transition from collegiate sports to the big leagues. One thing he cautions any young player to do before they sign a contract is understand how it could affect them deeper into their career.

"I had a baseball player and he was presented with a contract and I said, 'You understand you're giving up the rights to your name in connection with baseball as long as you are a professional athlete,'" Haagen recounted.

"And then he did and I said, 'You understand, you are being paid two very fancy gloves a year, that's what you get out of this. You're giving up this right.' And he said, 'Yeah, I understand it. These are really good gloves and I intend to go to medical school in a year. So y'know, play a year in the minors, have that experience, maybe write something about it, and then I'll go to medical school.' Well, you played in the Major Leagues for 13 years."

One issue that plagues esports much more than traditional sports are people playing for teams without contracts. While less common these days, especially in the gentrifying fields of LoL and CS:GO, the issue still persists, sometimes in teams at the highest peaks of their respective sport. For instance, though Jackie "EternalEnvy" Mau and Rasmus "MiSeRy" Filipsen claim that Team Secret failed to live up to their promises, they nor any of the other players on the roster had contracts.

Though that fact makes a potential legal case exponentially more difficult, Hoffman and Strauss say it wouldn't be impossible. According to them, even without written contracts, players can argue that they had an oral agreement in place with the org or can invoke the Unjust Enrichment theory.

“There is a legal theory, an equitable legal theory, called Unjust Enrichment. And if you can demonstrate that as a team or a player, you've rendered services to the other party, then you're entitled to be compensated for those services,” Hoffman said. “It does bring up issues of definiteness and exactly what the parties agreed or what the value of those services are in that, that can be especially tough to determine in an industry as unique as esports.”

Laying down the law

Despite examples like the situations facing Tainted Minds' former LoL roster and the ex-Invasion StarCraft players, the esports world has made great strides towards legitimacy.

According to Hoffman and Strauss, the best solution may simply be letting nature take its course as more outside investment pours in bringing with it the influence of big money sponsors and business people who won't stand for legal drama.

"Esports as an industry is going through growing pains and that's counter-balanced by just the exponential growth that we've seen and the growth opportunities that lay ahead. And as teams, players and other stakeholders all are sort of figuring out the best ways to monetize in this industry and to realize on their investments," Hoffman said.

However, for the players forced to navigate the barely-charted legal and contractual territory of esports all on their own, Harstem has one piece of advice.

"Don't get ******* over guys."

Sasha Erfanian is a news editor for theScore esports. You can follow him on Twitter.

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