Europe has always been a proud League of Legends region with players as stubborn as they are prideful. When their servers suffered ongoing issues in the game’s initial growth, they turned the memetic phrase “EU West is down” into a badge of honor. Only the toughest could survive the inconsistencies of the EUW server and come out the other side as a strong player forged in the fires of unreliable wait times, continuous connection issues, and varying degrees of latency. Although these server issues have long been fixed, European solo queue is still characterized by its unforgiving ladder and reputation for producing top-tier talent.
When members of the international community denigrated Europe for their lack of infrastructure and inability to pay their players competitive wages compared to their North American counterparts, they managed to send two teams to the 2015 League of Legends World Championship Semifinals. Now, H2k-Gaming are the last European team competing at the 2016 League of Legends World Championships.
By contrast, pride is a simplified qualifier of what drives and propels Samsung Galaxy to victory. Hailing from Korea, dominance and excellence are conventional.
“We expected the result,” mid laner Lee “Crown” Min-ho said after Samsung Galaxy defeated Cloud9 in the quarterfinals. “But it feels good to see it recognized.” Even with his affirmation that Samsung’s bid to the semifinals was expected, years of Korean greatness form the fabric of that expectation.
Behind H2k-Gaming’s upcoming semifinals match against Samsung Galaxy is a battle of pride, honor, and the story of two teams who used the 2016 League of Legends World Championship to come into their own.
Konstantinos-Napoleon "FORG1VEN" Tzortziou is filled with pride. Unable to last more than one European League Championship Series split on a single team, the heralded Greek AD carry has a chip on his shoulder and a legion of doubters he's looking to prove wrong. Should H2K make the the finals, naysayers who said that FORG1VEN was a poisonous teammate whose fierce desire to win destroyed his teams from the inside out would surely have to eat their words.
H2K always appear as a team on the edge of a precipice, due to their preceding reputation and in-game miscommunication. One remark from FORG1VEN, one perceived personal slight, and the entire team would surely fall apart.
Coming into this match, H2K are not only fighting against themselves, but are battling for the international community's respect. Their path to the semifinals was markedly easier than Samsung’s, as their only top-tier group stage opponent, Edward Gaming, suffered a 3-1 loss to the ROX Tigers in the quarterfinals. For their own quarterfinals match, H2K clashed with the first-ever International Wildcard team to make it to the bracket stage of a World Championship, the CIS’ Albus NoX Luna. While it cannot be argued that Albus NoX Luna did not deserve their bracket stage berth, the fact that H2K did not have to face a Korean team once prior to their semifinal bout against Samsung casts a shadow over their otherwise remarkable 7-0 tear. A series win over Samsung would mean that they could carry their heads higher than any other western team in history.
No team benefitted quite as much from enforced standard lanes in the waning moments of the 2016 EU LCS Summer Split as H2K, and much of this is due to FORG1VEN. Laning is without a doubt FORG1VEN’s greatest strength, and he prides himself on his ability to go toe-to-toe with any bottom lane in the world and come out ahead. Of all AD carries at 2016 Worlds, FORG1VEN has the highest average gold difference at 10 minutes (194), highest CS per minute (10.5), and second-highest CS difference at 10 minutes (7.5), all further proof of his laning prowess. Europe has long prided themselves on strong lanes, and FORG1VEN exemplifies this in spades as he is able to draw enemy pressure with or without jungler Marcin “Jankos” Jankowski’s help.
In the quarterfinals, it was top laner Andrei “Odoamne” Pascu who took center stage. Often taking lane counters due to both team necessity and pride, Odoamne in a favorable matchup proved deadly as he was able to take over entire games. However, teamfighting, mid-game transitions, and late-game coordination continued to be a sore spot for H2K in their series against Albus NoX Luna, and it’s here where Samsung will find their opening.
Samsung have their own chip on their shoulder that's born of repeated failures throughout both 2016 LoL Champions Korea splits. In the spring season, they were pushed out of playoff contention by the Afreeca Freecs and they were swept by KT Rolster in the summer playoffs. Korea had three reigning teams in the region this year: the ROX Tigers, SK Telecom T1, and KT Rolster. Samsung was a firm fourth until they upset KT in the playoff gauntlet, something that none of their members have forgotten.
“If KT Rolster had made this tournament, they would have made it to the final without a single loss,” Crown said. “Expectation of Samsung at this entire tournament is still unknown at this stage.”
Previously, Samsung's mid laner had half-joked in interviews that Korean fans had told them to not bother coming back home if they couldn’t perform as well as the community's expectations for KT. While H2K fight a battle for their region and greater international recognition, this year’s Samsung fight a more personal battle as an unforeseen representative of their region.
No player has exemplified Samsung’s newfound success quite like top laner Lee “CuVee” Seong-jin. Jungler Kang “Ambition” Chan-yong, Crown, rookie AD carry Park “Ruler” Jae-hyuk, and AD carry-turned-support Jo “CoreJJ” Yong-in have all made their respective marks, but they haven’t impressed in the same way that CuVee has. CuVee has bested his opponents in lane and, more importantly, shown excellent Teleport decision-making, something that previously plagued the Samsung top.
Previously, Samsung would wait until the mid-to-late game to pounce on opponents in 5v5 fights with a farmed-up Ambition and strong coordination. With CuVee’s recent growth, Samsung are now able to take advantage of their opponents much sooner in the game, as they boast the second-lowest average game time in the tournament (33.1 minutes) with an 89 percent win rate. Their group-stage success and blanking of Cloud9 in the quarterfinals make them the favored team to win this semifinals matchup, but the true strength of Samsung still lies in their late-game teamfighting, something with which H2K has struggled all year.
Prior to the start of the tournament, neither Samsung nor H2K were forecast to be a finalist, yet one will earn the right to face SK Telecom T1 in the finals. Perhaps more than regional or personal pride, fans can be proud of how their respective teams used the 2016 World Championship to propel themselves to greater, unforeseen heights.
Emily Rand is a staff writer for theScore esports. You can follow her on Twitter.