At a time fleeting careers of young professionals fresh from High School, 26 year old Lee “Heart” Gwan-hyung has only just reached his prime. Experience comes with supposedly decaying reflexes, romantic entanglements, less stamina — but not for Heart. Unlimited Potential’s shotcaller and captain jockeys for the title of best support in the League of Legends Pro League.
Despite defeating Edward Gaming 2-0 this past week, Unlimited Potential remains tied for ninth place in the league. Ninth place sits below the cutoff for Playoffs, in danger of relegation. Four weeks in, Unlimited Potential's inconsistency is still their largest claim to fame. To say that a Korean Champions winner is in his prime on a ninth place LPL team seems ludicrous.
Heart initially appeared in Korean Champions in 2012 as a jungler for RoMg with a roster of Choi “ChuChu” Cheon-ju (now LGD Gaming’s Acorn), Jung “Elf” Seung-hee, Kim “Clear” Jae-yeoi, and Kim “Sound” Jung-sung. The team qualified for 2012 Azubu the Champions Summer where they managed to win a single game against the eventual winners — but then lost their remaining matches and failed to escape the group.
Despite initial failure, RoMg made it back into Champions Winter in 2012 as GSG with a new mid laner and support, Lee “Easy” Ji-hoon (SK Telecom T1’s Easyhoon) and Lee “ManDu” Jeong-hyeon (ex-SKT PoohManDu, now coach for LSPL team Young Glory). There they once again failed spectacularly, dropping into the NLB Platinum League Playoff round.
GSG quickly dispatched their Platinum League opponents from the NLB Gold League to make the Diamond Bracket Stage. They beat Incredible Miracle and NaJin Shield before coming to the NLB finals against CJ Entus.
At the time, CJ Entus consisted of a slew of now well known players including Choi “inSec” In-seok, Bae “dade” Eo-jin, and Seon “Space” Ho-san. The five game series culminated in one of the most famous cheese games in League of Legends history. GSG built a five-man siege comp and rushed the mid lane with Caitlyn, Twisted Fate, Blitzcrank, and Smite Heimerdinger.
PoohManDu took Smite while Heart, then known as SoLo, served as the main star of the team. As the four siegers tied up the mid lane and shoved down turrets, destroying the first inhibitor at nine minutes, SoLo farmed his Olaf in the side lanes to serve as a powerful threat. By the end of the game, no one had a high enough level or enough items to contend with SoLo, and GSG took out the Nexus in under 20 minutes.
At the time, GSG had no sponsorship, but the bold composition that won them NLB certainly grabbed attention. Both ManDu and Clear got noticed by other organizations and left for SK Telecom and Virtual Throne Gaming. The remaining three members of GSG were acquired by MVP Blue.
After Heart’s stint as the star of GSG’s siege composition, he would fade into the background. For a while, the rest of MVP Blue joined him. The MVP Blue roster failed to escape Champions group stage in both 2013 Spring and Summer. Even the acquisition of promising jungler, Lee “Spirit” Da-yoon, and Heart’s transition to the support role resulted in them losing out in the NLB Platinum League to Incredible Miracle #2.
It seemed MVP Blue would remain in the shadows of the more promising MVP Ozone. Only Deft’s unique positioning as an AD carry managed to garner any attention.
In the fall, Samsung Galaxy acquired both MVP teams, and Heo “PawN” Won-seok replaced Easy as the mid laner. PawN himself didn’t significantly boost MVP. His Katarina play made him look like he could one day grow into a star, but he wasn’t there yet. He instead pulled attention away from Deft while he played a safer laning phase.
PawN’s acquisition, coupled with the release of Lucian, saw Samsung Blue eliminate both sister team Samsung Ozone and returning World Champions, SK Telecom T1, from the World Cyber Games qualifiers. They reached the finals before dropping to CJ Entus Blaze, but not without an impressive Rumble performance from Cheonju (Acorn).
Unfortunately, the WCG qualifier finals appearance played out as more of a fluke than a flight up the Korean rankings. Samsung Blue managed to escape an easy group stage in Champions Spring, but immediately became an embarrassing casualty of SK Telecom T1 K as they rampaged undefeated through Champions Winter.
With Samsung Ozone suffering a similar fate in the finals, the organization performed the famous mid lane swap between PawN and dade, which ultimately made both Samsung squads into two of the greatest teams to ever play League of Legends.
A reader may notice that this story hasn’t actually been about Heart. The rest of Samsung Blue’s history isn’t about Heart either. When he wasn't playing a gimmicky Lee Sin support, nearly every other single player on Samsung Blue stood out more than Heart. Even as a support player in the Samsung organization, Heart was hopelessly over-shadowed by Samsung White’s Cho “Mata” Se-hyeong.
One could argue that Samsung Blue alternated between the dade and Deft show. With dade as “The General,” Blue adopted a “late-winning” strategy. Poor trading in the bottom lane meant Deft died frequently. Heart would either try to pick up the pieces or spend his time roaming.
As Samsung Blue often fell treacherously behind, Heart took a lot of calculated risks. In the 2014 Summer semifinals, Heart went for a solo kill on imp to great success in one game, but then immediately played Morgana in the subsequent game and missed several Dark Bindings. His playstyle came off as inconsistent or shaky, but his highs and lows were a symptom of Samsung Blue's reactionary style.
When Samsung Blue lost leads, Heart seemingly took it upon himself to start fights and set out game-changing vision. He positioned himself far forward to initiate and usually died, but his team executed the followup with finesse. Heart also has an impeccable impact on the vision Blue used to set up their team fights.
Even so, many saw Heart as a glaring weakness. At the 2014 World Championship, his commitment to vision and resulting over-extensions meant he got targeted a lot by Cloud9 in the quarterfinals, and then by Samsung White in the semifinals. His willingness to takes risks and lay vision while roaming from behind had a massive impact on Blue, but it could be negative or positive.
Samsung Blue nearly accomplished the impossible and won Champions twice in a row. They lost the second title to KT Rolster Arrows in a five-game finals. The team bested Samsung White, their sister team, in every encounter of 2014 prior to the World Championship.
But Heart wasn't the star, and his performances were sometimes considered a week point of Samsung Blue. When he dyed his hair a wide assortment of colors for important matches, it seemed like a desperate attempt to stand out. A few have even suggested that Deft was only bad in laning phase because of Heart.
From an analytical standpoint, Heart’s difficulties had little to do with Deft’s. Deft half-committed to lane trades and sometimes engaged while Heart roamed. If Heart made trade calls, he's responsible for some of the blame, but Deft’s play had its own flaws.
Heart was a top four support in Champions last year, but the rest of his team and organization over-shadowed him.
After a disappointing World Championship semifinals, Heart's age made him a strong candidate for retirement. Yet like the rest of Samsung’s two squads, he followed the Korean exodus to China.
If any of Samsung's players should find himself in the League of Legends Secondary Pro League, Heart seemed the most likely. Every member of Samsung White and Samsung Blue aside from Heart had an offer for a starting position on an LPL team.
Heart and Byun “Skatch” Se-hoon, a substitute Samsung AD carry, went with Samsung White’s Choi “DanDy” In-kyu and Mata to join the Vici Gaming organization, but they were to start for Vici’s LSPL team, Vici Gaming Potential.
Heart spent most of his career playing with Acorn, and though both Spirit and Deft built their experience in MVP and Samsung Blue as rookies, the experience accrued by Heart, dade, and Acorn over the years gave the team their mature strategy. Acorn was known for his ability to stall games with impressive wave control. dade’s team fighting from behind was built through years of experience.
Every player on Vici Gaming Potential had minimal competitive experience. Green talents Zhu “Loong” Xiaolong and Li “Apollo” Yuanhui joined the team after Vici Gaming separated from Stand Point Gaming. Skatch had spent his short career on the bench and had been slated to join the Europe-bound team, Samsung Red, alongside Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon before the region lock came into effect.
Jungler Xie “Eimy” Dan became Heart’s primary ally in shot-calling, as he had been the main playmaker responsible for carrying Vici Gaming into the LPL before DanDy replaced him. Unfortunately for Heart, Eimy’s strong early game jungling was complemented by a poor understanding of the late game.
In a strange way, Eimy’s desperate engagements resembled some of Heart’s plays from behind in 2014, but Heart knew when the risk was too high; Eimy doesn’t.
Heart’s Unlimited Potential became the first team to really be his. The squad had a lot of growing pains with which to contend, but at the start they were top four contenders for LPL spots. With strong aggressive play from Eimy, top laner Loong had a tendency to get ahead and run off with games. He ended the season with the highest KDA of any player to have played every game with his team at 6.95.
Even though Heart and Skatch landed in LSPL, sources close to Vici said that the two of them were happier with their team than DanDy and Mata. They felt they could make it through LSPL and perform well in LPL Summer.
VGP had their flaws. Apollo would sometimes give up kills in lane as a result of poor trading, and Skatch had a tendency to position inconsistently in team fights. Rumors circulated that Vici Gaming’s owner considered selling Skatch and Heart at one point in the season.
But it was the bottom lane that became the heroes at the end of the Playoffs. The transition in the meta made Eimy’s weaknesses more pronounced. His ability to play tanks and just farm in the early game struggled when he tried to force ganks with champions like Nunu. Given his awkward engagement sense, team fights went disastrously wrong.
In the back half of group stage, Vici Gaming Potential split 1:1 in each of their series. In the first round of Playoffs, Vici Gaming Potential fell 0-2 to Legend Dragon and dropped to the lower bracket.
The difference maker came when Skatch picked up Jinx. Throughout the course of LSPL, Heart and Skatch’s laning phase kept leveling up. Heart played significantly more aggressively than ever, favoring Annie above all other picks. Skatch and Heart smashed through every matchup after the first week of Playoffs pressure from Eimy. Substitute mid laner Pi “Xuan” Xiaoxuan minimized risks, and Loong helped the snowball with teleports.
Heart's LSPL 2015 Champion Pick Data
Vici Gaming Potential didn’t drop another game in four lower bracket best-of-threes to make the finals and qualify to LPL. Then, though they didn’t win the final matchup against Qiao Gu, they managed to take a game before going down.
In a post-game interview, Heart said he didn’t expect qualifying for LPL to be so difficult. He had originally imagined his team would breeze through to make LPL Summer, but they learned a lot from the steep competition LSPL had to offer.
Unlimited Potential attained the full Vici Gaming Potential roster after Vici Gaming was forced to sell the team. They added a rotating mid laner, Xin “Jiaoyang” Chen, but Apollo (now called Punished) improved, and Jiaoyang hasn’t seen play time since Week 2 of LPL.
Ninth place belies the power Heart brings to the table for Unlimited Potential. Communication spotlights between games on the Chinese broadcast feature Heart’s voice prominently, shouting clear orders. His skillshot accuracy is incredibly high on champions like Thresh. In the best-of-two against Vici Gaming, though both teams took a game, Heart performed better than Mata.
The problem plaguing Unlimited Potential always seems to be in execution, not in concept. Skatch’s inconsistent teamfight positioning persists, and he’s since taken a back seat to Loong whose strong Fizz and Hecarim performances make him a target of multiple bans.
Creative counters and a strong approach to vision control are present in all of Unlimited Potential’s games. Heart picked Braum as an intelligent counter to GODV’s Varus in the set against LGD Gaming. UP cut Vici Gaming off at objectives by taking towers first, something at which Vici usually excels. Facing Snake’s Kassadin, the team repeatedly focused mid laner U to win.
Against Edward Gaming, Unlimited Potential showed one of the best understandings of how EDG functions of any opponent they’ve faced. They baited Clearlove into an Evelynn pick by choosing Nunu and immediately followed up with a Twisted Fate.
Despite Punished's powerful performance on TF, Heart deserves the MVP for the match. He persistently followed Clearlove with wards to choke out his map control and went so far as to harass him with autoattacks from camp to camp during his first clear to force him to back earlier. The key to dismantling Edward Gaming is to target Clearlove, and while many teams have gone after Koro1 or pawN, UP had the correct target in mind.
Against WE, UP faltered again. WE's most powerful picks, Nidalee and Sion, fell into their hands in Game 2, resulting in yet another 1:1 split for UP.
UP is nothing if not inconsistent, yet their 2-0 against EDG showed the team can live up to their name if they craft a strategy and execute it well; Heart is at the core of those efforts. His experience and vision control gives UP the edge they need to step out of the bottom half.
Heart gets asked about his age a lot, as he’s now fast-approaching 27, but he’s occasionally dismissive of the question. Mata’s account of Heart during his time on Samsung suggests he took his age in stride and was conscientiously devoted to his craft, "even for a Korean."
Heart sometimes got up as early as 9 or 10 a.m. to play solo queue until 8 a.m. the next day, often playing around 40 hours in two days. Mata said that, with as much as Heart practices, “it would be stranger if he didn’t improve.”
Unlimited Potential might not rise from ninth place. At the moment, they’re still inconsistent. Eimy has found success on Ekko as a new jungle champion, and the reintroduction of more aggressive picks like Lee Sin could bolster them in the standings. Being able to flex between Loong and Skatch as primary carries will aid them in continuing to develop multi-dimensional counter-strategies.
Heart's champion picks in LPL so far
LGD Gaming sits with Unlimited Potential in ninth place. They had a slow start so far following of Pyl's surgery and recovery, but finishing second in 2015 LPL Spring shows their massive upside. Like UP, LGD are led by their powerful support player, and they rely on a strong grasp of strategy. Pyl's LGD made Regional Qualifiers in 2014 and showed what a smart support player can do in LPL, even without the best players in every role to accompany him.
It’s possible both LGD and UP are on the rise, but even if they aren’t, Heart is at his zenith. So far, Heart has faced every one of his fellow ex-Samsung players in LPL and has only failed to take a game from dade and Looper on Master3. Edward Gaming, LGD Gaming, Vici Gaming, and WE have all at least split even with Unlimited Potential. That's not bad for the only ex-Samsung member to start the season in LSPL.
When asked about his experience in LSPL, Heart said he felt he “learned to love the game more.” Even though he’s a split behind other ex-Samsung pros, he believes he has “even more drive right now.”
He's easy to believe.
Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for theScore eSports who has now finally written a feature focusing on a Korean in China. You can follow her on Twitter.