The Road to Worlds: an in-depth look at H2K Gaming

by theScore Staff Sep 24 2015
Thumbnail image courtesy of Riot Games

Of all the teams I’m writing about in Europe and China to preview the World Championship, H2K are the least likely to accomplish anything notable this October. Not only are they perceived as the weakest team representing Europe, but they’ve been grouped with two of the tournament's favorites —and the weakest team in attendance.

It seems as if the best H2K can do to make an impression is beat the Bangkok Titans really hard.

H2K do have talented players, and they remain unlikely to cause an upset largely because they adhered to a stagnant style throughout the summer. This World Championship Group Stage offers them a chance to play four games against two of the strongest teams in the world. Unlike BKT, however, they have enough talent and have developed enough strategically to adapt what they learn and potentially hold onto it for LCS in 2016. H2K might actually learn why it’s important to keep advancing.

And if they happen to fulfill a few choice storylines with powerful individual performances, they’ll be well worth watching.

The Road so Far

H2K Gaming is a surprisingly old name in European League of Legends, but, before this year, they’ve perhaps been best known as a way-station for more promising players. Johannes “puszu” Uibos, Erlend “Nukeduck” Våtevik Holm, Jonas "Trashy" Andersen, and Fabian "Febiven" Diepstraten all played for H2K, and the 2014 ROCCAT squad came together under the H2K banner. Even Raymond "kaSing" Tsang previously played for H2K for a period in 2012 before leaving and returning this year.

By nature, the European Challenger scene is a transient one, and it’s difficult for organizations to hold on to big talent long enough to make the League of Legends Championship Series. The solo lane duo of Andrei "Odoamne" Pascu and Fabian "Febiven" Diepstraten had enough talent to pull H2K into the LCS through the expansion in December of 2014, just before Febiven was tapped to join Fnatic.

Those following H2K from Challenger last year may consider Odoamne the team's core member. He made a name for himself playing Trundle competitively on Cloud9 Eclipse, C9’s short-lived European investment which was later acquired by H2K, before others ever touched the champion. Odoamne appeared flexible, versatile, and easy to latch onto for those looking for the next generation of top lane stars.

Swedish AD Carry Petter “Hjärnan” Freyschuss also remains on the team as a remnant of the C9 squad. Prior to this summer, Hjärnan seldom stood out, but he and the rest of C9E looked like a collection of new stars.

After a demotivating 0-3 defeat to the Copenhagen Wolves in September, H2K lost Trashy and support Baltat “AOD” Alin, but managed to acquire jungler Jean-Victor “loulex” Burgevin and support Erih “Voidle” Sommermann with a month to prepare for the 2015 Expansion tournament. Even so, H2K’s qualification could best be described as the “Febiven show,” as his assassin play against n! and Giants Gaming definitively slotted H2K into the LCS.

After Febiven transferred to Fnatic, H2K were met by low expectations. They lacked a sense of direction, and their hard carry force had left the team. In their first week in the LCS, they lost to both the Copenhagen Wolves and Fnatic. Though they won their Week 2 games against Meet Your Makers and Giants Gaming, those two teams would eventually occupy the bottom of the LCS ladder. In Week 3 they once again dropped both games.

Three factors seemed to contribute to H2K’s much more impressive showing in Week 4. Going into the European LCS, H2K gambled on mid laner Yoo “Ryu” Sangook. After failing to make the European LCS with Cho "H0R0" Jae-hwan on Millenium, Ryu also tried out for ROCCAT at IEM Cologne, but found himself on H2K. Ryu didn’t impress on European squads before joining H2K and stuttered in the first weeks of LCS.

Ryu, H0R0, Reignover, and Huni

With the KT Bullets, Ryu played on a team that was reliant on communication and a core set of players very familiar with one another to win games. This made him somewhat slow to adapt to a new environment, especially with a language barrier, but he began to perform much better part way through the Spring split.

H2K had also picked up Head Coach Neil “PR0LLY” Hammad during the offseason, and he allegedly helped center the team around a more reliable strategic identity. H2K began looking for picks before objectives, avoiding full on 5v5s with more prominent team fighting teams like SK Gaming and Fnatic.

Arguably the most important improvement came with the addition of Raymond "kaSing" Tsang. kaSing’s addition gave H2K a clear and reliable playmaker with a high level of mechanics who took part in the shotcalling.

Over the next several weeks, H2K became one of the most consistent teams, only losing two more games in the season. They began their string of thirds with third place in the regular season and third place in the playoffs. Ryu showed some of his high skill ceiling on Kassadin to hand the promising SK Gaming their fourth place finish.

This summer, H2K entered the LCS retaining their roster. Initial debates about who the “second best team in Europe” might be pegged H2K against Origen as the “strategic” and “raw mechanical” teams. H2K focused a lot on lane swapping, and Origen had largely winning lanes and excelled in bottom lane skirmishes.

Over time, Origen showed a propensity for understanding midgame power spikes, and H2K, though they understood the lane swap meta well initially, didn’t adapt as much. They stuck to a simple formula of denying Odoamne, Teleport diving, and fast-pushing while Fnatic or Origen applied more varied early games. H2K stuck to the same formulas for lane sw, and an inability to adapt lead to their surprising loss against Copehagen Wolves.

In the 2015 Summer Playoffs, H2K didn’t drop a game to any team but Origen. Against the Unicorns of Love, they used intelligent disengage and Teleport re-engage in fights and their lane swap strategies to get enormous early game leads. They showed gaps in mid game vision control that Unicorns of Love easily exploited to get picks, but could close out with team fighting. Fnatic’s eventual win allowed H2K to auto-qualify for the World Championship through circuit points as Europe’s second seed.

The Current State of the Team

Objective Rate EU Regular Season Max
First Blood 61% 67% (FNC)
First Dragon 50% 70% (OG)
First Tower 83% 83% (H2K)
First Baron 50% 83% (FNC)
Game 61% 100% (FNC)

H2K’s strengths are in the early game, as they average 1197.3 gold leads at 15 minutes. Many of their leads come from the use of Teleport to 3v1 in a lane swap in the bottom lane. Odoamne’s tendency to put himself behind in favor of bottom lane snowballing works into his strength as a Teleport player.

kaSing’s proficient playmaking is one of the most proactive in Europe and could give H2K some answer against the snowballing titans of China and Korea. They can use a strong support and mid lane combination to seek out and pickoff Ming “Clearlove” Kai in the jungle the way Unlimited Potential did in the LPL regular season. Any glimmer of a strategy is welcome.

Ryu has continued to grow as a powerful mid laner in the European LCS and has gone from an enabler who isolated targets and allowed H2K to take more advantageous fights to a heavy hard carry force. He averaged an 87.5% win rate on Ahri for the year with 16 Ahri games played and remains undefeated on Fizz with a 9.0 KDA. Either pick could prove ban-worthy.

Hjarnan has slowly developed from a simple cleanup slave to a positional asset on Kalista. His laning has grown to match some of kaSing’s demands. Though he still doesn’t stand out as much as Odoamne, Ryu, or kaSing, he’s used this summer well.

As with LGD Gaming, H2K’s jungler remains a sore spot. His questionable all-ins toward the end of the game have forced H2K to lose some of their copious leads. He rarely checks for vision before roaming into questionable locations, and H2K have the third lowest ratio of opponent wards cleared in the European LCS. This explains their tendency to get picked in the mid game, and loulex isn’t the only culprit.

Even when H2K lose massive leads, they endeavor to come back in team fights. Though Odoamne will fall behind enemy top laners at times, he understands the timing in fights enough to disengage, back, and Teleport to re-engage, maximizing his effectiveness. This will work less for teams that hit quickly with burst and avoid extended fights.

In general, H2K’s biggest weakness has been their predictability. They’ve stuck to similar styles while the rest of the world advanced. Though they have incredibly talented players, and were ahead of the game earlier this year, they’ve failed to advance enough to dent Group C’s giants.

H2K have a lot to learn. Luckily, the World Championship is the largest gathering of top international teams every year. It should be a great place for individual players to form takeaways and for the team itself to find direction.

Outlook for Worlds

If H2K doesn’t have high prospects for taking out their Group Stage opponents, it’s time to focus on the smaller picture: the storylines, the potential for growth and individual goals.

Many will look to the SK Telecom T1 vs H2K games as a rematch between Ryu and Lee “Faker” Sanghyeok. At the time of Faker’s rise in 2013, Ryu was widely considered the second best Korean mid laner. One of the most exciting best-of-fives in League of Legends history pitted SKT against KT Bullets for the final seed into the 2013 World Championship. It was speculated at the time that KTB was the second best team, but only one could attend.

In Game 5, Faker and Ryu played a Zed vs Zed blind pick game. Faker completely outplayed Ryu in a feet of mechanics and decision-making that fans often show those new to League of Legends to spark interest in the competitive scene. Ryu is best remembered as the mid laner Faker destroyed, and it’s since colored his career.

Following H2K’s qualification, PR0LLY alerted social media that Ryu intends to have the last laugh against Faker. First picking Zed is an ambitious move, but H2K fans will watch to make sure he delivers. Even if H2K goes down easily, the matchup has been on many Worlds wishlists all year.

Ryu isn’t the only one contending with matchup rivals. Odoamne has said in an interview his main goal is to play against great top laners from Korea and China. Of the three he mentioned expressly, two are in his group: Jang "MaRin" Gyeong-Hwan and Tong “Koro1” Yang. Perhaps this World Championship will answer Odoamne’s curiosity as to where he stacks up on the international scale.

Joachim "betongJocke" Rasmussen currently serves as a substitute jungler for H2K Gaming. The young jungler nips at loulex’s heels. This Group Stage represents a chance for loulex to make a case for himself in 2016 whether on H2K or another team. Group C is home to Clearlove and Bae “bengi” Seongung, two of the top three junglers in the tournament. There’s no better place for him to put up a fight.

kaSing and Hjarnan are known to some as the “husband and wife” bottom lane in Europe, known for their synergy, if not their skill ceiling. Group C will test the bonds of marriage.

Group C is a place for individual growth in H2K to take place. The payout of Worlds is the H2K we see in LCS next year.

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