The semifinal between Immortals and Cloud9 is a cornucopia of talent, featuring eight players who were named to one of the three NA LCS All-Pro teams. Many eyes will be drawn to the center of the map, where two of North America’s top three mid laners, Eugene “Pobelter” Park and Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen, will be duking it out. The AD carry head-to-head between Jason “WildTurtle” Tran and Zachary “Sneaky” Scuderi should also be fun to watch.
But one of the series’ biggest pivot points will be the all-Korean top lane, where Cloud9 will pit longstanding veteran and former world champion Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong against the Immortals’ fiery, fearless Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon.
Huni and Impact contribute to their teams in very different ways, based on fundamentally different mindsets and roles within their team dynamic, and the outcome of this semifinal will be closely tied to which team makes the best use of its top laner’s unique input.
You Do Your Thing, and I’ll Do Mine
The simplest way to sum up the differences between Huni and Impact is to look at the almost complete lack of overlap in their champion pools.
|Irelia x10||Gnar x12|
|Rumble x6||Trundle x12|
|Lissandra x5||Maokai x8|
|Ekko/Gnar/Hecarim/Illaoi/Riven/Ryze x3||Shen x8|
|3 others||4 others|
Reflects 2016 summer regular season and quarterfinals
As has been typical for Huni throughout his career, he heavily focused on damage-dealing champions this split. In 43 games, he put in only eight games on tanks (Ekko, Gnar, Tahm Kench and Trundle), and two of those Ekko games don’t even count because he built for damage instead of tankiness.
Impact, on the other hand, has spent a mere seven of his 48 games across the regular season and quarterfinals on damage dealers (Irelia, Lissandra and Fizz), instead racking up 24 appearances on Gnar and Trundle to go with 16 games on Maokai and Shen, the kind of pure tanks that Huni never touched outside of a single loss on Tahm Kench.
There may not be any two players in the NA LCS with wider divergence between their champion choices than Huni and Impact, and their choices give insight into their mindsets.
Huni, the carry, is a me-first player: he’s an action-maker, a risk-taker, a shock trooper whose intensity and charisma demand the attention of everyone from his opponents to his teammates to the viewing audience. When Huni is winning, his team is winning, and that’s exactly how he likes it.
Impact, the tank, is in many ways the opposite: he asks for little, he does his job, and sometimes his most valuable contributions come in moments that make him look individually weak. When Impact’s team is winning, he is winning; fan attention and outside accolades have little to do with it.
Huni: Come With Me If You Want to Win
Huni’s approach to League of Legends has always been easy to identify: he knows where he wants to go, and what he wants to do when he gets there. If you’re his enemy, you’ll have to kill him to stop him. If you’re his teammate, you’d better get on board and be ready to follow up when he pulls the trigger.
Huni’s mindset was as visible as ever in his summer regular season stat line.
|Rank among Top laners||4||4||10||1||1|
No one came close to matching Huni’s damage output (TSM’s Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell was second in DPM with a relatively pedestrian 476, which represented just 21.6% damage share), and his above-average kill participation shows that he tends to be involved in more of his team’s action than many top laners.
Huni’s astronomical 28.8 percent death share, though, is a glaring indicator of his reckless abandon, his willingness to take on almost any level of risk if there’s a chance at reward. He doesn’t seem to have a firm grasp on when to cut his losses by canceling a Teleport or backing out of a fight, and he struggles to pick his moments to make a big move.
Huni has always taken the good with the bad, but this split, his “goods” have seemed to come with a few more “bads” than usual thrown in. It’s been noticeable while watching the games, and it’s also shown up in the stats — his summer death share was an increase over last split’s 26.0 percent, which was already a very high number to begin with.
There are two possible explanations for Huni’s relative imbalance of successes and failures this split. One option is that Huni’s play is slipping, that his mechanics and decision-making have begun to deteriorate. If that’s the case, it’s troublesome for Huni’s future career, but there is no shame in it — no one stays at the top of their game forever.
A second, more accurate, and more problematic explanation is that Huni is still playing at around the same level as before, but he has failed to evolve, and after two years of LCS play, he is being punished more and more for that lack of evolution.
On a certain level, it seems odd to criticize Huni for being unable to learn new things. In fact, Huni is a very creative player, capable of picking up new champions quickly and bringing out a broader champion pool than many other players. But when nearly all of those new champions fill a similar high-damage niche, and when that trend has gone this long without shifting its course, it becomes clear that Huni is either unwilling — or worse, perhaps unable — to learn to be more versatile. He has yet to learn to play with fewer resources, to show restraint, and to give his team the option of drafting tanks more than once every 15 or 20 games.
The fascinating thing about Huni is that he is an effective, successful player despite his lack of well-roundedness — or maybe even because of it. Huni’s success is entirely built around the fact that he will nearly always play a carry, that he will nearly always pull the trigger, and that he will produce more than hits than misses. His single-mindedness is easy to criticize, and in theory it should be easy to game plan against, but that hasn’t stopped him from reaching the semifinals of the World Championships, or dominating yet another North American regular season.
Even so, Huni’s “follow-me” approach leaves him open to blame — when his team fails, he is a lightning rod for condemnation. If the Immortals don’t defeat Cloud9 and reach the NA LCS summer finals, everything about Huni’s play style will be freshly called into question, especially since he will be facing off against a player who is, in many ways, his antithesis.
Impact: Your Wish is My Command
Where Huni’s success is often the outcome of his teammates’ efforts — the outcome of Reignover’s dedicated support from the jungle, of Adrian’s diligent vision control and defensive play—the opposite is true of Impact: whatever his teammates need him to be, he’ll make it happen to enable their success.
When he joined the NA LCS, Impact was immediately thrust into a supporting role — as the top laner for Team Impulse, he was paired with Lee “Rush” Yoon-jae, the Huni of the jungle. Impact played the role of the supportive top laner who allowed his cartoonishly bloodthirsty jungler the freedom to play out the whims of his beautiful insanity. While Impulse didn’t reach the World Championships, they were moderately successful, and Impact was a core piece of their foundation.
Upon Team Impulse’s implosion under the weight of poor management, Impact joined NRG Esports for the 2016 spring split. It was, to put it mildly, an unsuccessful venture — with relatively passive teammates in every role and an obvious lack of cohesion throughout the roster. Impact’s efforts as a playmaker and an enabler frequently went unrewarded, aside from some glimpses of greatness in his Poppy/Zilean combo with mid laner Lee “GBM” Chang-seok. Impact wound up leading his team in kill participation from the top lane, a very unusual feat and one that doesn’t typically signify team success.
As NRG fell further out of relevance, frustration mounted, and Impact began trying to take matters into his own hands, but those attempts often manifested in failure and only served to highlight the issues within NRG’s team environment, issues with communication and a lack of comfort and satisfaction that ultimately drove Impact to leave the organization and join Cloud9.
On Cloud9, Impact found what he had been missing, namely high-powered carries who were able to make use of his team-oriented style and a jungler and support who could hold their own as playmakers when needed. Impact no longer has to lift his team on his shoulders, and while that reduced responsibility has made his contributions less visible, it has done nothing to reduce his value.
|Spring 2016 (NRG)||2.8||78.4%||23.9%||358||20.0%|
|Summer 2016 (C9)||3.9||63.9%||24.4%||361||19.7%|
The main change in Impact’s stat line from spring to summer was his kill participation. In the spring split, he had the third-highest KP of all NA LCS starters in all positions. The top laner with the next-highest KP, Samson "Lourlo" Jackson, had just 67.6 percent KP, which placed him 39th across all positions (among players with 10+ games played). Impact’s teammates simply did nothing without him, and that burden took its toll. This split, by comparison, Impact’s 63.9 percent KP is middle-of-the-pack, and that’s because Cloud9, under the tutelage of coach Bok “Reapered” Han-gyu, understands that Impact is most effective when he’s playing away from the ball.
To put it simply, Impact is often a decoy, drawing attention away from the rest of his team. Impact absorbs ganks and dives like a sponge. When he does die, which can set him individually behind, he’s sometimes able to hit back, and even if he doesn’t, Cloud9 is often able to make a counter play elsewhere on the map, either trading evenly or gaining an advantage. His role was obvious in Cloud9’s quarterfinal against EnVyUs, where Impact was focused with heavy gank attention but was able to evade many of the attempts. This allowed his teammates in the other lanes to apply more pressure and gave William “Meteos” Hartman plenty of options to get out of the jungle and act on the other lanes.
Cloud9’s confidence in Impact to give up as little as possible under pressure is very well placed. Even though Impact gets less early-game help than some top laners and receives the second-least post-15-minute farm share of NA LCS tops, he keeps his death count surprisingly low. He averaged just 2.2 deaths per game in the regular season, and went completely unkilled nine times in 44 games. The ability to not die isn’t the most exciting attribute, and doesn’t tend to earn you first-team honors, but denying a kill from the enemy is every bit as valuable as creating a kill for yourself.
Impact is not a Huni-style, eyes-on-me carry, but he is never a liability, as long as his teammates are prepared to make use of his sacrifices. Impact’s team-serving mindset gives Cloud9 flexibility and allows Jensen to fill the starring role and play with confidence, and that’s a good formula for success.
Old-School vs New-School
When the Immortals and Cloud9 hit the rift on Saturday, the oil-and-vinegar matchup between Huni and Impact will be a key point of focus. Huni, as usual, will draw Reignover’s frequent presence on his side of the map, something Reignover does both because it’s effective, and also because it’s necessary. When Huni isn’t well covered, his aggressive laning can often get him in trouble, making him a relatively easy gank target. Impact will face the task of weathering Reignover’s attentions, putting his evasiveness to use and giving Meteos opportunities to punish elsewhere. Huni and Reignover will need to be especially wary of Impact’s effectiveness at turning around 2v1 tower dives, especially with Huni’s tendency to give back deaths during dives this split.
Recent history implies that Huni will have an advantage in lane, but the Immortals and Cloud9 haven’t faced each other since Week 5. That series was a 2-0 Immortals win that saw Impact set behind both games by poor Cloud9 shotcalling in the early game. In one game, a crazy early-game base race forced Impact to sit near his nexus and feebly whack super minions on his Trundle while Huni much more easily farmed on Rumble. In the other, he was set behind in a Level 1 that caused Impact to Teleport into lane, allowing Huni the freedom to use his own TP to secure First Blood and once again catapult himself ahead.
This time around, with lane swaps neutered by patch 6.15, it’s unlikely that Impact will be forced into those kinds of awkward, disadvantaged situations, which should give him a much better chance to show his mettle.
If Impact can overcome Huni, it will be a victory for the conservative, mistake-minimizing, team-oriented approach that is the traditional heart of Korean League, a legacy Impact has carried with him ever since he came to North America.
If Huni can bulldoze his way through Impact, it will be a win for the untamed, hot-blooded, mold-breaking attitude that he refuses to alter, as if he’s intentionally rebuking his Korean roots.
It will be a stylistic mismatch, a showdown of polar opposites, exactly the kind of drama we hope for when a trip to the finals is on the line.
Tim "Magic" Sevenhuysen runs OraclesElixir.com, the premier source for League of Legends esports statistics. You can find him on Twitter, unless he’s busy giving one of his three sons a shoulder ride.