During the 2016 European League of Legends Championship Series Spring Split's third place match, H2k-Gaming locked in Kindred as their first pick in two games which resulted in losses. Pundits quickly criticized Marcin “Jankos” Jankowski for his untimely ultimates that cost his team in skirmishes. In Game 3 specifically, commentators hesitated to outright condemn the pick, but the notion that the series could end in a sweep for Fnatic grew more pronounced.
Yet within four minutes and 30 seconds of Game 3, Jankos had secured first blood by countering Fnatic’s invade and finally managed to unlock the pick's early game power. Jankos immediately transitioned to the Rift Herald, and his continued proactive play compensated for lackluster team fighting that started H2K on what could have ended in a reverse sweep.
During H2K’s playoffs run, a lot of criticism flocked to jungle and support duo Jankos and Oskar "VandeR" Bogdan and their poor execution in teamfights. Yet at the conclusion of the spring split, both remained on the team while AD carry Konstantinos "FORG1VEN" Tzortziou-Napoleon found himself replaced.
Over the course of last spring's regular season, Jankos averaged similar gank rates, fewer camp clears, and less average wards in the first 10 minutes of every game than his opponents and a lot of this came down to him camping lanes and looking for ganks over exerting pressure on the map. He also put a great deal more emphasis on clearing wards, picking up sweeping lens and buying pink wards earlier than his opposition on more frequent backs.
During the time when Marcin “Selfie” Wolski played mid lane for H2K, Jankos spent most of his time in the mid lane applying pressure. When mid laner Yoo "Ryu" Sangook returned to the team, pressure shifted drastically to the duo lane. Jankos looked for gank opportunities he didn’t execute in FORG1VEN’s lane and hoped that that focus would help FORG1VEN get ahead and threaten side waves in tower push strategies.
This is no longer H2K, and this is no longer the Jankos we once knew.
The mantra “live or die by Jankos” has become a humorous one-liner in the EU LCS, based on the fact that Jankos, for better or worse, has been involved in multiple First Bloods — he either secures first blood for his team or dies trying. At the moment, Jankos has the highest kill participation of any jungler in the EU LCS at 81.2 percent and is among the top three junglers for percentage of team damage dealt (above the likes of Lee “Spirit” Dayoon and Kim “Trick” Gangyun who typically prioritize damage dealing picks), but also has the highest percentage of his team’s deaths at 24 percent.
Statistics support the adage “Live and die by Jankos,” but ultimately that’s a surface level basis to say that H2K's success or failure hinges on Jankos’ play. Jankos constantly looks for opportunities in H2K’s early game, as he has in the past, to snowball their game in their favor based on a catch. As H2K have gravitated more and more to a pick-oriented style, some of the champions most famously associated with Jankos (like Lee Sin and Elise) have become favorite choices in draft.
He’s undefeated on both picks, with losses on every other champion except Kindred, which he has only played once heading into Week 4.
Both this style of play and the shift of H2K’s focus give Jankos considerably more agency. In H2K’s first series, the team chose Nidalee, a pick that at the time seemed to be an unrivaled jungle choice. Despite this, Jankos had relatively low early pressure and focused on farming while Swain took over the game for Team ROCCAT.
In response, rather than banning Swain, H2K both gave up him and Nidalee in Game 2, responding with a much more early game focused composition with a first rotation Ekko and Lucian. Lee Sin came out in their next rotation, as a very proactive jungle choice. Game 2 became a race against ROCCAT with Jankos as the main conductor.
Jankos visited all three of his lanes by the 10 minute mark, resulting in kills for him and assists for each of his teammates. He ended the 35 minute game with a 6/1/15 scoreline.
Immediately the difference between H2K when Jankos felt comfortable and H2K when Jankos seemed more out of his element became apparent. The rest of the season so far has followed Jankos’ ups and downs as H2K’s center of attention.
Previously Jankos has referred to Ryu as the brains of the team. Whether Ryu, Jankos, or someone else makes the call on which lanes the team should apply pressure to early, the addition of Aleš "Freeze" Kněžínek has created a more free-flowing H2K with less obvious decision-making that attempts to vary its style and main carry game-to-game. Jankos’ numbers support him as the only constant for the team, to both their benefit and detriment.
What some have referred to as H2K’s new experimental phase has a tinge of forcing to it. Jankos, desperate to make something happen on the map at times, occasionally makes himself easy to read. In H2K’s second game against G2 Esports last week, after G2 secured first blood against Freeze, Jankos traded by invading their blue buff. G2 had vision of this move, and Jankos then went to his own red buff to secure the team’s first double buffs.
During this game, Trick played Rek’Sai, who benefits less from the blue buff. Perhaps Jankos believed that Trick would rotate to H2K’s blue buff so he could get both buffs, but Trick instead rotated top to clear out wolves in his own blue buff quadrant. G2, as evidenced by the river ward they placed on the top side, also predicted Jankos would head to the top lane rather than rotating to his own blue buff as a result, especially since G2’s top laner, then on the bottom side of the map, had a level advantage on Andrei “Odoamne” Pascu. If G2 did initiate a contest on blue buff, it wouldn’t be worth it for Jankos either, as he already secured Trick’s blue buff.
It was easy to guess Jankos would head top, as G2’s Ezreal pick still needed time to scale against H2K’s Sivir. Despite Freeze dying early, H2K had an obvious window to get their duo lane back into the game, and Jankos took it. As Olaf, however, he walked over the ward placed by Alfonso “mithy” Aguirre Rodriguez in river, and Trick responded easily to the skirmish on the top side, setting H2K even further behind.
Since the 2015 EU LCS Spring Split, Jankos’ pressure has been tied to a specific lane to some degree. Remigiusz "Overpow" Pusch’s stint as a top laner meant he over-extended and required near constant pressure from Jankos to avoid dying frequently. Following ROCCAT’s shift to a more stable top laner, Erlend "Nukeduck" Våtevik Holm received the lion’s share of jungle pressure from Jankos as the most impactful lane. 2016 H2K saw Jankos focus on Selfie or FORG1VEN.
When the top teams in the EU LCS playoffs used jungle and mid lane synergy to control the map, Ryu became an obvious target for ganks and H2K failed to adapt. More than their teamfighting, this created obvious disadvantages for them. As both Fnatic and G2 continue to grow based on their junglers farming heavily, invading, and searching for their opponent jungler, H2K seek a compromise based on Jankos’ own style.
H2K have started to evolve in a way that appears as if they’re playing around Jankos only because Jankos’ pathing shifts from game to game. He remains a heavy ganker with H2K, taking a much lower percentage of jungle farm (48.3 percent) than Fnatic (58 percent) or G2 (56.2 percent) and a slightly lower percentage of team gold (mostly secured through kills).
Finally given more freedom in his jungle, Jankos still props up his lanes, but the lane he focuses on changes from game to game. In some ways, this is a more challenging style to execute than having the team follow his initiative in jungle invades and play around him the same way Fnatic or G2 tend to play around their junglers. Every player on H2K needs to feel comfortable playing both a low farm and a carry role. Communication structure will also fluctuate from game-to-game, as both VandeR and Freeze have mentioned that Freeze becomes more vocal in calls when he’s ahead in particular.
When FORG1VEN left the team, Coach Neil "PR0LLY" Hammad said, "There’s a lot of new things we can try now with Freeze, so we spent the last week and a half kind of experimenting with things that we weren’t able to do with our last roster."
At the moment, H2K look as if they’re still trying to decide on a style of play. Their compositions vary, and they rotate their main carry from game-to-game. Jankos grasps at straws, trying to force things to happen across the map, resulting in H2K’s quick success or failure, giving them the second shortest game time in the league at 34.5 minutes.
Except that this is H2K’s style now. They aren’t trying to decide on a new one, they’re hammering out the edges and trying to make this one work. Jankos is their main carry in that his pathing dictates H2K’s carry each game. Where he and VandeR choose to place wards determines the team’s objective priority.
Moving in this direction is risky. Because of the challenge it poses, H2K could spend the entire season looking awkward and appearing to force things that may or may not work. A lot will depend on the team's ability to maximize their creativity and coordination to remain unpredictable, even if the composition and the flow of the game dictates a very obvious course of action, H2K need to find ways to keep ganking bottom lane (or top, or mid, or invading) feeling polished without ganking bottom lane every game.
A lot of this new style depends not just on H2K's ability to function as a team, but Jankos' own peculiarities, which haven't always been reliable. Yet Jankos has risen to the occasion under high pressure situations in the past.
In the end, H2K may decide it’s not worth it. They may eventually fall into a pattern of playing to a particular side of the map or working around Jankos to invade the enemy jungle more often, as has become the trend for Europe’s other two top teams at the moment. Until then, “live or die by Jankos” isn’t just something they’re doing to get by, it isn’t just a joke thrown around on the broadcast to pass the time.
This is H2k-Gaming. Welcome to the summer split.
Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for theScore esports. You can follow her on Twitter for occasional EU LCS rants.