To win the contract of Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen in their public dispute with Team SoloMid, H2K Gaming reached into their coffers in a region where player salaries are often quite low. Though H2K didn’t sign Svenskeren, they could funnel the extra monetary resources into something better: a roster of touted talents in every position.
The team H2K Gaming has built for Intel Extreme Masters: Cologne is hardened, but delicate. Andrei “Odoamne” Pascu, Yoo “Ryu” Sangook, Marcin “Jankos” Jankowski and Oskar “VandeR” Bogdan comprise two well-developed duos with their own identities. Konstantinos “FORG1VEN” Tzortziou has played for three different teams in two years. Whether it’s true or not, FORG1VEN has a reputation for the unreasonable that precedes him; it’s a testament to his own skill that teams continue to take the risk.
With any new roster, the exciting moments come in the first handful of games when a viewer can see the pieces, though hacked together and still awkward, begin to all slant in the same direction. With the backgrounds of these players, H2K have an opportunity to craft a unique identity. Even with big names, the roster itself isn't a carry-heavy "super team," but theoretically a set of stylistic complements.
The supports who were never really supports
When ROCCAT retained core support and jungle duo, VandeR and Jankos, between 2014 and 2015, they endeavored to restructure around the best pieces of their team. ROCCAT made a bid for the unbanned Erlend “Nukeduck” Våtevik Holm, and he became the assassin player for them to nurse and spoon feed with hopes he would control a game with a large lead.
Nukeduck didn’t dominate the EU LCS with only his loyal jungle and support duo to forcefeed him, but that wasn’t all on him or Jankos and VandeR. Without a clearly dominant lane to carry on ROCCAT’s 2014 roster, Jankos’ strength was his unpredictability in pathing and controlling the game.
In 2015, the expectation of getting a single player ahead to solo carry had systemic flaws, since the meta slowly drifted toward lane swaps and communication. Before Jankos and VandeR started to develop shotcalling skills, they made sacrifices, hoping Nukeduck would tear off without clear direction.
Some initially blamed Jankos’ out-of-meta champion pool, saying nerfs to Elise had restricted him to only playing Lee Sin. While there was some truth to that, Jankos also spent a lot of his time ganking top for Remigiusz “Overpow” Pusch, who was not adjusting to the top lane role well. That, and the expectation that Jankos would gank mid for Nukeduck, took away some of the unpredictability of his pathing.
VandeR had a similar transition period where it became clear that he could accomplish more through roaming. When VandeR laned with Paweł "Celaver" Koprianiuk and Paweł "Woolite" Pruski, he restricted himself much more to making plays around and for his AD carry. With a more self-sufficient AD carry like Rasmus "MrRalleZ" Skinneholm, VandeR had more opportunities to assist Jankos in the jungle, and their synergy as a shotcalling and map control duo improved, making ROCCAT a top-four contender by the end of Regionals.
Ultimately, a problem with the setup around Jankos and VandeR on ROCCAT was that it didn’t emphasize their autonomous strengths. Despite ROCCAT’s ups and downs, VandeR still placed the most wards per minute of European supports in the regular season at 1.39, and Jankos came in third for European junglers at .93. Jankos had the second highest percentage of team gold of European junglers at 17.8% and had the second highest percentage of team damage dealt of junglers who played all games for their team at 14.4%.
The formula that brought ROCCAT success in 2014 disappeared in 2015 with the shift in focus. Though they play supportive roles, Jankos and VandeR weren’t meant to take a backseat in playmaking or aggression to prop up a carry. They’re already carries.
The solo laners who are actually supports
“Most the time, when we make the decision to trade my farm or anything for the other side of the map, we just get an advantage on that side of the map, so I don't mind getting set behind”
Odoamne has been a core component of H2K Gaming since they played in Challenger, and now he’s the only player remaining on the team from before they qualified for the LCS. His adaptability has been his strong suit this past year.
H2K games this summer often began with a lane swap, setting Odoamne behind before the bottom lane Teleport play. According to Odoamne, he made most of his Teleport calls himself. As a result, bottom lane could get an easy advantage.
Despite having the lowest percentage of team gold of any top laner who played all of his team’s games in the European LCS, Odoamne did the second highest percentage of team damage at 24.1% as an adept Rumble player. Odoamne could accomplish a lot with a little, performing well in extended fights by backing out, healing, and using Teleport to return to maximize the use of his health bar from behind.
Everyone knows Ryu as an assassin player, but he took some time away from the role. When Ryu adjusted to H2K’s environment, he facilitated their pick composition style this spring. H2K could make plays when Ryu would catch someone out, but he wasn’t usually the central carry figure.
During Playoffs, Ryu became his own force on Ahri, Fizz and Yasuo, but for most of the summer split, Ryu served as a diversion player. He capitalized off bottom lane control to get picks and allow the rest of the team to transition for objectives. Ryu didn’t deal a high percentage of team's damage for a mid laner by any means, but he dealt damage efficiently with low gold resources.
As to concerns with Ryu’s assassin-based champion pool in the Rod of Ages meta, he can play Kassadin, Orianna and Lulu. He’s well on his way.
Both of H2K’s solo laners are used to stepping back for their bottom lane. Petter “Hjarnan” Freyschuss was in the top six of percentage of team gold of any player in the European LCS at 27.4%, only just behind FORG1VEN at 27.8%, and kaSing received the highest percentage of team gold of any support in the five major leagues at 11.8%.
Odoamne and Ryu are used to being self-sufficient, but also stand out as upgrades over their equivalents on ROCCAT’s 2014 lineup. They can allow the “carry-support” duo of Jankos and VandeR to flourish more and dictate the pace of the game without restricting where they roam. As Odoamne has more shotcalling experience than Jankos and VandeR, who have only just been developing the skill, the level of communication between them should also lend itself to coordinating rather than having solo laners demand ganks or camps.
kaSing, H2K’s last support, had a strong voice on the team that developed throughout the year. H2K’s solo laners are already used to giving their support the ability to create action around the map and propel the pace of the game. Relinquishing the reigns to VandeR and Jankos should be trivial as long as the synergy exists.
That only leaves the elephant in the room.
There's a lot to respect when it comes to FORG1VEN. He doesn’t lie about the person he is or his expectations. He also doesn’t have to because, despite player reports for “toxicity” that lead to bans or creating a tense team atmosphere, he’s that good. You have to sign him anyway.
Especially going into 2016, where the preseason changes have swung wildly into FORG1VEN’s favor, none of FORG1VEN’s past transgressions can detract from his marketability. Games end faster, making FORG1VEN’s perceived single-minded approach to winning lane extremely effective. AD carry items have received buffs.
Lucian, FORG1VEN’s signature champion, is likely to be among the most picked AD carries on the IEM Cologne patch. Even out of meta, Lucian was sometimes a must-ban against FORG1VEN. Here’s to hoping someone lets it through in a momentary judgment lapse just so spectators can witness the resulting carnage.
FORG1VEN has at least one thing in common with famous Korean mid laner, Bae “dade” Eojin: he is truly Europe’s King of Spring.
Part of that comes from bad luck in patching and potential offers, but the rest allegedly comes from FORG1VEN’s own attitude and expectations to carry, resulting in frequent team hopping. He’s known to have high demands of his teammates, which can create discontent between players. Gambit seemed like a good place for him, as he could work with other players who don’t tend to pull punches.
Alas, FORG1VEN lost an opportunity to play for Worlds with Gambit after a poorly timed player behavior slap. None of this is information you haven’t heard already.
Stylistically, FORG1VEN is the final piece of H2K’s puzzle. He provides the early game advantages with high CS leads and can be effective on the particularly strong AD Carry role.
A potential clash I can see may result from bottom lane camp expectations from FORG1VEN restricting Jankos in an environment where he can really excel. FORG1VEN makes the team, but the key to its success is the opportunity for Jankos to have free reign over the jungle. Jankos’ aggressive jungle champions are back, and if FORG1VEN allows Jankos to make his own judgment calls on where to apply pressure, they’ll be fine — it will probably be bottom lane anyway.
As Odoamne focused a lot of attention to bottom lane Teleports, his own playstyle could provide the "camp" that FORG1VEN craves without restricting the team's jungle and support duo. The team should be open to an unconventional application of resources given its construction.
Beyond Odoamne's role, when FORG1VEN worked with another extraordinary European jungler on SK Gaming, Svenskeren was allowed free reign as the secondary carry for the team. Svenskeren often abused FORG1VEN’s control over the bottom side of the map to invade with minimal vision. With Jankos’ and VandeR’s penchant for warding, that approach can only be enhanced.
FORG1VEN really doesn’t need a jungler in his lane if his past performances are any indication. VandeR’s own sense for the 2v2 might make him theoretically the best stylistic match in a support FORG1VEN has ever had, allowing Jankos to function on his own.
In lane swaps, H2K can always resort to fast push, an old SK Gaming standby that will likely show itself as a strong approach at IEM Cologne. With FORG1VEN's fast push proficiency and H2K's understanding of swaps, it’s just about learning the new tricks and not resting on their laurels like H2K did after working the lane swap meta early on in the 2015 Summer split.
It should work. All the components already complement each other, and H2K is a well-constructed team, mindful of the strengths and weaknesses of their additions.
But this is FORG1VEN’s fourth team in two years. Even without him, there's always a risk of a tidily composed roster with all the right names collapsing on itself. A few players on this team would know that better than anyone.
All statistics from OraclesElixir.com.
Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for theScore eSports who is ready for offseason to end. You can follow her on Twitter.