Europe's League of Legends campaign started on such a disastrous note that many had given up hope. In the process, such doubters had overlooked H2k's history of prowess on the Rift, dismissing its viability following a 1W-2L showing before the start of the second week of the 2016 World Championship.
H2k, however, decided there would be no EUlogy after all. It qualified to the World Championship playoffs in style, winning four games in a row -- twice against EDward Gaming, one of the favorites going into the tournament.
The doubters forgot that, on paper, H2k had been a clear favorite for Group B qualification. It had the potential to upset EDG provided the squad performed to the standard it showcased in Europe throughout the year.
Week One: Adaptation
The whole may be greater than the sum of its parts, but the parts certainly matter. H2k players Marcin "Jankos" Jankowski, Kostantinos "FORG1VEN" Tzortziou and Oskar "VandeR" Bogdan had had limited international experience before their World Championship appearance, and they hadn't undergone the rigors of scrimmages and stage play on a global scale.
In theory, H2k features strong lanes with a penchant for brutal dominion over opponents. In practice, it's more of a challenge than it might seem to translate a lane advantage into a win. For example, the teamwork required may be daunting, and difficulties might be further aggravated by the stage fright that many performers experience when playing in an unfamiliar place. For VandeR and his teammates, the World Championship represented such an environment.
H2k held the initiative throughout its first two games, although it only won one of them, but its third bout (against EDG) was over at the start. The Europeans' execution lacked polish, leaving them vulnerable to devastating counterattacks. Ahq feasted upon H2k's lack of vision (and ensuing exploitable decisions), and EDG capitalized on lapses of focus across the board to snowball from the top lane down.
Without those lapses, H2k's moves would have tipped the game in its favor as it would have preserved map control while building an advantage, as was the case against INTZ eSports. However, the team's reliance on Andrei "Odoamne" Pascu as a sparkplug for teamfight initiation ended up failing it as much as the backline did, and his foray into Rumble against EDG turned fruitless following a series of misplays in a counter-gank situation.
Week Two: Confidence
Despite their week one showing, H2k was not done. The talk about the region -- much of which was rather fatalistic -- did not apply to this squad, as it held the keys to a number of tiebreaker situations for second place. H2k would still be able to contend for first place if they swept their week two contests 3-0.
Throughout H2k's journey through the European League Championship Series (counting 2015), the team has relied on contributions from the top lane off of a limited gold income, and Odoamne had demonstrated his ability to impact other lanes with comparatively less gold than his counterparts across the world. His Jayce against ahq received more jungle attention and reminded opponents of his ability to play tanks and carries to successful effect; his takeovers on Rumble were surprising unless one looked deeper: his 0W-4L stat on Rumble in 2016 before week two concealed an 8W-3L record in 2015.
The bottom laners also hit their stride as VandeR steered away from the risky gambles he had made during week one, allowing Odoamne, Ryu "Ryu" Sang-wook and Jankos to snowball the lane if they hadn't already.
Come crunch time, the focus and communication jitters that plagued H2k disappeared, save for an ahq Baron Nashor steal, which left the team speechless until VandeR reinitiated the communication process, according to an interview. The often-emotional crew (with Jankos at the core) was able to refocus on the game and evaluate its winning conditions on-the-fly, paving the way for a Group C takeover.
A new hope
In retrospect, H2k's first-place seed in Group C allowed it to dodge a hefty bullet. As the sole Western first seed alongside three South Korean squads, it has been able to postpone confrontations with SK Telecom T1, ROX Tigers and Samsung Galaxy to the semifinals at the soonest.
Had it finished second in the group, its road to the finals could have been comparatively testier, if not impossible. Instead, EDG will be the one facing SK Telecom T1 and -- if it succeeds -- the winner of the ROX Tigers versus Royal Never Give Up contest in the semifinals.
H2k had the best possible outcome among second seed opponents, drawing the unpredictable Albus NoX Luna -- the first wildcard team to ever qualify for Worlds quarterfinals. Despite its undeniable prowess, ANX's defeats at the hands of ROX Tigers and G2 Esports highlighted decisionmaking blunders from the jungle, a weakness Jankos would be wise to exploit come Oct. 16.