CHICAGO -- On the final day of the League of Legends World Championship quarterfinals, Europe's H2K Gaming put on a clinic, destroying Albus Nox Luna. Three games, each ending in under 35 minutes, secured H2K Gaming their ticket to New York's Madison Square Garden.
For coach Neil "Pr0lly" Hammad, who has worked with the team since they qualified for the League Championship Series in Dec. 2014, he isn't satisfied yet, as H2K will move on to face Samsung Galaxy in the semifinals.
"It's kind of funny," he explained. "I guess that's how it feels, it feels really funny. At this point, other than the small amount of humor it is that we got this far, it's just now, there's still no time to rest. Right now, I know if I give myself the satisfaction of anything, it's going to, in turn, make me worse at my job. I'm trying not to think of anything that will make me happy in a way. It's kind of sad, but I kind of can't relax."
Pr0lly says that if he lets himself be satisfied with H2K Gaming's progress at the World Championship, he might become complacent and lose focus. He says he can't afford that to happen as they face their toughest opponent yet.
"Right now, I'm not satisfied at all and I expect to perform well against Samsung Galaxy," he said.
As they move on, Pr0lly is happy that the current in-game patch of League of Legends, 6.18, has been played throughout the entirety of the tournament. He believes that it gives both teams a more even playing field, where neither will surprise the other.
"I think [Samsung] is, I wouldn't say predictable, but their meta, they've kind of fleshed out their meta a bit and we have too, I guess," he explained. "What they play isn't going to be a surprise and that's really important for pick and ban - that there are no surprises. Each player knows their matchups and stuff like that. I think it'll be good for us, because we have really strong laners and they'll have the exact same meta they had last week."
He says his team needs to clean up their mid-to-late performance in-game, which looked shaky in their third game versus Albus Nox Luna. Despite being up by several thousand gold, the team was unable to close the game out quickly. Pr0lly hopes to improve that before their showdown in New York.
"If you give that gold lead to a Korean team, they'll close it really quickly," he said. "That's kind of the concern about Samsung Galaxy is that if they do get a lead, it'll be hard to get it back. And if we have a lead, they're going to play really hard for us to close the game. I think if we're able to shore up that, I think our early game will still beat theirs unless we throw or something weird early. I think it's more of if we can fix our last mid-to-late game, the last five percent of the game. If we can fix that, we can actually have an upset against a Korean team, even though I know everyone says that. I think we can because we have a really good early game."
But the H2K that showed up in Chicago wasn't one that fans and spectators were familiar with. Top laner Andrei "Odoamne" Pascu played carry champion Jayce each game against Albus Nox, which is very different from his team's normal playstyle. Usually, H2K focuses its resources towards its bottom lane, specifically star AD carry Konstantinos "FORG1VEN" Tzortziou. On Sunday, that changed.
"Odoamne has always been a really strong carry player, but he got in such a bad habit of not requiring anything," Pr0lly said. "So when the meta started changing, I knew we'd have a lot of trouble. We've actually been working on Odo asking for resources. ... This is something we've actually worked on almost all split and it just hasn't been the meta where we could just pick carry tops. It was pretty tank-heavy still this split. It's kind of a thing we've always been working on and even now, he's kind of exploring and we're getting to used that strategy."
Making it to the semifinals of the tournament is unexpected for H2K. Many were convinced that their European peer, G2 Esports, who took first in the European League Championship Series, would've been more successful during the World Championship. But that's not the case as H2K stood tall while its peers, G2 and Splyce, failed to make it out of groups.
"I'm happy that we represent Europe, but I'm really sad [G2 and Splyce] weren't able to come with us because I think they were able to stay on the same trajectory we were during that Korean bootcamp, I think they would've been able to actually show up really well in these games, because they have a lot of different strengths than us, but overall their team play is actually really good," Pr0lly explained. "I was kind of sad they played the way they did because I had more expectations for them; I'm from Europe so I see them all split and I know they could've performed better, so it was more painful than anything."
Coming into the semifinals match, H2K will meet Samsung Galaxy, who have also defied the odds by making it this far, but have looked stellar in a lot of their play. Samsung, the third seed from South Korea, topped the group over Royal Never Give Up and Team SoloMid, before destroying Cloud9 in the quarterfinals. Pr0lly knows his team's shot is limited, but he's confident if everything goes in their favor, H2K has a shot at victory.
"We're 100 percent underdogs. It won't be like 60-40," he said. "But it is five games and I think with our strong early game, we definitely have a good chance to throw them off. I think it's very reasonable to believe we can beat them. I wouldn't put [it] on us, because I'm not allowed to, but it's still logically in their favor."