On Aug. 15, 2015, H2k-Gaming faced Origen in the EU LCS Summer semifinals. Origen, who had been promoted from the Challenger Series at the end of the spring, was an organization that had been a Challenger squad only because it was its path to the LCS -- not because of its talent level.
The veterans Origen counted within its ranks handily dispatched H2k 3-1 to advance to the finals -- putting the team on a path that would ultimately lead to a semifinal appearance at Worlds -- and exposed H2k's weaknesses in the process.
It served as a wake-up call.
H2k bided its time until the offseason, when it performed the heist of the season; in came Marcin "Jankos" Jankowski, Oskar "VandeR" Bogdan and Konstantinos "FORG1VENGRE" Tzortziou -- players with a higher mechanical ceiling, an excellent understanding of the game and the communication skills to push this team to the top of the EU LCS.
Origen was not without moves, with Tristan "PowerOfEvil" Schrage's acquisition, but the collective might be staring at its impending doom in a semifinal rematch on Saturday.
To reach this point, Paul "sOAZ" Boyer and his Origen teammates sunk the Unicorns of Love ship out of the playoffs -- but it wasn't pretty. Despite adopting the meta, Origen struggled mightily in the early game, but the Unicorns of Love's decision-making flaws allowed it to eek out victories.
There were redeeming moments in the midst of an iffy performance. Origen snatched First Blood in all three games against Unicorns of Love, traded enemy Dragons with systematic Tower and Rift Herald takedowns, and had flawless control over Baron Nashor. Jesper "Zven" Svenningsen was his usual solid self, participating in 80.3 percent of his squad's kills and scoring the highest number of kills among AD carries (despite playing one less game), with 23 kills total.
Despite the problems, PowerOfEvil, who struggled to adapt through most of the Spring Split, has finally clicked with his teammates -- and his efficiency has spiked. His Team Damage ratio rose from 26.7 percent to 35.1 percent in the UoL series (to Zven's 33 percent), despite earning roughly the same amount of gold he usually earns (23.3 percent, compared to 23.1 percent during the season). Enrique "xPeke" Cedeño Martínez's indirect coaching of PowerOfEvil has paid off, as the latter knew what he needed to do after observing scrimmages from the sidelines.
Whether that will prove helpful in Origen's attempt to repeat history against H2k is up for debate.
H2k-Gaming finished second in the 2016 LCS Spring Split, and the team has improved significantly since the last playoff confrontation between these two teams. Yoo "Ryu" Sang-ook, one of only two holdovers from that Summer Playoffs series, has been one of the main contributors (and biggest benefactors of the roster changes).
As Ryu's understanding of the English language and ability to communicate with his teammates improved, he became one of the squad's dominant voices -- on par with Andrei "Odoamne" Pascu, the primary shot caller of the squad and the other roster holdover -- and Ryu has established a comfort zone on Summoner's Rift.
His low-economy (22.9 percent of his team's gold, lowest among mid laners in the LCS), high efficiency play style (7.2 KDA ratio -- best in the LCS -- and plus-4.1 CS differential at the 10-minute mark) belies his ability to read the game and act accordingly. If his teammates need a gank to engage the snowballing process, he teleports or roams towards that area; if they need a tower, he will be among those pressuring the tower or the map, to split an opponent's focus and force desperate confrontations on their behalf.
Ryu's presence eased some of the burden of leadership from Odoamne's shoulders, allowing the top laner to be in the running for the MVP title for the 2016 Spring Split. As Ryu provides more guidance, and as other players deliver vital information, Odoamne is able to perform Teleport flanks and team-fight engages -- knowing that his teammates can clean up. Odoamne has always been a low-economy player, conceding gold and farm leads to opponents during lane swap scenarios -- knowing that he can tally enough gold to execute H2k's plans.
One of the other benefactors of Ryu's guidance and Odoamne's decisiveness is Marcin "Jankos" Jankowski, a jungler whose early-game prowess has been proven over and over again. With a healthy exchange of information, Jankos can influence the game's pace one gank at a time and act as one of the primary executors of H2k's plans on the rift, to the tune of a 78.5% kill participation ratio. H2k even enjoyed, as a result of Ryu's temporary absence during the split due to visa issues, he shouldered some of the shot-calling burden, and H2k has looked strong ever since.
Even before he had to step up in Ryu's absence, Jankos provided consistent First Bloods for his team. H2k scored a First Blood in 67 percent of its games, which set Ryu up to go on a path of destruction -- and freed VandeR and FORG1VEN to do as they pleased with little risk of retaliation from opponents. As such, VandeR has been able to roam alongside Jankos, (with a 77.7 percent involvement rate in his squad's kills, highest among supports with more than two games played) littering the map with wards to the point that H2K had the highest ward-per-minute output as a team (3.72).
FORG1VENGRE was able to focus on dealing damage with the considerable leads H2k typically opened over opponents (with an 11.2 CS differential at 10 minutes -- highest in the EU LCS), allowing him to outperform AD carry opponents in head-to-head match-ups as a result.
Origen measures up well when we look past H2k-Gaming's stellar team play, and focus solely on the individual components of both squads.
FORG1VEN and VandeR face one of the strongest bottom lanes in Europe, in Alfonso "mithy" Aguirre Rodriguez and Zven -- especially when it comes to lane swaps. Maurice "Amazing" Stückenschneider has held his own in the past, and in the current meta, he becomes more of a threat as games drag on; Ryu has yet to seriously overwhelm PowerOfEvil or xPeke in previous matchups.
The drafting war that the two teams may partake in is another matter. In the jungle, Nidalee, Lee Sin and Elise may play a huge factor, as the two junglers favor those picks, but meta-game compliant champions like Kindred, Gragas and Graves may also come into the picture. Some of the aforementioned picks work best within lane swap scenarios or in team fights, and trade-offs are necessary.
In the solo lanes, H2k has already showcased its ability to flex Lissandra - a matter of great concern, lest Paul "sOAZ" Boyer unleashes a never seen before pick. Furthermore, if Tahm Kench somehow returns competitively, or if top lane bruiser Ekko makes his great entrance in the European LCS, Origen may add flexibility beyond the Trundle flex pick.
The series may hinge on Origen's ability to adapt and play cleanly, or on sOAZ's ability to split-push in the current meta. Otherwise, xPeke may have to enter the fray as part of a last-ditch effort to return to the European LCS finals once more.
Ryu and his teammates will be ready.