After three years of representing the Taiwan/Hong Kong/Macau League of Legends scene at international events, it'd be fair to simply call the Taiwan/Hong Kong/Macau League of Legends region the Flash Wolves region.
During that time, ahq e-Sports limped along as Flash Wolves' faithful sidekick, relying on points to squeeze into the World Championship. And the clinic Flash Wolves put on in its 3-0 sweep of ahq in the League of Legends Masters Series final did nothing to assuage the feeling that, outside Flash Wolves, the rest of the region would provide lukewarm competition at best to international opponents.
Unexpectedly, however, the No. 3 LMS team has more to offer than ahq.
Shocking roster changes that began in May, sparked by familiar face and new head coach Wong "Tabe" Pak Kan, have made Hong Kong Attitude a third seed team on par with the likes of North America's Cloud9. The team formerly known as Hong Kong Esports has strong individual laners and a good enough focus on dragon fights in mid game to make it a threat.
Hong Kong Esports' controversial past hasn't escaped the public eye. After threats of legal action between owner Derek Cheung and former star mid laner Lau "Toyz" Wai Kin, HKE entered the 2017 Spring Split as a mid-level LMS team. Luckily for the team, mid laner Lam "Gear" Kwok Wa started improving so much that it might have made him worthy of contesting the likes of J Team's Chu "FoFo" Chunlan or Flash Wolves' Huang "Maple" Yitang in the future.
HKE gained some valuable experience at the last Intel Extreme Masters World Championship in April when EDward Gaming backed out of the event at short notice. Though the team was expected to struggle against the likes of CIS team M19, HKE managed to take a game from H2K Gaming in the lower bracket before falling.
But HKE didn't even make playoffs in the LMS, and radical change followed. Shrugging off the somewhat bitter HKE association, the organization went back to a classic and friendly looking dragon that that accompanied it in 2013 and 2014 as well as the more casual sounding Hong Kong Attitude moniker.
But a branding and name change were by far the least alarming alterations.
Tabe came in with a new agenda for the roster. According to LMS caster and expert Clement Chu, Tabe decided to prioritize Korean ladder ranking in roster building. Full-stop, if a player on the roster in the same position had a higher rank on the ladder, that player got the starting spot.
It's easy to see where this decision could have gone horribly wrong. The most immediate fallout was the permanent replacement of the young and talented Gear for Chen "M1ssion" Xiao-Xian, who originally transferred to the roster from bottom-tier team Fireball as a substitute in May. M1ssion's first experience on HKA in the new season was a humiliating 0/3/1 Kassadin game against J Team that saw him dying within the first five minutes of the game at the hands of FoFo and jungler Chen "Alex" Yuming.
Despite M1ssion's start and laning deaths earlier in the season when he lacked map awareness, the Taiwanese mid laner became a stable addition. M1ssion favors the likes of Corki and Kassadin to match the enemy jungler and mid laner in roams get pick-offs in dragon fights.
M1ssion wasn't the only major change that came to the roster. Hong Kong Attitude experimented with Korean imports, some of whom joined the bench almost as quickly as they came to the team. Jungler Jang "Once" Seyeong appeared lost when he joined in Week 3. Despite the addition of Ling "Kaiwing" Kai Wing as support, the bottom lane didn't pick up until Kim "DAN" Seunghoo and Cheung "GodKwai" Ho Wan were permanently replaced by the Wong "Unified" Chun Kit.
All of this is to say, of course, that HKA smacked its face hard on the bottom of the LMS standings to kick off the Summer Split. Part of that naturally came from facing ahq, J Team and Flash Wolves all in the first three weeks. Part of it came from uncoordinated play and a lack of ability to translate lane leads into objectives or other parts of the map.
Over the course of the split, however, HKA finally found a lineup and a style of play that gave it a modicum of success. With the introduction of Korean top laner and once KT Rolster Arrows' AD carry Baek "Riris" Seungmin, transferred from LSPL team Royal Club, HKA had two solo lanes that could take advantage of strong matchups and an AD carry that gravitated toward scaling picks for team fight insurance.
The jungle position remained problematic, but GodKwai followed the example of the likes of Invictus Gaming's Ge "Kid" Yan and Go "Score" Dongbin before him in swapping from AD carry to jungle. He didn't debut in the new position until the final series of the regular season against J Team, but with a win against one of the top early game teams in LMS, HKA have since stuck with the role swap. GodKwai prefers to scale as a jungler, shuffling between his team's winning lanes, and get smart engages in skirmishes on picks like Sejuani.
HKA didn't make the LMS playoffs in either Spring or Summer, but with only eight teams in the LMS, two World Championship spots decided in playoffs, and four teams admitted to the Qualifier, it snuck as the final seed with a paltry 20 points. That pit HKA against first seed J Team, a team they bested, in the first round.
J Team, known for its strong mid lane pressure and ability to invade and squeeze out the enemy jungler, had a lot of its plays turned against it by HKA's shallow wards and decisive mid-jungle 2v2. After a 3-1 semifinal win, HKA then tipped over Raise Gaming in the final. A few targeted bans against mid laner Yang "Wuji" Chiayu limited Raise's map control, and HKA came out looking impressive to represent LMS in Play-in.
The decisiveness of HKA and the way the team fits together are its strengths. When HKA have winning matchups, it reinforces with shallow wards. Riris' Teleports have become a hallmark of the team, turning skirmishes and helping HKA set up for dragons. When HKA choose to lane swap, it may not always follow conventional protocol, as in the first game against JT in the LMS Regional, but it often will get leads on its side laners in the confusion.
HKA will fall short if it tries to get away with things like proxy farming between Tier 1 and Tier 2 turrets as Renekton against Maokai and Gragas. Against J Team, HKA executed a puzzling lane swap with GodKwai and Kaiwing fishing for a dive or enemy jungle camps top side for nearly three minutes. They only came away with a kill on the enemy jungler, and HKA simply reverted the swap without securing a major objective. In its final series against Flash Wolves, HKA also appeared clearly outclassed in side wave control and transitioning jungle vision in mid game. GodKwai, new to the jungle role, remains exploitable.
But HKA's real advantage comes from having the individual skill on its players to alter how it plays from game to game. In the first game of the regional semifinal, HKA played with a strong Xayah-Rakan bottom lane and scaling solo laners, using Shen's ultimate reactively to turn engages and giving up top control. In the same series, it played with Rumble and Jayce, powerful early solo lane crushers that work well in siege compositions.
Versatility and understanding of these win conditions can make HKA more flexible than even Flash Wolves, despite missing some of the smart lane assignments, vision, and map play that makes Flash Wolves the best team in the region. It certainly sets them a cut above the one-dimensional, flagging ahq e-Sports that found itself a bye into Group Stage.
Because HKA are the third seed of the LMS, traditionally the worst-performing of the five major regions, and it will play play-in group stage against 1907 Fenerbahçe Esports, the best wildcard team in attendance, competition in the main stage might underestimate HKA. With only Group B and C open to the third-seed LMS team, it isn't a favorite to advance to the quarterfinal, but HKA should be feared.
At the very least, HKA can set a new standard for LMS in 2018. This was a region some speculated didn't even deserve a third seed, but coincidentally, 2017 is the year LMS managed to piece together a team strong enough to challenge its reigning first and second place teams.