Coming off another disastrous regular season loss to Unicorns of Love, H2K Gaming will collide with G2 Esports in the European League of Legends Championship Series playoffs for the first time in either organization’s history. Historically, these teams have sat on opposite sides of the bracket, and H2K has never made an EU LCS final. Both teams, however, have had brutal five game series against Splyce.
Many remember last year’s summer semifinal between H2K and Splyce as the set that started with a clean Game 1 from H2K, running through Splyce turrets in the top and bottom for a 35-minute win. From there, Splyce’s Gnar priority became a point of contention against H2K, which kept struggling against the pick, but the quality of their play lagged as the series progressed, culminating in a forced over-commit to a bottom lane dive and a dragon fight that gave two kills to Martin “Wunder” Hansen in Game 5.
A year later, G2 played against a very different Splyce. Instead of choosing Gnar every game like in the H2K series, Splyce brought a wider variety of compositions to the forefront. Splyce rushed through lanes with strong matchups for much of the first game but lost an unnecessary grouped fight bottom.
G2 and spectators could only call Splyce serious when it discovered the interaction between Camille and Morgana in a fight while G2 knocked on the door to Splyce’s base. Morgana Black Shield, Galio, and Jarvan IV made it impossible to free Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen from Camille prison, and Splyce proved flexible on both sides of the gold gap.
This Splyce felt a lot like the traditional H2K setup of strong lanes, pick compositions, and better side-laning in the late game than team-fighting. With a champion like Jhin, even Splyce’s Game 4 tank composition felt a lot more like a pick composition. Sejuani and Jarvan IV worked as long range engage on a target out of position, Jhin’s Curtain Call sliced through targets on lockdown. Splyce’s combination of crowd control could even lock down Luka “Perkz” Perković’s Corki Valkyrie. G2’s mid laner got caught three times in the first 16 minutes either over-extending mid with low mana or walking through river alone to clear wards.
Splyce’s creativity helped more than anything, but G2 found stronger mental reserves for Game 5. G2 abused gaps in Splyce’s vision control to set up flanks with either Perkz or Alfonso “mithy” Aguirre Rodríguez and closed the set with an impressive display of resilience.
“Everyone was level-headed,” G2 coach Joey “YoungBuck” Steltenpool said. “We’re not a really emotional team.”
So far domestically, G2 Esports has not succumbed to pressure in extended series (though this was its first five game best-of-five). But H2K almost has the opposite problem in that its major series often go to five games, and H2K doesn’t seem to be able to close on the fifth.
“Maybe we focus too much on winning,” jungler Marcin “Jankos” Jankowski said, “and we kind of treat it wrong because instead of showing what we worked on and playing our game, we kind of try to think about the old comp too much.”
Fixating on the previous loss is an almost guaranteed method of losing the current match, even if H2K shouldn’t lose. Breaking down H2K’s strengths, there are many similarities to Splyce that can allow H2K to abuse G2’s weaknesses. The disconnect between jungle and mid or support and jungle can create opportunities for members of G2 to get picked off. H2K’s executed Elise and Thresh pick compositions in its most recent series and turned dives well to get a lead on bottom, hold mid, and allow solo lanes to pressure the rest of the map.
G2 struggled most in the Splyce series wading into locations where Splyce could pick them off. Earlier on in the series, Splyce’s strong lane matchups could have closed the game if they had remained fanned out, but Splyce chose to group for kills without reinforcing vision in the jungle.
Those are not the mistakes H2K makes. H2K’s pivotal teamfight loss to Unicorns of Love in Game 2 of their Week 10 matchup came more from H2K over-extending in a top side play. Jankos went to get vision in the jungle then start the Rift Herald solo while H2K’s duo lane of Choi “Chei” Sun-ho and Sin “Nuclear” Jeong-hyeon pressured the top turret. H2K had no answering pressure on the rest of the map in mid or bot.
Unicorns of Love reacted to the split play by grouping top side and taking out two members of H2K. H2K then lost control of top side and lost the Rift Herald, which gave Unicorns of Love an opening to set up the mid lane fight later.
H2K’s mistakes come from reaching for something more in a side lane or with members of the team split. They also come from panic forcing if the team feels it already invested into a fight. In draft, the mistakes come from a sense of stubbornness or a default to player comfort.
It’s the last two points that will be H2K’s downfall. H2K executes a pick composition and split pressure style of playing the game better than Splyce and doesn’t group too early if it can continue to play out leads in multiple lanes. H2K’s players do, however, perhaps tunnel on a past mistake or try to make an old matchup “right” if they know they can play out the proper win conditions of a matchup.
“In Game 4,” Andrei “Odoamne” Pascu said of last year’s fateful Splyce series, “I think we made some mistakes in skirmishing with Gangplank, and we realized we shouldn’t do that, so we tried to implement it in Game 5.”
While some teams might choose to change up a matchup entirely if they can’t execute it, H2K can tunnel on an old mistake. This can make drafts predictable, removing the second advantage that Splyce had over G2 in their most recent series: a wide variety of options.
“I like to play against teams that don’t do anything weird in the draft,” YoungBuck said, “and that’s something you can count on against H2K. When you play against Splyce, you always have to be careful of Wunder picking something weird because he’s played things like Akali in scrims and Karma and gone nuts.”
H2K comes to the table with an optimal plan for what should work. When it has gone wrong, and they alter drafts or compositions, it feels more fragmented. Coach Niel “Pr0lly” Hammad has admitted that, when team morale drops, he is more likely to give a champion to a player he trusts to carry a game, even if it might not make sense in composition or in the matchup. He has done this in the past when Yoo “Ryu” Sang-ook was on the team.
It’s hard to say if this problem will re-emerge without Ryu, but it does give spectators the feeling that H2K doesn’t necessarily come to the table with multiple plans for draft. If A, then B. But if the execution fails? We know B still works against A in theory, so B again. In the end, that particular day, H2K might not be able to execute B against A, which seems to its options much more than it does with other teams.
H2K can also pressure advantages too hard, which lets the team slip into G2’s clutches. If H2K takes a mid lane turret after a fight, and then transitions to Baron or another objective out of greed, those are the kinds of plays that G2 takes advantage of the best. If Odoamne’s old bad habits of Teleporting into a Baron fight, feeling invested, and then forcing arise again in a long series because H2K’s morale has deteriorated, G2 will find gaps in vision for a proper comeback flank.
G2’s problems come when over-extending or grouping to avoid over-extending. The duo lane gets sent top when it might be better served holding the mid lane. These bad habits often make G2 more likely to group to pressure an objective. H2K has the tools to take care of both of those problems to a higher level of execution than Splyce.
Ultimately, however, YoungBuck said, “I would rank (Splyce) above Misfits and above H2K as well. It sucks for them that they had to meet us.”
H2K has the tools to take down G2, but the longer the series goes, the more likely it is that won’t happen. This long-awaited best-of-five clash between H2K and G2 certainly brings a sense of excitement from the days of last Spring when fans of H2K’s macro play scoffed at G2’s disorganized team fights. Since then, it feels a lot like G2 has evolved in a more well-rounded direction. Yes, H2K has shored up problems with team-fighting and late game decision-making. But as we saw in the Unicorns series, they seem to re-emerge over time. Compared to G2, H2K has, in some ways, stood still.
As exciting as this semifinal is, it won’t be decided on whose favored method of play works best into the other team’s. It will come down to factors spectators aren’t privy to: endurance, planning, and ease of execution. With these factors, domestically, G2 has reigned supreme.
Cover photo courtesy of Riot Games