Neil “pr0lly” Hammad had years of preparation for what was about to hit H2K, even if he didn’t know it yet.
As the youngest of three children, pr0lly said he witnessed plenty of instances growing up where something had gone wrong but he was too young to know what it meant. That led to him being the person constantly trying to lift the mood, even if he had no clue why he needed to do it in the first place.
“I just had to ease the tension by being the little brother that doesn’t know what’s going on, so I’m like, “Why is everyone angry?” pr0lly said after H2K’s quarterfinal win Sunday in the League of Legends World Championship. “So it’s hard, but I had a lifetime of experience dealing with that stuff.”
The preparation came in handy.
H2K had a strong start the spring split of the European League Championship Series after a handful of offseason roster tweaks, which included the signings of jungler Marcin “Jankos” Jankowski and AD Carry Konstantinos “FORG1VEN” Tzortziou. But after a 3-1 start, H2K would lose mid laner Ryu “Ryu” Sang-Wook for three weeks while he was forced to acquire a proper work visa.
Upon Ryu’s return, H2K didn’t immediately have the same oomph with which it started the season, and though the team still made the playoffs, it lost the third place match.
“I think the Ryu situation was probably the hardest because he’s such a loud voice on the team, pr0lly said. “He’s also seen kind of as the final say in a lot of stuff in and out of the game. So when he left, we had to re-shape how the team communicated.”
FORG1VEN, who at one point thought his League of Legends career might be over because of conscription in the Greek military (which was later resolved), left H2K between splits amid rumors of personality clashes with his teammates. In the summer split, H2K had a bit of a slow start and also had to endure an injury to Aleš “Freeze” Kněžínek, the AD Carry who replaced FORG1VEN. When Freeze’s injury became too much for him to be able to play, H2K brought back FORG1VEN, who had left Origen under cloudy circumstances.
But H2K rallied to take third place in the summer split and secure the No. 2 seed from Europe, aided by the falls of Origen and Fnatic, both of whom finished higher than H2K in the spring.
“I think we just stayed together as professionals and tried to not look at the stuff too much,” Jankos said. “We worry about what’s now rather than what was or what will be.”
The problems could have derailed any team and almost did with H2K, but that’s where pr0lly came in. He said he had to be the calming influence, using his “little brother” traits to readjust the players’ mentality, as many of the stressors (Ryu’s visa, Freeze’s hand) were out of their control.
“You guys know you can’t do anything about it and I can’t do anything either. We need to focus on what we can actually control in our lives,” pr0lly recalls telling the players at various times during the season. “I can ease the tension by doing something goofy, or I can get them to focus not on ‘Oh my god the world’s ending,’ but, ‘There’s a pretty flower over there.’”
The re-addition of FORG1VEN came with all sorts of uncertainty. He rejoined the team late in the summer split and was starting by the time the team entered the summer playoffs. It became clear relatively soon that FORG1VEN’s mechanical ability was as good as it always had been. What pr0lly and the rest of the team noticed, however, was a change in demeanor.
“I think he tries more than he was trying before he stepped down,” Jankos said. “He still doesn’t play the most solo queue or doesn’t talk the most, but at least he tries to respect other people more. He tries to shut down emotions in himself and doesn’t expect so much from people anymore. And that just has us have way more team chemistry.”
Pr0lly said he noted a change in FORG1VEN’s philosophy. He had a reputation for being a surly teammate with a “win above all” mentality. And while he still has that competitive fire, he’s been able to relent enough that it has created a much more comfortable atmosphere, pr0lly said.
“After the bad things that happened with Origen, I think part of his philosophy changed on how to approach the game, and it ended up being really positive, especially for being around our players and how they react,” pr0lly said, adding that FORG1VEN’s adjusted outlook made it easier for the other players to meet him in the middle.
The challenges aren’t done just yet for H2K, though. Its opponent in Saturday’s semifinal is Samsung Galaxy, the third place team from the dominant region of Korea. Western teams simply don’t beat Korean teams in best-of series, and H2K isn’t expected to break the trend.
H2K feels as if it has something to prove, especially to fans and analysts who have written off H2K’s run as the results of lucky draws in both the group and quarterfinal stage of worlds. H2K won the only group that didn’t include a Korean team and drew wild card representative Albus NoX Luna in the quarterfinals.
Maybe H2K has been lucky since it got to worlds. But the months leading up to it were anything but, and with what has already happened, taking on a Korean team in the worlds semifinals doesn’t sound so bad.
“Right now, it doesn’t matter anymore,” Jankos said. “We got to world semifinals, and we are really happy that we are here. Yes, we had troubles. We had FORG1VEN’s army thing, Ryu’s visa and stuff like that, but H2K took care of it, so right now we are here as five, six with Freeze. I’m glad we overcame those and made it here.”
Photos courtesy of Riot Games