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Why Haru? Looking ahead through the lens of Samsung Galaxy’s jungle choices

Playing Haru at worlds shows how Samsung Galaxy is thinking of the future
All photos courtesy of Riot Games

When League of Legends fans talk about Samsung Galaxy, there’s an immediate scramble to separate post-Exodus Samsung from the two teams of 2014. Samsung Blue, the best team-fighting team that ever existed, neck and neck with Samsung White, a peerless star-studded assembly of talent. All 10 Samsung players left Korea for China, bringing down the curtain on the age of OGN’s Champions tournament.

The era of White and Blue certainly delivers, even while happily enshrined in an untouchable display case of nostalgia by Korean League of Legends fans. New-age Samsung simply exists. Samsung’s first post-split roster was a disaster, and the only remaining survivor from the lineup is Lee “CuVee” Seong-jin. Even talented support (and 2014 SK Telecom T1 K substitute) Kwon “Wraith” Ji-min now sits on the bench behind Jo “CoreJJ” Yong-in, an AD Carry turned into support.

That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially in context. Although CoreJJ was winless in the few games he started during during the League Champions Korea summer split last year, his arrival ushered in a stronger bot lane focus for Samsung that suited the meta. Wraith was jungler Kang “Ambition” Chan-yong’s support, while CoreJJ’s laning focus suited rookie AD carry Park “Ruler” Jae-hyuk’s development.

Samsung’s attention to detail in the substitutions it has made across the last two years makes the team’s recent insistence on starting Kang “Haru” Min-seung over Ambition an interesting phenomenon. Haru razed through this year’s spring split as one of the top junglers in the region with aggressive invades and flashy plays. But his seven games played — to Ambition’s 37 — in the summer regular season revealed cracks in his play style that had gone less exploited in spring and a general lack of cohesion with his teammates.

Despite Samsung’s previous substitution success, Haru has been an odd outlier. Samsung was smart to leave most of the jungling this summer to Ambition but insisted on starting Haru in the playoffs and regional qualifier. Haru was winless in all four starts. Ambition played in Samsung’s seven other games and had a win rate of 86 percent, leading the team to the League of Legends World Championship for the second straight year.

Why did Samsung start Haru at all?

The question arose once more following Samsung’s less than impressive stumbling across the finish line against 1907 Fenerbahçe in the first week of the worlds group stage. It was Haru’s first game at worlds, and the team’s first tryout of jungle Ezreal. Haru and Samsung started off well but lost focus in the mid game, and somehow managed to turn the game after a single team fight and a poor flank from Kim “Frozen” Tae-il at the baron pit.

“Where is the shot-calling from Samsung?” caster Christopher “Papasmithy” Smith asked at 36 minutes, after Fenerbahçe had taken the gold and turret lead.

“Sitting on the bench right now!” Martin “Deficio” Lynge responded.

Throughout the cast and shaky Samsung win, Papasmithy reiterated that Samsung with and without Ambition without are staunchly different teams.

Ambition was the key to unlocking the power of the post-2014 Samsung. He left a sinking CJ Entus ship with a year’s worth of jungling experience among whispers he might retire. His arrival on Samsung was somewhat panned. There was little reason, based on his 2015 performance, to believe Ambition would revive this Samsung team beyond a middling finish. CuVee had yet to understand how to balance pressure in a split and when to join his team. Lee “Crown” Min-ho was returning from a season off and before that, an unsuccessful stint in Brazil. CoreJJ, at the time the team’s AD carry, was returning from North America and a poor-to-middling year for Team Dignitas that slightly resembled 2015 Samsung’s results.

Yet Ambition led the team throughout 2016 on a slow rise that ended at the world finals, one game away from becoming champion. He became more of a jungler than a fifth laner thanks to guidance and roams from Wraith. Once Ambition was more comfortable on his jungle routes, this gave way to CoreJJ in the support position, which brought strong laning pressure in tandem with Ruler’s individual growth. Whenever his Samsung teammates were asked what made Samsung so strong, they would always answer that it was Ambition’s leadership, even while joking that he was an intimidating commander of the team.

“We overcame our anger by practicing,” Ambition said at last year’s worlds. He spoke with an intensity befitting a team captain. This came after Samsung dropped a game to Team SoloMid in the group stage, the loss precipitated by an ill-advised Ambition Level 2 invade. Ambition said that loss helped the team better prepare for the rest of the best-of-one group stage. Samsung didn’t drop another game until the world final against SK Telecom T1.

Ambition also presumably tapped into his experience as a former mid laner to aid Crown. He knows exactly what a mid laner needs, and it showed this summer when he covered for Crown’s inconsistent performances. Haru was too risky to play without proper mid lane pressure, which made Ambition the proper choice for the summer. That reiterates the question of why Samsung has insisted on playing Haru when the meta and timing still seemed off.

It’s not necessarily in service of a flashier Samsung, like what Haru brought to the team in the spring, but it’s related. The question isn’t about Haru himself, but rather Ambition.

Why would Samsung not want to start Ambition? Or in the words of caster Daniel Drakos, “What is he going to bring to the table? What will he show us that Ambition did not?”

There are a few things at work here, the first being scrims. Ask any team why a substitution happens, and inevitably the standard answer is scrim results. Samsung coaches have said Haru is a strong performer in scrims, despite lackluster summer results onstage. What Haru showcased in the spring, and in the early game against Fenerbahçe, was impressive.

Previously, when Samsung wanted a stronger bottom duo in lane, the team had CoreJJ waiting in the wings. When it wanted a more aggressive jungler, the team had Haru. And when Samsung needed a more stable, veteran influence, Ambition was there, returning from the bench for summer. Yet, Ambition is not Samsung’s future, and the team’s insistence on starting Haru reflects that. There is only so far Ambition can take Samsung, where Haru’s talent, if cultivated properly, indicates a higher skill ceiling. The only problem is Samsung doesn’t seem to have a voice yet that can compare to the in-game leadership of Ambition. But just as SKT bringing top laner Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon to worlds was an indicator the team had acknowledged mistakes it made against Longzhu Gaming, Samsung substituting Haru gives insight into the organization’s thought process. Even at worlds, Samsung is thinking of the future.


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