From one historical venue to the next, Worlds 2016 marks League’s return to the stage of Madison Square Garden in New York City. Host to some of the biggest cultural events in history, and past host of the NA LCS Summer Finals, MSG once again welcomes some of the best League of Legends players in the world to its arena, as the League of Legends World Championship Semifinals roll into the Big Apple.
On Saturday October 22, Europe’s H2K will battle Korea’s Samsung Galaxy in the second Semifinal of Worlds 2016. The winner will book a place in the Final at the Staples Center in Los Angeles against the winner of the other two Korean teams in the tournament, SK Telecom T1 and ROX Tigers. For the second year in a row Korea and Europe are the only two regions to reach the Semifinals, though in very different fashion to Worlds 2015. Korea has increased its dominance on the Worlds stage to have all three of its representatives in the Semifinals and the guarantee of having at least one of its teams in the subsequent Final
It’s an uphill battle this year for Europe. In 2015 Fnatic were favourites to beat KOO Tigers but famously crashed out in a 3-0 implosion, just as Origen lost to SKT in a lopsided 3-0 series. This year H2K is the sole European team in the Semifinals, and they are by no means the favourite to win their matchup against Samsung Galaxy. Korea’s #3 seed Samsung looked dominant throughout the tournament, finishing top of their group with a 5-1 record and decisively shutting out Cloud9 in the Quarterfinals 3-0.
H2K had an easier run to the Semifinals, given the strength of their group relative to Samsung’s, but that doesn’t mean they deserved their spot in the Semifinals any less. One only has to look at the nature of their victories, especially against Albus NoX Luna who managed to win two games against CLG, and take a game off both G2 Esports and ROX Tigers. H2K slaughtered the LCL team in the most one-sided series of the Quarterfinals, even more so than Samsung’s showing against C9. Make no mistake: H2K poses a legitimate threat to Samsung Galaxy.
H2K impressed analysts and fans by playing almost a completely different style in the Quarterfinals compared to their week 2 Group Stage showing which saw them go 4-0. In the Group Stages they prioritised Caitlyn, putting focus on the bot lane lane to get FORG1VEN and Vander ahead, and then rotate to take turret after turret while their solo lanes absorbed pressure. Against Albus NoX Luna, that was almost completely flipped as H2K instead focused their efforts on top side, prioritising Jayce for Odoamne in all three games while H2K’s bot lane absorbed pressure.
While their overarching strategy still revolves around lane dominance and strong early-game pressure, they adapted with ease to a different opponent. They’ve now shown that they can win the game from two sides of the map, while Ryu wins the laning phase over and over again mid-game monster. Appropriately for somebody who favours the Medusa-like Cassiopeia, he exacts his vengeance with a face of stone. He out-roamed Kira’s Syndra as Vladimir, a matchup in which Syndra should have lane priority, and when he picked Syndra himself in game 3 he solo-killed Kira’s Zilean multiple times in the laning phase. Ryu is a beast, performing to a level we haven’t seen since he almost reached Worlds on the KT Bullets back in 2013.
H2K’s jungler Jankos remains the lynchpin of the team’s various strategies. In numerous interviews Jankos expressed his desire to get to Worlds and show that he can hold his own against the world’s best. He is determined, and clearly relishing the chance to play on the Worlds stage. Jankos is the key to H2K’s strong early game, as he showed against ANX. He and Odoamne set the tone for the series with the early 2v2 in game 1 of the series, getting a 2 for 0 and setting Odoamne up to dominate the top lane. His Lee Sin play was as clean as could be, and he finally came into own as a late-game threat, often trading his life to buy teamfight advantages for his team. His second item Guardian's Angel in game 3 exemplified that, realising he would have to put himself in dangerous positions to get teamfight-winning kicks and purchasing an item to give him more safety in doing so.
Despite the strength of H2K’s recent performances, it’s important for EU fans to remain grounded. H2K will face their toughest opponent yet in Samsung Galaxy, and it’s likely they will be unable to contend with the Korean team. In H2K’s second game against ANX they scored the fastest win of the tournament, taking the record from Samsung who scored back-to-back fastest wins against Royal Never Give Up, one of China’s best Quarterfinalists, and Splyce, the team that beat H2K in the EU LCS semis. They are formidable, and though H2K will know this, European fans should not go into Saturday’s match overestimating their team’s prospects of advancing to the Final.
Side lanes will be key: Odoamne faces Cuvee, who might be the most impressive top-laner at the tournament so far. SSG’s top-laner easily handled C9’s Impact in all three games of their short series against Cloud9, surprising many NA fans who had seen Impact dominate the domestic competition leading up to Worlds. Rule and CoreJJ also handily won lane against C9, and CoreJJ has surprised many with his play in this tournament. Subbed in for Wraith in the support position after two games, the former Dignitas AD carry looks to have made one of the most successful role swaps in recent history, with SSG’s jungler Ambition being the other after he transitioned from the mid lane to the jungle. How he handles Jankos will hugely impact Samsung’s chances, and if he can do so then Samsung can simply use their exceptional team fighting to secure victory in the later stages of the game.
BEST IN THE WEST
Should H2K upset Samsung they have the chance to cement their legacy as one of Europe’s best teams ever. This is the best chance they could have hoped for, and what a way to silence Europe’s critics if they are successful. H2K are a strong team with strong individual players that could each lay claim to being the best in their region, and should Samsung underestimate them, or simply be unable to stand up to the intense lane pressure H2K put out, we could see not just the first European team to reach the finals since 2011, but the first western team to break through the Asian dominance since season 1. Tune in on Saturday to root for H2K as they take on Samsung Galaxy in Madison Square Garden!