Though H2K entered this match as favourites, few could predict what kind of form Albus NoX Luna would show in the Quarterfinals stage. The LCL champions qualified for Worlds through the International Wildcard Qualifier, along with Brazil’s INTZ, and famously became the first Wildcard team to advance from Groups last week, defeating G2 Esports, Counter Logic Gaming, and tournament favourites ROX Tigers on the way. Though they lost to ROX in a tiebreaker, they still managed to secure second place with a 4-2 record in a group in which they were expected to finish 0-6.
At the same time, ANX are still Wildcard qualifiers. The LCL is not (yet) a top region, like many of the other undeveloped regions such as Brazil and Turkey, and for them to progress beyond the Quarterfinals stage would be an even bigger shock than reaching it in the first place. They performed admirably in the Group Stages, but the Knockout Stage are another level entirely. The big was question was always if could translate their performances in the best-of-one Group Stage to the best-of-five format in Quarters.
EU'S LAST HOPE
Their opponents H2K were the last remaining European team in the Quarterfinals, and going into this match both teams would feel they got the best draw they could hope for. Albus NoX Luna, while strong in Groups, looked rocky in their last couple of games. H2K, meanwhile, finished Group B with a 4-0 record in week 2, beating Chinese first seed EDG twice on their way to taking first spot. They looked strong, mostly stemming from their potent laning phase which saw them create large advantages for themselves to carry into the mid-late game.
As the match approached we heard from multiple H2K players that they were not going to underestimate ANX, a great sign of respect especially considering H2K were the first team to offer to scrim the Russian champions after the first week of Groups. Some of ANX are also known to H2K through solo queue, so if any team at Worlds knew ANX’s strengths and weaknesses, it would be H2K.
Cue match day and the crowd was pumped for the final day of action in the beautiful Chicago Theater, as the NA crowd cheered for the underdogs in the hope that the Wildcard team would cause another upset. H2K looked in a serious mood as they stepped onto the stage, but as soon as the crowd cheered them on some proud smiles broke out on even the most stoic of faces. Yes, even Ryu. They came to Chicago prepared to win, but considering four of H2K’s squad had never played at Worlds, stepping out onto that stage would have been a dazzling experience, one they won’t soon forget.
Soon it was game time, and immediately we saw adaptation from H2K from the Group Stage games. They first picked Jayce for Odoamne, foregoing FORG1VEN’s Caitlyn, while Jankos went for the playmaking option in Lee Sin, as Vander took note of the Korean teams picking Zyra and decided to try it out for himself. No longer were H2K picking to win the bottom lane off the back of FORG1VEN and Vander’s laning, instead they were to focus top lane, and that’s exactly what they did, beginning with an early double kill for Odoamne on Smurf and PVPStejos. Another kill followed, this time a solo kill by Odo on Smurf, and the game was almost over from that point on.
Though they weren’t the stars of the show in this game, or indeed the series, credit must go to FORG1VEN and Vander. To go even or ahead in losing lane matchups shows just how good they are in the early stages of the game, and they consistently absorbed the pressure ANX piled on them in the bot lane, allowing Odoamne, Jankos and Ryu to carry. ANX looked to have given themselves a lifeline after Kira stole Baron from H2K’s grasp which allowed them to stall for a period of time, but in the end H2K’s advantage proved too much to overcome and the European team closed the game out in 35 minutes.
Game 2 continued in similar fashion, though curiously ANX decided not to ban either Jayce, Lee Sin or Zyra, and picked much the same comp while banning Sivir. Unfortunately for ANX, this game was even more of a stomp than the first. H2K secured the fastest win of the tournament by beating ANX in just 23:38, cruising to a 2-0 lead in the series. H2K looked dominant, and the closing issues they had in the first game were nonexistent here.
Some adaptations in game 3 as Ryu picked Syndra away from ANX, but the CIS team inexplicably did not ban Jayce or Lee Sin once again, despite Odoamne and Jankos destroying them with those picks twice in a row. At this point it was obvious that ANX simply could not match up to H2K individually, as Ryu solo killed Kira multiple times in lane. Though game 3 was perhaps the closest of the series, it wasn’t remotely close at all. H2K did show some indecisiveness that allowed ANX to push for an inhibitor as H2K fumbled around Baron, but they secured the victory in the end.
ANX will be disappointed with their showing in the Quarterfinals, but ultimately this proved to be a reality check for the Wildcards. They achieved something special by making it to Quarters in the first place, but top 4 was simply too much for them. They can leave Worlds with their heads held high, however, knowing that they performed excellently in the Group Stages and picked up some impressive scalps along the way.
For H2K, Madison Square Garden awaits. For the second year running EU is the only region to join Korea in the Quarters, however the story this year is much different. H2K will go into the series against Samsung Galaxy as underdogs, as the gap between Korea and the rest of the world seems to be widening still. However, should they beat Samsung and secure their place in the Final, the first appearance by a western team since season 1, they can go down in European history.