The press area buzzed with media trying to land post-game interviews with the day's heroes; H2K had just completed their 4-0 run to secure first spot in their group, taking down Chinese darlings Edward Gaming twice in the process. Just to the left as I arrived was a swarm of Chinese media, and in the middle was the man of the day. Konstantinos “FORG1VEN” Tzortziou, the star Greek AD Carry had… deftly seen off EDG’s bot lane, as he announced his arrival proper on the international stage.
There was still an element of proud surprise on the faces of the players, as they recounted the events of the day from a winning perspective to the global esports press. There was no sign of EDG’s players, who finished second in the group, perhaps signifying just how much of an upset this was. The Chinese number one seed, undefeated in the LPL summer split regular season and one of the tournament favourites had been outclassed by Europe’s second seed, who started week 2 with a 1-2 record after a poor first week.
THE IMPORTANCE OF TEAMWORK
The consensus on the day’s outcome was not lost on FORG1VEN, as I got my chance to meet one of League of Legends’ most storied players. “To me it's probably a huge shock that I haven’t realised yet,” says Tzortziou. “I feel like tomorrow when I go to sleep, chill, wake up and do nothing, I will probably realise it a lot more, but it's actually really surprising and I'm really happy with how things went and how my team played today.”
Usually lauded for his individual skill, it’s rare we get a chance to listen to FORG1VEN extol the virtues of his team in a moment of triumph. When Tzortziou speaks about the other members of H2K, he does so with a level of pride that would be totally unexpected if you believed only the tales that surround him when his teams struggle. He trusts his team, he recognises their talent, and he praises their performance. More than anything he’s grateful for it.
“It's actually the first in my life, or second if we count SK in the spring split of 2015, I can safely say that I feel like I have a team that is backing me up, but I can also back up the team,” he claims. “I feel like people today played with such determination and understood their role, not only in game but coming in from outside of it. I could feel how serious they were, how committed they were, how focused they were. They had the necessary psychological power going into this game, which makes them play even better than they already are.”
While he’s quick to praise his teammates for their incredible performances against EDG, FORG1VEN must take a lot of credit himself. He and Vander were unplayable in the bot lane, and their opponents were formidable: we’re talking about Deft and Meiko here, arguably one of the three best AD carries to play League of Legends, along with Imp and Uzi, and one of the LPL’s best supports. Deft and Meiko dominated bot lanes in the LPL, including the fearsome Uzi and Mata bot lane for RNG.
Despite this, H2K knew they were beatable. “With how weak the teams seem to be, this week or even before, I think we saw that every team was beatable,” said FORG1VEN. “Odoamne was stomping the EDG top laner, I kinda stomped EDG bot lane today. My reputation helped in a way to relieve pressure from the other lanes, because EDG bot lane couldn't deal with us. They had to send the jungler or general numbers to bot lane all the time, so this made Odoamne's life or Ryu's life even easier than it already was. And we also have a very good jungler.”
ACE IN THE HOLE
Key to their lane domination was Caitlyn, who has been seeing a resurgence in the bottom lane for her laning prowess and ability to take towers with ease. Laning is so central to H2K’s success that it this pick becomes a priority for them, and many of us were surprised EDG allowed them to play it. FORG1VEN indicated to me, however, that picking Caitlyn puts EDG and other teams in a difficult spot because they don’t play it, and therefore can’t contest the pick.
“It's a double-edge sword,” he says. “They're either gonna ban it, because EDG don’t play it, or they let it go through and try to counter it in the lane, which is not realistically possible, because we try to play it as optimal as possible.” The ability to force a team to adapt to one of your specific picks is a powerful tool: you force them to ban sub-optimally, therefore guaranteeing your team a different power pick, or just try and deal with it. When they can’t deal with it, you cause serious problems.
It may be a bullet teams playing against H2K simply have to bite, however, because if Deft and Meiko can’t deal with it, how can anyone else? Outside of the laning phase, Cailyn provides some added benefits that fit FORG1VEN’s playstyle specifically: “We played it alot, because it helps us also cover some flaws,” says FORG1VEN. “It also gives me the authority sometimes to play away or outside of my team. It doesn't work like Jhin, where you have to count on your team to make it work. Because I consider myself a really good mechanical player and I’m also aware of my environment a lot of the time, I think I can take these kind of picks that seem a little off or not the best [and make them work].”
Despite his success on the Worlds stage, FORG1VEN still laments not making it here earlier. He entered the LCS as part of a Copenhagen Wolves team that dominated Challenger, a period which FORG1VEN considers as perhaps the happiest in his career. He feels like that’s around when he started to peak as a player, when he brought something new to the region and began to forge a legacy that he believes has now cemented with his performances at Worlds.
“I think it kind of cements a legacy that I think I've personally created,” he says. “When I entered LCS in 2014, bot lanes in Europe were considered to be really weak. Those aren’t just my words, if you go on social media or ask pro players back then from other regions, they would tell you the representatives we would send from bot lane are not as good or at least as powerful as they could be, or they never were. The moment I stepped in into season 4 of the LCS, I was getting 100 cs leads out of laning phase and I created a meta for bot lane that is still followed, but has changed with other players.”
MOTIVATION AND DETERMINATION
Since he entered the LCS, FORG1VEN has had a tough time fitting in with a particular team. He left Copenhagen Wolves after helping them through relegations to secure their place in the next split of the LCS, and had tumultuous spells on SK Gaming in 2015 and H2K in spring 2016, before a career low on Origen. Origen kicked him after just one week of games, and many wondered whether Tzortziou would play competitive League of Legends again. Yet less than 6 months later, he is competing in the Quarterfinals of Worlds. To come back again and again, and keep motivating himself to compete at the highest level shows the type of competitor FORG1VEN is: determined, talented, perhaps a little abrasive, but driven to be the absolute best he can be.
I actually adore the competition of the game.
Every player in every team has their reasons that drive them to succeed, to perform better, to exceed expectations or play past their limits,” he says. ”I have various reasons that push me psychologically to go even further than my limits that I already think I have surpassed in a way, for example for my country. I am the only Greek player ever coming into such a big competition. My father, who I adore a lot. He used to not support me when I decided to be a pro, and last year when I was in a kind of difficult spot with Gambit, he said "you have to keep going. What did you play for all this time?". He got into League of Legends, though not from me because personal life and gaming life is kind of different even for my family, so he actually supported me.
“Obviously my team, because when we have highs we have very high highs, we can actually be a good team. If I want this to happen, I know that I have to do my absolute 100% best, so if I can give them even 10 or 20% more opportunity to do that, or to keep them on this level, I am really happy because I feel like I tried a lot, from every aspect, and I feel like I pushed my team to this direction.”
FORG1VEN has the chance to do something special at Worlds with H2K, to change perception of him and to prove himself as one of the best in the World. The only worry then is whether he will continue to play after the tournament. As with many great players, it’s hard to know when they will call it quits. FORG1VEN has come close multiple times, but he reassured me that as long as he has a place on a top team, he will stick around.
“I actually adore the competition of the game,” he says. “I think as long as it's healthy, and as long as I can always go a bit higher every year, or be the driving force on a team, I can keep going. But the thing is... it has to be worth it. I only want to play for top-2 or top-3 teams.”
Just eight teams remain in the tournament, as they vie for the chance to win the coveted Summoner’s Cup. Tune into the Worlds Quarterfinals starting Thursday, and make sure you watch on Sunday as H2K take on Albus NoX Luna for a place in the Semifinals at Madison Square Garden, New York.