After a brutally dominating four days of Quarterfinals, all three Korean contenders emerge comfortably victorious, ready to battle it out for the final showdown in Los Angeles. As the dust settles, however, one western team stands tall: H2K. But how did they get here, amongst the titans of the LCK? To answer that, we need to rewind time and embark on a journey through the history of one of EU’s most perplexing teams.
Officially billed as H2K-Gaming, the team entered the 2015 EU LCS with little fanfare despite sweeping Giants Gaming in the preceding Expansion Tournament. The reason? They’d just lost their star mid-laner, a mechanically impressive hotshot by the name of Fabian “Febiven” Diepstraten. In order to cover that vacancy, the new LCS squad enlisted Yoo “Ryu” Sang-ook, the former KT Bullets star who had played for fellow Expansion hopefuls Millennium, and whom many considered past his prime. Coached by former Complexity mid-laner Neil “Pr0lly” Hammad, H2K quietly went to work. Starting off slowly in the split, the team underwent an additional roster move, signing Raymond “KaSing” Tsang to replace struggling support Erih “Voidle” Sommermann. Sparking the patented ‘Kasing Effect’, the team’s performance surged, acquiring a 12-6 record in their rookie split, ending 3rd place in the regular season and boasting a winning or even record against every opponent except EU LCS titans Fnatic. Despite the latter’s team claiming yet another title, Pr0lly would be awarded Coach of the Split for his efforts. In the playoffs they performed admirably, declawing the Copenhagen Wolves before losing a close series to Fnatic. Their real achievement came in the 3rd-place match, however, where H2K surprised everyone by taking down spring heavyweights SK Gaming in a five-game series to earn a top-3 finish.
The summer proved equally fruitful for H2K, who, retaining their spring starting roster, managed to repeat their rookie performance. With a tied or winning record against all but Fnatic and a newly qualified Origen, H2K cemented their status as EU’s perennial “3rd-place team” with a convincing 3-0 sweep over the Unicorns of Love in their final match of summer. With that win, the team would net 70 (120 total) championship points, edging their total just over the Unicorns, who finished their season with 110. With that, H2K made their way into the 2015 World Championships as Europe’s #2 seed. Despite having the potential for a deep run, H2K would have the misfortune to draw two powerhouse teams into their group. Both China’s Edward Gaming and eventual winners SK Telecom T1 manhandled the team, knocking them out in the Group Stage. In a year that saw two European superpowers make Semifinal runs, H2K were quickly forgotten, with their only wins of the tournament coming against the Wildcard team Bangkok Titans.
Hard 2 Kill
After their disappointing Worlds run, H2K went back to the drawing board, making several roster changes in preparation for the 2016 season. Debuting at IEM Season X in Cologne, their lineup boasted the likes of former Roccat members Marcin “Jankos” Jankowski and Oskar “VandeR” Bogdan, as well as the mechanically renowned ADC Konstantinos-Napoleon “Forg1ven” Tzortziou. With the new squad, H2K would secure a 3rd-place finish in Cologne, beating NA contenders Cloud9 and a rebuilding Fnatic along the way.
The 2016 Spring Split found H2K competing at a high level, maintaining a top-2 ranking for almost the entire split. Forg1ven in particular embodied the ‘Hard 2 Kill’ style, averaging an incredible 1.28 deaths/game, the lowest of any ADC that played a significant number of games. Combining that with his impressive average KDA of 7.2 (again, the best among ADCs in the regular split), H2K was packing some serious heat in its arsenal.
All looked OK until disaster struck in week three. In a cross-regional crackdown of visa rules known as ‘Visapocolapse’, Ryu found himself unable to compete with the team for several weeks. As he packed his bags for a three-week stint back home in Korea, H2K brought in Echo Fox midlaner Marcin “Selfie” Wolski on loan to sub for their shotcaller. Although the team still managed to perform, going 5-1 in their three weeks with Selfie, their confidence and macro play had clearly taken a hit. Upon Ryu’s return, the team looked revitalized, and H2K rallied in the last half of the split to earn a top-2 finish and a playoff bye for the first time in their LCS tenure.
Matched up against a surging Origen in the semifinals, however, H2K were unable to compete, falling in the series 2-3. They would go on to repeat the same score against Fnatic at Rotterdam in a nail-biting series that ended abruptly at 30 minutes into the final game, with Fnatic scoring an ace and demolishing 5 towers and the Nexus in under a minute. With that result, H2K finished their spring split in a disappointing 4th place, given their regular-split dominance.
Ice to Meet You
In the aftermath of Rotterdam, the team’s future appeared in doubt. Less than a week into the midseason, rumours and leaks surfaced that Forg1ven would be leaving the team. According to articles at the time, H2K had decided to pursue other players to fill the starting role, citing Forg1ven’s inability to “fit in with the team in-game”. Not long after, H2K and Forg1ven officially parted ways – publicly, on good terms – and the team brought in former Renegades ADC Aleš “Freeze” Kněžínek to kick off the 2016 Summer Split. Freeze, though much hyped, was hobbled with a wrist injury for most of the split, keeping him from practice and limiting his performance on stage. Despite this, Freeze played on, and even with middling results, H2K seemed in good spirits, letting fly their signature “H2-WHAT” chants after every victory. Unfortunately wrist problems persisted. By the end of July, Freeze tweeted about his injury, stating that he needed rest and implying that he’d be unable to play for some time.
All is Forg1ven
Likely anticipating roster complications, H2K had already re-signed Forg1ven as a substitute. Following Freeze’s announcement, the team flew Forg1ven in from his native Greece to finish out the split. Acknowledging that the team had little time to prepare with their new old ADC, their run through the end of the season was nothing short of incredible. After easily putting away their regular split games 4-0 (plus a tiebreaker win versus Fnatic), H2K made their way into the playoffs once more, this time with a 4th seed. After demolishing Fnatic again in their first playoff match, H2K lost a close series versus a red-hot Splyce, sending them to yet another 3rd-place match.
Disappointment, especially from Polish players Jankos and Vander, was evident heading to the LCS finals in Kraków. Hoping the fanbase they had slowly gathered wouldn’t desert them now, H2K packed their bags and headed for Poland.
They needn’t have worried. As day broke over the Tauron Arena, the air buzzed with excitement. Crowds slowly gathered as the morning wore on, lining up to see their favorite team. When H2K entered the arena and made their way on stage, the hype reached a fever pitch; for the first time in their history, H2K were crowd favorites. They weren’t the number-one team at Kraków, and they weren’t playing in the finals. But none of that mattered – they took their seats and duked it out with the Unicorns of Love. Taking victory in four games, H2K put themselves within reach of yet another Worlds qualification. The next day, their dreams were realised. G2 Esports took down Splyce, sending H2K to Worlds as the #2 seed once more on Championship Points.
The Path to Semis
And you know the rest. H2K, after a mediocre week one of Group Stages, rallied for a miraculous 4-0 run in the second week of the World Championships, including a spectacular tiebreaker win versus EDG. Riding a wave of ‘EUphoria’, they crashed over Albus Nox Luna last week, dominating the CIS upstarts and setting a date with destiny in New York City. Samsung will be their toughest opponent yet, and few will give H2K a chance against the crisp Korean squad. Then again, that’s never stopped them before. As they say on stage, “H-2-WHAT? H-2-K!!”