The Chicago Theater, a historic venue in one of the largest U.S. cities, is about to play host to an event unlike any that’s crossed its stage before. Fans will take their place in the magnificent auditorium, Teemo hats worn proudly, surrounded by the stunning features of its baroque architecture as they cheer on their heroes. Players will clash in epic battles beneath the lights of the theater’s chandeliers. Worlds has arrived in Chicago, and every team competing aims to make history.
EU fans will immediately zero in on the closing series, the clash between H2K and Albus NoX Luna on Sunday. Europe’s #2 seed H2K are the only team from the region to make it out of groups, and advanced over China’s #1 seed Edward Gaming as they claimed first seed from their groups. Albus NoX Luna, the Wildcard from the LCL, helped send home another European team, G2 Esports, as they shocked the world by advancing to the Knockout Stages. Both teams will look at each other and feel they got the best matchup they could have hoped for, as we look forward to a best-of-five series with huge regional implications. Can H2K further salvage EU pride by advancing to the Semifinals, beating a Wildcard that teams have overlooked at their peril, or will ANX continue their stunning run and earn an unprecedented semis spot at Madison Square Garden?
PREP MAKES PERFECT
Make no mistake, H2K should win this match. They have to. H2K benefit from better team infrastructure, they play in a more mature region with a higher concentration of talent and they are all experienced professional players. They are odds-on favourite to win, and that puts them in a tough spot; H2K perform best when they can rise to the occasion. FORG1VEN said it himself after their victory over EDG: on their best day they can beat anyone. On a bad day, they could lose to the worst team in the competition.
H2K’s players understand this dynamic and can factor it into their preparations, which ought to reassure their fans. On media day before the tournament resumes, we spoke to H2K’s top laner Odoamne and jungler Jankos about their performance so far, and the upcoming series against H2K. Immediately when I asked them about their upcoming opponents, they pointed out the need to not underestimate them.
“They beat CLG, they beat G2 and even beat ROX in the Groups, so I think they are not to be underestimated,” says Odoamne. “They made a really good statement for the Wildcard regions, that a Wildcard team can play well, and get out of Groups, and Wildcard teams should not be as underestimated as they were back in season 3 and season 4, and pretty much every season until now. So we're not gonna look down on them.”
Jankos agrees. “I think it's pretty impressive how they play,” he says. “They are impressive as a team, as five players. I wouldn't say certain players make individual crazy plays, but as a team, as five, they are a force to be reckoned with. I think we cannot underestimate them, I think we could be the underdogs coming into this matchup simply because their teamfights are superior to ours, they are always on the same page. It will be tough on us, but if we prepare well we can beat them.”
THE COMPLETE PACKAGE
Though the pressure is on H2K to succeed, they showed a level of performance last week that ought to reassure their fans. After a poor first week, throwing a lead in a loss to AHQ and making poor early-game mistakes in their loss to EDG, they came out looking like a different team. Their time off clearly helped: they successfully transitioned leads from the laning phase to the mid-to-late game, and shored up their previously sub-par macro game. They not only beat EDG, they beat them twice in the same day as the Chinese squad could not deal with their individual prowess. EDG looked shaken by the end of their second loss. H2K, on the other hand, was euphoric.
But can they keep it up? Jankos gave us the impression that week 2 H2K is the real H2K, and week 1’s issues possibly came down to something as simple as stage jitters. “The first week was pretty bad,” he admits. “We didn't perform as a team or as individuals, we didn't pay like we do in scrims, and we were a little bit excited – but at the same time scared – on stage. It was the first Worlds for most of us. In the second week though I think we performed much better. As a team we played very well. We finally transitioned the advantage from lanes to overall play and to advantages.”
Odoamne attributes the improved performance to experience and, crucially, recognition of their strengths and weaknesses. “Now we're more experienced in playing with each other,” he says. “We know our strengths and flaws, so I think we try to always put ourselves in positions of strength and try to avoid the flaws, and with a strong early game that helps us a lot. The biggest change from week 1 to week 2 was we identified what caused us to crumble while we're playing, so I think in week 2 we just figured out what happens when we throw and we just try to play around that and take it slow.”
Odoamne in particular showed up in week 2, evoking the memory of H2K’s series against Fnatic in the EU LCS playoffs. He dominated EDG’s top-laner Mouse and AHQ’s top laner Ziv, a much more accomplished opponent considered to be one of the best top-laners in the World. Odoamne looked like a major carry threat for H2K, something ANX’s top-laner Smurf recognises, but believes he knows the key to going toe-to-toe with H2K’s Romanian powerhouse. “I had a chance to play against him and I think he's a really strong top laner,” says Smurf. “He has preference for AP champions like Kennen and Rumble, and I think the key to succeed would be to adapt to his playstyle and counter his comfortable picks. If we do that we can successfully counter him.”
UNDERDOG NO MORE
And what of the Russian and Ukrainian perspective of ANX? Though many consider them to be the underdogs in this matchup, their gameplay at Worlds suggests otherwise. H2K were extremely impressive, but so were ANX; they took down the tournament favourites ROX Tigers in one of the most exciting, competitive games of professional League of Legends we’ve ever witnessed. They matched the best players in the world in lanes and in macro play.
According to their top laner Smurf and jungler PVPStejos, they’re not just calm about the upcoming match, they’re confident. They neither overestimate nor underestimate their own abilities, and the surprise and confusion they clearly felt after qualifying has all but dissipated. They sized up H2K, and they feel they can take the win.
“H2K is a really good team,” says Smurf. “They not only advanced in first place from their group but we also had a chance to practice against them and we lost to them, so it's also true that any team that has more experience than us at this tournament will be stronger in a best-of-five series so it's going to be difficult. SKT or even C9 are probably stronger than H2K right now, so I think we have the best chance possible considering we are facing them in this best-of-five series and we will do our best to advance.”
PVPStejos even felt a little disappointed that they drew H2K; the Ukrainian jungler fancied scoring an even bigger upset against one of the bigger teams that currently populate the left side of the bracket. Despite that, however, he recognises the importance of their task and just wants to go and win the series.
“I don't like hoping to get a good bracket, because it's not going to happen,” he says indignantly. “I think good things always happen if you don't expect good outcomes. I was like ‘ok, I think we will draw SKT and we will have to fight them and lose, or win, and if we win let's go for the tournament.’ WildTurtle drew SKT for us, but because of the rules we are to play H2K. When SKT drew us in the draw ceremony, I was like, I knew it! I knew it was gonna happen! but then I thought, shhh, guys, it's the rules. ANX play vs H2K and I wasn't that excited. I really want to play against a huge team, but now we have to win, we know that we can do it and go to the semis if we show our best play.”
Both teams are clearly prepared for this match, and they better be. The chance to earn a place in Worlds Semifinals doesn’t come often, especially to Wildcard teams. To play in the Chicago Theater, to earn a spot in Madison Square Garden, these are potentially once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for these players. Watching H2K and ANX duke it out in an intense best-of-five series will be a pleasure for League of Legends fans, and you can catch it all live on Sunday, October 16. Cheer on Europe’s final hope as they attempt to take the windy city by storm!