Losing H2K

When it comes to the European League of Legends, few teams were as controversial as H2K, but they definitely added a unique flair to the EU LCS.

Image Credit: Riot Games

I never liked H2K. When they first made it to the 2015 EU LCS Spring Split with the lineup of Odoamne, Loulex, Ryu, Hjarnan, and Voidle, they seemed like a perfect example of a middle-of-the-pack team that could overpower the likes of Giant Gaming and MeetYourMakers but struggled to take games off everyone else. It wasn’t until they replaced Voidle with KaSing right in the middle of the split that H2K showed they weren’t content with being at the bottom of the EU LCS food chain.

Still, the first impression was already made, and I was certain this team wasn’t going to make it far. H2K disagreed. 

KaSing’s presence revitalized their lineup, and they went on a massive 8-game winning streak to climb to the top of the EU LCS ladder. They finished the regular season in third place with a 12-6 record, which was quite the feat for a squad that came straight out of the Challenger Series. 

At first, it looked like H2K would maintain this momentum in the playoffs. They showed a lot of promise in their 3-0 victory over Copenhagen Wolves, but a narrow loss in the semifinals against Fnatic knocked them down to the third-place match. There, they redeemed themselves by winning a close series against SK Gaming, but I couldn’t help feeling skeptical about their success.

And for good reason.

In the end, this lineup never managed to punch above its weight. H2K’s 2015 Summer Split mirrored their spring run, so even though they were a cut above most EU LCS teams, they lacked the finesse and the firepower to break into the top-2. And while they did make it to the 2015 World Championship, the only thing they had to show for it was two group stage wins against Bangkok Titans. 

For most teams, this run would be enough to leave them satisfied. But H2K wanted more. They started the off-season by waging a bidding war on TSM for Svenskeren—a war that not only resulted in a loss, but also made H2K look like villains because of their overly confrontational tactics. This outcome didn’t seem to set H2K too far back, though, as they regained their composure and entered the 2016 EU LCS Spring Split with the lineup of Odoamne, Jankos, Ryu, Forg1ven, and Vander. 

From their first games, it was clear they struck gold. 

All parts of this roster complemented each other. A low-econ top laner freed up the resources for his carries, a proactive jungler provided some much-needed pressure in the early game, a versatile mid laner acted as a solid threat in teamfights and skirmishes, and an explosive bot lane overwhelmed the opposition with a combination of lane dominance and mechanical prowess. Everything just… made sense. And even seasoned LCS orgs would struggle to put together a more cohesive roster.

The results weren't far off. This version of H2K breezed through the EU LCS to secure a second-place finish in the regular season, outpacing powerhouses like Origen and Fnatic. They looked set to make finals. Yet, what seemed like a well-oiled machine in-game proved completely dysfunctional outside of it. Personality conflicts ran rampant within the team, and even though H2K held it together in Bo1s, their lack of mental fortitude was fully exposed in the Bo5 playoffs format. Two back-to-back losses to Origen and Fnatic was all it took to put a stop to their hype train. 

Just like that, H2K’s strongest roster brought them their worst result to date. 

Again, many would’ve tried to brush this off. Winning the spring split is rarely—if ever—a priority for LCS teams, and a volatile lineup could very well regain its footing in summer. But H2K weren’t the ones to leave things up to chance. 

Next split, they removed the most contentious personality—Forg1ven—and replaced him with Freeze. This move seemed to work wonders at first, and H2K took on the 2016 Summer Split with renewed vigor. Unfortunately, everything came crashing down when Freeze suffered a hand injury, so H2K had to swallow their pride and go back to Forg1ven to ask him to sub in for the rest of the summer split. He agreed.

In a movie, this would be the part where H2K finally overcome their differences and make the push for the trophy. Real life wasn’t as kind. The playoffs told an all-too-familiar story of H2K handily defeating their quarterfinals opponents only to fall short in a close 5-game semifinal. And even though they bounced back in the third-place match against Unicorns of Love, the EU LCS title would once again be out of their reach.

It seemed H2K were destined to tread the line that separated good teams from the great ones without ever moving past it. But everything changed at the 2016 World Championship. Not only did H2K take first in their group by displaying some of the strongest early games at the tournament and out-muscling the juggernauts that were EDG, but they also became one of the few Western teams that made it to the Worlds semifinals. 

While it was easy to put an asterisk next to their top-4 finish because they faced a wildcard team in the quarterfinals, even a diehard skeptic like me had to admit that H2K did Europe proud.

Of course, ridiculous highs are often followed by staggering lows. The 2017 season saw H2K moving away from their iconic lineup, struggling to gain ground in the playoffs, and even clashing with Riot Games by releasing an open letter about the need for franchising and poor financial state of the EU LCS. And it’s this clash that ultimately led to their downfall. 

In 2018, H2K choose to put their money where their mouth is and downscale their team right as Riot announced their plans to franchise the league—an exact wrong move at the exact wrong time. What followed was one of the stiffest falls from grace in the League of Legends history, and an org that started its EU LCS journey with a bang ended the 2018 Summer Split with a 2-16 record. H2K’s desperate attempts to reframe the situation on Twitter did them no favors either. To add insult to injury, H2K weren’t accepted into the franchising ecosystem they so desperately fought for, and this 2-16 run would be the last thing fans remembered.

In the end, it’s hard not to feel conflicted about H2K. Here was a team that spent most of its time striving for greatness. A team that wasn’t afraid to make tough calls, look for ambitious roster upgrades, and confront other orgs or even Riot Games if it meant getting one step closer to its goal. Yet, the second issues arose, H2K were instantly shown the door. 

In a way, the fact that they were gone shouldn’t have affected me. After all, I never liked H2K. 

But damn did I respect them.

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Daniil Volkov

I craft League of Legends narratives and cover LCK, NA & EU LCS.