Perhaps it was the one-hour marathon game against tough Taiwanese opposition, or the flashbacks to their previous World Championship semi-final loss vs Samsung Galaxy, but H2K-Gaming’s exit from IEM Katowice certainly put an emotional strain on the European squad. After waiting on the sidelines for over six hours, H2K squandered their best chance to reach the finals of an international competition, clutching defeat from the jaws of victory in their draining series vs Flash Wolves.
The Intel Extreme Masters Katowice was a stressful experience from start to finish, particularly for H2K-Gaming. The European squad were ranked amongst the favourites to claim glory in Poland and after battling their way out of the group stages, the opportunity presented itself to Marcin “Jankos” Jankowski to secure victory in front of his home crowd.
The European squad’s progress through the competition certainly wasn’t the smooth tournament run the roster would have been hoping for. Despite some positive individual displays in the group stages, H2K fell short of the standard set by Korea’s ROX Tigers, forced to play an additional decider match to reach the semi-finals.
H2K were certainly made to work hard for their victory over Hong Kong eSports, dropping the opening game of the series after resiliently defending their base to stretch the game up to the hour mark. IEM Katowice signalled the return to form of former Fnatic Mid laner, Fabian “Febiven” Diepstraten, whose consistent performances on control mages throughout the competition allowed the team to stall out matches:
— Intel®ExtremeMasters (@IEM) 25 February 2017
The warning signs were there for H2K, who after establishing a 4,000-gold lead by 20 minutes, lost control of the game and slowly bled out as Hong Kong eSports secured two Barons and an Elder Dragon to secure the opening match after a 56 minute ordeal.
Fortunately, H2K bounced back to wrap up the next two games in a more painless fashion. In both games, H2K secured significant leads and managed to hold on to those leads for the entire game. The victory set up a showdown with the previously unbeaten Flash Wolves, a precious victory for H2K would set up an all-European final with rivals G2 eSports.
Heading into their semi-final clash, Flash Wolves had previously dispatched the other two European teams earlier in the tournament (Unicorns Of Love and G2 eSports), yet at the series mid point, H2K-Gaming looked to have the beating of their Taiwanese opponents. H2K crept towards victory in Game 1, but ultimately struggled to clinch victory as Flash Wolves valiantly defended their Nexus. After inflicting death by a a thousand cuts, H2K finally secured the first game of the series after a gruelling 64 minutes.
With the League of Legends tournament running well behind schedule, both H2K and the passionate European crowd were keen to get the semi-finals series wrapped up and introduce the IEM finalists. H2K flew out of the blocks, building up a seemingly insurmountable lead, securing every neutral objective on the map. With the final within reach, H2K’s standard of play deteriorated. Following a unnecessary yet disastrous team-fight around the 44-minute mark, Flash Wolves charged down the map to force H2K into a decisive series finale.
H2K looked dazed in Game 3, slow to react to Flash Wolves proactive plays across the map. After FW Jungler Hung “Karsa” Hau-Hsuan had left his mark on the rift, the Taiwanese top seed secured a baron on the sly to smother any hopes of a a European revival.
— Intel®ExtremeMasters (@IEM) 26 February 2017
As Jankos left the stage in tears, H2K seem destined not to reach a tournament final, having now fallen at the final hurdle in each of their past three competitions: EU LCS 2016 Summer Playoffs, the 2016 World Championship and now, IEM Katowice. Though Flash Wolves proved to be the eventual victors of the event, after enduring the longest series in the entire tournament, it will serve as little comfort to the emotionally and physically exhausted H2K-Gaming roster.