The first steps toward crowning the European League of Legends Championship Series' third seed for the 2017 League of Legends World Championship came to an end early Friday morning when H2K Gaming dealt Splyce a blistering 3-0 series defeat.
Both contenders journeyed to Worlds in 2016 to represent the EU LCS, but key mistakes from both during the playoffs ensured that only one could hope to do so again this year, with the winner set to face Fnatic at the end of the gauntlet. While hopes were high for Splyce heading into the day thanks to its near-victory over G2 Esports during the Summer Split playoffs, it was quickly apparent that H2K was the better team Friday. The Splyce that took to the Rift against H2K was but a pale imitation of the one that so nearly toppled the current kings of Europe, and Splyce paid for its backslide by forfeiting its chance to represent Europe at Worlds.
Still, this victory is far from a ringing endorsement of H2K, which looked positively awful during the playoffs and has much to prove ahead of Worlds. Despite taking the series 3-0, H2K hardly looked convincing, as each game was something of a slog. The team won more by punishing the glaringly obvious mistakes made by Splyce more so than it did by doing anything actually proactive.
H2K caught Jonas "Trashy" Andersen and Martin "Wunder" Hansen out of position over and over again over the course of the series, which left Splyce permanently on the back foot even when it controlled the gold lead. It was a series characterized by sloppy teamfights -- Sin "Nuclear" Jeong-hyeon tanked a depressing number of Thresh hooks from Mihael "Mikyx" Mehle in Game 3 -- and even more sloppy rotations on the part of Splyce, which all but threw the series away with its poorly thought-out maneuvers.
There was, however, a beacon of hope that shone out amidst all the mediocrity. That would be none other than the player of the series, Marcin "Jankos" Jankowski, the jungler for H2K. Long regarded as the legendary "first blood king" who would tilt off the Rift if he ever found himself behind, we saw a totally different side of Jankos against Splyce.
All three games, the drafts favored Splyce in the early game, and that has in the past been a recipe for doom on the side of H2K because of Jankos' impatience and over-aggression. However, Jankos seemed reformed over the course of this series, as he time and again took control of the game with his later game picks by playing out the early game in a patient manner and waiting for Splyce players to fall upon their own swords, something they seemed all too happy to do. While it's definitely too early to ascribe a trait such as "controlled" to the historically anxious Jankos, this new leaf might be just the thing that can get H2K up to the form it will need to take on the big boss at the end of the gauntlet: Fnatic.
The gauntlet was the last chance for Splyce to qualify for Worlds, and this defeat has ensured that it will be watching the year's biggest tournament via Twitch, not via an invite to the venue. The same may yet still be true of H2K, which not only still needs to defeat the Unicorns of Love -- a team they have yet to win a game against in 2017 -- in order to punch their ticket to Worlds, but they must also overcome Fnatic, who are a singularly implacable foe.
With more performances like this one, however, an H2K victory might not be a pipe dream, just an improbability.