This weekend, Huni showed why he’s the best top laner in North America by dipping into his ridiculous champion pool and carrying two games with rarely picked champions.
On Sunday, his Ekko decimated Malphite and brought back a game his bottom lane was seemingly trying to throw, closing out the match and Immortals’ 17-1 season with a pentakill. For Huni, though, the Saturday performance against Team SoloMid with Yasuo was more meaningful. He posted a 7/1/10 KDA and made plays that showed why the champion has always been feared in the hands of the world’s most talented solo laners.
“I was kind of nervous to play Yasuo, because my last time Yasuo playing was not really good,” he tells me on Saturday, after crushing Team SoloMid with the swordmaster.
“I think we are just playing too good.”
Yasuo is a champion that usually looks silly—silly good or a silly pick—and in his first game with him, Huni looked like he was swinging a balloon sword. In a loss to Cloud9 at the World Championship last year, Huni went 5/4/9 KDA with Yasuo while watching his lane foe dominate the match with a 9/4/2 Darius.
“Yeah, it was against Balls!” he says, laughing. “That time was pretty sad, so actually, I didn’t, until now, like to play Yasuo.”
With the recent changes to masteries and the new Warlords, though, he started playing the champion again, and it’s proven to be a powerful pick in the right situation. Against Graves on Saturday, for example, the lane matchup wasn’t bad, and Yasuo outscaled the shotgunner “so hard,” Huni says.
“For now I have so much confidence to play Yasuo again,” he says.
That pick—and the Ekko top lane on Sunday—were part of a little showcase of new champions for Immortals this weekend. Support player Adrian Ma picked Karma for the first time this season in both games, another rarely played support to add to a toolbox including Janna and Soraka, who were banned out by TSM on Sunday. Jungler Kim “Reignover” Yeu-jin pulled out Sejuani and Jason “WildTurtle” Tran showed off Jhin, all champions the team had yet to pick this season.
Expanding the arsenal
One of the big criticisms levied against Immortals this season—if you truly can criticize a 17-1 team—is that they’ve only needed to play a small pool of champions and play styles to win 17 games. If they can really only play a small set of champions and styles, that doesn’t bode well for them on the international stage against opponents who might be smarter at exploiting that small pool.
“We would have won IEM.”
Of course, you can also interpret it to mean Immortals are simply too good. They didn’t show off a bigger champion pool and variety of play styles because they didn’t need to and no one forced them to, except perhaps on Sunday with Team Impulse’s support bans.
The incredibly confident Huni naturally believes it’s the second option.
This weekend, the team wasn’t trying to make a statement about their champions pools, show off new strategies, or throw teams off the scent of potential picks in the upcoming playoffs, he says. They simply drafted those champions because they believe they were the “one of the best picks” in that situation.
“And we practice so much those champions,” he says. “Those champions is not really new to us. It’s normal for us. We have been playing those champion more than one month at least.”
Some commentators wondered if this was a test of Immortals’ preparation heading into playoffs, but the team seems to feel like it just happened to be the right time to pull out something they’ve already honed. For a team as experienced as Immortals, they don’t need to test something new on stage to know it will be effective. And it’s not the only thing they haven’t had to show on stage that they’ve been regularly preparing in practice sessions.
“I think that’s why they said, what they feel, is really new but they’re playing really well, this is their secret card, new champion,” Huni says. “I think it’s not like that. We still have so much champion for new.”
The playoffs, when Immortals plays their first best-of-five series as a team, will likely be when we see more of the Immortals tool box. That is, if their competition can pull it out of them.
“I’m not scary at all,” Huni said. “I’m just exciting to play. I will just win the Spring split.”
Other teams will likely disagree with Huni’s first statement (the Korean, who has picked up English well thanks to his indomitable nature to tackle challenges head-on, meant “scared,” of course). Still, towards the end of the season, Immortals looks more mortal than ever, seemingly slumping near the end of the season. Huni believes the team fell prey to “overconfidence” and got a little too reckless in their play. But they’ve since calmed down and will be ready to play controlled in playoffs—plus, he says, no one is playing well enough to challenge them.
“[CLG and Cloud9 are] playing well, compared to the other picks,” he says. “But I think we are just playing too good.”
That mimics what the rest of the team says about playoffs, so perhaps a touch of overconfidence still affects them. But it’s a statement borne from results on the field, and the team seems razor-focused on continuing that level of play to accomplish their real goal. They’re not impressed by their regular season record. While most teams in the LCS this year talk about winning the split as their target, Immortals only wants the win to earn a spot at the next international event: the Midseason Invitational in Shanghai in May.
The California life
The Korean teen Huni, who turned 18 in December, is no stranger to trotting the globe. He has now spent the past year and a half living overseas. After a year in Europe, he now has a full season in North America under his belt, and he’s taken to his new California life.
“I’m pretty sure NA life is like, nicer than EU,” he said.
He enjoys all the food options in Los Angeles, where he can get anything from Korean to Italian and everything in between. Plus, the weather is alway sunny, like his effusive personality. In Europe, it rained “like five days every week,” he says.
They’ve oozed chemistry from day one.
The team is making sure to enjoy their time here, playing plenty of League of Legends but making sure to at least spend some time out in the sun. They’ve done a couple escape rooms together, like some of the other LCS teams. Two weeks ago, they trekked to Santa Monica pier, a boardwalk extending into the ocean with its own mini amusement park.
He also picked up another very California habit.
“Then we just go shopping every week,” Huni says, saying they like to buy clothes and sometimes shoes. When I ask him what the funniest purchase a teammate’s made, he pauses, then laughs.
“Adrian is just buying super expensive things,” he says, though he admits he didn’t actually see Adrian make the purchases. “It can be clothes, it can be belts, it can be pants.”
There’s an influx of cash flowing into North American esports, and the best players in League of Legends are benefitting. Adrian famously told me earlier this year that his signing bonus was more than his entire salary last year.
There are risks involved, of course. Challenger side Ember recently dropped almost its entire roster after failing to qualify for the LCS. Many criticized the organization for overpaying its players (salaries ranged from $57,500 to $65,000, with signing bonuses jumping the total over $90,000), and Its investors reportedly grew skittish after seeing that relatively expensive roster fail to see results.
But if there are any LCS players that deserve to be profligate spenders, it’s surely Adrian and his teammates. While some new organizations may appear to be throwing money around carelessly, Immortals has spent masterfully. The team has stormed out to one of the most impressive seasons ever in the NA LCS.
When I later ask WildTurtle about that shopping habit, though, he seemed puzzled. “I honestly don’t think any of us go shopping a lot,” he said, scratching his head. “We mostly just stay home and eat food.”
The international stage
Two weeks ago, Counter Logic Gaming and TSM represented North America at IEM Katowice. Their play was disappointing, something that’s become a bit of a tradition for Americans at international tournaments. Immortals wants to change that.
So when Adrian Ma said Immortals “would have made NA look like a strong region” if they had attended the event, the community scoffed, marking it as American hubris. But Huni agrees with his teammate.
“Yeah, I’m definitely sure,” he said, when I asked him if he agreed with his support. “If we just go, I think if we went IEM, like, without LCK team, just SKT, we would have won IEM.”
I asked, to make sure: “You would have beat SKT?”
“Yeah. We would have won IEM.”
He balks at criticism that Immortals will somehow get “figured out” on the international stage, or that they don’t play enough styles to be effective there. He should know, considering he and jungler Reignover reached the semifinals at the World Championship last year as players on Fnatic.
If Fnatic can get that far, there’s no reason Immortals can’t, though Huni is hesitant to compare the two lineups—”just wait for the World Championship,” he says, cognizant that Fnatic’s result was special and will be difficult to replicate. But he certainly believes Immortals has the tools to do it.
The team’s international experience will be key, Huni believes. Both he and Reignover will now have that Worlds experience under their belts. Now they know how to deal with the month-long grind, preparing for multiple matches every week. The rest of his team, excluding Adrian, has also experienced that grand stage. Eugene “Pobelter” Park and Jason “WildTurtle” Tran were both at Worlds last year as members of Counter Logic Gaming and Team SoloMid respectively.
If Fnatic can get that far, there’s no reason Immortals can’t.
“We have so much experience of World Stage,” Huni said. “I think we are going to be at least stronger than other teams because we have so much experience at international tournaments.”
Of course, that didn’t help the current TSM lineup, which features an all-star roster that for some reason can’t figure out how to come together. But Immortals is different. They’ve oozed chemistry from day one, a fun-loving team that seems to just click on and off the Summoner’s Rift.
Photo via Riot Games/Flickr (All rights reserved, used with permission)