29 days. 6 best-of-five matches. 27 games, culminating in a reverse sweep of TSM in the 2019 LCS Regional Final. Clutch Gaming has escaped the gauntlet, triumphing over FlyQuest, Counter Logic Gaming, and TSM to qualify for the 2019 League of Legends World Championship as North America's 3rd seed. Clutch Gaming will represent the LCS at Worlds with Team Liquid and Cloud9, the 1st and 2nd seeds, respectively. It is the Dignitas organization's first LoL World Championship since 2012.
After Clutch Gaming's dramatic finale, Top Laner Heo "Huni" Seung-hoon sat down with Inven Global's Nick Geracie to recap the series, reflect upon his career, and look ahead towards the 2019 World Championship.
Congratulations, Huni — Clutch Gaming is going to Worlds. What's on your mind right now?
I was just watching the LCS post-game stream before this interview, and there was a list of the teams who had qualified for Worlds. I was really proud to see the CG logo amongst the others. I'm sure it looked super random there, because no one was expecting Clutch Gaming to qualify for Worlds, but we actually made it. It's pretty crazy; I'm the first player to qualify for a World Championship in three different regions.
Clutch Gaming completes the trifecta you started with Fnatic in 2015 and SK Telecom T1 in 2017, despite actually spending the majority of your career in North America. Clutch Gaming had lesser expectations to qualify for Worlds than Immortals in 2016 or Echo Fox in 2018. What's different about Clutch Gaming when compared to your two previous North American squads?
That's really true, and part of the lowered expectations was that in the 2019 LCS Spring Split, I was not performing to the level that I am right now. It was a pretty big deal that I was able to step up a lot for the team this summer. I had to take a lot of responsibility on behalf of my team to play well; better than every other Top Laner to win the game. That was the most important factor, and it was a lot of pressure, but it really motivated me.
Another thing that motivated me is that I've qualified for Worlds once every two years, so I tried to think about it in that way — 2015; 2017; 2019. I had to keep the pattern I was creating, so I told myself that even if I didn't make Worlds in 2020, I could do it in the present. I believed in myself, my teammates, and our coaches.
That was a really good series, but it was really ******* tough. That series was one of the toughest matches, it was crazy. It was also the first reverse sweep win of my career, and that feels pretty great. After game 1 and game 2, we really weren't down. We weren't tilted and we were in a pretty good mood, and I think that was because we believe in each other, trust each other, and play for the team. That's how we win.
It's a sign of good team atmosphere when the players haven't lost morale after going down 0-2 in a best-of-five series, and it seems that environment has allowed you to play to your full potential this summer. Would you say this is the best you've played since returning to North America at the start of 2018?
Yeah, I guess since then specifically, because I did a really good job on Immortals in 2016, too. *laughs* Also, on Echo Fox, I played well, and the team was top 3 in spring and also seeded into the gauntlet for the 2018 LCS Regional Final. I did a lot, but since this is my first time qualifying for Worlds from NA, I guess I can't disagree that this is the best I've played in the past two years.
I'm pretty satisfied with how I've been performing for the past two and a half months, and I can easily see that any Top Laner I play against on stage is really scared. It's a really great feeling.
Throughout your career, you've had several triumphant wins, as well as heartbreaking losses, but I've never seen you as emotionally invested in competing than when you lost to Team Liquid in the Semifinals last month. Is this Worlds qualification with this team special to you?
After losing to Team Liquid, things were honestly really tough. It was extremely tough to mentally reset and focus ahead on the gauntlet. That loss mattered a lot to us. No one expected us to do well because it was Team Liquid, but we were confident because of the way practice was going behind the scenes, so it hurt.
It was up to us to turn our wounds into scars. We had to be better, or we were going to be done. We chose to make improvements, and our motivation was to show that we could be better the next time we played. The whole thing has been pretty insane.
After the Liquid series, everyone was chanting my name, and that made me become a bit more emotional. I think that when we played Counter Logic Gaming for 3rd Place in Detroit, our mentality had not yet fully recovered from the TL series. I think we got reverse swept because our mentality sucked at the time, but from there, we talked through it and decided we would rather have that loss happen then than in the Regional Final. The gauntlet could be your last games of the year.
You guys got it done when it mattered, and that mentality is a huge part of why you prevailed. What are your thoughts ahead of the 2019 World Championship?
I'm not going to lie, this Worlds is definitely going to be tough. It's going to be way, way harder than when I was on Fnatic, but I think we proved in our match against Team Liquid that we're not just a Group Stage team at Worlds. I'd like to get out of groups and be at the Quarterfinals; that's my primary goal. Whoever our opponents are, I just want to win and play for ourselves.
Individually, I would like to prove that I'm still a player who's 'worth it'. I've been playing for five or six years, and people think I peaked on SKT or Fnatic, but I've proven that I can still perform really well. Our team is not as strong as 2015 Fnatic or 2017 SKT, but we still made it, and no one knows what we're capable of until we've gotten the chance to play at Worlds.
No one expects us to do well at Worlds, but no one expected us to qualify, either. That's the greatest part of not getting support — we have no pressure on us. If we lose, who cares? It was only expected. But if we win, it's almost like we're winning double.
You can play more freely when you have nothing to lose, and that's how an aggressive team like Clutch Gaming plays best. You've previously had great performances at the World Championship, and this time, you'll meet your two previous teams on the global stage. Is it special for you to be have the chance to play against Fnatic and SKT at Worlds this year?
Honestly, it's going to be pretty tough, I'm not going to lie! Fnatic and SKT are good teams; I don't expect us to sweep SKT or kick Fnatic out of their home region. I know that's not how it's going to happen, but still, it's going to be fun.
I honestly feel like whichever team is having more fun is often the team that wins. This was our mantra to ourselves for the series today: "Just have fun, dude. Today's game could have been the last of your 2019, or even your career. So prove to yourselves that you're worth it as team, and just play." I think it's going to be the same thing at Worlds. We have to go there and prove that we are a good team, and a lot better than people expect.
Congratulations again, Huni, and thank you for the interview. Is there anything you want to say to your fans, the Clutch Gaming fans, and the Dignitas fans?
With this series, we might have proved that we're the second best team in LCS. Both Cloud9's series and our series against Team Liquid were really, really close best-of-fives.
We also played a full bo5 against CLG in the 3rd Place Match, and our series against TSM today was five games. Honestly, the level of all of these teams is so close that TSM could have been the first place team this summer. NA is actually getting a lot stronger. Team Liquid learned a lot of lessons on how to play as a team at the 2019 Mid-Season Invitational, and we followed those lessons.
I think you guys can expect that we are going to play well on the international stage. I want to prove that just maybe, Clutch Gaming is the best team in North America. Maybe we go further than both Team Liquid and Cloud9. The 3rd Seed for NA at Worlds — that's a good seed. It's a lucky charm, as C9 has proven in the past, and we want to keep that trend going.