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With Worlds 2021 on the horizon, the fourth seed from League of Legends Champions Korea Hanwha Life Esports are one of 22 teams from across the globe gearing up for their biggest and most important event of the year. The 2021 League of Legends World Championship will feature each region’s best players, all fighting for the same goal: to stand atop the mountain and hoist the Season 11 Summoner’s Cup.

While not the strongest of the LCK’s four seeds, Hanwha Life packs a punch with veterans in carry roles and a new found lease on life thanks to the LCK Regional Gauntlet. The team heads to Reykjavík, Iceland bound for the play-in stage, in hopes of making it out and exposing the world, yet again, to the church of their mid lane deity.

Hanwha Life Esports (LCK) Worlds 2021 starting roster breakdown

  • Top: Park “Morgan” Gi-tae | Signed in November, 2020. Formerly a member of Team WE
  • Jungle: Kim “Willer” Jeong-hyeon | Promoted from Hanwha Life Esports Challengers in July, 2020
  • Mid: Jeong “Chovy” Ji-hoon | Signed November, 2020. Formerly a member of DRX
  • Bot: Kim “Deft” Hyuk-kyu | Signed November, 2020. Formerly a member of DRX
  • Support: Oh “Vsta” Hyo-seong | Promoted from Hanwha Life Academy in December, 2019
  • Coach: Son “Kezman” Dae-young | Signed November, 2019. Formerly a member of Rogue Warriors

How they got here

Hanwha Life Esports started the 2021 season hot in the LCK spring split. With the bones of DRX’s Worlds roster and a few younger players, they looked decent right off the bat and became one of the top four teams in South Korea. This was in pretty sharp contrast to the history of results the life insurance company had seen since joining the South Korean league in 2018.

Before 2021, Hanwha’s highest placement in the regular season was sixth, achieved in their inaugural split in 2018 summer and then again in 2019 spring. From there, the organization placed ninth twice and eighth once.

With Deft and Chovy at the core of the team, supported by Vsta as their main engage player, Hanwha Life bucked their trend of mediocrity and finished third in the regular season of the spring split. HLE then finished third in the playoffs as well, being handily removed from Mid-Season Invitational contention in a 3-0 sweep at the hands of DWG KIA.

Coming into the summer, many had high hopes for the roster that had shown solid potential in the spring, especially with more international spots available for Worlds. But, like many of the top LCK squads in the spring, HLE lost a step in the meta and with their form.

Nearing in on Week 6 of the summer season, most analysts had sold their stock in the team. LCK Caster Max “Atlus” Anderson was still a believer.

“At the time, Hanwha Life Esports were trash,” Atlus said. “They looked just as trash as they did in the entirety of the regular season, but I just had a feeling. I had this idea that maybe, with the fact that they have good players, they should be able to pull their s**t together.”

While Atlus’ prediction of Hanwha Life Esports making the LCK playoffs did not come to fruition (they placed eight in the regular season), the team did manage to pull their proverbial “s**t” together in time for Worlds 2021 qualification.

Thanks to the 50 championship points they had earned from their third place finish in the spring, HLE found themselves holding a spot in the regional gauntlet.

After sweeping Liiv SANDBOX 3-0 and cruising past NongShim REDFORCE 3-1 in the gauntlet, Hanwha Life found themselves across legendary South Korean squad T1 with a shot at the main event. They gave Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok’s team a hard series but ultimately fell 3-2 to drop into the play-in stage at Worlds 2021. T1 qualified directly through to the group stage.

According to Atlus, the gauntlet run showed the best and worst of this iteration of Hanwha Life Esports.

“I think it does kind of epitomize who Hanwha are because they can beat anyone on any given day,” Atlus said. “But they also generally lose and momentum doesn’t seem to be a thing,”

Players to watch

Fans of global League of Legends and the LCK in general know that Chovy is the player to watch from Hanwha. The player is popular enough to have a fan-made “church” dedicated to his prowess in the mid lane and he has continued building on that mythos into 2021. Even though Hanwha Life Esports are likely the worst team that he has qualified to Worlds within his three appearances so far, Chovy is still putting up great numbers and drawing the attention of mid laners everywhere.

According to Oracle’s Elixir, Chovy was first among all LCK mid laners in gold, creep score and experience differential at 10 minutes by a wide margin. He also played over 20 different champions over the summer, ranging all the way from tanks to assassins. Even in matchups that he should probably lose, like picking Sett into a ranged champion, Chovy normally comes out with a lead.

His status as one of the best laners in the world will put a target on his back in the play-in stage. Mid laners in his group will likely look to target him specifically for a chance to test their skills and possibly even make a name for themselves on the international stage.

“If you’re competitive, this is the tippy top of laning, just in general, when it comes to competitive League of Legends,” Atlus said. “I don’t think Chovy’s matched by many players.”

Outside of Chovy, the other obvious answer is Hanwha Life’s famous bot laner Deft and his younger support Vsta. Deft is going to Worlds for the sixth time in his career and has been known to ramp up his play when it comes to the international stage.

“Even though Deft might never return to peak 2015 EDG Deft, what we’ve seen from him, especially in this gauntlet, is that he can still pop off very, very hard at times,” LCK Caster Maurits “Chronicler” Jan Meeusen said, referencing Deft’s breakout performance with perennial Chinese contenders Edward Gaming.

And as for Vsta, the Hanwha Life product has been under the tutelage of Deft for the past year and has shown that he can keep up with the best in the LCK on certain champions. While not possessing a champion ocean like some supports at the tournament, he is competent in lane and can find great engages when needed for his team.

“I think that Vsta has been a bit of a shining light for Hanwha Life,” Atlus said.

How Hanwha Life can succeed at Worlds 2021

The biggest thing Hanwha Life Esports need to succeed at Worlds 2021 is a good read on the meta and for that meta to work in their favor. While HLE’s raw skill will make them a favorite to qualify out of the play-in stage and appear in the main event anyway, if the Worlds meta shifts toward a carry top or jungle-centered affair, the South Korean four seed may be out of luck.

While Chovy, Deft and Vsta have shown spurts of greatness this year, top laner Morgan and jungler Willer have not. The two were also not the de facto starters at the beginning of the season. While neither of the two players have been consistently detrimental to their team’s success, Hanwha Life will have a hard time going far at Worlds 2021 if they have to primarily rely on them to win games.

But what we’ve seen in the current meta is that it is shifting more towards assassins in the jungle and mid lane. This could make for some interesting drafts and champion picks for Chovy, specifically.

“I wouldn’t be against a Zed or Talon type of situation,” Atlus said. “It could be a whole lot of fun.”

Outside of individuals landing on good picks and keeping their gauntlet form, Hanwha’s drafting will also need to be on point for them to advance past or meet their expectations. During the summer, they had a few questionable drafts — like picking Ornn in the mid lane — that had narrow win conditions or little flexibility in execution.

“I think that there were definitely some times where we’re like, ‘Kezman, what the heck,’” Atlus said, referring to HLE’s head coach. “But moving towards Worlds, I’m hoping that they can continue to adapt to the meta as quickly as they did in the last patch that we saw them on.”

If the stars align for Hanwha Life Esports, fans may see Chovy complete his destiny and ascend to true League of Legends god status at Worlds 2021.

This article is part of an ongoing preview series of all 22 teams competing at Worlds 2021. For our complete release schedule and more information on the other 21 teams attending Worlds, check out Upcomer’s Worlds 2021 Outlook Series hub.

Declan is an esports journalist and part-time editor for Upcomer. He is an avid gamer and League of Legends player. You can find him at the bottom of the leaderboard in most games or on Twitter.
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