Hans Sama: Change & Commitment
It’s funny to think that Hans sama is approaching his seventh year of competitive play.
It seems like only yesterday that he was a bright-eyed 18-year-old, taking SKT T1 to a five-game series at Worlds 2017. Now he’s 22, and for the first time in his career, he won’t be starting for a European roster.
The decision for players to move overseas and compete in a new region is never one taken lightly. Uprooting your life for a shot at victory is a big step to take, but he’s confident that Team Liquid’s 2022 roster is a team worth making the leap for.
“I wanted to help create something new here” he explains, “and I knew that having the opportunity to play with CoreJJ was huge.” His respect for CoreJJ was a large part of what drew him to NA- after all, it’s not every day that you get to share your lane with a world champion.
“I just knew, from previous experience against him at Worlds, that he was really, really good. Liquid at Worlds, and CoreJJ specifically, I always thought they were really good, and everyone around me said the same thing. So I knew I wanted to play with this world-class support and build something big.”
But even without CoreJJ, Hans sama has proven to NA that he’s a force to be reckoned with. He won the LCS Lock In playing with academy support Eyla, who he praises as a player “hungry to prove he’s good at the game.” A good thing Eyla is hungry too, as the OCE up and comer could have his fill of stage time at the start of the spring split. The pairing dropped only a single game while starting for Team Liquid in the Lock In, and Hans sama admits that he’s “tracking the win rate, a little bit” for his time in the LCS.
It’s strange to hear such pride, such self-assurance, coming from a player who’s so notorious for his soft-spoken, unassuming attitude. But Hans sama has a lot to be proud of, even if recent international events have not been kind to him.
"We almost reached it- it felt like we could beat a lot of teams, Chinese and Korean teams included. We were actually beating a lot of them in scrims, which you don’t usually do as a Western team. And we realized that we were a team that could actually go so far, but we just… didn’t.”
~Hans Sama on Rogue
He’s been to three World Championships– once with Misfits, and twice with Rogue. That Misfits run has already become a legend - an unorthodox, upstart team that came inches away from unseating/dethroning the demon king. Rogue, on the other hand, struggled internationally despite boasting very strong performances in their domestic region of the LEC.
Hans sama, in part, attributes that to the simple human fact that sometimes, people do not click. “We just couldn’t connect for some reason, as a team, which was our biggest problem.” The performance and ability were there– he recounts beating multiple Chinese and Korean rosters in scrims during their 2021 Worlds appearance– but communicative breakdowns led to internal rifts, which led to an underwhelming performance.
“I think we were so good, and we had a big potential that we just didn’t reach. We almost reached it- it felt like we could beat a lot of teams, Chinese and Korean teams included. We were actually beating a lot of them in scrims, which you don’t usually do as a Western team. And we realized that we were a team that could actually go so far, but we just… didn’t.”
Disappointment is an inevitable fact of life in competitive League of Legends. No player is infallible, no roster is unbeatable, no region can dominate forever. And when that disappointment comes, a player is faced with two choices. To give in, or to change.
And so, Hans sama chose change.
A clean slate
And now, NA. It’s a big move and one that turned its fair share of heads when Hans sama was announced as Team Liquid’s AD Carry. But he’s confident that he made the right choice, and he’s confident he can bring a little LEC magic to the LCS stage.
He explained that he’s “excited to be able to impact the league with [his] own personal touch, [his] own playstyle”. But that impact won’t come straight away– adaptation to a new league can be difficult, especially when circumstances outside anyone’s control have meant that many teams are running patched-together rosters while they await the arrival of key players from overseas.
“For a few weeks in the Lock-In,” Hans sama explained, “I felt that I got pulled into the NA playstyle a bit, and it left me really confused on how to play the game. So I had to think long and hard about how I wanted to play as an individual, and how I wanted to play with my team. Luckily I’ve come to a solid conclusion on that, but I was for sure a little confused for a while.”
He also talks about a need to “change [his] mental” to fit to North America, even in something as simple as his solo queue games. “It’s hard, in the beginning, to fit into the solo queue and to get what’s going on there” he explains, “and it’s a bit worse than EU solo queue but honestly, EU solo queue wasn’t that good either.”
Even with the confusion of adapting to a new region, he showed an incredible performance in the Lock In, culminating in a clean 3-0 victory over Evil Geniuses in the final. He explained that “I personally felt that if we were going to face EG, I was going to do everything I could to beat them, and beat them hard.”
“I knew how that team wanted to play. I had my old teammate there, and so while I didn’t expect the 3-0, I knew we were going to give them some hard games.”
That old teammate was, of course, Evil Geniuses jungler Inspired, who also made the switch from the LEC to the LCS this year. In the past there’s been a stigma of European players making the switch to North America– that it was mainly reserved for older pros who had achieved all they could in Europe. But more and more, we’re starting to see younger players choose to make the switch too.
Hans sama is 22, Inspired 20. Young enough that they could choose, now, to make a life in NA. To stay here, to put down roots, to grow and adapt and become veterans in a region they once battled against for international success.
The meeting of these two players in the Lock In final was a serendipitous twist of fate, both a nod to the past and a step into the future.
Hans has little nostalgia for the Rogue days. He’s not someone who gets particularly homesick, although he admits there are certain parts of life in Europe that he misses.
“It’s more work-related, but I miss the lifestyle I had in Europe. The lifestyle I had at Rogue was something that I really, really loved, and it very much pushed me forward to become better in my career as a player. And it’s something I’m trying to build at Liquid too- I’m just not used to the environment yet.”
He also misses the European support, although there are still plenty of fans who’ve stuck by him through the move to the LCS. “I miss my fans. It’s hard to stay connected when I’m in a different timezone, but I’m also getting a lot of love from new people in NA which is really nice to see.”
The life of a professional player is a strange one. Often you’ll be faced with a new set of teammates every year, and with synergy being so essential for competitive play, forming positive relationships with those around you is crucial.
“It’s easy to make friends in this environment.” Hans Sama notes, before getting to the hard part. “In any sport, when you join a team it’s easy to make friends, but the challenges come when you start losing.”
“How can you translate the anger at losing to a better connection with your team? It’s normal to feel angry- if you don’t feel angry you don’t improve- but how can you translate that into better practice, better motivation, better connection with the people around you?”
It’s a question that teams have struggled to answer, and one of the reasons it’s so rare that losing rosters stay together in League. But it’s also a question Liquid haven’t had to answer yet, and may not have to answer at all if they can keep their Lock In success streak alive.
This roster looks like they’ve already found their groove, and they’ve settled into a playstyle remarkably quickly for a group of people who have never played together before. Bwipo’s aggressive style in the top lane opens up space for the bottom side of the map, and Bjergsen is just as steadfast of a presence in the mid lane as he’s always been.
We haven’t seen CoreJJ and Hans sama play together yet. Apart, they’re world-class players with a pedigree of international experience. But League of Legends isn’t quite as simple as success + success = more success. There are a million intangible things that go into creating synergy in all of its undefinable glory. That lack of a ‘click’ between players that cost Rogue so much international success could follow Hans sama to Team Liquid. There is no way of knowing until this bot lane steps out on stage together, alongside the full roster, for the first time. A moment itself that cannot be entirely, 100% guaranteed.
Tribulations will inevitably come. No team is infallible, even one with an 11-2 record. Although the Lock-In victory is a strong start for this Liquid roster, they want more than LCS trophies. This is a team built for victory, not just in NA, but internationally. And with the global pandemic still raging, and CoreJJ waiting for the hammer to fall on residency status, that international success still remains somewhat out of their hands.
But what they can control, they will. Hans sama and Bwipo did not travel thousands of miles, leaving behind lives, families, and friends, to lose. Bjergsen did not come out of retirement after a historic career, to lose. CoreJJ and Santorin have not built lives in NA, worked long and hard to finally be considered North American residents, to lose. There is more riding on this team than simply fan expectations.
Their Lock-In victory was the first taste of the incredible drive that binds these players together, and the Spring split could be the real proof that this team is the “something special” Hans sama came to NA to build.
Hans sama no longer wants to be the player who ‘almost made it’ so many times on the international stage. He’s gunning for his spot amongst the best in the world, and he’s doing it with Team Liquid.