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Into the Rabbit Hole: MSF PowerOfEvil

PowerOfEvil is enjoying the most successful year of his career because he’s been able to continually grow as a person and player. What stands in front of him now is three time World Champion SK telecom T1.

You don’t need to bring an army to hunt a rabbit – this is an old saying I have heard. It is the kind of line a war general proclaims loudly before marching into a forest on his trusty steed. It is what you might call a death flag. Underestimating an opponent can prove deadly. And what awaits SK telecom T1 in Guangzhou is a rabbit.

Misfits Gaming unraveled the so-called “group of life” at the 2017 World Championship by playing the reaper. Look back at the Group Draw and you will find cries of elation from fans of the Flash Wolves, Team WE, and TSM – everyone who was placed into this group felt like they had a good shot at not just advancing, but advancing as the top seed. Misfits were seen as the one easy win in the group, as they were a rookie team akin to Splyce from last year. They had promise but just weren’t ready for the big stage. Or so people thought.

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“At the start, everyone counted us out. Said we’d get fourth. Had no shot,” said Tristan “PowerOfEvil” Schrage. The MSF mid laner was ecstatic after they managed to knock out TSM in the tiebreaker to advance to the Quarterfinals. In doing so, he managed to either match or outplay Bjergsen and Maple – two of the most respected mid laners in the world.

PowerOfEvil thinks MSF has already proven that they belong at Worlds and the Quarterfinals, but the underdog moniker isn’t something he minds. “As an underdog, you are expected to lose. You can only upset people,” he said. But, he added, “I hope EU doesn’t count us out anymore. I think we already made them proud, but hopefully we make Semis as well.”

However, expectations for how Misfits will do in the Worlds Quarterfinals might be even lower than they were going into the Group Stage. It’s not that they had a poor showing, either. Misfits had one of the most exciting styles to watch in the Group Stage – they were proactive around the map and even showed off-meta picks like Yasuo (it didn’t work) and Thresh (it worked). In fact, they’re the only team that managed to win a game without Ardent Censer.

“I hope EU doesn’t count us out anymore. I think we already made them proud, but hopefully we make Semis as well.”

Tristan “PowerOfEvil” Schrage

And for western fans who didn’t know them before, they certainly do now thanks to taking down fan favorite TSM in a tiebreaker. However, they could have 6-0ed their group and still entered this Quarterfinal as a massive underdog. Misfits’ underdog status has nothing to do with play or reputation. Short of building a time machine to rewrite history, there was nothing they could have done to level expectations for Quarters. This is all because their task now is something no team has ever managed to accomplish at the World Championship: topple Faker and SK telecom T1.

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“For me personally, facing SKT and Faker is a dream itself,” said PowerOfEvil. He is about to live out a dream shared by some millions of players worldwide.

I know I’ve had the dream, too – one where I am at the center of the stage as thousands of fans roar for me. I imagine the perfect play -- a close 1v1 or a pentakill. Maybe it’s barely getting the last hit on the Nexus. Maybe it’s the cap of a reverse sweep. Each time I imagine an enemy – someone grandiose. Someone godly. And there is nobody who can play the antagonist quite like Faker.

“I’m trying to visualize every day how it would feel to win against SKT and how it would feel to beat Faker,” said PowerOfEvil. “I feel happy the whole day [because] I visualize it so often.” This is the type of moment every player plays for – there is nothing quite as exhilarating as being tested. And nothing as satisfying as then prevailing in those tests.

How that happens doesn’t matter to PowerOfEvil. He said he’d be happy to die 10 times in a row to Faker if it meant his team would win. These days, he’s is willing to sacrifice everything for his team. “There’s this EU pride [amongst mid laners] – everyone wants to clap Faker,” he laughed. “[But] I just want to win.

“The chance to put an end to the SKT era and make a name for myself – to take on the best and most famous player of all time – if I can somehow make it happen and win the series… it’s going to be history.”

Tristan “PowerOfEvil” Schrage

“The chance to put an end to the SKT era and make a name for myself – to take on the best and most famous player of all time – if I can somehow make it happen and win the series… it’s going to be history.”

Take away the name plates, though, and the argument for an upset becomes a lot more compelling. Of the four #1 seeds coming out of Group Stage, SK telecom T1 had the messiest victories. Their play in the early game was particularly bad, not just among the #1 seeds, but among the entire field of competitors. Misfits, on the other hand, showed a willingness to make risky plays. Enough early gambits could really swing the tide in their favor if SKT is unable to adapt from their Group Stage performances.

That’s a big “if,” though. SKT’s dynasty has only been possible because they’ve adapted better than every challenger. One of the most amazing things about the mythos SKT has built over the years is that no matter how much they’re down, they can still bounce back. We saw this repeatedly in the Group Stage – in four games they found themselves down some 5k gold (even 10k once), and three of those times they snapped back to win.

It is, perhaps, not the most reliable strategy. At least not for anyone else. But SKT has made a living off of it. SKT is a testament to every person who has ever tried to calm their team’s early game woes by saying, “Just farm. We scale better.” This bending, though, is a sign of hope for PowerOfEvil.

“It feels like SKT and Faker can bleed this year.”

TRISTAN “POWEROFEVIL” SCHRAGE

“It feels like SKT and Faker can bleed this year,” he said, noting they appeared stronger last year. “Right now, it’s an ADC meta, so mid laners can’t shine that much. You can see some flaws from him – one team fight he flashed forward and used Zhonya’s on accident. It shows he’s human and can make mistakes. He’s not unkillable or unbeatable.”

A little hope (or in this case, a little evil) goes a long way. Remaining optimistic is one of the many things PowerOfEvil has learned in his career. “When I qualified for Worlds, my family was really supportive,” he said. They knew it was a tough group, but they thought Misfits would still make it out. “My dad instantly said he wanted me to make it out and face SKT. He didn’t say win, but he hoped I’d face SKT.” Be careful what you wish for, Papa Evil.

His family texted him between all the games on their long day in the second week of the Group Stage. Before and after the tiebreaker they’d give him words of encouragement. It’s something they’ve done for a long time – even when PowerOfEvil was playing in the EU LCS, and the cheering is something that’s helped him keep his head up. “I’ve experienced both sides – being the superstar on UoL and being a hated player on Origen. So I experienced both extremes. It helped me a lot to grow as a person and a player. It was really helpful to have a supportive family who cheers you through ups and downs.

“The last two times I couldn’t make it [to Worlds], but I always wanted to be here at least once in my career. Now I finally made it. My family sets an alarm to wake up and watch my games. They said why do you always have to make [the games] so exciting.”

I think a lot of MSF fans will relate to that – I can tell you first hand there are few things more exciting and anxiety-inducing than watching a family member on the Worlds stage. Much has been said about the relatively small following that Misfits enjoys – they are easily the least established brand in Guangzhou. So having a constant support system to fall back on seems like it is so immensely helpful.

He transitioned some of that support over to his team. For example, he said, “We used to have problem where we didn’t adapt fast enough or I was the only player talking to the coach about what I think went wrong and the other players didn’t give enough input. My brother told me to call them out by name and try to get them to give input as well. Now if I see that happen, I call them out by name and ask them what they think. He gives me leadership and life advice that helps a lot.”

The ability to actively involve quiet people in the conversation is absolutely essential to running a team. A dominant voice or personality can dictate the flow of conversation too heavily unless they make it a point to ask questions instead of making statements. To be able to recognize this shows me PowerOfEvil understands his role as a veteran on a team of rookies. And it will be vital as they take on the most experienced group of players in the world.

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Misfits’ candidness with each other is one of the primary reasons they’re still playing at Worlds. They are open to criticism and take it to heart to improve without holding unnecessary grudges against each other off the Rift. Even on the Rift, though, PowerOfEvil described moments where his bot lane would give up CS to get him ahead and vice versa. There is trust in each other to carry.

And in a meta that requires the mid laner to enable the ADC, his faith in his teammates will be crucial. PowerOfEvil thinks that MSF ADC Hans Sama has a great future ahead of him. “I don’t think I’ve seen him tilt even one time in Solo Queue or in scrims. It’s a really great attitude. He’s never mad and always trying to learn and improve.”

This isn’t to say SKT doesn’t have any of that. You will find historical evidence that suggests wholly otherwise. SKT features monsters at every position. The striking thing about Misfits isn’t some insatiable appetite for glory. They don’t have a revenge narrative. What they do have is a great desire to learn. And that means they are willing to stick their necks out together. That, ultimately, may be far scarier for SKT than a known quantity.

“Beating a three time World Champion is different from beating a team that’s [just] really strong right now. You can see with SKT – they can always come back, and if we can beat a team of that caliber, then I think we can reach the Finals. We’d be able to beat anyone.”