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Meet the Misfits: Europe’s Upstart Underdogs

There’s a lot of buzz about the bunnies these days. The young European squad that knocked TSM out of this year’s Worlds have already created a name for themselves on the international stage, and look to keep making waves. But before we plough too far ahead, let’s turn the pages back on the book of Misfits Gaming’s short but storied history.

The Early Days

Misfits gaming were established in early 2016 as Renegades: Banditos, the EU sister team to the now-disbanded NA team Renegades. The first iteration of their roster included UK lads Barney “Alphari” Morris, Matt “Impaler” Taylor, Marc Robert “Caedral” Lamont, as well as Erik “Tabbz” Van Helvert (formerly of Alliance and Elements) and Aleski “Hiiva” Kaikkonen. Not long after, Tabbz would be replaced by Challenger mainstay Florent “Yuuki60” Soler. The squad showed early promise, taking home the gold in the 2016 Spring ESL UK Premiership, before making the transition to the Misfits brand in May of that year. Alongside the name change, Misfits also made sweeping roster changes, adding in Kim “Wisdom” Tae-wun, Marcin “Selfie” Wolski, and Han “Dreams” Min-Kook to replace their Jungle, Mid, and Support roles, respectively. With this new lineup, Misfits looked ahead to their climb into LCS.

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2016 Summer Promotion Tournament Roster - Alphari, Lamabear, Selfie, Hans Sama and Ignar

Misfits cruised through the Summer Challenger Qualifiers with little difficulty. After going 4-1 to top their group, they knocked down EURONICS Gaming 3-1 to earn a spot in the 2016 Summer Challenger Series. Surprisingly, Misfits then bumped Yuuki60 and Dreams to substitute roles. To replace them, a talented young Draven main named Steven “Hans Sama” Liv, and former IM and KT Rolster Support Lee “IgNar” Dong-geun stepped in. With their help, Misfits tore through Challenger, only dropping a single game to Team Forge. Even more impressive, Misfits aced their run through the playoffs, 3-0ing Epsilon Esports and then Millenium, to earn a shot at the European LCS.

The Spring promotion tournament would be the Misfits’ real test. Moving up their substitute Jungler Leon “Lamabear” Krüger, the team looked to run the 5-team tournament to make the 2017 Spring Split of the EU LCS. Seeded directly into a qualifying round due to their first place finish in Challenger, they would fall 2-3 to Origen, putting the young squad in a do-or-die match vs a FC Schalke 04 desperate to avoid relegation. Swapping Wisdom back in, Misfits dealt a death-blow to Schalke, taking them down 3-1 to secure a spot in the European LCS for 2017.

 

The One Year Plan

Not wanting to rest on their Challenger laurels, Misfits set out to improve their team in the offseason. After a bootcamp trip to Korea to sharpen their skills, two more roster changes were inbound. First up was former Unicorns of Love and Origen mid-laner, Tristan “PowerOfEvil” Schrage, was brought in to replace Selfie. Second, the team picked up Lee “KaKAO” Byung-kwon of KT Arrows fame. Expectations were mixed coming into the split: KaKAO’s current skill level was uncertain, after disappointing season in China’s LSPL, and Hans Sama hadn’t shined in Challenger as much as some analysts expected. The changes holistically made many doubt if Misfits could go beyond a “middle of the pack” performance.

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Misfits new roster for Spring: KaKAO, Hans Sama, PowerofEvil, IgNar and Alphari

Internally, the team was full of confidence. Team Analyst Naser “Empyre” Al-Naqi describes a squad hungry with drive, a revamped coaching and support staff, and a single one-year goal for the young squad: Make it to the 2017 World Championships. Their inaugural split saw Misfits exceed public expectations, picking up regular wins against more established LCS squads, only maintaining a losing record against G2 Esports and H2K. KaKAO earned multiple “Player of the Series” commendations on his carry performances, and Alphari dominated his top lane opponents by out-CSing them nearly every game. Combined with a sturdy midlane performance from PowerOfEvil and the bot lane keeping up with most opponents, Misfits looked on course for a Playoff run in their rookie split, a trend set by their Challenger-to-LCS predecessors G2 Esports and Origen. But towards the end of the regular split, the team slumped. They dropped series for three consecutive weeks until picking up a win in their penultimate match vs a struggling Giants Gaming. Uncertainty began to creep back in as Misfits faced a tough challenge in their first ever playoff match.

Facing off against them was Splyce, the previous Split’s finalists. The snakes slithered to a quick 2-0 lead over the bunnies, with solid drafting, decisive fights, and a surprising Fiddlesticks support pick for Mikyx. Things would change, however, very soon. Misfits picked Syndra away from Splyce, locking in the signature champ for PowerOfEvil instead. With her, he proceeded to turn the tables on Chres “Sencux” Laursen. The bot lane blasted off as well, with Hans Sama going 11/0/6 on Kalista, flanked by a 0/1/18 IgNar or Thresh. In successive games, Misfits found tremendous success by putting Power on a deadly LeBlanc, leading Misfits to an incredible reverse sweep victory. Although they would ultimately fall to the Unicorns of Love in a heartbreaking 1-3 Semifinal performance, Misfits had proven that their young squad couldn’t be taken lightly by Europe’s best. They held their heads high as they took to the stage in Hamburg at the Spring Split finals for their 3rd place match against Fnatic, not an easy feat for a team fresh out of Challenger.

 

Summer Refinement

With a respectable Spring Split under their belts, Misfits were ready to take the next step to fulfill their promise of a World Championship berth. Citing communication troubles and a continuing language barrier in an emotional announcement, the team parted ways with KaKAO. Stepping into his shoes was none other than Nubar “Maxlore” Sarafian. Maxlore had already made waves on the near miracle-running Team ROCCAT in Spring, and his addition to the team fueled expectations that Misfits would look to improve further. To augment their support staff and assist head coach Husain Moosvi, they brought on the expertise of their former support player Hiiva, as well as a performance coach that helped the team of youngsters to develop their teamwork on the rift.

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Coaching staff Hussain Moosvi and Hiiva compare notes

The Summer Split was a rough ride for the Misfits, who dropped games and series against top and mid-tier teams alike for several weeks. Despite this, they would still manage just enough wins to make the playoffs, including an impressive 2-1 vs the three-time running European Champions G2 Esports. Though their regular split had been a bumpy road, Misfits kicked into high gear just in time for the playoffs to start.

They pulled off a dominating sweep over the Unicorns of Love in opening rounds, dealing payback to the team that had knocked them out of Spring contention. If the Misfits overall looked improved, that was nothing compared to their carry in the bot lane. Hans Sama, piloting a hypercarrying Tristana, pulled off a deathless game 1, and managed a Pentakill in the process as his team were Nexus-bound. In subsequent games, the Unicorns made the mistake of leaving the pick open, a fact that Misfits quickly capitalized on to complete the sweep.

Their next opponents were the red-hot and revitalized Fnatic, who themselves were coming off an impressive second-half run of the EU LCS following their disastrous Rift Rivals performance. Once more, Misfits came in as the underdogs. Underestimated by many, Misfits once again delivered a solid performance, knocking out Europe’s old kings in a 3-1 result that sent the rookies to their first LCS finals in Paris.

From Paris to Wuhan

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Maxlore celebrating after Misfits qualify for Worlds 2017

Misfits Gaming had arrived. In two splits, the team had climbed the rungs of the EU LCS, and slain giants to stand as the challengers to the throne of G2 Esports. Regardless of how it played out, Misfits knew their worth had been proven, that their perseverance had paid off. “The finals in Paris was amazing because it validated all the hard work, and showed that we accomplished the goals we set for ourselves” Team Analyst Empyre says. Even though their opponents in the finals were a formidable foe, Misfits had plenty to be happy about: With G2’s victory the previous week, Misfits had already earned a spot at the 2017 World Championships, their win moment prompting the now-legendary reaction from Analyst Desk guest Maxlore as he realized his team had qualified. Under the noise and lights of the Paris Crowd, however, Misfits were unable to contest for a #1 Seed at the Championship, being swept away 3-0 by the G2 Esports Dynasty. The cinderella story for a Misfits title was over, but their stated goal had been accomplished nonetheless.

After the short break, Misfits got down to business at Worlds in Wuhan. Seeded directly into a group containing NA powerhouse TSM, China’s Prodigal Sons Team WE, and the perennial LMS Champs Flash Wolves, Misfits looked once again to be written off from the start. The bunnies would go on to defy expectations on both weeks, taking down TSM and the Flash Wolves in their opening set of games, and setting a mid-group three-way tie between WE, TSM and themselves. With an impressive first week of Worlds under their belt, Misfits went into Group-Decider Saturday with some well-earned confidence. After dispatching the struggling Flash Wolves a second time, Misfits were sitting pretty at a 3-1 group record with TSM in their sights. Up against the North American side, Misfits locked in Yasuo, intended for Alphari in the top lane. A risky move soon turned into a bad decision, as Misfits would fail to snowball their toplaner, losing the game in just under 40 minutes. This put Misfits at 3-2, with a tied head to head against TSM.

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PowerOfEvil embracing Hans Sama after their victory against TSM

With Flash Wolves already defeated, Misfits had two paths through the groups: beat Team WE and guarantee themselves a quarterfinal berth, or lose and face TSM once more for the final spot in Group D. The Chinese side once again proved too tough, and Misfits were set for the rematch with the North American Champions. This time, though, it wasn’t even close. Coming in prepared, Misfits built a solid Front-to-Back composition, with Cho’Gath, Gragas and Taric to protect Hans Sama’s Xayah, and a PowerOfEvil favorite Orianna to round things out. Both teams warmed up slowly to the game, not wanting to make a potentially fatal mistake to end their Worlds run. Things started to get hot in the 17th minute, when PowerOfEvil and Alphari ganged up on Hauntzer’s Jayce bot lane to secure First Blood, after towers had already fallen. It became quickly apparent that the TSM top laner was in for a bad time, as repeat visit to his side lane became a common sight. With a small gold advantage Misfits kept their pressure up, forcing TSM reactions around the Baron pit to win a decisive fight and secure the map’s biggest neutral objective. With Baron Buff on and item spaces newly filled from their gold windfall, Misfits pushed TSM hard in top and mid. Utilizing both their item advantage and timely Taric Ultimates from IgNar, Misfits fearlessly pressed their advantage. With time running out on the Baron Buff, TSM looked to force a last-ditch fight to salvage what was left of their base. But Misfits, keeping them just at arm’s length, fought off the desperate attempt and regrouped. Catching Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng’s Kog’Maw on an Orianna Shockwave, the teams, the crowd, and the casters knew it was over. Cleaning up the rest of TSM with the control of a veteran squad, the European upstarts had made their way into the Worlds Quarterfinals in spectacular fashion.

 

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Maxlore shaking hands with Quarterfinals opponent SKT Wolf

Quarters….and Beyond?

And that’s the story so far. With the ink still drying, Misfits will look to add another page to this chapter of their short but impressive history when they face off against LCK dynasty SK Telecom T1 in the Quarterfinals. On paper, it would be ridiculous to favor the Misfits against such an imposing foe. But League of Legends isn’t a game played on paper. This young squad has faced off against highly favored opponents multiple times and come out on top; and each time they defy the expectations, they look just a bit more impressive.

Will Misfits do the impossible and pull off an upset to dwarf every entry on their already impressive resume? Join us this Friday, October 20th, to find out, on watch.lolesports.com.