Rookies and sophomores have flipped the LEC’s storylines on their heads, turning what was already a crazy scene into the most exciting western League of Legends spectacle to date. A cursory look at the top LEC after week 3 of Summer Split is ample proof — three of the top six teams mainly made of first and second-year players.
The race for Rookie of the Split was already tense during Spring, especially given MAD Lions young rosters placing fourth against prognoses. Ultimately, Ivan “Razork” Martin, the 19-year-old jungler who joined Misfits Gaming after two years at Giants Gaming in the local Spanish league, took the spoils amid a stacked field of rookies.
* * *
"I got to play with Rekkles and with people I couldn't imagine."
The fun started when Razork was just nine-years-old, when he played his first game of League of Legends during the beta, on a laptop that could barely run it and relied on a touchpad to command his champions.
“I liked the game, so I kept playing while I was in school,” he said in an interview with Inven Global. “I was not even level 30, playing Amumu and having fun in 3v3.”
As his family got enough money to upgrade the old rig, Razork ventured first into play 5v5s and later the ladder. He gradually improved: to Silver I at first, then to Platinum I in Season 4, then Diamond V in Season 5. Within a week after the 2016 Season’s ladder reset, he broke through to Diamond I after a strong start.
The quality of players Razork started facing changed dramatically. Instead of unrecognizable nicknames, he began playing with legends of the game like Martin “Rekkles” Larsson. And gamers of that caliber had expectations that he initially struggled to meet.
“I got to play with Rekkles and with people I couldn't imagine,” Razork said. “I was learning a lot, but I was getting flamed a lot because I didn't know anything about the game. I was only there because I was good mechanically, and I was lucky because I was too fast.”
But Razork wanted to keep pace with the rest of the field, so he learned. Slowly at first, as he describes himself as ‘hard-stuck,’ until he reached Master tier, a milestone which gave him the confidence to compete and improve further. By chance, he met Daniel “Yugami” Cama, a then player in Spain’s top division at the time, the LVP División de Honor.
“I had to win in Spain 100%. I had to get the title; otherwise, I didn't feel like I deserved to go LEC.”
Yugami may have helped Razork land a spot on his first team, xPerience eSports Club, but hard work led him to PainGaming, where his impressive scrimmage showings lasted until the end of 2016. Eventually, Giants Gaming signed Razork as a substitute and loaned him to second-division squad Team Heretics for the 2017 Segunda Division Season 12, where his impressive play nearly qualified them for the LVP SuperLiga Orange, one of the largest Spanish competitions.
Razork’s performances put the Spanish scene on notice: the G-Lab Penguins signed him for the fall season where he, alongside Petr “denyk” Haramach, won the qualifier to the 2018 European Masters main event. Their first collaboration was short-lived as Giants rebuilt their lineup for the 2018 Season and brought him on board.
That entire season featured a recurring theme as they played second fiddle throughout: the impressive Giants fell short of the title as they went on to lose 3-2 in the Split finals to juggernauts MAD Lions – a team that included Jorge “Werlyb” Casanovas, Oskar “Selfmade” Boderek, Tim “Nemesis” Lipovšek, and Juš “Crownshot” Marušič.
“[MAD Lions] won everything,” Razork said. “They were the best team in Spain, and [we] were the second-best. We were facing [each other] all the time, in tournaments and events, and we were losing against them. Almost everyone [of them] joined the LEC.”
* * *
There was a silver lining. With denyk joining him in the 2018 Summer Split, the pair developed a synergy that propelled Giants to contender status for the 2019 Season. However, they had yet to participate in the European Masters, the connecting platform between aspiring European players and the LEC teams looking for the next big talent in the region.
For that to happen, Giants needed to finish first in the regular season or to win the title. In the 2019 Spring Split, they ranked third, before losing in the first round to eventual champions Splyce Vipers. However, they persisted and succeeded in the Summer Split, taking first place in the regular season standings.
“After I shaved my head, I was playing in the European Masters and I was playing craaaazy. I was really smurfing."
Victory in the subsequent playoffs was important for Razork if he wished to proceed to the LEC, a dream of his; “I felt that I had to work more, and I had to reach a goal before that,” he said. “I had to win in Spain 100%. I had to get the title; otherwise, I didn't feel like I deserved to go LEC.”
As if they needed additional motivations, to spice things up, he and Giants’ Head of Team Operations Alejandro “Nunaso” Núñez made a bet: if they won, they would shave their heads. To the Spanish fans’ amusement, he honored the bet and attended the 2019 European Masters tournament with a shaved head. For some reason, that led to a power-up during the event, where he and denyk strong-armed the team to the finals.
“After I shaved my head, I was playing in the European Masters and I was playing craaaazy,” he said. “I was really smurfing. I felt like if we didn't troll in the finals -- I felt that we were a better team than BIG -- I think we would have won the finals.”
He might not have won the tournament, but his arrival in the LEC was all but assured. And when Misfits Gaming signed denyk, they immediately looked his way, offering him a starting spot in their revamped 2020 LEC lineup.
* * *
Razork’s transition to the top European league was initially tenuous; during Misfits’ first two games, shaky hands and nervousness derailed his debut, causing the Spanish scene to erupt in memes and skepticism.
However, the setbacks and ensuing reactions fueled his resolve and helped Misfits go on a seven-game tear. The team’s overall performance caught experts and opponents by surprise: since when was this team that bungled its scrims so strong?
“We were a stage team, honestly,” he said. “The routine that we had before stage games [were]: we went in the bans, and everyone was already thinking about the match, about the champs that they were going to play. When we got to the stage, everyone had that tryhard mindset, that we were going to eat the world.”
[Online,] we’d make one mistake, and we’d feel that the game was lost, or we’d start thinking all the time about the mistake. When we're on-stage, you make a mistake and you just don't care.
Things were looking up for Misfits as the season progressed: Razork’s champion pool and playstyle suited the meta at the time, and the team gained steam, played confidently, and inflicted G2 Esports their first loss of the year. However, disaster struck as the COVID situation shifted the season away from the studio environment where they thrived, into the online setting where they struggled. “The online situation ruined our confidence a bit on how we were playing the game,” he said.
The team’s pre-game routine was disrupted and so was their mindset. Mistakes that they routinely overcame onstage derailed their focus when the competition shifted online, and they tumbled from fourth place – and one game behind the top three – to an early playoff exit following a 2-6 end-of-season stretch.
“We were not focused at all,” Razork explained. “Or, we’d make one mistake, and we’d feel that the game was lost, or we’d start thinking all the time about the mistake. When we're on-stage, you make a mistake and you just don't care. You do everything that's needed to win the game even though you are 0/7 -- you are still helping the team.”
For an instant, it seemed as if Misfits’ season was permanently derailed, as their Summer Split Week 1 showings indicated. Following Kasper “Kobbe” Kobberup’s arrival and Doss’ promotion to their main lineup over denyk, the team lost their day 1 game from an overwhelmingly winning position against Fnatic, and let the bitterness of defeat snowball into a crushing defeat against Rogue the next day.
"I feel like everyone besides Schalke is a playoff team. We will see what happens [in] the next [few] weeks. We don't know who is going to be the first or second team.”
But their victory against Origen on Day 3 put them back on track, giving them a burst of confidence as they built synergy with the new lineup and patched their online issues. “Thank God that we got the win,” he said. “That was the best thing that happened: if we didn't win, the confidence of the players would have been really down.”
If Misfits’ recent performances are any indication, they are poised to contend for the playoffs, if not for a World Championship seed if they reach the top four there. But that is easier said than done, considering how competitive the Summer Split is shaping up in the LEC.
“I feel like everyone besides Schalke is a playoff team,” he said. “We will see what happens [in] the next [few] weeks. We don't know who is going to be the first or second team.”
If there is any certainty to this season, should Misfits prevail and secure one of the four World Championship spots from the LEC, Razork will not be shaving his head, as enticing as the idea of a powerup is.
“I regret it a lot,” a dismayed Razork said. “It was really good because after showering I didn't have to do my hair, but I really didn't like myself bald. Maybe I will do another challenge, but I will not shave my head again.”