(This interview conducted before the news revealed that he may have signed with OpTic Gaming in North America.)
On October 20, 2017, Misfits Gaming stunned onlookers as the team nearly beat the three-time World Champions, SK Telecom T1. Despite the loss in a closely fought 3-2 encounter, the event represented a significant milestone in the careers of its players.
For Tristan “PowerOfEvil” Schrage, who had experienced a terrible 2016 season before joining Misfits, the event represented a fitting end to a fulfilling season. The 2017 season allowed the mid laner to realize his main goals – far from the near-relegation experience as a member of Origen.
“I wanted to be on a Top 5 team again,” PowerOfEvil said regarding his first goal. “We made fourth place in the first split, second place in the second one, and reached Worlds after 3 years. It was my first time reaching it, so that was another big goal which I finally made happen.”
Unsurprisingly, he found himself in contention for a spot at the premier offseason tournament, the All-Star celebrations, where the regions’ finest players collide on the Rift one last time, before the start of the upcoming season. As players are selected following a fan vote, PowerOfEvil had to do his best to convince the audience at large to allow him to represent Europe – a matter that ended in a close race between him and G2 Esports’s Luka “PerkZ” Perkovic.
“It was really fun,” he says regarding the process that led to his selection at the All-Star festivities. “I was thinking about it some time before the all-star voting even started. I decided that I want to represent Europe, and that I want to represent Germany at all-stars. So I thought about how I can market myself or present myself in the campaign.”
“I did some campaign[ing] with some YouTubers. Vlesk was helping me a lot as well on my social media branding,” he added. “I'm really [thankful] for everyone that helped me and everyone that voted me [in]. Now, my only job is to represent Europe and to go to All-Stars.”
To onlookers at large, PowerOfEvil’s ascension (and Misfits’s) might look like a textbook story: the protagonist meets tough competitors and setbacks, then emerges victorious in some way (or defeated with head held high). But Misfits had a bumpy road – starting with two substitutions: PowerOfEvil for Marcin “Selfie” Wolski in the mid lane, and Lee “KaKAO” Byung-kwon for Kim “Wisdom” Tae-wan in the jungle. The latter was a formidable solution on the short-term, but the lineup reached its limits near the end of the Spring Split.
“With spring split, with KaKAO, I feel like he's really good mechanically, but he wasn't a team player, I would call it, because he would not give up his farm or his resources for his teammates,” PowerOfEvil explains. “At the same time, his communication wasn't perfect. So, we decided to part ways with him. While being an insane player, in some teams, he might be completely different and exactly what the team needs him to do, but it wasn't the case in Misfits.”
As a result, the team hired Nubar “Maxlore” Sarafian, a team-oriented jungler with a proven track record as a team leader in Giants Gaming in 2016 and Team ROCCAT in the 2017 LCS spring split. However, an acclimation period was necessary. The team had, at times, conceded games where it held significant leads.
Rather than imploding in such situations, or issuing roster or structural changes, the team solved its woes through efficient communication and feedback sessions – a matter that spoke volumes about the players’ teamwork prowess.
“[Something] crucial was that we could always talk about mistakes, and we could always freely open up [on criticism] and give feedback to each other, tell your teammate what you think is the problem, or what you think he needs to improve on, without him being mad or getting sad or depressed,” the mid laner explains. “A huge point of that was that we had a sports psychologist who was there every day, and I would say he helped a lot in our team.”
Although Misfits had ultimately faltered in the EU LCS finals, it had secured the second European seed in the World Championship, a matter that led to one of the best performances Western teams had ever scored against Korean teams in the LCS era. In fact, the team was a Braum shield away from becoming the first team in the era to beat an LCK squad.
“I feel the reason we could have made it so far and we could challenge SKT to five games was [that] we had players who were willing to work together, and we had players who took steps back for the team - for the greater good,” the mid laner points out, before giving a personal example: “I'm not someone who says "I want to go for an assassin, because it has a better matchup, and I want to solokill Faker." I wanted to win against SKT and not Faker alone, because that would have been a huge achievement.”
And Misfits did it in its own manner – becoming the best it could be at being itself, rather than a lesser version of something else.
“I would say that our team was not copying [the] Korean playstyle and playing a little bit worse,” PowerOfEvil says. “I feel, a lot of time, Korea just perfects a playstyle, and EU tries to copy it and doesn't play it as well. I feel we just played our own style, played our own color. IgNar really succeeds with these engage supports and tank supports, when he could just go in and engage for us. This won't work on every team.”
“In our team, Maxlore and I were willing to make sacrifices where we would just take Ardent Censer on other champions,” he notes. “We played Karma mid lane. We played Ivern jungle. We didn't play without Ardents. We tried to play around each other's strength and take steps back for each other. One game, I would play Syndra, and we would play Ardent support, or just without, or we would play Ivern [jungle.] In one game, I would play Karma, and we would have the Ardent from mid lane.”
As PowerOfEvil set his eyes at an All-Star appearance alongside IgNar, another question lingered as the offseason approached – which team he would land on. Compared to some offseason periods, this one was different. Franchising in North America (and the improvement of infrastructures and salaries across the board) and the region-wide improvement of organizations in Europe have improved the scene’s health.
Gone are the old days – teams without the full backing of an organization, let alone a coach.
“In some teams, back in the days, you were in a team, and there was no coach, no manager, no organization behind you,” the mid laner recalls. “You would just play tournaments as five guys from solo queue, and one guy would be mad and ‘run it down’ or he would have arguments or be passive-aggressive. Because there was no one to shut it down, there would be no staff, no organization to do against it, you would always end up disbanding and forming a team for the next tournament.”
“Since there's always more staff coming on more professional organizations like Misfits, I feel that soon, there will not be many swaps anymore,” he added.
As such, his offseason had proven eventful. One thing was clear: he would do his best to go back to the World Championship no matter where he landed. As I ask him about his main motivation behind his then-unknown choice, he stated: ”Obviously, roster and success, because I really really want to go to Worlds again!”
“In my third year [as a pro], I finally went to Worlds. Now, after I reached Worlds and got there and made it out of groups, I don't want to just play LCS,” he says. “I want to actually go there again. I want to reach Worlds, go there and do good there again, maybe even better - get out of quarters, go to semifinals. I don't want to go to LCS and be in the fifth or sixth best team. I want to be on a top 3 team in whatever region and go to Worlds for sure.”
(The last 3 photos from Riot Games)
Disclaimer: The following article was written freely based on the author's opinion, and it may not necessarily represent Inven Global's editorial stance.