Band of misfits: How the Renegades went from challengers to winners
With one game separating each team from a spot in the League Championship Series and their professional gaming dreams, it was the most important champion select of their lives. Most teams would be nervous and tense, focused on surviving a moment they might remember with joy or regret for years.
Renegades, though, was cracking up in a fit of feline fever after the curveball selection of a champion they've given their own pet name.
“I don't think there’s another team that meows during champion select in game five of qualifying for LCS due to an unexpected case of ‘Meowkai,’” top laner Oleksii "RF Legendary" Kuziuta said.
Say hello to the newest addition to the North American LCS: a mixing pot of veterans and fresh faces alike whose skill is only surpassed by their ability to have fun. After recently qualifying for the Spring Split in their match versus Coast, many were impressed by this team’s performance. But Renegades has been dominating tournaments since its inception.
Renegades, originally known as Misfits, was founded on March 9 by Chris Badawi, a one-time lawyer and fresh face on the esports scene. Badawi quickly picked up League of Legends veterans Alexey “Alex Ich” Ichetovkin and Alberto “Crumbz” Rengifo. Their intent? To make a super team that would be able to power their way through the Challenger Series into the North American League of Legends Championship Series. Oleksii "RF Legendary" Kuziuta tried out for the team as a top laner following a recommendation by their support Maria “Yuno” Creveling (now known as “Remilia”), who was picked up on a recommendation from Alex Ich.
The two met after playing together on Dank Gang Gaming, which was disbanded several weeks before the 2015 Spring Expansion Tournament. Kuziuta performed well in his tryout and was brought onto the team along with Richie “Intense” Ngo, the former support of Cloud 9 Tempest who'd since transitioned to AD carry main.
Ngo would be the first of several marksmen to play for this squad. He helped guide the team to victory in the AlphaDraft Challenger League, a month-long tournament that served as the first major indicator that Misfits had the potential to best its peers. The team went 11-1, taking first place over Frank Fang Gaming in the finals.
“It was the tournament where we decided whether or not our roster would work together,” Kuziuta tells the Daily Dot. Despite the team’s success, Ngo soon decided to part ways with the Misfits. He explained in a Twitlonger post that he didn’t feel as though his play style meshed well with the team, and left on May 4.
The team quickly found a replacement: former Gamers2 star Mohammad “Jebus” Tohki, who joined on May 7. But visa issues soon kept him from playing with the team. They needed to find a solution quickly, as the North American Challenger Series qualifiers were rapidly approaching.
“We kept playing with different AD carries because Jebus had visa issues, which put a big emphasis on the four players to keep the team strong,” Kuziuta explains. With only two weeks left and the sudden replacement of Ainslie “maplestreet” Wyllie with Zachary “Nien” Malhas on Team 8, the Misfits found its fifth man. Wyllie began practicing with the team and, in alternation with Malhas, the team qualified with little-to-no contest. Misfits defeated Also Known As, Team Liquid Academy, and MAGnetic, securing its Challenger Series bid.
“Alex and Crumbz have plenty of stage experience and want to get back in [to the LCS], Maple’s shoes went off, and I have a lot of haters to prove wrong and fangirls to make happy,” Kuziuta says.
Renegades stands out from other Challenger teams thanks to the big personalities of its players. The veterans, Ich and Rengifo, are well-loved members of the League of Legends community, and each have legions of fans who've followed them from the beginning of their careers. Ich gained his recognition through his time with European powerhouse Moscow 5, and Rengifo was a long-standing member of Team Dignitas. Wyllie, for his part, made something of a name for himself when he began taking his shoes off during games and placing them on his hands after victories. Creveling is a leading woman player in the community who has earned a fanbase through her impressive Thresh play, and Kuziuta has won over the hearts of many with his charm and humorous stream.
With such a likeable group playing at such a high level, it was only a matter of time until the team made a move to the next level.
On June 19, the team rebranded from Misfits to LA Renegades. As part of its rebranding, it brought on OnGameNet color caster and former Counter Logic Gaming head coach Christopher “MonteCristo” Mykles as its new co-owner and also added Australian Counter-Strike squad Voxeminor to its portfolio.
The rebrand brought major publicity and social media exposure to a team that had managed to fly under the community’s radar in spite of its success. With flashy red bandanas and a star-studded lineup, the team was ready to take on the world.
“I don't think we were really afraid of facing any team in Challenger Series, we knew that they should be afraid of us,” Kuziuta says. “Everything went pretty smoothly all season except for the end when we faced our first slump, which we handled very well in my opinion.”
Renegades finished with a second-place seed in the 2015 North American Challenger Series Summer Split after losing a tiebreaker game with Coast. Around the same time, Badawi was banned from the LCS for what Riot Games called "tampering" on June 24. That means he’d have to dissolve ownership in the team before it played its first game and hand over complete control to Mykles.
From there, Renegades clawed their way back to the top with a best of three victory versus Imagine, putting them back into the finals versus Team Coast. This best of five would determine whether Renegades would be in the LCS for the 2016 Spring Split.
Coast took the first victory of the series, and Renegades matched them in game two. The two teams juggled victories until they were tied with two each. Renegades would go into the final game of the series after winning game four with the unlikely strategy of repetitive Shen and Evelynn flanks. ”I think one of the biggest moments in the series was game four, when we just kept doing the same thing over and over and it kept working,” Kuziuta says.
With the decisive game five on the horizon, Renegades took Coast by surprise when Ich went with an unconventional Maokai pick. Keeping the team atmosphere light as always with inside jokes and memes, Renegades won the final game of the series, qualifying for the LCS. “Everyone was pretty exhausted after all the yelling in the last game,” Kuziuta adds.
After months of consistently dominant results in the AlphaDraft League and Challenger scene, Renegades will have to work just as hard in the off-season. They will soon have the opportunity to prove themselves against the best teams in North America, and with enough hard work, perhaps “Meowkai” will prevail once more.
Photo via Riot Games/Flickr