Rob “Leonyx” Lee was tasked with helping mold Renegades’ identity after it rebranded from Misfits last July. He had plenty of thoughts drawing from his background in traditional sports, but as a Pittsburgh native, one stuck out the most: The Terrible Towel.
“It reminds me of my childhood and going to sports games and twirling the towel,” Leonyx, the team’s general manager, said. “I kind of wanted to mimic that for our fans as well.”
Renegades just finished its first League of Legends Championship Series split in eighth place, and a date in next month’s summer promotion/relegation tournament awaits. The team was in last place for much of the spring before a late push, but the struggles still came with style.
Lee and assistant manager Matt Akhavan wave giant flags before every game, their faces covered with burgundy bandanas. Look at the team’s website, and each player’s profile includes a bandana-clad portrait. Glance into the crowd at the LCS, and you’ll spot a good chunk of fans following suit.
“We wanted to do something special for our fans, and I always thought, ‘Wow, why aren’t teams mimicking traditional sports?’” Leonyx said. “We kind of took the bandana and made it into our version of the Terrible Towel.”
Renegades formed last March and won a spot in the North American Challenger Series that July, rebranding to Renegades shortly afterward. At that time, well-known League of Legends personality Christopher “MonteCristo” Mykles became a co-owner, and the club’s rebrand took full shape.
Monte reached out to Leonyx to come on board and soon gave him the vision of what he wanted Renegades to be. It was Leonyx’s job to execute. The players wear black leather jackets with the cowboy logo. The flags fly before games. Whether or not the team is winning, the atmosphere *feels* cool.
“I think (Rob’s) just done a fantastic job in terms of what outfits we should be wearing,” jungler Alberto “Crumbz” Rengifo said. “They wave the flags before every game as well, so that’s pretty cool. I think that’s a really big part of it because even when we had a really bad record, there were lots of fans showing up, wearing the shirts, wearing the bandanas. That’s something that’s really easy to be overlooked, to be honest. We have a lot of support.”
Renegades stands out because it’s the only team pushing a brand so aggressively. Many teams in the LCS are longtime organizations — Cloud9, Counter Logic Gaming, Team SoloMid, Dignitas, etc. — that already have large fan bases; Renegades had to build its own.
That’s part of why, Leonyx said, the team is referred to as the “LA” Renegades, the city in which it resides. Sans for the Copenhagen Wolves, no other team in League of Legends — or any other esport, potentially — has identified with a singular city. It’s another strategy rooted in traditional sports.
“You see that in the NFL, NBA, anything,’ Leonyx said. “We wanted to be the first ones to really take advantage of that. In my hopes and dreams, when you are first entering the esports scene or following it, and you’re from LA, your brain subconsciously registers Los Angeles. And you resonate with us.”
It’s a fascinating strategy, especially for an organization that also has a Counter-Strike team and started a League of Legends Challenger club in Europe (called the Banditos), but it appears to have worked. Leonyx said he’s been told at least a few times by people became Renegades fans because of its ties to Los Angeles.
The team is starting to play up to that support, too. After a 1-12 start, Renegades won five of its final six — including a tiebreaker against Team Impulse on Sunday — to pull out of last place.
Still having to ward off possible relegation isn’t fun, but it’s better than being last.
“I came into it knowing that I had to adapt really fast to get used to it,” said Nickolas “Hakuho” Surgent, who stepped into a starting role when Maria “Remi’ Creveling stepped down Feb. 5. “That was probably the hardest thing. Just going from at home to playing on the stage. It’s different.”
A rare trade also aided Renegades’ surge, as Shin “Seraph” Woo-yeong and Noh “Ninja” Geon-woo came over from Team Dragon Knights in exchange for Alexey “Alex Ich” Ichetovkin and Cuong “Flaresz” Ta on March 3.
Renegades is hoping to hold its recent form during the promotion tournament to give the team another crack at the LCS — and the fans more time to see the waving flags and bandana-clad faces.
“I don’t actually even think we feel like we have momentum, to be honest,” Crumbz said. “I think we see every single game like, ‘OK, let’s play this one again.’ It doesn’t matter what happened before because we’re still trying to forget what happened before. So we’re trying to keep the momentum but remember we were really low down there. So we just keep going each game.”
Cover photo courtesy of Riot Games.