Misfits has emphasized a one year plan to make it to the League of Legends World Championship. After a controversial jungle swap, many pegged Misfits as the weakest team in the European League of Legends Championship Series playoffs. But defeats of Unicorns of Love and tournament favorites Fnatic have resulted in Misfits reaching the finals to play G2 Esports. After Saturday’s 3-1 win against Fnatic, Misfits coach Hussain Moosvi spoke with Slingshot’s Kelsey Moser about the team’s drafts, focusing on flexibility, and slow progress.
Kelsey Moser: We’ve seen some interesting drafts out of Misfits so far this tournament. I think one of the really interesting things from Game 1 that I wanted to touch on was the Cassiopeia-Syndra, and then you had Gragas vs Zac matchup. I think this 2-v-2 has some interesting interactions, and I was wondering what your perspective is on it.
Hussain Moosvi: We were looking for, ideally — also in Game 3 — an even or better matchup just for mid lane (just for the 1-v-1) because we knew if we could get at least one lane of side priority with a winning mid laner, we could control the map that way. We struggle more when we don’t have that, so Zac was moreso because we didn’t know if we would have an engage support or not in last pick. We weren’t sure what they were going to pick, so we knew we needed some engage, and of all the junglers, Zac was the best one. It was less about the 2-v-2, and more about making sure we had engage.
As far as the 2-v-2 goes, Zac pressures pretty much any mid laner without any mobility really well in mid lane. If you don’t punish him in the first place, he can punish anyone in mid lane. I think Gragas-Cassio can probably compete, but it’s still really hard to know when Zac is going to make a play mid, so it worked out for us.
KM: Something consistent across games was that you put a lot of emphasis on the Jarvan IV and Gnar picks. We’ve seen Fnatic have a lot of success with these. I was curious if you had more information on that.
HM: Weirdly enough, both the teams we played in playoffs have had a lot of champion pool issues. Unicorns last week had a lot of champion pool issues, and Fnatic this week. We knew if we got him off these picks, he’d be pretty much be on tank top. We thought they might look at Camille into Gnar more, but he pretty much stuck to Cho’Gath for whatever reason, so we were pretty comfortable with that matchup. Outside of Camille — which, late game, can win against Gnar — everything else sOAZ plays will struggle against Gnar. He doesn’t play Jayce or Kennen or anything like that. So we knew, if we could get that, it’s not just a good pick away from him, but it’s also good against his whole pool.
At the same time, Jarvan IV is like an annoying flex that they play. If you remove those two, I don’t think sOAZ has as much of an impact as on those champions.
KM: Speaking of the Jarvan bans, you ended up being able to first pick it in the last game. Misfits, so far in this tournament, until that last game, had a consistent preference for red side. Why did you decide to make this change?
HM: In Game 3, we — even though we’re generally confident with Galio comps, I think it’s a big switch from how we played Game 1 and 2 in terms of style because we always had a very standard composition in Game 1 and 2. So we thought, if we just go back to really standard play, we could punish Fnatic a lot. It’s really difficult to do that because we want to deny Gnar. It’s difficult to ban Rakan with the bans we had, so we had to deal with Xayah/Rakan or take it away from them, and we also had to take Syndra away from them, so it was just easier on blue side to get a good matchup. We could either take the Orianna (because Ori is fine against pretty much anything) or if they take Orianna, there’s always Syndra and some other picks we have that we’re confident with.
KM: Speaking of Rakan, I feel like it has risen up a lot in priority within the past couple weeks or so. Could you give me more info on why that might be?
HM: We have all these phases in League where people like Alistar, for example, because it has really good engage, it’s really safe. I think Rakan is really similar. Rakan has probably the best engage you can get from support. Fairly safe laning phase as well, it’s really difficult to punish it in lane. We have some picks showing up now — even though it didn’t work out, I think Morgana is a really good answer to Rakan.
We’re starting to see counters to Rakan, but I think teams were just happy with how easy it is to engage with Rakan and how easy it is to snowball if you make a single mistake. You also have to be careful with Galio comps with Rakan, for example, which are so easy execute. It isn’t even just the Rakan pick itself. It’s the easiest engage, and it’s very easy to draft a comp around it as well. Everything else has more nuance to it.
KM: In bot lane in the second phase, you guys targeted the ADC pool in particular. I was curious about that because we’ve seen Rekkles go for Ashe just generally, so I was curious about the Sivir bans and things like this.
HM: Sivir ban was to open up Blitzcrank for us. Varus we just banned because we didn’t really have anything else we needed to ban, and it’s a strong laner. Between Ashe and Varus, it’s easier in 2-v-2 to play against Ashe (maybe not so much in the jungle). You can get away with a weaker lane against Ashe if you need to. I think we were just confident with — the bot lane of Fnatic is their biggest strength, especially Rekkles. If he’s stuck on these utility AD carries, we’re pretty happy with how we’re playing against them.
KM: It seemed like, for jungle, you had a pretty good idea of what sides you needed to target. For me, this feels like a huge thing that Misfits has really identified and changed for playoffs. More generally, how did you guys decide to shift focus to a more open approach to which side of the map you’re going to play on?
HM: I think it’s a bit of a culmination from the split. It’s difficult to see if you watch us play week-to-week, you know, why we’re struggling or why we’re not able to do something, but it’s usually because we’re trying to learn it. It’s very different from how we usually like to play, so it took us a while. We’ve been practicing this for like a month to try to figure out how to play bot side, for example.
I think now we’ve figured it out, if anything I think we finally have the flexibility we need to have for a top team. It happened just in time for playoffs. The goal was we’ll take a few losses during the split, and we’ll struggle a bit, but if we don’t have the flexibility, it will be like what happened with Unicorns and Fnatic. If you don’t have the flexibility, then you really do struggle when it comes to best of fives, so all our prep in this split (in the second half of the split), was to become more flexible.
KM: I feel this has become a bit of a theme for EU teams. It’s almost comfort. You find a style, and you really try to perfect that. Is that something that you think holds a lot of top teams back, or why do you think it might be?
HM: I don’t know if it’s just like a European thing, necessarily. For example, Longzhu won today, right? The two biggest picks for mid are Galio and Taliyah, and they do very similar things. I think most top teams in most regions have a style that they’re really good at. It’s moreso, from there, how far you can branch out.
There are teams like G2, for example, that are really, really good at changing up how they want to play. Maybe they struggle more playing top side to bot side, but it’s not like they can’t play top side. They quite often do, especially with Galio. If teams in Europe want to be contentious at worlds, then they need to be able to be flexible in the sense that they need to be able to play every single style (or at least three to four different styles) at a competent level and be able to execute it.
But at the same time, I think it’s probably common if you’re in the finals or semifinals, and it’s pressure match if you’re good at a style, and not great at it, but you’re good at something else, you’ll fall back on it. That’s pretty much what Unicorns and Fnatic and pretty much every team in Europe is doing.
KM: When I watch Misfits, I still have a few questions about — in the first game, for example, you have this very large early lead, but you still seem really hesitant to push waves out past river, etc. Is side lane control you’ve been focusing on or talking about?
HM: Not just side lane control, but how to translate that for vision. There’s nuances because before we just had this one specific way of getting vision, say around Baron, and forcing from there. It got us a few wins, and then teams figured it out, and it was difficult to replicate.
It’s more so — we have a different way of taking vision than Fnatic does. Fnatic likes to four or five man mid a lot, and we like to push out side lanes and then group for it. So we just have to figure out, in our system of vision, how we can counter what Fnatic is doing. If next week, after I go through G2 VODs, they have a different way of doing vision, we’ll have to change how we go about it as well.
I think everyone in the team knows how to use side lane to get vision. It’s moreso execution. We still struggle with execution in the moment. I think that — even if it got better in the series (like Game 1 we didn’t execute on what we know we have to do properly), quite often we found ourselves without pink wards in the proper places or mistiming when we should be placing pink wards or pushing waves too fast or too slow. We just have to keep doing it and build up the habit so that we’re able to be flexible in vision.
KM: When you talk about increased flexibility in general and changing vision, was it just a matter of pushing yourselves outside of a comfort zone?
HM: Pushing ourselves outside a comfort zone and being OK with taking losses along the way. I think why Misfits has been so successful in playoffs so far is that — even though we were struggling in the regular season, of course we have down moments in any team that struggles, but there was never a point where we went “Okay, yeah, we’re just not going to take the time to learn this.” Players were pretty resilient. I think we’re getting rewards for that now.
At the same time, G2 — I say G2 because, in my opinion they’re the most flexible team we’ve seen in a long time — G2 is very good in a lot of different ways of getting vision. That’s why they’re able to say such flexible comps. They can play Galio mid and play around Expect. They can play Taliyah and do the same thing. They can play around Perkz, etc. What I want is for us to be at that level. We’ve been working towards it for a while. I don’t necessarily know if we’re there yet.
KM: I’m not going to make you predict tomorrow’s semifinal [NOTE: This interview was conducted on Saturday after Misfits beat Fnatic, but before G2 beat H2K], but I wanted to know if there’s anything that you’re comfortable saying you would look at or target on both G2 and H2K.
HM: These are the most difficult teams to target because they’re such standard teams play against. I think against G2, I would look at seeing how they play around mid lane because, even when they play around side lanes, it’s through mid lane. So I would look at how they’re doing it, what times they’re doing it, how they’re using waves to set it up, then see if there’s anything there we can counter.
In some ways, H2K is the most difficult team to counter. They’re just standard, you just have to be better than them at it. That said, I think H2K can be punished in draft a bit because they have these habits (like the Unicorns use, for example, they kept first picking Zac when the Poppy was an answer they had, and I think that’s clearly a mistake). I think H2K get punished in draft, and I think G2 — if you can figure out how to counter their mid play, then I think that’s probably the way to go.
KM: Misfits has focused a lot on “We’re going to make worlds.” If you do make worlds, do you have any goals for worlds in particular?
HM: We’ll take it like we’ve taken the whole split. We’ll just take it step by step. The first goal will just be getting out of groups. It’s our first year at worlds, and we have a lot of rookies. We shouldn’t expect ourselves to just straight up take the championship.
That said, I think with the way we’ve been progressing, we do have a good chance of making it out of groups against most teams that we play. I’m pretty confident against any of the NA teams, and I would have to watch LPL to know where that stands.
KM: I don’t expect anyone to watch LPL.
HM: Yeah, I haven’t watched a single game of LPL this split — except for picks — but I think we have a good chance. At least between us — and I think G2 because I respect them a lot — I think they have a good chance of making it out of groups at worlds. From there, the sky’s the limit.
KM: We discussed the Maxlore change, but we didn’t discuss the additions to your coaching staff like Hiiva, so I was wondering how the two of you divide up responsibilities.
HM: It depends on the objective. So, as far as draft preparations go, it’s as much him as me. We go and back and forth for every single scenario, figure out answers we’re both comfortable with, present them to the team or have two or three different options. Draft is shared between us, and past that, he’s really good at 1) individually coaching all the players, like all their individual improvement is on them, and 2) he has really good knowledge of matchups as well. Lastly, he understands how to use priorities for vision, so a lot of the strategic aspects of the game, I tend to put him towards.
To become flexible, we’ll split up scrim blocks between ourselves because I have a different way of drafting, and he has a different way of drafting, so we just push players to the limits that way. We pretty much divide up all the strategic work evenly between us and try to make something out of it.
Cover photo courtesy of Riot Games