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Misfits Gaming's 10-man roster gambit has worldly aspirations

Misfits Gaming are fielding a 10-man roster for the LEC Summer Split, eyeing qualification for the World Championship. Riot Games

Misfits Gaming were ready to take over the European region after their 2019 off-season signings sent shockwaves around the world. Alongside longtime members Steven "Hans sama" Liv and Nubar "Maxlore" Sarafian, one world championship semifinalist and two world championship finalists joined the team. Indeed, Fabian "Febiven" Diepstraten, Paul "sOAZ" Boyer and Kang "GorillA" Beom-hyeon rounded out a super team on paper. Instead, they didn't make it to the 2019 Spring Split playoffs.

For a team with world championship aspirations, Misfits' Spring Split finish was an ill-omen. Inevitably, after assessing the situation ahead of the Summer Split, the front office took responsibility for the roster's fall. "I don't think our players in spring were bad," head coach Hussain "Moose" Moosvi said. "I think we, the coaching staff, failed to utilize their strengths properly."

As a result, Misfits Gaming are fielding a 10-man roster for the Summer Split. With five starters and five substitutes from their academy squad, Misfits aspire to bring flexibility at the forefront. The academy's victory at the highest level outside of the LEC persuaded their front office to consider their presence beyond the French league, La Ligue Fran├žaise.

However, a 10-man roster provides colossal challenges on a coaching and infrastructural standpoint. Suddenly, 10 players are looking for guidance, competing for a starting spot, and needing lodging and nourishment. Undeterred, Misfits have mobilized the means to implement their vision -- including apartments in Berlin for their academy members and additional training space. "We've had a big focus on investment into infrastructure, and we've always been on the forefront of making it and we've never been shy to do so," Chief Gaming Officer Joe "Innerflame" Elouassi said.

Misfits' coaching staff also evolved around Moose and sports psychology and performance coach Robert Yip, with role swaps included. The previous split's LEC head coach, Jesse "Jesiz" Le, led the academy to their EU Masters victory and is its current coach. Former academy head coach Richard "Valkrin" Royer has transitioned into player development across the board. To round out the squad and allow Moose to focus on management, the team signed David "Hermes" Tu to oversee the big picture and day-to-day operations.

As such, Misfits are confident that they can implement their 10-man roster vision without significant drawbacks. Using clear goal setting for rookies and veterans and daily feedback regarding their performances throughout the game, they prevent demotivation and cluelessness regarding eventual substitutions. "Otherwise the nightmare comes when you have a 10-man roster and not everyone feels like they are improving," Moose cautioned. "In the lack of improvement, they lose motivation."

Misfits are exploring specific combinations during scrimmage sessions which, should they function, would improve its flexibility. In doing so, they avoid committing folly: exploring 28 different lineup combinations. Implementing all of them would be unrealistic, especially with playoff roster lock rules limiting the number of substitutes to two. "Every variation in our roster will have certain strengths and weaknesses," Moose said. "If we fully understand what these strengths and weaknesses are, we can utilize them for our opponents."

However, the implementation interferes with the standing of Misfits' academy. Moose laid out the puzzle he faces on a weekly basis: the LEC team plays scrimmage sessions from Monday to Thursday, and the LFL squad plays on Tuesday and Wednesday. As the priority lies in reaching the world championship, the organization has set its eyes on winning the LEC Summer Split.

Any potential trade-off remains worthwhile, as Misfits can use the varied skillsets of their academy players, many of which are capable of starting in the LEC or have done so, such as Matus "Neon" Jakubcic in 2018 and Thomas "Kirei" Yuen on Week 2 of the Summer Split. In addition, some academy members have refined their gameplay around limited but key aspects -- such as Adam "LIDER" Ilyasov's mid lane assassin play. "We have specialists on our academy roster that do certain things so well, some even better than our main starters," Moose said.

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In addition, the approach also provides opportunity for academy members to play in the LEC, should they follow the coaching staff's lead. Besides, many Misfits players are under contract until 2020. As such, being bound to a contract without growth perspectives could mean death to a career. The 10-man roster may indirectly solve the problem, but it asserts Misfits' commitment to its LEC and LFL players, and its desire to promote cooperation across the board. "We would love to build that synergy in all aspects over the long amount of time we have with our players," Innerflame added.

Through infrastructure coaching staff improvements, Misfits hope to build trust with their players and to gain flexibility on Summoners' Rift. In that setting, they would perform substitutions for strategic reasons, rather than performance-related ones as has been the case for many teams in the past. Following intense practice and a litany of lineup experiments during scrims, the coaching staff would gain flexibility before crucial games. Should they reach that stage come playoff time, they would be a fearsome team to face.

"Before and when we do make a change in our starting five in whatever week that is, I don't feel any player will feel shorthanded by it," Moose said. "They will know what they need to do to get back up there, or why that change was made." Should observers at large see the big picture when Misfits perform roster changes, they may thus avoid buying into false narratives. The Summer Split's round robin provides a great opportunity for scrim-to-stage trials. In the end, Misfits aspire to prepare several lineups come playoff time, with Summer Split victory -- therefore world championship qualification -- as their sole motive.

"Come summer playoffs, we would have way too much of a threat with the different variations that we can use," Moose said. "Just the difficulty of prep that our opponents would have would give us an edge that we need."