The Prestige: A Man and His Kittenz
"The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary" -Christopher Priest, The Prestige
Photo Credit to Susie Kim
On February 16th 2017, Ali ‘Alicus’ Saba stepped down from running gaming operations for Misfits to take a well-deserved hiatus. After conquering the world twice at the Overwatch Open and DreamHack Winter, there didn’t seem much left for the entrepreneur to pursue. But, as much of the community would soon learn, Ali always has something up his sleeve.
Act 1: Off the Bench
Laser Kittenz was officially formed on March 19, but their journey started almost a month before. After departing the FaZe Clan lineup, Eric ‘TwoEasy’ van Hoorn reached out some of the most talented free agents in Europe (most notably Finley ‘Kyb’ Adisi, Luis ‘Greyy’ Perestrelo and Sergi ‘Winghaven’ Torras) to form Bench Boys. While their initial results failed to meet their true potential, a third place performance at the StriveWire Monthly Overwatch Brawl: March put them in the limelight. Unfortunately, following a clash of personalities, Bench Boys was left without their captain and incomplete, reaching out for any sort of lifeline to help rebuild.
It was at this time Alicus privately re-entered the scene. Finding the core of the Bench Boys to be one of the best free agent teams in the West, he began to involve himself deeper into the team. By investing himself in his players and exploring feedback from scouts across the scene, he was able to find and cultivate pieces to help the ever-expanding Laser Kittenz puzzle. Tapping into his experience assembling Misfits, Ali set out to develop what he had, while also looking beyond at the future of team building.
Luckily, he had quite the core.
An odd departure from REUNITED may have marred Kyb's legacy, but his performance hardly suffered. An extremely versatile DPS player, Kyb often functioned as the spiritual metronome for his team. Calm and collected in communications, he consistently provided an anchor for his team on the field and was more than capable of dominating the field on any carry.
The latest addition to the Laser Kittenz core was Carl ‘crems’ Aspehult. First discovered on German-Swedish mixteam, S2gods, crems remained a distinct voice in his new team, theorycrafting and shotcalling in absence of a true shot caller at the time. While his role as a flex player would later be contested by claris, his presence perpetuated the identity of the Laser Kittenz throughout its many iterations.
Lastly, there was Greyy. The Portuguese professional was a complete unknown in the competitive scene, but his play on the ladder caught more than just a few eyes. In a world where a top-level flex support depends on mechanics as much as strong game sense, Greyy represented one of the few free agents who could do both. Demonstrating monstrous aim on Zenyatta and the knack to sleep almost any Genji out of the air on Ana, he quickly rose to the top of the European scene, adding in a pocket Sombra months before the rest of the world caught up. His extremely high skill ceiling and natural knack for leadership ended up being the kicker for Ali, who took it upon himself to build a team around the star, despite the plethora of ready-made teams (including EU dominators, Cyclone) approaching him.
In later weeks, Alicus would continue to search through the waiver wire, conjuring trades seemingly out of thin air. While many saw indecisiveness, Alicus’s decision making was hardly ever short sighted. In building a lineup set on the Overwatch League instead of the next tournament, he set along the path of calibrating his squad until it was optimal. He was no stranger to trial and error, bringing in players from all around the world to finalize his roster. Given his pedigree, it would not be long before Laser Kittenz would stand in the spotlight as a top level team.
But it would take some time.
Act 2: Onto Cloud 9
If Laser Kittenz ever did have a weakness, it was filling out the rest of their roster. While the team never ran out of strong players eager to join the squad full time, it did face challenges developing synergy. Amidst a revolving door of DPS players, Skipjack would be brought on to replace a struggling Winghaven after the Overwatch PIT Championships, but a lack of practice time during an extremely active European tournament season resulted in the untested roster faltering in the HND Overwatch Invitational. Unable to find a suitable replacement in the West, Ali pulled off one of the greatest heists in esports by picking up Lee ‘claris’ Keon-ho and Byeon ‘Munchkin’ Sang-beom immediately after their dismissals from Lunatic-Hai.
With an extremely strong seven-person lineup under its paws, Laser Kittenz would spend the following two months in Korea gearing up for a grand return to the scene. The growing notoriety of the team would draw more players to the allure of joining Ali Baba and his band of thieves. Skipjack would be replaced in the lineup by Tiago ‘mowzassa’ Rodrigues, an emerging star cited as one of the best tank players in the world. Matching up against the best teams Korea had to offer, Laser Kittenz steadily improved, building trust in each other and giving room for their talented players to develop in a competitive environment.
The announcement of Overwatch Contenders Season 0 would set the the stage for their grand return.
The first qualifier went without a hitch, as the Kittenz made their way swiftly to top 8 and claimed a spot in the Main Event Group stage. With little else on the line besides bragging rights, LK would face off against their eternal nemesis, Misfits. Given the history between Alicus himself and the Misfits organization, the match was hotly contested, as both teams want to prove they still remained at the top of the scene. After an extremely tense map on Watchpoint: Gibraltar, Laser Kittenz would eventually fall 3-1 on Lijiang Tower, ending their run.
Despite accomplishing their goals, the loss left a bad taste in their mouth, as critics began to cast doubt on how much they had managed to improve in Korea. Alicus seemed unlikely to ever top his crowning achievement. Luckily, the esports gods would give them a second chance. Against all odds, Laser Kittenz would draw Misfits in Group B, adding another layer to the already-rich storylines between both teams. With no other “real” challenges for the two, the group devolved into a grudge match between the two powerhouses. Laser Kittenz would put on blinders entering the preparation period for the group stages.
As the first week approached, the scene felt giddy at the prospect of yet another showdown between the two furry goliaths. With choice words exchanged between Alicus and Reinforce, the fever pitch climaxed for the last match of the first-leg matches which pitted Misfits against Laser Kittenz to establish the momentum for the second week. The Kittenz struck first on Eichenwalde taking the third point in overtime, allowing their patient ultimate usage to full hold Misfits on defense. LK would jump out to an early lead on Nepal, taking the first two rounds in dominant fashion off the back of stellar play from Munchkin. However, Misfits struck back as their DPS line was able to regain their footing to bring a round 5 tiebreaker on Village. After a clutch retake in overtime, Laser Kittenz was able to fend off a last ditch push from Misfits due to a pivotal triple kill from mowzassa, including a fight-opening pick off. The final nail would be hammered into the coffin on Hanamura, when Misfits was prevented from capturing the first point due to impressive coordination behind Greyy’s surgical Sombra. The rest is history.
Even though Laser Kittenz would lose the final game of the four map set and would later fall to Misfits at the start of the second week, they had done what they set out to do. In defeating Misfits, they vanquished the last of their demons and overcame what had looked to be a close but almost eternally one sided rivalry. Laser Kittenz would end the tournament out in joint 3rd, beating Singularity in the quarterfinals and losing to eUnited in the semifinals. Misfits would place joint 7th.
Despite their success, Laser Kittenz would continue to tinker with their lineup, replacing Linepro with ex-Cyclone’s Crusade. The team would later release both Munchkin and Claris due to cultural differences, leaving themselves again without a DPS player. The impending start of the Overwatch League set the future of the organization in doubt, as they looked unable to secure one of the original seven spots. It seemed like the Great Alicus’ Show would come to its final curtain call.
Then on August 13 2017, Houdini returned from the dead. In a series of events which could only be described as magical, Cloud 9 announced the acquisition of Laser Kittenz as its European Team. The team would pick up ex-Misfits player Andreas ‘Nevix’ Karlsson to round out the roster, and Ali himself would take over as Director of Overwatch at Cloud 9.
It was the perfect ending to the greatest magic trick in Overwatch.
Epilogue: Master of All Trades
The greatest magicians never reveal their secrets. The core principle of magic is the ability to utilize the unsuspecting nature of the audience to transform what is normal and mundane into something otherworldly. Ali embodied this tenet.
Those who see Alicus as solely an owner or manager miss 90% of what he is truly capable of. Beyond a silver tongue capable of selling anything to anyone, Ali understands what makes esports work. Alicus was the first Western owner to truly push for an extended support team, drawing inspiration from his previous time in Korea. He surrounded himself with coaches who were capable of taking the burden from the players, allowing them to focus more on improvement in the game. In the meantime, he involved himself deeply with his players, guiding them through the rough waters of the developing esports team. If a player needed anything, Alicus was there, and he spared no expense. When it became obvious the early iterations of Laser Kittenz needed to level up, Alicus organized a two month bootcamp in Korea, tapping into his resources to make the time spent as efficient as possible. When other Western teams struggled to find scrims, Laser Kittenz had no issues. Ali’s name was a sort of VIP card with access to almost anywhere in the world of esports.
Yet his fame was only a fraction of his true strength. Alicus’ true strength is his control over the narrative of his organization. While many start up organizations would struggle to gain traction on social media, Ali catered the Laser Kittenz brand to the world of social media around him. Roster changes were covered properly by the organization, often being the first source for news about the team. While other organizations have often deterred fans by sudden changes in the roster, Laser Kittenz remained transparent to theirs, garnering the adoration of many. Even the rivalry between Misfits was curated to draw attention away from LK’s players, focusing much of the trashtalk on Ali himself. Players were given an open forum within the team, airing out much of the bad blood which would have otherwise spilled out onto alternate channels of information. A careful look at the Twitter pages of the players presents an immaculate profile, a rare commodity in esports today. Even the name ‘Laser Kittenz’ tapped into the marketability of the team in the meme-filled esports blogosphere.
Alicus may one day fade into the background of esports. One day, he’ll stop tweeting out and be lost among the legends of the industry. But what he did will never be forgotten. In just six short months, Ali turned a band of misfits and diamonds in the rough into one of the most promising teams in the West. He leaves behind a trail of admirers and imitators in awe of what seems to be his last and greatest performance.
But I know better. After all, the best tricks come in threes.
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