Last week, Esports Heaven had the chance to ask Misfits’ former GM, Ali “Alicus” Saba some questions in relation to League of Legends, Overwatch and his career in esports.
Two months shy from being a quarter of a century old, the young man has worked in real estate, managed multiple esports teams, built a top EULCS squad. as well as one of the best Overwatch squads and most recently founded his own team under the eccentric name of “Laser Kittenz”. Last but not least, he's also discovered he has a real passion for hookah and sushi.
Why and how does a young man like yourself go from real estate and corporal management into a full-time career of managing teenagers who play video games for a living?
In early 2015, I began to feel unhappy, and started craving a change of scenery, so I quit my job. I've always had a passion for esports, so I decided to try my best to make it work out for me. I guess I knew I could always go back after if it didn't work out. I didn't want to have any regrets. Follow your dreams, I guess.
Even on Ex-Nihilo you had players who went on to be decent LCS level players, or were given a chance to play for good teams, and the same has been true for pretty much all your rosters. Obviously it can't be luck as it kept happening but you haven't played at a high level nor an analyst. Why do you think you've been so good at picking players and can you describe your process for selecting and trying them out?
I've always taken on a leadership role, even socially. After you spend a lot of time doing that, you get a feel for who's best to take under your wing. Obviously, personality and attitude play a great part for me, but I would spend a lot of time watching ladder games, and whenever someone would stand out, I would write their name down. I actually had a list of players back when I was building Challenger teams, and I would spectate a set of players very closely and [ put a ] tick beside their name whenever they had an outstandingly good or outstandingly bad performance -- sort of like teachers do when they evaluate their students. Then, I would just glance at it to form a quick "power ranking" based on raw game sense alone. However, getting to know them and observing their organic role when they interact with a team is very important, too.
Liquid112 from team Liquid has mentioned in a previous season that his team has access to a system that looks at stats in detail, similarly to traditional pro-sports. Do you use any similar software and do you have any opinion on its efficacy?
I use community websites to track match history in both solo queue and pro play. Shoutout to op.gg & EsportsWikis. I hire analysts to track stats in scrims, obviously, so that we can identify prevalent issues and back it up with facts. Other than that, I'm not too fond of using programs or stats for scouting. Solo queue performance statistics don't really tell the whole story. I would rather watch the players myself and speak to pros to gather opinions on them, their attitude and their potential.
I've noticed that whenever you've picked veterans, it has always been ones who are cerebral rather than intuitive players. Is there any reason for that?
You've said it yourself -- When I recruit veterans, I basically put them on veteran roles within the team. I've always preferred hungry rookies where intuition is concerned.
Describe for us how the process of signing KaKAO went.
We were trialing a lot of high profile junglers in Korea, and I knew KaKAO's contract was expiring after Worlds while we were there. So, when it expired, I reached out to some contacts in China and realized he was still FA. I asked mutuals for his kakaotalk, we started chatting about our vision and he was happy to come over to meet everyone and play scrims with us. Needless to say, he performed by far the best. He's unbelievably good, and eager to prove himself again. Whenever KaKAO is asked about why he chose Misfits, you'll hear him say he loved the passion and environment. This is the exact formula I have in place for all my teams, and it's definitely a bestseller for top talent.
Obviously, he didn't play too well in LPL and LSPL and didn't seem to be particularly dedicated. Did you have any concerns for signing him after that, especially on a 2 year contract.? Were you expecting him to perform as well as he has this season?
Of course we were expecting him to perform as well as he has this season. He just didn't fit in, in China. They have a lot of management issues over there, too. Players throw tantrums, destroy keyboards and air conditioners, and seem to get away with it. I wouldn't be surprised if he experienced at least some form of mismanagement or player misbehavior.
In LoL, at least for most teams, it is the organization who is in control of the roster; however, in CS:GO, those matters are rarely out of players' hands. How is Overwatch in that aspect?
Globally, Overwatch is still in that phase where players do dictate a lot of those moves. It paves the way for a lot of friendship politics, which sucks for some players who get cut off. I don't know if or when that will change. It takes time to win the players' respect and trust. You have to show them that you have everyone's best interest in mind, and that you know what you're talking about.
Speaking of control over rosters, on Misfits, the Overwatch squad made a change immediately after winning DreamHack with a limited amount of practice. What are your thoughts as a GM on a winning squad making roster changes and what do you think about that particular situation?
A winning squad can definitely make roster changes if they have higher goals in mind. Sometimes you're only as good as your weakest player, or the synergy just isn't as good as it could be. Nonetheless, my thoughts on that particular situation were that it's not a good move. I still think so today. It was the only change I ever opposed back on Misfits, but when certain players found out that their teammates would rather play with others and cut them off, it created rifts that were near impossible to repair.
None of the 3 orgs involved really had much say in it. It just happened. I think if Misfits had found a formidable replacement for Kryw, and if Rogue kept the same line up, APEX would've been a totally different story. Now, I guess we'll never know.
You had COOLLER playing Lucio for Dreamhack. What is your impression of him? Obviously he's one of the most successful Quake players and seems to be trying pretty hard in Overwatch now.
I wasn't able to attend that LAN as I was in Korea, but throughout all the iterations of Misfits, Zebbosai was always the main shotcaller and strategist. I never heard the comms so I can't really say much, but yeah we had a lot of respect for Cooller.
Now that you are a founder and a CEO of the new team, you make the final decision in what happens, at least in theory. How much say did you you have in your previous teams?
I always had more or less full control in regards to gaming operations: in Ex Nihilo I was CEO; Montecristo & Badawi trusted my decisions on Renegades Banditos, and on Misfits, Ben was happy enough to let me run the show across all gaming titles as GM.
How did the “Laser Kittenz” name come to be?
We were basically spamming our Discord with a bunch of ideas, and eventually I came up with something bad enough for everyone to be on board with. The "z" is there because you don't use a name like Laser Kittenz if you're scared to go all the way. It's hip.
Given that the name is a bit light-hearted and that you were feeling somewhat burnt-out at the end of Misfits, a lot of fans have been wondering how serious is the team?
Very serious. I'm actually super excited about the upcoming Overwatch League; it's a new approach to competitive gaming and I want to be a part of it from the start.
Note: since the interview was conducted, Laser Kittenz have announced that they’ll be adding the former SC2 player and coach who later on coached in LoL in multiple teams, including Alicus’s Ex Nihilo. Additionally, the team will be visiting South Korea for a bootcamp. Initially Cella will be taking care of bootcamp logistics, scheduling and team discipline but later on also fulfill the duties of a strategic coach, as he becomes more familiar with professional Overwatch. You can learn more about Cella’s past in this article.
You've been in esports for a while, visited Korea and follow both LoL and Overwatch. Why do you think Koreans tend to get better than the west in games that get popular there and do you think they're already better in Overwatch?
Korean infrastructure infrastructure is just beyond what words can describe. They play on really low ping, for countless hours, and they're happy to make sacrifices for the team. They respect their "elders" (coaches), who in turn often have years of experience from other titles such as Starcraft. I also think western players & teams often have internal struggles that they don't deal with as efficiently as they do in Korea, but I really don't want to take away from Korea's success, nor do I want to pretend to know the full answer to that question. The bottom line is that they're better, and yes, they're factually already better in Overwatch.
You're still young but have already had a considerable amount of success in esports. Where do you see yourself in three years, be it in esports or out of it?
I'm not sure. I always like to keep my options open, but right now I don't have any plans that would require me to step away from esports.
Favorite dish: Sushi
A country you want to visit one day: New Zealand
The player who's played under you who has impressed you the most: Nevix
Are you a memer: Occasionally
Photo credits: Dreamhack, Riot Games.
About the author:
Hello readers! I go by the ID RadoN, my introduction to esports happened in 2009 and I’ve been following different games within the industry ever since. Titles I currently follow are Overwatch, CS:GO, LoL, QL with the occasional SFV and DOTA2. If you wish to provide feedback, support and follow future content, or simply know more about my thoughts on gaming and esports, follow me at @RadoNonfire on twitter.