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HSL Esports: The Gauntlet Underdogs

The hype in Jaws and Legday’s voices as “HSL ESPORTS WINS” flashed on the screen was nothing in comparison to the cheers of joy going on in the team’s discord call. By defeating Team Gigantti, they not only took down one of the best teams but also snagged Europe’s only spot in the Gauntlet. This was a dream come true for HSL Esports. “It was crazy, really, like it was amazing. I was shaking for a while after the game, I’ll admit. But it was – it was fantastic,” said Danni “Ding” Rasmussen when asked about how it felt to take down the Finnish powerhouse.

Taking down the Giants

HSL Esports
Graphic courtesy of HSL Esports

The European region is home to many powerhouse teams. Team Gigantti, Rogue, Misfits – all of these teams are considered dynasties. Team Gigantti is considered to be the best team in the competitive region, but they seemed to crumble before the Lions. “You know, we thought that it was going to be a lot harder than it actually was,” Nikolaj “Zaprey” Ian Moyes said about the team’s victory against Gigantti, his voice tinged with amusement. “But I guess our preparation was better, our read of the meta was just better.”

After suffering under GOATS for more than a year, the meta shift was like a breath of fresh air for most teams not only in Contenders but at the Overwatch League level as well. Teams were revitalized with the introduction of Sigma into the game. DPS players especially were quick to rid themselves from their Brigitte and Zarya shackles as Zaprey and Mads “fischer” Jehg took their rightful spots playing characters like Widowmaker and Hanzo. The meta shift allowed a lot of teams in Contenders, not just HSL, to shake things up within their specific regions. However, HSL Esports was pretty much an unknown team coming into the second season of EU Contenders.

From Small Beginnings

HSL Esports
Photo courtesy of Liquipedia

Hailing from Denmark, Ding has been playing Overwatch since the beginning, but his competitive career started much earlier. Like most, he was introduced to gaming pretty early on in his life. He spent about seven years playing League of Legends, competing on and off, before hopping onto the Overwatch hype-train back in 2016. “I was getting pretty burnt out on League of Legends,” He recalled, “And then I saw Overwatch come out, and I was like, ‘Man, this looks pretty fun!'”

Although Tracer initially caught his eye, like most support mains, he felt inclined to switch roles early on. “Eventually, Zen became meta, and I picked him because my team needed it back then,” He stated. Starting on a little team called Magistra, Ding would bounce around from team to team before finding a seemingly permanent home on Young and Beautiful. For a while, Overwatch was a fulfilling game, but much like with League of Legends, Ding burned out because of how stale the meta had become. He decided to take a step back from competing, and the game itself, in favor of Apex Legends. However, with Apex Legends being very slow to build their competitive scene, Ding got bored there too. Wanting to get back into competing, he started to look back into Overwatch and returned to the competitive scene in June.

“I think the break kind of gave me a little bit of a new perspective on the game. When I came back, I was a lot more…I wouldn’t say open to criticism, but I was definitely more open-minded towards how the game is played, and how you treat your teammates.” Ding would briefly join Shu’s Money Crew before finding a permanent home on HSL Esports.

Home of the Danes

Except for French player Valentin “Ascoft” Wulfman and Ilya “Txao” Makarov, who is Russian, everyone on HSL Esports is from Denmark. Before the second season of Contenders, HSL Esports was a scrappy little open division team that nobody had heard of. Eventually, One.PoinT’s roster would be signed by HSL Esports just before the second season of EU Contenders began. However, the entire roster would be poached, and the team would have to start over from scratch. This is why many did not expect HSL to blow through the competition in the way that they did, especially after the late signing of Ding.  However, knowing Fischer made the transition for Ding easier as he replaced Victor “Scaler” Godsk.

2018-09-13 / Photo: Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment

“It’s actually funny because… a couple of weeks after I joined the team, Fischer said to me, ‘I really want to go to Korea; I really want to go to the Gauntlet,'” Ding recalled. “That sentence… was like in my head. Every time we played an official [match], it was like ‘I can’t let this guy down, man.'” Playing together during the 2018 World Cup was a bonding experience for both. Fischer has made a name for himself, both as a great player and for the controversy surrounding his departure from Team Envy last April. Going into Gauntlet, Fischer will be a player that most fans will be keeping an eye on, especially if both HSL Esports and Team Envy manage to find themselves on the same battlefield.

The Cavalry’s Here

While Fischer might be the primary focus for some, one would be remiss to overlook his DPS partner Zaprey. Also hailing from Denmark, Zaprey has proven to be a beast of a hitscan player for HSL. Much like Ding, he was also drawn to Tracer when the game initially came out. Starting on CS:GO, he was attracted to Overwatch because of his love for shooters and because of how fun the game looked. He got into the competitive circuit early on. Originally, Zaprey started on Misfits but jumped around from team to team pretty much every season. He even briefly played in North America on both First and Second Generation. Having a lot of experience in different team settings, Zaprey appreciates the special bond that HSL has formed in the short time that they have all been together.

“It’s been one of the most fun teams I’ve played on,” said Zaprey when asked about his experience on HSL. “There’s a lot of freedom… [we have] good team chemistry.” Both of his teammates would echo this sentiment during their interviews — the freedom, especially, meaning a lot to them all. Although Aymeric “Izzy” Ast is technically HSL’s head coach, the team differs from most in that he uses a more hands-off coaching approach. Rather than Izzy coming up with the decisions, he allows the boys to work together to come up with solutions and strategies for their games. This approach forces the players to think more quickly on their feet to adapt and produce better results. The individual investment from his teammates is something that Txao, especially, appreciates.

“The thing about HSL is that it has this… vibe of people coming together to do something that they really want to do. Everyone wants to participate. Everyone wants to bring his opinion, [to] bring his part to the table to actually achieve a common goal.”

Let’s Shoot for A New High Score

HSL Esports, Txao
Image courtesy of Liquipedia

Like Ding and Zaprey, Txao was also enthralled with the game when it first came out. “I actually had goosebumps because of how much I liked the visuals of the game, and how much it just like clicked with me,” Txao recalled. Txao started his gaming career playing a variety of games, MOBAs, and FPS games quickly becoming his favorites because of how fast-paced they could be. When Overwatch was released, he was immediately drawn to D.Va and quickly rose to the top of the ladder playing her. His competitive spirit quickly got him into the Contenders scene. He most notably made a name for himself while playing for CIS Hope and the Paris Eternal’s ill-fated academy team, Eternal Academy.

After his brief stint on Eternal Academy, Txao values his current teammates because of the amount of effort they put into everything that they do. On Eternal Academy, he did not get that same sense of dedication. “I just felt like we didn’t have fun… I don’t think anyone did. Some people were just spacing out. Sometimes it just felt like a routine. It should never feel like that.”

The team environment might seem more relaxed to some, but the boys are more motivated than most. After defeating Gigantti, they’re more determined than ever to show the world what they’ve got. However, they are realistic about their chances considering the talent they’ll be going up against.

“I love being the underdog,” Ding chuckled when asked about how he thought the team would do, “It takes a lot of the pressure off.”

Going into the Gauntlet

HSL Esports will be starting in Group A on the Gauntlet Bracket. Their first match will be against XL2 Academy, and then they will face off against the winner between Element Mystic vs. Talon. Out of all the North American teams going to the Gauntlet, XL2 are arguably the weakest. Although they have great players in Kai “KSP” Collins and Robert “HaKu” Blohm, HSL is more confident in their approach to the game. They’re not afraid of taking risks, and they have the most to prove out of all the teams attending. Of all the teams in this group, XL2 will be the easiest opponents that HSL Esports will face.

Element Mystic
Photo Courtesy of Liquipedia

Should HSL Esports move on, their next task will come in the form of either Talon or Element Mystic. Both are great teams with a lot of talent on their rosters. However, much like HSL Esports, Talon is considered an underdog team by many, and are not considered the favorites going into this matchup. Element Mystic is regarded as the primary frontrunner of this group, and this is because of their star DPS player Yeong-han “Sp9rk1e” Kim.

Sp9rk1e is an incredible Genji, but his Doomfist is what has captured everyone’s attention this season. Element Mystic is one of the top teams in Korea. They are expected to wipe the floor with Group A. If both HSL Esports and Element Mystic make it to the final match of the group, Element Mystic will more than likely take them down.

The odds are, once again, not in HSL’s favor here. Many don’t expect them to go the distance. However, in the words of Dory Preven: “Beware of barking at underdogs; don’t fight with people who have nothing left to lose.”

Especially if those people happen to be lions.

Make sure to tune in TONIGHT as HSL Esports takes on XL2 Academy! Check out this guide to find out where to watch.

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