The rise, fall, and potential rise again of Unicorns of love

Albert Sheng • August 15, 20:30

Unicorns of Love was the ultimate meta breaker, and in more ways than one. From their name and uniform to their play style and identity, everything the team did flew in the face of League of Legends conventions. 

They didn’t have to go to Worlds or win titles to earn devotion from fans, they just had to be themselves. It’s worth looking back at the original roster that rose from amateur team to fan favorite in a matter of months, to better understand exactly how they did it.

Humble Beginnings

Unicorns of Love began as a family business, and remains one today. The League of Legends team was founded in August 2013 by Fabian “Sheepy” Mallant, who also came up with the iconic name. The reasoning behind the name was essentially to taunt opponents.

As a young and inexperienced player, Sheepy enlisted the help of his parents, Jos and Vivien Mallant, to help get the team started. Both Jos and Vivien were supportive of the idea, helping Fabian set up a bank account for the team and supporting the team as fans. Over time, the team grew into a multi-game organization, so Jos and Vivien took up the posts of CEO and General Manager while Fabian has been the coach for the League of Legends team since late 2014. They remain in these positions to this day and as the CEO of UoL, Jos has earned the endearing title of “UOLdad.”

The UoL Rollercoaster Begins

Back in 2014, the Unicorns were still an unknown amateur team. After finding some success in Go4LoL tournaments, the ragtag collection of players began competing in more competitive challenger events like the Summer Black Monster Cup and the Dailymotion Challenger Cup

After strong finishes it was clear that the team had real potential, but they always fell short of a first-place finish. In what was surprising LoL news at the time, the roster qualified for the Summer EU Challenger Series (EUCS).

At the time, the EUCS was split into two Summer Series. Accumulating points in the two series would give the top six a chance to battle it out in the playoffs for three promotion slots. Each slot would give a team the chance to rise into the 2015 EU LCS through a Promotion Tournament. 

In both Summer Series, UoL managed to reach the quarterfinals before losing, accumulating just enough points to tie for sixth place. After beating Playing Ducks in a tiebreaker, UoL secured a playoff spot by the skin of their teeth.

With their talented roster of Vizicsacsi, Gilius, PowerOfEvil, Vardags, and Hylissang, as well as coach Sheepy, UoL had already gone further than they ever expected. With giants like H2K, SK Prime, and Ninjas in Pyjamas standing in their way, UoL’s journey looked like it would come to an end. 

Seeded into last place and with a gruelling schedule ahead of them, just one slip-up along the way could bring the UoL rollercoaster ride to a grinding halt. Despite their doubts, they weren’t about to let this golden opportunity get away from them.

In the quarterfinals, UoL found themselves against third-place Gamers2, the organization that would later become G2 Esports. Despite G2’s earlier success, Carlos Ocelote and his team were found lacking, leading to a 2-1 victory for UoL. 

The semifinal proved to be a much greater challenge, as the path forward was blocked by second-place team H2K. Vizicsacsi, already known for his off-meta strategies, used Yorick to crush Odoamne’s Mundo and start the series 1-0. H2K hit back hard, taking the next game in an intense 52-minute battle. In the decider, Vizicsacsi once again picked Yorick while Vardags put on a show with Kog’maw. In the end though it was all for nought, as after another three barons and 52 minutes H2K managed to derail UoL.

Dropping into the loser’s finals, UoL’s last shot to secure a promotion was beating top-seeded Ninjas in Pyjamas in a best-of-five series. 

On paper, there’s no doubt that NiP should have won. The year before, NiP had competed in the EU LCS Summer Split, but were relegated to the EUCS. After failing to get promoted back to the LCS in the Spring Promotions, NiP were desperate to win this match and return to the EU LCS. 

Furthermore, in the regular series, NiP accumulated 17 points while UoL had just three. With Moscow Five’s legendary mid laner Alex Ich at the helm of NiP, the UoL rollercoaster was all but certain to crash and burn.

But the Unicorns proved once again that they couldn’t be measured by logic or statistics. In a massive upset, UoL swept NiP with terrifying efficiency. 

In Game 1, Vizicsacsi used an unconventional Swain top pick to stomp NiP in 23 minutes, with the final kill tally sitting at 14 to one. The next game was just as dominant, with a 14/1/9 PowerOfEvil putting on an Orianna masterclass. Alex Ich’s Yasuo lived up to the usual stereotype, with a score of 1/7/6 and 6,000 gold behind his opponent.

NiP’s last-ditch effort was thwarted in just 30 minutes, as Vardags took the spotlight with his 15/2/10 Tristana. The UoL hype train thundered on, while NiP quickly crumbled and disbanded in the wake of this devastating defeat.

Promotion Poppy

As a result of their promising performance in the EUCS Playoffs, UoL grabbed a spot in the Promotion Tournament for the 2015 EU LCS Spring Split. Expectations were high and the stakes were even higher. UoL had to put everything on the line in a best-of-five against Millenium. Unfortunately, the series got off to a rocky start as Millenium went 2-0 up. 

With their LCS hopes at stake, there was only one thing left to do. Pick Poppy for the first time in competitive play, ever. 

Using the gloriously ugly, pre-rework Poppy, Vizicsacsi went 8/0/7 and rallied his team to an unlikely victory that showed the world exactly what UoL was all about. With this swing in momentum, UoL reverse swept Millennium 3-2 to secure their place in the EU LCS Spring Split 2015. 

Millennium’s LCS hopes were crushed under Poppy’s low-polygon hammer, while UoL galloped to the next battlefield.

Fan favourites

In preparation for their entry to the LCS, UoL made a roster change where Gilius was replaced by former SK Prime jungler Kikis. Known for his strange cheese picks and eclectic champion pool, Kikis fit right in with the wacky UoL squad.

Instead of the EU LCS though, their next battlefield turned out to be IEM San Jose in December 2014. This huge international tournament was part of IEM Season 9, leading up to the IEM World Championships in March 2015. By this point UoL hadn’t even played in the EU LCS yet, but was unexpectedly voted into the event by fans, beating second-place SK Gaming’s LCS team by a wide margin. 

“We really didn’t expect anything going into the vote. We knew that we had really great fans supporting us but going up against such well-established teams in the EU scene. No one could expect how convincingly we would end up winning the vote,” said UoL in an interview after being selected for the event. “We are really thankful to have such a great fan base supporting us. We will take this opportunity and try our best!”

This overwhelming vote for a new team showed just how lovable and inspiring UoL was, edging out huge organizations that had been competing for years. Representing EU alongside them was Alliance with Froggen, Nyph and Rekkles, while North America was represented by Team SoloMid and Cloud9. 

The two remaining teams were selected from Latin America and Brazil. Expectations were low for the wildcard teams and UoL was the clear dark horse in this NA vs. EU classic. The team still relished the challenge. 

“Honestly, we are really looking forward to it! Being able to play against such good teams before the LCS is a great opportunity to see where we stand.”

David and Goliath

The tournament began as expected, with C9 knocking out paIN Gaming. UoL’s first series was against Lyon Gaming, the wildcard Latin American team. Interestingly Lyon gaming had to sub in classic TSM jungler TheOddOne’s younger brother ‘Maplestreet’ as bot laner, introducing a language barrier that instantly played a role in the outcome. 

While trying to first-pick Lee Sin, Lucian was accidentally picked instead. On the other hand, UoL was able to draft comfort picks like PoE’s LeBlanc and Kikis’ Kayle jungle. With the lack of practice together and communication issues, Lyon were trampled 2-0 by the Unicorns.

The Unicorns’ next series would not prove to be such an easy one though. Up against TSM’s star-studded roster of Dyrus, Amazing, Bjergsen, WildTurtle, and Lustboy, UoL needed a miracle to advance to the finals. 

This same TSM roster had just won the LCS Summer Split Playoffs against C9, securing NA’s first seed at Worlds 2014. They then escaped groups in second place, only losing in the quarterfinals to the eventual champions of Samsung White. As the icing on the cake, San Jose was TSM’s home turf. Owner Andy “Reginald” Dinh grew up and founded the team there, so the fans in attendance were decidedly in their favor.

According to their results, TSM was the best North American team and by all accounts, UoL should have been stomped and sent home. After all, even the more-experienced Alliance roster was eventually defeated 2-0 by C9 and sent home with a $5,000 prize. How could these fresh-faced Europeans stand a chance against one of the oldest and most successful teams in the game?

Nobody, not even UoL themselves or TSM’s coach Locodoco, imagined it. TSM’s scrims had been going well and they weren’t being punished for their greedy picks and plays. It seemed like the finals were fated to be an all-NA affair, a rematch between the Summer Playoffs finalists TSM and C9. 

But UoL’s existence was always a walking conundrum. How could they be counted out so easily? 

It turned out that the Unicorns had been hiding a secret weapon in jungling Twisted Fate. With Kikis being able to play seemingly anything in the jungle with success, UoL were able to get a huge upper hand in the draft by first-picking what looked to be a Twisted Fate mid. 

Taking the bait, Bjergsen picked a counter to TF, the immobile Xerath. With their trap sprung, PoE was able to pick a hard counter to Xerath in the form of LeBlanc. The immobile Xerath was a sitting duck for the hyper-mobile mage. 

Using the point-and-click stun of TF’s gold card, a level-two gank on Bjergsen gave the TF jungle an easy First Blood while also setting up PoE for a monstrous carry performance. A massive Gnar ultimate from Vizicsacsi could have sealed the deal for UoL, but being the experienced roster they were, TSM were able to claw back a few more kills. 

Unfortunately for them, it was too little, too late as the Unicorns closed out the game in just under 38 minutes. Securing this first game was already a massive surprise, but it would all mean nothing if they couldn’t win another. Unable to rely on their TF cheese pick again, UoL would have to face the world-class TSM fair and square.

Eager to take back a win from the mid lane, Bjergsen picked Azir into PowerOfEvil’s Syndra. He seemed confident in his ability to carry late game and outclass PoE, but this same overconfidence ended up being his downfall. Walking up too close and not respecting Syndra’s damage saw Bjergsen give up a huge solo kill and First Blood, spelling defeat for TSM. 

With TSM outclassed in every lane and Kikis’ unconventional Wukong jungle delivering easy kills to his teammates, the kills quickly started to rack up for UoL. It was only a matter of time before UoL started to bear down on the Nexus through the top lane, and TSM knew they were powerless to stop them. 

Instead, they chose to take one last chance on a base race through UoL’s mid lane inhibitor. Standing in their way was Vizicsacsi’s Irelia, who managed to stall them long enough for his team to beat back Dyrus’ Maokai and explode the Nexus, toppling the giant that was Team SoloMid.

The Unicorns had done the impossible yet again, catapulting them into the international spotlight. 

“They just played a lot better than we thought they would,” said TSM’s coach Locodoco after the loss. “We were playing hyper-greedy and getting away with it in scrims so we thought it would be okay in tourney level too. They played really aggressive and they were really up in tempo.”

The 17 year old prodigy PowerOfEvil in particular had shown himself to be one of the best mid laners around, dominating Bjergsen in both games. “Their mid player, PowerOfEvil, played exceptionally well.”

All of a sudden, this recently qualified team started to be lauded as ‘the saviour of EU’ while gathering an almost cult-like following of fans. PoE gained thousands of Twitter followers almost overnight, while Reddit threads documenting their feats popped up everywhere. Even in victory though, the Unicorns remained humble and wholesome. 

The First-Place Curse 

Following C9’s triumph over Alliance, it was time for the grand finals. 

“I just love the story line going into this match, because we have the most dominant North American team over the last year and a half, coming up against this new European team that just qualified for the EU LCS and had this kind of miraculous run, taking down another North American titan in TSM,” said MonteCristo on the analyst desk. 

“I want to see the mid lane matchup,” said Saintvicious. “PowerOfEvil just like, dismantled Bjergsen. It looked pretty ugly, so I’m worried about Hai.”

Meteos, C9’s jungler, shared his thoughts before the faceoff. 

“I’m pretty excited to play Unicorns of Love, they’re a new team that looks really strong…I think TSM might have underestimated them, but we definitely won’t make the same mistake,” Meteos said. 

With Alliance knocked out, all of Europe’s hopes rested squarely on UoL’s shoulders. While fans previously had no real expectations, now they were really starting to feel the pressure. 

Could the Unicorns finally place first in a major tournament? They may have come second, third, and fourth plenty of times, but the organization had not won a single tournament since they started competing in challenger events. Fans waited with bated breath for the curse to finally be lifted.

As the self-proclaimed “cheese team,” viewers were expecting to see a few more weird picks in the draft. Delivering straight out of the gate, Kikis picked jungle Kayle once again in game one of this best-of-five, while PowerOfEvil opted to pick Lux into Hai’s Syndra. 

Things got off to a bad start as a level-six tower dive resulted in Vizicsacsi falling to Balls’ Lissandra and Meteos’ Lee Sin. After a lull in the fighting, C9 managed to find another kill on Vardags’ Lucian, but UoL struck back and evened out the gold by taking the mid lane tower. 

The balance was quickly thrown off when UoL forced an ill-advised fight that turned into a 3v4. The devastating decision resulted in three UoL deaths for just one kill on LemonNation’s Thresh, putting the ball in C9’s court. 

Pushing their advantage, Sneaky and Meteos began picking up kills and objectives to snowball their lead. With the score at 13-3 in C9’s favour, UoL took a calculated fight and shut down Sneaky’s Corki to claw their way back into the match. Unfortunately, a perfectly timed Baron, three dragons, and some strong teamfights spelled the end for the Unicorns, giving them their first loss in the tournament.

After seeing C9 adapt to their style and shut down their cheese pick, UoL were in big trouble. While TSM were helpless against unorthodox play, C9 wasn’t underestimating the Unicorns. 

For Vizicsacsi, it was time to get serious by picking the legendary Ghost Teleport Poppy once again. Meanwhile, PowerOfEvil chose his signature LeBlanc. 

While C9 found First Blood on Kikis and got ahead early, a perfectly executed collapse around Dragon gave the Unicorns four kills for free. By 21 minutes, both teams sat evenly at two towers, one dragon and 29,000 gold each. 

Fighting neck and neck, Poppy continued to develop into a bigger and bigger problem. Using Ghost to his advantage, Vizcsacsi was able to split push unstoppably, almost killing two members of C9 in a one-on-three confrontation. The back and forth continued until UoL impatiently started a base race, which they lost in devastating fashion. 

After losing their bot inhibitor, UoL chased Meteos and Sneaky straight into the rest of C9, almost getting wiped by Hai’s Shockwave and Balls’ unkillable Maokai. Finding themselves at an advantage, C9 pushed the Unicorns back into their base. The Unicorns fought desperately, but resistance was futile. After 38 minutes, C9 took the second game.

Just one loss from going home, UoL pulled out all the stops. Vizicsacsi picked Ghost Teleport Hecarim this time, hoping to run down his opponents. Maintaining their ‘cheese team’ reputation UoL took a level-one dragon by resetting the aggro repeatedly to cancel its attacks. Even this was not enough though, as C9 found First Blood once again in a hectic team fight to pull ahead. 

Despite UoL’s best efforts, none of their attempts to strike back at C9 paid off. With objective and vision control, the gold differential widened rapidly, culminating in a Baron for C9. 

LemonNation’s heat-seeking Thresh hooks scored pick after pick onto the Unicorns, once again forcing UoL back to their Nexus Towers. In a last ditch effort to break the curse, UoL took a five-on-five that resulted in a Pentakill for Sneaky’s Corki, putting him at 13/1/11 as he closed out the series.

The Aftermath

While their curse did hold strong, UoL definitely didn’t regret competing at IEM San Jose. They had proven themselves as top-tier players and amassed a passionate fanbase with their cheese picks. Playing against some of the best teams in the west was also a huge boon for them before heading to the EU LCS. 

In the Spring Split, UoL went 9-9 and headed to the playoffs before making an amazing run to the finals. Unfortunately, the curse struck again and they lost 2-3 to EU titans Fnatic. Despite their disappointing finish, the Unicorns never gave up their unique identity as meta breakers. With picks like Poppy and Yorick top, Varus mid, Nautilus, Sion, and even jungle Gnar, UoL was the same beast that fans knew and loved. Interestingly, they won significantly more games when playing off-meta champions.

Unfortunately, it seems their misfortune was not limited to the original roster either. Swapping Kikis for H0R0 in the 2015 Regional Finals could only net them second place again. Even rosters years down the line suffered the same fate. 

Before failing to become a franchised team in the LEC after 2018, UoL had only won a single event in its entire history in IEM Season 11 Oakland, where they beat Flash Wolves for a $50,000 prize.

Despite all of the setbacks, UoL was always one of the most fun European teams to support. Their exit from the LEC after 2018 was heartbreaking for many fans, but the Unicorns didn’t give up so easily. They now have a Russian team competing in the LCL, where they have finally managed to find the success fans dreamed of. 

UoL won the 2019 Summer Split and the 2020 Spring Split, as well as the Spring Open Cup. They even qualified for Worlds 2019 Play-ins, although they were knocked out by old rivals Splyce.

Now that the curse is broken, perhaps the Unicorns will one day make a return to the limelight of the World Championship stage. 

article-img

Thorin and Montecristo on the future of Flashpoint, Cloud9, FPX, more

Nick Johnson • April 26, 15:19
article-img

Splyce beats Unicorns of Love, heads to LoL Worlds main event

lol
Marta Juras • October 8, 20:31
article-img

Here are all Pokémon games in order of their release

Christian Vejvad • July 1, 14:42
article-img

Breaking down The International 2019’s field of teams

Marta Juras • August 15, 21:15
article-img

Clutch, Splyce among teams in LoL Worlds 2019 play-in stage

lol
Melany Moncav • September 20, 22:30
article-img

The numbers say these are the top 10 teams in CSGO

Nick Johnson • September 24, 18:44