Lifting The Pressure

Frank Norqvist
This is my second attempt at a professional esports career after taking a clean break from the scene for the best part of a year. The pressure to do something with my life had been weighing down on me to the point where I needed to clear my mind.

When I decided to step away, I felt I had experienced nearly all the negative aspect of esports: a long run of poor results, getting caught up in bad contracts, the pressure to either start studying or working coming from my home. In the end, it all felt so overwhelming that I had stopped enjoying the game, it didn’t feel like it was worth it anymore.

I started working for a horse betting company and returned to my studies, finding the time to play League of Legends on the side. Playing casually slowly relieved the pressure I had built up previously; I was able to enjoy the game again rather than being fixated on trying to get a spot on a top team.

With the rest of my time, I started working out – I’d been playing sports since I was a kid but I had some injuries and had to stop – so I started going to the gym instead, a couple of times a week.

I loved it, it was the much-needed therapy I’d been missing previously; I love that you can just forget about everything and focus on the one task that’s directly in front of you. Before long, I was working out six times a week and it’s something I’ve done ever since. If everything goes bad in League, I can still just go to the gym and simply forget all about it.

I still missed competitive League of Legends though and continued to follow the scene. It would panic me when I saw a player I didn’t think was good getting a spot on the roster of good teams, it made me question whether I had made the right decision giving up when I had: “Why the fuck did I stop playing?!”

When I got the opportunity to enter the Nordic Championship qualifiers, I knew I was ready to give it another shot. Our AD Carry, Rafael, had asked me to fill the jungle slot in his team and we went into the qualifier and won every single game. It was at that point that Team Atlantis approached us – they looked like a good organisation and we started playing under their banner.

Atlantis have really helped me out. It’s their ambition to build a brand that promotes a healthy lifestyle; they plan to find a gaming house and to produce content that supports those ideas and that’s something that’s really important to me.

It’s become a lot easier to play League for a living now compared to my previous experience. The formation of the regional league was a major turning point, especially for me as a Nordic player.

It’s hard as a Nordic player when you have to get onto a Spanish roster to play in the LVP Superliga for example, because in that situation you’re the import and you have to be the star to justify that slot. If you fail to impress, it becomes a lot more difficult to get other offers, your fate is very dependant on timing and luck.

When I initially returned with Team Atlantis in the Nordic Championship, I was probably the weakest player on the team; I was rusty. In honesty, my team carried me throughout the qualifiers and for the first few weeks of the split. Gradually the team and I started to improve, our coach Dinep was a big part of that.

By the end of the split, my role within the team had changed. I had been a shot caller before my break, but when I first returned, I didn’t have the confidence to lead the team, as the season progressed though, my confidence grew.

By the time we reached the playoff finals, I was a primary shot caller alongside Lion. I’m now able to remove emotion from the game, I’m always focused on the next move, there’s no room to get upset about a bad play – our Nordic Championship Playoff Final against PPK put that philosophy to the test.

The very first game of that series could easily have tilted our entire team and lost us the final. We had survived the stages of the game that were hard for us and were just hitting our power spikes when out of nowhere, our computers all disconnected and all we could hear through our headsets was white noise. PPK didn’t disconnect and seemingly couldn’t hear us yelling for a pause.

They paused after about 20 seconds, by which point they were able to clear all of our vision around Baron and regain control of the game. We decided to play it out anyway, but we had lost our focus, the game was over for us the moment that happened.

Before we knew it, we were two games down. We regrouped backstage and I addressed the team, giving my perspective: ‘The first two games are gone, we have to let it go, we need to reset now and win three games in a row – it’s fine, we just have to start playing our game.’

Personally, I wanted to try a new matchup in the jungle and I asked the coach whether we could take away my opponent’s comfort Skarner pick. Carry junglers fit my playstyle so I locked in Kha’Zix – I got an early lead and suddenly it felt like I could carry again.

All it took was for us to get that first win on the board, from that point, it was back in our hands. Winning the championship was really big for me, I was so happy to have come back and win alongside my friends.

The Nordic league, whilst it’s great for the region, doesn’t necessarily have the strongest level of competition – you aren’t really proving anything to anybody by winning in that league. Of course, it was the first ever split of the league and I believe that it will get stronger progressively every split.

Even before the final, the EU Masters had been on my mind – for non-LCS players, that’s the stage on which you can really show yourself and prove your worth; it’s a significant step up.

The EU Masters is extremely important, it’s here that you can really show what you’re made of, both as a team and as an individual, in a way, it feels like a big scouting grounds. I think people are starting to realise that there are a lot of good players outside of the EU LCS and the EU Masters provides the tournament to showcase those players so that they can find opportunities in the future.

If we were locked to only playing in our regional leagues, it’d be very hard to show ourselves as players, for that reason I felt really proud to be nominated as one of the MVPs of the group stage. When I watch the big teams in EU LCS and I see the crowd and the level of play on that stage, I think to myself: ‘I want to get to that level; I need to get to that level’ – the EU Masters has put me one step closer to that goal.

For the immediate future, I’ll be looking to stay with Atlantis and retain our title for the Summer Split of the Nordic Championship, laying the foundations for a legacy in this league. But, of course, I’ll be keeping my options open to a return to Spain, it depends on what offers I get.

Like every regional player, I’m ultimately looking for a spot in the EU LCS but what I’ve learned from my experience is not to put so much pressure on that, I just need to give myself time.

Image Credit: Stephanie Lindgren for Dreamhack

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