It’s very hard to break a first impression in the esports scene. Once you’re labelled a certain way, or people have a certain perception of you, it’s a very difficult thing to change.
It’s taken me four years, but today, when the EU LCS Summer Split starts, I’ll be returning to the LCS with Giants Gaming.
I first qualified for the LCS in North America with compLexity Gaming in the summer of 2014. Throughout the season, expectations for our roster were not high. I had only been coaching professionally for about six months, and it quickly became clear to me that I had a lot to learn and the burden of expectation weighed heavily upon me.
I was a hockey player back in Canada and had the “jock mentality”; I didn’t realize how poorly that translated to the real world. That type of behavior doesn’t come across well in professional settings in any industry. I couldn’t act the same way and I was very bad at understanding that.
I ended up being so focused on superficial things – what people said, or how I was received by the scene – that at a certain point, it started to hurt me when I saw things written or said about me that weren’t positive.
There’s this clip on youtube from our promotion tournament match against Team8 that showcases my career-defining moment. I ended up doing this on stage:
We were in the middle of a best of 5, and we had just tied it up to force a final game. I think that clip best shows the age that I was at the time – I was 18, I was emotionally charged, and I couldn’t handle stress very well. I was in a position of leadership but I was very much still a kid.
After compLexity lost the series, and subsequently, our LCS spot, I was sitting at home and reflecting on the Split. I lost multiple LCS offers because I was viewed as a PR risk and I realized that I was going to need to change the way I carried myself and how I acted if I wanted to coach at the highest level.
I had to change the way I talked to people. I had to change the way I treated people. I needed to deal with criticism in a healthier way so that my entire mood wasn’t based on public perception. I had to learn to be more grateful for the opportunity to even pursue coaching professionally.
After spending a few years in the amateur scene, I got a message from Cloud9 around the time of the 2016 NA LCS Spring Finals in Las Vegas. They asked me to come to Korea with them to bootcamp and try out for a coaching position.
That message was the start of the turnaround for me since it validated the work I had been putting in to improve myself.
However, upon arriving in Korea, a lot of problems festered from my own insecurities. I was so focused on being a better person and trying to be likeable, that I wasn’t able to perform my job at the highest level. I was so fixated on not doing the things that players expected me to do, based on what they might have heard about me, that I came across as someone seeking validation from them, as opposed to an authority figure in a position of leadership.
No matter how good my game knowledge was, or how I communicated with my team, my insecurity of being perceived as someone I no longer was completely overshadowed my ability to perform.
Cloud9 ended up keeping Reapered. Not only did he have the same skillset as me, but he was older and had much more experience in the scene. He was simply better than me in every way, it really didn’t make sense for me to stay with the main roster. I went and helped Hai, Balls, and the rest of the new Cloud9 Challenger lineup qualify for the 2016 NA CS Summer Split. Once they qualified, I left the organization completely to figure things out again.
I started putting out content, and right around the 2016 Regional Qualifiers, Fnatic contacted me, wanting to try me out. I was waking up at 4 am in Canada to watch scrim blocks and frankly, do whatever they asked me to during the trial period.
After the regional gauntlet, Fnatic offered me the opportunity to be the Assistant Coach for the LCS roster, as well as the Head Coach of Fnatic Academy, with the intention of qualifying for the EU LCS and selling the spot.
It felt good to receive an offer and work with another great organization, but the stigma that came with my name was always in the back of my mind.
This time, though, when I arrived at the Fnatic house, I took what I had learned from my experience with Cloud9 and just did my job. I was myself, and I realized I didn’t have to worry about everything so much. All I had to do was do my job and people would see the results of my efforts and feel confident in my ability. It was the first time in two years that I felt happy; even comfortable. I had never been more motivated.
I had been spending most of my time with Fnatic Academy to make sure they won Challenger Playoffs and qualified for the LCS. We succeeded and we all went home, ready to keep playing together while Fnatic looked to sell the spot.
Weeks went by without an update. Nisqy got an offer to go to North America. MrRallez got an offer from TSM. Fnatic still hadn’t moved on selling the spot and the writing on the wall slowly became clear.
Ninjas in Pyjamas wanted the LCS spot from Fnatic, but they only wanted certain people from the Fnatic Academy roster. By that point though, we were so close as a group that those of us left weren’t comfortable splitting the team up. It’s been a year now, and it may look foolish in hindsight, but when you have a bond that strong and you’re that confident about your abilities as a team, the other potential outcome wasn’t something anyone was comfortable with.
So NiP bought the spot and took no one from the Fnatic Academy roster. That was the probably the toughest time for me. To realize your dream after so long, only to have it taken away from you at the last second… it’s an experience I wouldn’t wish upon anyone.
I slipped into depression after that; there were some pretty bad days dealing with everything and trying to accept what had happened. Fortunately, I had good friends, largely because I wasn’t a dick anymore. I had my family who always had my back too and I was able to get through that tough time thanks to the people around me. I was able to come out the other side a more complete human being, more resilient than before.
I regrouped for Season 8 and got back on my feet. 2018 was the first time in 3 years I didn’t have a team in the Spring Split, but it was easier for me to deal with than I expected. That said, I was ten days from retiring when I got my offer from Giants for the Summer Split.
To get a job in esports, you absolutely need to be liked and you need to have connections. But what’s most important is being a good person and doing it for the right reasons. Long after I’m gone from the scene, I hope I can be a reminder that people can change, and through the hardest of effort and exhaustion of all opportunities, you can achieve what you want.
I want to share my story because I think that there are people in my position who have the talent and the potential, but they’ve had a rough experience or have made mistakes. I had to become a person who was the complete opposite of who I was when I was younger, and I’m grateful for that because the path I was taking before would not have led me to a good place.
If I am to be remembered at all, I want to be remembered as someone who took everything that was bad about him and did everything in his power to become the best possible version of himself. I want people to know that it’s never too late to change.
I started out as a pretty immature kid, and over the course of a long journey, esports has helped me grow and strive to become a better person.
Image Credit: Riot Games