I’m not a part of the team anymore so I’m not worried about bringing it up: playing for Team Vitality in 2017 was one of the worst experiences of my life.
I joined Vitality around Christmas, ahead of the start of the 2017 Spring Split. It had been a last second decision for both parties; they’d been considering a number of junglers but after three successful tryouts, I won myself a starting position.
We started practising together and everything went pretty well in scrims. We felt pretty confident heading into Spring, we had some big names, some good players; we all felt that we would achieve something, playoffs at the very least.
But League of Legends is a team game, it’s not about those big-name players who used to be able 1v3 or 1v2; it doesn’t work anymore. These days you have to play smart and play together – if you don’t, you’re going to lose.
At Vitality we never learned how to play as a team, we were too focussed on shining individually. As the jungler, everyone demanded my attention, every player thought they were the win condition and wanted me to play around their lane and by the end, it was causing a lot of conflicts.
It was my rookie split in the EU LCS, yet I ended up in an environment where the three Koreans within the League of Legends setup – our coach, Irean, and two players, Hachani and GBM – were trying to seize complete control of the team.
Hachani was considered one the best supports in Korea when he was signed to Vitality, he had just won a split with KT Rolster. He was really hyped up before he arrived, but from Day 1 he was toxic as fuck and inting in every game that he didn’t get his own way. Yet, somehow, this guy ended up with control over the team.
Irean and Hachani spoke a lot of Korean with each other and before I knew it, the most toxic member of our roster had control over the coach and an opportunity to sway the opinion of my owner.
I’m not exaggerating, Hachani wanted to kick you if you made one mistake. He wanted everything to be completely flawless, but at the same time, he would feed every game. I remember thinking that it didn’t seem fair at all, if he was carrying and I was holding him back, it might make sense, but he really wasn’t.
As a rookie, I already felt under pressure to perform and prove myself, yet there I was, playing with a guy looking over my shoulder wanting to kick me if I made one mistake; no-one’s perfect, everyone makes mistakes, even Faker. I didn’t know what it should feel like to play in the LCS – it’s a big step up from playing French LANs or even the Challenger Series – I didn’t realise how bad the situation I was in actually was.
Vitality didn’t hesitate to point the blame in my direction. My other teammates realised it and they were like: “Wtf are they doing to Djoko!?”. I was depressed for two months, I gained 20 kg, got really fat and I was really sad with my life and it was all because Vitality treated me like shit.
It’s impossible to play well under those circumstances. It’s especially true for me but I think it applies to every human in honesty; you perform better when you feel relaxed than in a stressed environment.
I should have stood up for myself and not allowed this guy to seize all the power within the team. Eventually, people opened their eyes and he was kicked, by that point though, the damage was done – it was anarchy.
The community had developed a bad opinion of me after my time with Vitality. Admittedly, I hadn’t played that well at all, but of course, no one knew of the issues going on behind the scenes. I nearly ended up without an offer for this season since people had already established their opinion of me, that I was prone to choking on stage, that I was a weak player.
It wasn’t until Christmas that Giants Gaming approached me and asked me to do a tryout; they were the only offer I received during the off-season. As part of my tryout, we played against Giants’ former roster, a line-up that’d been playing together for the best part of six months, whereas we’d been together for less than 48 hours – it didn’t matter, we beat them.
We were all really surprised since some of the guys on our roster didn’t even know each other, we had no experience playing together, but we were still beating them. It felt great and it gave us a lot of confidence going into the split; we had realised our potential.
Steeelback and I already had a connection from our time at Vitality, we were really close both in and outside of the game. I had played a few solo queue games with Betsy, so I was really looking forward to working with him too. We knew we could build something around us as the foundation and it has played to our advantage at the beginning of the split, we know how to react to one another and we all play for each other.
Things are going a lot better for me with Giants, I don’t feel like I’m under any serious pressure to perform and perhaps most importantly, there’s no wannabe alpha male trying to exert his dominance over the team – we’re all on the same page. The management here is also really cool, I think they’re used to being last every split, so now that we’re towards the top of the standings, they can’t believe their luck!
Many analysts are now describing us ‘underdogs’, which is an improvement, since, at the start of the year, ESPN ranked us as the worst team in the world, let alone in Europe. But just look at Schalke 04, obviously they are good, but on paper, they were supposed to be one of the best teams in the EU LCS and they’re not doing that good.
By comparison, on paper, we were supposed to be dogshit and we’re doing pretty good – people need to learn that you can’t judge before you’ve seen all the teams play. We still have room to improve and we’ll make sure these guys don’t make the same mistake again.
I set my goals one step at a time. As a rookie, it was my ambition to play regularly in the LCS. Now that I’m playing regularly, my goal is to reach playoffs. Worlds is obviously the ultimate goal as a player, but there are things I need to achieve before that.
I feel good right now; I don’t have to worry about internal politics anymore. With that off my back, I can focus on playing at the level I know I’m capable of. There’s nothing more important than environment.
Image Credit: Riot Games