Under The Magnifying Glass

When I’m old, retired and my grandchildren ask me to tell them about my esports career, every anecdote will start with: ‘Well kids, it was fucking amazing’.

There’s an element of luck in finding success in esports – not in the sense that I was lucky to get into competitive League of Legends, I put a lot of time into it and I was talented at it – but I wouldn’t necessarily say that esports is one of those industries where hard work and talent will naturally make you rise to the top.

Regardless of how much you devote yourself to an esports career, you will still need a decent amount of luck to break into the scene.

For all its flaws, the esports industry is an incredible thing to be a part of, so long as you’re prepared to make sacrifices. The whole process has matured me a lot and I would still say that the sacrifices I’ve made were worth it, but that’s not to say that there aren’t things I would change to improve players’ quality of life.

Gaming Houses

If I could change just one thing, it’d be the whole ‘esports environment’. In particular, the whole gaming house setup is really odd. Admittedly, there are a lot of professional players who are very immature; kids who have a talent for playing League of Legends, enjoy the game and have landed on their feet at a professional team but aren’t really taking their ‘career’ all that seriously.

In a way, I think gaming houses stunt their growth. There’s no separation between personal and professional lives and so these young guys never learn the distinction between the two, they’re one of the same at all times. You don’t have any privacy, intimacy or personal space – it’s not that it’s too ‘intense’ – rather that it’s a weird environment to be in for 24 hours a day.

You’re forced to stay in one place for months at a time during the year and live your whole life there. It feels like you’re living your life under a magnifying glass – everything you do is monitored and there’s an ever-present, underlying pressure – you feel guilty for things you shouldn’t, nagged by a sense of ‘I should be playing solo queue right now’ anytime that you’re doing anything unrelated to League of Legends.

What worries me most is that gaming houses have become a part of esports culture now, certainly within the EU LCS. I haven’t experienced it first hand, but I think things might be starting to change in NA. Expecting teams to rent separate apartments for players might be an option available to you as an NA LCS player, but I don’t think many teams in Berlin have the budget.

I get the strong impression that North American esports infrastructure is a long way ahead of Europe’s. From what I hear, organisations are more professional and players are actually treated like adults, rather than children; teams appreciate that players need to (and can) make good decisions for themselves – sure if they fuck up, by all means, intervene – but in EU, the preconception is that you will make a bad decision by default, so teams cut you out of the equation to avoid that situation ever arising and keep a close eye on what you’re doing through the magnifying glass.

I think some of the guys at Fnatic might have their own places now and hopefully, that sets a precedent for teams in EU. I think if I was given a choice: either to live rent-free in a gaming house or rent my own place and treat the gaming house as an office, I’d probably choose the latter. It’s all hypothetical though since I’ve never been presented with that scenario – what’s important is that all players should have that choice.

Esports Agents

The value of player agents in esports is another thing that has never been fully explained to me; what exactly can they do for you?

I would still say that I don’t really have an agent, rather, I have a guy who represents me on marketing opportunities, so in a sense, I guess he’s my brand manager. He’s not really my agent in the sense that he can sign documents for me or engage in talks with professional teams on my behalf – I still do that myself, as do most professional players in Europe.

I feel like agency in esports is still in an infantile stage. It’s never been spelt out to me what an agent is supposed to do, all I’ve seen of ‘esports agents’ is that they talk to people on Skype and think that it entitles them 10-20% commission… what, you want a big fat cheque for talking to someone on Skype!?

That’s not worth it, anyone can do that. Unless the guy can get me a mindblowing deal, I really don’t see where the benefit is. In my opinion, It feels like the current breed of esports agents are looking to abuse the naivety of players by acting like they’re making your life easier.

When my ‘brand manager’, Mikhail, reached out to me, after some discussion, we both decided it might be more beneficial to work on the brand management side of things a lot more, rather than pursuing the standard agency route. Some of the newer agencies that are emerging seem to be taking a new, player welfare-orientated approach and if they prove successful then props to them; that’d be a place where I would want to be represented – I just don’t think we’re quite there yet.

The esports industry might have the player salaries to suggest that we are, but I’m not convinced – I mean just look at NA, some of the guys over there are earning $1 million a year, now imagine an agent takes 20% of that… he just got $200,000 for messaging people on Skype and negotiating a contract for a few hours. I’m sure that being an agent is a lot harder than I consider it to be; like I say, it’s never been fully explained to me, this is just based on my experience.

I think what changed my perception of League of Legends esports is the World Championship. Worlds is the pinnacle of League of Legends competition and for two months, any negatives associated with an esports career fade away. What that means though, is that you notice them a lot more once it’s over.

Whenever you go to Worlds and you’re in that pressure cooker, everything is taken to that next level. A one-month bootcamp in South Korea (away from the gaming house) and playing against the top teams in the world, that’s when you really feel like you’re playing at your peak.

That whole experience gives you more than anything else in your career ever could, that’s why players want to go worlds so badly, for that environment, where everyone around you is so ‘on it’.

Right now, Worlds is the only place where you can achieve that ultimate environment: the best players in the world all on the same server, the opportunity to play against teams from different regions and the overwhelming sense of regional pride in everything you do. There’s no messing around, everyone takes everything incredibly seriously, there is something to prove every minute of the day.

When I’m old, retired and my grandchildren ask me to tell them about my esports career, I won’t mention gaming houses or agents, I’ll tell them about the World Championship and my semi-final run with H2K.

Image Credit: Riot Games & lolesports

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