Winging It

Can you believe how fast esports has grown?

It wasn’t that long ago that I was just playing in my bedroom, eating fast food, and going to sleep at four in the morning…

No structure, no team houses, no coaches. Nothing like that. Just five players trying to beat five other players for the sake of being better than them. Making a living out of it was a pretty distant dream.

That’s not to say that I didn’t believe in that dream.

After I graduated college I knew I wanted to become a pro player. My parents didn’t like that very much, and almost kicked me out at one point because I was just playing League all day, every day, for months.

To be honest, right before I found Team8, I was on the verge of quitting and just finding a “real” job.

Initially it was me, Slooshi, Chu8, Guess8, and RicheRich. We had a young manager called Spencer helping us too. He’s a cool guy.

Together, we put together our money and found a house up in the valley that was just cheap enough for us to start living and playing together. Just grinding challeger tournaments whenever we could find them, really.

It looked like we might actually have a chance of making it to the LCS. But then LMQ flew to North America with their superstar team and just took over. We couldn’t beat them, and it almost made us just disband. Shortly after that, RicheRich and Chu8 left the team, with Calitrolz and Maplestreet coming in.

We were on the brink of making changes or just giving the team up entirely when Maplestreet told us that we got an invite to Lonestar Clash in Texas – just because he knew a guy there! We kind of viewed it as potentially our last tournament together, so why not give it a shot?

Despite the fact that Lonestar Clash was filled with some of the best NA Challenger talent on the scene, Team8 took the trophy. So, obviously, we coudn’t quit after that. It was time to get into the LCS. That was when Eric Ma came on board.

Eric got us a new house in Costa Mesa and just hit the grind. The promotion tournament was three or four months away, and we’d have to face some tough teams to get in. The lineup looked a little different now – changes had been made along the way – and we felt confident in the decisions we’d made.

Come September, we’re facing Complexity in a best-of-five to see which of us gets to play in the LCS in 2015. Even though we almost threw a 2-0 lead, eventually we closed out the series 3-2, and got our spot in the league.

And that’s basically the story of how I went professional.

It’s funny, because even though Team8 was technically a professional team in the LCS, it didn’t necessarily feel like it. Curse, C9, and TSM all had this crazy structure with coaches and schedules and facilities. All we had was five players, a coach, and an owner doing his best to provide us with suitable housing and food. Just a group of us enjoying the experience, having fun, and kind of winging it.

It sounds bad, but the lack of stress and pressure was great.

No one had any experience in the LCS, and it was a case of learning as we went, really.

Because I was the oldest of the players and had my own car, I essentially became the older brother of the team. I took them out to get groceries, and I looked after them a little bit, and I guess that means I had been preparing for the future transition into coaching and management for a while.

When Immortals took over the team late in 2015, it became pretty clear that they wanted to make changes. I knew I was on the chopping block, and to be honest I was planning on retiring, regardless.

Learning more about the industry and building connections appealed to me, so a switch into management or coaching was something I was very interested in.

Noah Whinston and I worked out a deal that saw me stay with the team as the manager. I didn’t even ask for a lot of money, it was just about the experience and helping to grow a team and a brand.

You can imagine the heartbreak that was felt then when Immortals didn’t make it into the franchised LCS in 2018.

Most of us actually saw the news via Reddit, which really isn’t a good way to get that kind of news. As soon as Noah saw that the information had got out, he came to us and confirmed that it was true. We were out.

It felt like someone had come along and just washed away all of our hard work, for reasons that didn’t really have anything to do with us.

All I could do was brush up my Resume and reach out to teams and see what opportunities were out there. I knew that coaching was still something I wanted to try, and actually had more than one offer to consider.

But when Steve Arhancet showed me his desire to win, it was pretty clear that Team Liquid was going to be my choice. The vision and ambition here is very clear, and that’s why we can draw such talented players to the roster.

The pressure to perform is higher here, for sure. Team Liquid has high standards, because we want to be the best. It’s a far cry from the Team8 days, that’s for sure. But I’ve adapted. My goals have shifted.

It’s no longer about just making a living and having fun. I want Team Liquid to hit their goals. And the biggest goal of all is to win Worlds. This time around, we fell well short of the target, but that’s not going to stop us from trying again next year.

And if we fail again, then it’ll be the year after.

Team Liquid isn’t going to stop until we reach that goal, and neither am I.

Sage Datuin assisted with the creation of this article

Image credit: Riot Games and Immortals

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