The Weight of Expectation

Matti Sormunen
It feels weird to be dealing with pressure and expectation at this stage in my career. In both of my previous experiences with Team ALTERNATE and PSG eSports, there were no expectations; I could do my own thing and nobody would blame me for losses if I played badly.

People now know me as the top laner for the Unicorns of Love, but few realise that I have actually played in the EU LCS previously, what feels like a lifetime ago, with ALTERNATE aTTax in Season 3.

It was my first competitive experience and I considered every player on the team to be close friends. We spoke a lot even before I joined; Araneae, Jree, Creaton and I were all really good friends, I miss them for sure.

Out of the blue one day, Jree asked me ‘can you play in the EU LCS for us this week?’, turned out Forellenlord, who played mid for the team back then, had some exams and needed to study. Obviously, I didn’t hesitate: “Yeah dude! I was born for this, let’s go!”

That’s right, my first experience as an LCS player was to be subbed in, off-role, as a mid laner for ALTERNATE aTTax for Week 4 of Season 3’s EU LCS Summer Split, with my first and only win as a competitive mid laner coming against Bjergsen and the Ninjas in Pyjamas… it went pretty well, all things considered.

 

Straight after the final game, I got the first flight home to Finland. I hadn’t gone into ALTERNATE expecting anything long-term, it was only supposed to be for one week.

The day after I had flown home, Creaton broke his hand. The team messaged me straight away: “We need you back, man! Can you please save us?”. Back I went, this time to play AD carry for three weeks. Back in the day, my motto was that I could autofill in the LCS, there was no pressure, so I told them I could play every role and not to worry about it.

I’m yet to play jungle and support on a competitive stage… I might role-swap again in a year or two, so watch out for that. I’m a beast on Blitzcrank.

There was no pressure back then; no expectations, I was just really happy and excited to play on the EU LCS stage. I knew the pros I was up against from solo queue, I looked up to them – especially Froggen. I think because I was so young though, I didn’t feel nervous about playing on stage at all; I thought I was really good and that I deserved to be there.

I had the team offers to prove it – some of which were from EU LCS organizations – but ultimately, I decided to stay in school. My parents told me they would support me in whichever decision I took, but I still felt that they expected me to finish school before going into esports full-time.

I still wanted to play the game professionally, so I played for three to five hours per day after school to keep my mechanics at a competitive level. I watched the LCS throughout Season Four, Season Five and Season Six, keeping track of the meta. Even though I was only playing casually, I ranked in the Top 10 of the EUW solo queue ladder and I was able to gauge who the good – and not-so-good – pro players were.

I finished school sometime during Season Six and it was then that I decided to come back to the professional scene full-time in 2017. Within days of writing on Twitter that I was looking for a team, YellOwStaR contacted me and told me that Paris Saint-Germain had a tryout opportunity for me.

I won every game I played in for PSG eSports during the regular split, before we lost to Fnatic Academy 2-3 in the playoffs. I felt we had done well in the Spring Split, but our play in the summer was lacklustre.

We were definitely top-three material, but we sucked at one crucial thing: in official matches, none of us could deal with the weight of expectation, we were all so nervous.

There was already so much pressure on us at PSG eSports and to make matters worse, we also put a lot of pressure on ourselves. In PSG, it felt like a team with five guys just put together. I’d say we were friends – we went out a bit a few times for food – but we weren’t that close.

The team gradually collapsed and we became inactive and passive in our games. I can’t blame PSG for replacing myself and NoXiaK; they had to try something, anything to figure out how they could turn the season around.

Fortunately, I’m now on a team with a good atmosphere at Unicorns of Love. Considering that we were not doing so well – we had been in last place right up until Week 7 – we never stopped feeling like a family.

That’s always been the Unicorns; they’ve always been close, they’re open about everything, they can criticize openly and no-one takes it poorly. If someone criticizes you, you instantly know that they want you to improve, no-one wants to bench you, they just want to help you improve and help the team grow.

If you stress a lot, you won’t practice well, you won’t feel motivated to play, you won’t play well and it’s just going to fall apart. I don’t perform well in stressful environments, I think it’s really important to feel at home.

Image Credit: Riot Games & PSG eSports

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