Last year I did an interview for Paul “Redeye” Chaloner’s book “This is esports”
. Paul gave me a really good set of questions which triggered a lot of memories and I ended up writing loooong answers. Now that the book is out, I wanted to share some of those answers with the community as not everything could make it into the book.
Topic was “Gaming houses” and “How do you live and work with pro players”. I talk about my past years with Unicorns of Love and a bit about Optic Gaming.
- 2014/2015 - Esport specialist Europe for Razer : sponsoring teams (Titan, EG, Mouz, Method, UOL) and event (Dreamhack, ESL, PGL)
- 2015/2016/2017 - Manager for Unicorns of Love (EULCS LoL team) : contracts, logistic, performance management, social media, sponsorship
- 2018 - Director for OpTic Gaming LoL (NALCS LoL team) : creating the LoL department in the newly franchised NA ecosystem (recruiting staff, players, setting up training facilities, branding, content, strategy, international representation in China, India and Europe)
- 2019/2020 - Business Dev Manager for Riot Europe : monetisation of the LEC (sponsoring, marketing offer, relationship with pro teams and broadcast partners, local vs European approach)
When did you first visit a team house? What was your impression?
My first time in a gaming house was in 2016 for my hiring interview with Sheepy (UOL coach and owner). It was like walking inside a temple, entering the place where legends are made. I felt like a kid, watching the posters on the wall and the little pink details everywhere. I was there, walking in this magical place and it was a beautiful mess. I remember wearing a pink onesie and players looked at me like if I was an alien. Vizicsacsi
in the same place. Good times
Tell me about Unicorns of Love's team house set up when you worked for them. What was it, what did it offer, did you live there yourself?
After they qualified for EULCS (end 2014), UOL had to find a place in Berlin able to host 6 people (5 players + 1 coach). Lucky for them, Sheepy’s father (Jos) is an accomplished polyvalent businessman and he always has solutions for every kind of problem. I say “lucky” because they only had 2 months to do everything, from the day they beat Millenium 3-2
to the first day of EULCS, and without Jos this would have turned into a nightmare.
They ended up in an apartment not too far from the EULCS Studio (where you have to drive twice a week to play on stage), with a decent internet connexion and enough beds and computers for everyone. To be honest, that's all you need when you are a geek. I joined
a few months after.
The apartment/house was in the middle of nowhere, which I realised later was an advantage. On the paper our address was “Berlin”, but we were a few streets away from being considered in another city. Being 45min away from the town centre and all the clubs is good in Berlin, where the night is dark and full of fun
. 45min might sound like nothing for Americans but it's a world in Europe, and enough to make you stay home if you are a bit tired after a long day. Keeping our players away from temptation was much easier that way. We were chilling in our own world, spending most of the time inside the gaming house, playing video games for a living.
The apartment had 3 bedrooms, a kitchen, a living room, a bathroom, a toilet room and a big “basement” (connected to the garden so not really a “basement”). We did a tour
if you wanna see how it looked. This video was a parody of the Origen gaming house tour
. Same music, same concept, no budget.
5 players + 1 coach = 6 people for 3 rooms. 2 people per room and everything is good to go. Where do you put the manager tho? Easy: on the couch. I slept in the middle of the basement for my first 6 months, with earplugs at night because of the players practising a few meters away. The only thing I could really hear was Vizicsacsi training Ryze because he was spamming his combos like a maniac. It sounds a bit hard to live like that but I truly loved it. It lasted until we rented another apartment in the same building. Sheepy moved there with his girlfriend and I moved in with a player.
I lived for almost 3 years in the gaming house, and it was an incredible experience. I was the mum and the dad, the brother and the manager, but I tried hard to never be a “friend”. As much as I value friendship, this is a job, and the core foundation should be "respect" and not "friendship". It's a nice bonus when players develop it between themselves, but it can lead to complicated situations during off-seasons when you do roster changes.
The schedule was always the same: 1 day off where players usually stay home and play, 4 days of training, 2 days of show. There is no "Monday" or "Sunday" in league of legends, there is only "Game day" or "Scrim day". The day started at 8h for me, direction gym, usually with 1-2 brave players, the rest stayed in bed till 11/12h. At 13h we had some food, I was usually cooking for those who were angry. Then we had a good afternoon of practice, dinner at 19h, more practice and then free play. During the practice I was either watching, doing emails for logistic/business/social media/sponsors or taking care of the house.
Players had no computers in their room, so the whole life of the GH was happening downstairs. We only used the first floor as "life support", for food, sleep, shower etc. The atmosphere was focused during the afternoon and light-hearted in the evening. At night, players would practice together or call/play with their friends/girlfriends. The beauty of Europe is all the languages. With no native speaker, English gets butchered a lot but it's our only common language. In the evening, you could hear every language as everyone got back into their own bubble. German, Spanish, French, Hungarian, Russian, Korean.... I believe this cosmopolicy also brings a lot of value to a training environment. Different tastes and habits help to open the mind. Korean don't eat too salty or sugary. German love their potatoes. French like cheese. Clichés? yeah - usually with a taste of truth. Worst case it is the opener for a good talk where you’ll learn new things about a different culture. We all have different opinions on what's “good food” or “bad food”. Being from different origins can also be a problem during fights - language barrier is a pain in the ass when you meant "I'm 50% angry" but the guy you're talking to understood "95% angry" because you picked the wrong word.
Living all together forces you to share moments of your life. We watched horror movies
all together, and it was hilarious. We shared the joy and pains together, breakups, new born, good news, all those emotional moments of life you wanna share with someone. You always have someone to talk to. Which can be a challenge for some players as well. Most of those young geniuses are THAT good at video games because they spend the last 10 years of their life alone in their room playing. Sometimes they really suck at communicating their feelings because of that. Being in an environment with other "geeks", able to just shut up and play for hours, is for them a good transition to the real world with other humans. A potential issue could be a player with a strong personality, talking a lot and “stealing” all the energy/time from others. To those players, you have to explain that they need to respect boundaries. It’s part of living together as humans. You can usually spot who grew up with siblings or not.
Was the gaming effective at building bonds between players? What about improving the team's overall performance?
Yes it was, especially for young players. A really young player is usually coming straight from home and doesn't see this new life as a job, more like a weird holiday camp with a weekly dose of adrenaline. And to be fair this is the reality of LoL esport: days and days of training in a room with your team, and only sometimes, a big stage. When you play high level LoL, you need to be the very best to attend a big offline event with a crowd. Only the top 3 teams get to walk on a stage. Only the best do it repeatedly. It means most players have quite a limited physical access to their fans and never benefit the fame of “being a proplayer”. The truth behind a LoL pro is not made of glitters and parties, it's living with other dudes and playing video games a lot. Making it hard sometimes to remember why you're there, and what you're doing. The biggest struggle is not the lack of skill, it is the long term motivation. This energy you had when you started. Everyone wants to “be the best player”, but our tournament is 9 months long and only ends up at Worlds - who has the guts and the mental strength to sacrifice everything for months and months and months? In LoL, only 5 players per year are “the best”. A reality difficult to accept for hyper-competitive young players. And if you are not playing, it means you suck because you were not good enough to qualify for playoffs, finals, roadshows or worlds. If you are a pro, watching a tournament from home when you missed the qualification is sad. Being a pro player is one of the most beautiful jobs in the world tho. It doesn't mean it’s easy, as it is extremely unforgiving and the sand in your hand can quickly turn into ashes.
I believe living in a gaming house is good to create bonds if you can control and work hard on the environment. It also creates a fragile ecosystem and it can lead to really bad things if the conflicts are not defused ASAP via active communication (regular 1o1, regular structured team meetings, etc)
I think travelling together is also really good for team bonding but it's quite rare in LoL. Discovering places together and creating memories is probably the best way to establish a good relationship. It is the job of the management to make sure players are not “passive witnesses” of those events but “active actors” by creating a safe communication environment.
What problems as manager come up in a team house that fans would never imagine?
Pros are gaming masterminds with incredible analytic brains. They can focus for hours and crack complicated problems like nuts. They are also, for most, inapt at real life. Drop them alone in the middle of a city and they'll just get a cab back home. Of course I’m exaggerating - I worked with 30+ pros over the last years, and a few could give a good run to Huber Grylls. But if you are a team manager and you are reading those words, you know what I mean and I can see your smile.
I used to tell players : "the biggest difference between a hotel, your home and a gaming house is the speed a piece of trash takes to travel from the floor of your room to the bin. In a hotel, someone is paid to clean. At home, your parents will probably do it. In a gaming house, no one will." This is an education process. When you live on site, a big part of your daily tasks is to assist your players and to make sure everyone survives the day. Administrative paperwork, food, simple logistics, daily needs, you have to help for most things. Usually, as a young human in the western world, once you are done with high school, you leave home and you go to study or to your first job. It is the moment in life where you’ll have to start taking care of yourself. Once you are in your new place, you’ll go do your first shopping, and you’ll get only the wrong stuff (probably alcohol and candies). You eat/drink it all, you get sick, it's expensive. Quickly enough you’ll learn about budgeting, planning, life. Well, pro-players don't experience that. And it's not their fault, they're so good at gaming that they went straight from home to another home with people paid to take care of them. Now that you have that context in mind, you can imagine how living with pros is an incredible experience. Any real-life activity can become an adventure. Withdrawing money, ordering in a restaurant, walking through a mall, cooking pasta, building a bed, changing a bulb… It's sometimes frustrating or funny, it never gets boring.
Fans see only the public face of their idols. I believe a team works like a relationship: because 2 humans look happy in public or on social media does not mean it's sun and flowers once the doors are closed. Because a team looks great and happy does not mean it’s the same once everyone is back at the GH. Public doesn't see their idols in the morning, when he had a bad day or when he is eating. They don't really know why a team is good or bad because they don't see the daily life of the relationship. Maybe this player is only 70/100 on the Rift, but his mindset allows his 4 teammates to be 120/100 on the Rift. What is also interesting is the in-house perception of a proplayer by his teammates can be really different from the public perception of a player. It is usually correlated to his fame, but to an extent only. If an old experienced player joins the GH, he should instantly get more respect than a rookie. But I saw “rookies” coming in new and instantly gaining respect because they were polite and clever. I saw “stars” coming and behaving like assholes.
Food and management are to me the core foundation of a good training environment. Management because it's the cement of everything. A good management has to make sure everyone has enough time to exist in the relationship, by speaking and expressing themselves. You have to make sure everyone respects one another. Like a family I would say, with the difference that you don’t have contracts in a family. A team is an illusion of a family with a job framework. At the end of the day, you're here to perform and to win. Players are never really at home, they're here in transit. A transit which lasts for months and months, but this is still a transit. Once the season is over, everyone goes back home. You're not always “working”, especially because a part of your job is to “play”, but you're always “at work”, and you are definitely never at home. Like a soldier. I think it takes a toll on the long run, and this need to have a home not too far is probably one of the reasons behind the transition from a Gaming House to facilities/apartments. A good way to "reset" for a pro is to go back home with friends and family during the season. There, they will have time to explain what they do in life and the crazy schedule they have. Unless they closely follow the league, you friends and family don't know if you're having a win streak or if you are at the bottom of the standings. They are just happy for you that you're living this exotic life, and it's refreshing.
A huge difference between sport and LoL esport is the mental tall taken on players: we don't have a tool to train one specific in-game action. If you want to train “mid game nashor”, you have to play a full game and hope to have a decent Nashor setup. In traditional sport, if you are a goalie, you’ll train being a goalie for hours. After a good day of training in sport, you are exhausted but not mentally broken. In League, let’s say you have a good week of scrims and you only have stronger opponents: at the end of 4 practice days with 5/6 scrims per day, maybe you are 0-22. That’s a LOT of losses. That’s a lot “end of the day” where you feel like shit. Ok, you practised really well, but it has such a hard psychological impact. It makes management even more important to help the players to get back into good mental condition.
Food is usually the moment when players sit together around a table. We avoided phones and focused on talking to one another. To achieve that it's easier to eat around a table rather than sitting behind your desk. It's good when everyone talks. I used to ask each player how the afternoon was, what champions they played, or to tell us stories. It creates a “home” feeling. If the afternoon was a long strain of losses, the dinner is gonna be an unpleasant moment and you'll need a couple of stupid jokes to lift up the mood. Food can also turn into a difficult time if players dont like the meal. No one likes to eat bad food. Before teams had in-house cooks, meals were cooked by managers, making it really easy to channel your mood on the team by blaming the environment. It makes food time a double-edged sword: burger day is happy day, vegetables days is…. ok we never had vegetables. Unless crepes count as one.
When you moved to Optic, what were the training facilities and accommodation set up there? What was it like, did you have any input or vision for it?
I was the first LoL hire and general manager for Optic LoL as they were setting up their League department, and my job was to come up with a plan for the training facilities. With Zaboutine (the coach), we wanted a gaming house for the new players and apartments for the old one. A gaming house would provide young players with a good setup, and apartments for the older players because they are more experienced and need more freedom. Our plan was to create a training room with a small replica of the LCS stage in the middle, to prepare players for the weekend when they play LCS and help them in "stage mindset". I still have the stage blueprints somewhere. We ended up doing apartments for everyone with all players coming daily to a really small office, because we couldn't find the training facilities we wanted. Optic was based in Texas and the LoL team was practising in Los Angeles, making a lot of things challenging and leaving us a bit alone. Knowing how different the US is compared to Europe, I should have done things differently. The training conditions were complicated to say the least. For Summer Split, with a bit more time and NA experience under our belt, we moved to a much bigger facility. The new office was a great place, top of a building, panoramic view of LA, nice setup with a lot of space in a nice neighbourhood. For players, "going to the office" was not a nightmare anymore, and it changed the way we all trained and practised. Players perceived it more like a job and took training more seriously. It allowed us to unlock a new approach by using “10 players on site”. A ten man setup makes the relationship healthier between coach and players if used properly. I think in the future, once management and coaching are mature enough, esport teams will work with a multi-players setup like traditional sport does.
We're seeing some teams, mostly ones that have seen heavy investment, move towards a training facility model. Do you think that's a good thing? Will we see this happen more and more in your view?
To me the ranking would be something like :
3.Bootcamp (temporary place) -> 2.Gaming houses -> 1.Team facilities + Players apartments.
I think gaming houses are a model from the past, the best solution we could come up with back in the day. It doesn't mean it is a bad system, it has some clear strengths. They are not optimised for the long term. It's great if you don't have enough staff, as you all live on site so you can do everything faster. It's awesome for young players. It can be a problem for older players with already an experience of life.
The model facilities+apartments should happen more often in the future as teams are getting more professional with more resources available.
Whatever the format you choose, I believe good teams are made by humans and not systems - if you share the same vision and the same goals, you'll make it work. At the end of the day, this is a competition and you can not win by copying someone, you have to identify and work around your own strengths. It doesn't matter if you are 5 players living in the same room or 15 players living in different apartments, you have to base your system on the people you're working with. You're a commando of legends crafted together by a coach to perform and win, and the key to your success will be the human bond between your players. The rest is “just” a tool.
Thank you for walking with me through those memories For more interviews and insights into the esports world, do take a look at Redeye’s book :) Have a good day and long live esport!