Ember was the talk of the League of Legends community before the season even began.
At the end of December, the owner of Ember, a North American Challenger Series team, released the salaries for all its players in a Medium post. It came at the height of the debate about transparency in player salaries and sparked a weeklong debate.
The heat died down, and Ember played the NACS, falling just short of a chance to make the League Championship Series. Things took a turn from there, with Ember reportedly releasing all but one of its players and then being sold to Team Nova.
Slingshot’s Joe Cannavino caught up with Ember’s AD Carry Benjamin “LOD” deMunck to talk about Ember, life as a Challenger player and filling in for three LCS teams during the spring split.
Joe Cannavino: Where did you start your competitive League career?
Benjamin “LOD” deMunck: I started in LoLPro, which was Curse’s “C” team, I guess. This was in Season 4. I played with them for about eight months, from around October 2013 to around September 2014. I switched to playing mid, and that lead me to Coast, which I only played on for about a month. Things just didn’t work out with our roster, so I switched back to AD and that’s when I joined Cloud 9 Tempest.
JC: When did you first start playing League?
BD: I started right before Season 1. I didn’t quite play in beta, but I picked it up almost right away.
JC: How does a Challenger player get recognized?
BD: In high elo, especially back in the day, it’s a tight knit community. If you are high on the ladder, you are going to be playing with and against the same people. Eventually you build a reputation for yourself and get to know people, then you set up a team.
JC: So after Coast you were picked up by Cloud 9 Tempest. How did you like that organization?
BD: C9 was a great org. They were really, really good. We kind of got unlucky. First we got disqualified and then banned from Riot tournaments for like four months.
JC: How come?
BD: The story goes like this. We beat the first round for the qualifiers to get to the (North American Challenger Series). We were doing really well in scrims. We were just destroying everybody. So the second round came, and i think it was the last round to make it into NACS. Everything was good, and we had no intentions of doing anything wrong. Then all of a sudden our support messages us saying that he forgot to download TR (tournament realm server) and he is not at home. This was like 30 minutes before the game was about to start. Patching TR takes like anywhere from five minutes to five hours, it’s very random. It was five minutes before the game, so we were going to get disqualified anyways and there was no way to get this guy online. So we got this random guy, he was like Diamond 2, wait actually I am not even sure that he was Diamond, I think he was a Platinum support player. We ended up winning our series 2-0.
JC: Was that even legal back then, because don’t you need to be at least Diamond to play in Challenger?
BD: Yeah, now you have to at least be Diamond. I think it was legal back then. So we ended up using a ringer and we felt bad for that. It really sucked for us because, even though we won with a handicap, we basically lied to Riot and the other team. We ended up ratting ourselves out and telling Riot because the consequences if we didn’t tell them were probably going to be worse. Even morally, we just felt weird about the situation. We all were working super hard, and if we got knocked out of the NACS because our support didn’t download the TR, we would all be out of a job for months, and we would all feel really terrible. It was a really hard decision to make but we ended up telling Riot. They were nice enough to ban us only for that split so it wasn’t too bad,I guess.
JC: During that time, were you in school or did you have a job on the side?
BD: Yeah I was still in high school, but I was focused a lot on League. I didn’t really try in high school. League felt more appealing.
JC: So after Cloud 9 you played for Top Dog?
BD: No, I only subbed for them. I played for them because at the time i thought it was better than just strictly solo queue. I never really intended to join the team. I was just scrimming with them and seeing what offers I could get.
JC: Then Ember approached you?
BD: Yeah. I have been pretty good friends with Gleeb for a while. I think he was the first person I talked to with Ember. He talked to me, then I talked to other people and ended up on Ember.
JC: How was playing with Ember?
BD: Ember was probably was the most successful team I played on. The way we went out, in my opinion, was super tragic. Obviously we ended up not being the best NACS team, but before that, everybody kind of acknowledged that we were the best NACS team by far and we would sweep the tournament and easily make NA LCS. It almost happened, but we just didn’t show up in our series against TDK.
JC: I want to ask you about TDK. You faced them after the trade that involved Alex Ich. Did you think that was fair? What was your thoughts on that situation.
BD: I think that a lot of people might say that it is unfair that a LCS player can go into the Challenger scene and do that. I don’t see it that way. The difference between an LCS player and a Challenger player is nonexistent in a lot of cases. Most of our roster was LCS caliber, and pretty good for LCS, even. I don’t care about that aspect. I find it weird, though, that you can swap out the roster that close to the game. Even in our best-of-two against TDK like a week or two before that, they showed up and just had Crumbz in the lobby, and we had no idea that was even happening. I find that to be kind of strange. I don’t really mind that they change their players around. As an org and team, you need to try and assemble the best possible roster you can, and that’s what they did.
JC: Being a challenger player, what do you think about how a team, like Coast, can sell the whole roster? Being a player, how does that affect you? Are you worried that can happen to you?
BD: I think that every player in Challenger should have that on their mind. They should have something in their contract that compensates them for that if that happens. Like, if you work super hard to get the LCS slot, and your slot gets sold, it sucks a lot. But if you work super hard to the the LCS slot, and your slot gets sold, and then you get a good chunk of money, then it’s not as bad. It sucks, but it’s like, OK, on to the next team. I think it was pretty unfortunate what happened with Coast, but at least one player got to play, KwonKwon. I don’t know, it’s just a shitty situation.
JC: What was it like during the time when Ember released player salaries?
BD: I found the memes to be pretty funny, when people were spamming 92k, but It didn’t really affect our relationships with each other or anything. I think it was kind of silly to release salaries like that. It would be fine if all the teams were doing so. But as a standalone challenger team doing it for no reason, basically, I guess it gave us a lot of publicity, but it seemed unnecessary to me. Also, I want to say, the salaries might seem ridiculous, but a lot of the other Challenger players were making just as much or more than us.
JC: Were the Challenger players making more than the LCS players?
BD: I’m not sure, but I don’t think so. I think LCS players generally make more than LCS players. The one thing, though, is that in the LCS, you have to work a lot harder to make a similar amount or a bit more, so I guess that sucks. But you get so much more exposure being in the LCS, so it’s probably worth it.
JC: What happened with Ember and the possible sale? And what does that do for your plans next split?
BD: I’m not exactly sure what happened to the spot or the team, I just know that I’m not playing on the roster. I don’t think any of the players that were previously on the team aren’t going to be on the team anymore.
I still am going play competitively next split and look and see what kind of offers I can get.
JC: Going back to the point where you were talking about Challenger players’ skill compared to the LCS players. They are pretty similar individually?
BD: I’d guess the bottom half of challenger probably isn’t, but the top half of challenger is the exact same as LCS, if not better. The top three challenger teams were more competitive than like the bottom five of the LCS teams.
JC: So does that include coordination and not just individual skill?
BD: Yeah. So there’s the really, really skilled LCS players that are going to stand out and are just way better, or veterans that have been around for a long time, and have more experience in best-of-threes or best-of-fives or high-pressure situations. I think in terms of skill, a lot of challenger players are pretty much the same as LCS players, and I think it’s been like that for a while.
JC: Are there any players that have stood out in your mind who were really good?
BD: Not really. The best players that I played against were when, in season 3, everyone came to California for worlds, and I got to play against a lot of the Chinese and Korean bot lanes. They were the best players I got to play against. I haven’t had the opportunity to go to Korea or bootcamp there.
JC: You subbed for a couple teams. Do you enjoying playing on the stage?
BD: Playing on the stage is just better and more meaningful. Some people crack under the pressure, I suppose, but for the most part it’s better for most players. When there’s a crowd there with casters and a stream, you have a responsibility to yourself to play the best of your ability. It’s a lot easier to have an off game when playing in NACS since you are just sitting at the deck you always sit at. It’s a lot less pressure. But the pressure is still there, it’s just a little bit less than the stage.
JC: Do you get nervous on stage?
BD: Not really. When I first started I think I did, but now it’s different. When I get on stage I want to put out the best game I possibly can.
JC: Anything you want to add to the interview?
BD: Thanks to all the fans that have supported me over the years. I’ll be trying to do big things this split.
Cover photo courtesy of Riot Games.