INCHEON, SOUTH KOREA — League Champions Korea has been one of the most difficult professional esports scenes to reach. As one of the the world’s most dominant League of Legends regions, it is a home to world class teams, and the amount of work that goes into being able to rub shoulders with such fabled players such as Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok is staggering. Yet two rookie teams made their way through the Challenger scene and defeated previous pro teams — and sending them to relegation — to finally make their own pro debut.
Those teams are ESC Ever and team MVP, and MVP is on a tear with a clean 6-6 record in the second round of the summer split.
Slingshot’s Andrew Kim was able to have a live interview in MVP’s house last month. As one of the teams that made it to the LCK after winning its promotional series for the first time in LCK history, MVP was the perfect team to give us a glimpse behind the curtain that is Korean League of Legends. One point of curiosity was MVP’s schedule and how the players manage their time. The answer itself wasn’t all that shocking, but the manner in which it was delivered left quite an impression.
“We practice at least 12 hours daily,” said Oh “Maha” Hyun-Sik, in a matter-of-fact way. “We have scrims everyday against Challenger Korean teams and the rest of the time is made up with solo queue practice.”
Pressed to provide more detail about their daily schedule, the players all took a moment to ponder, and answered the question with the same air of normality.
“We usually wake up at around 1 in the afternoon and then practice until 3 in the morning,” he continued. “Break times aren’t really designated, and some of us go work out at the gym, some of us visit family.”
MVP has had the expected ups and downs in its first LCK split but is still a team with brimming potential. Coaches from the LCK’s top teams pointed out MVP as one of the teams to watch before the summer split started, and MVP appears to be more than capable of coming from behind to fight for the top spots. But realizing that a rookie team sinks 12 hours a day alone in practice is something to marvel.
The learning curve is real when it comes to practice, as in spite of the 12-hour days, the MVP players said other teams “are practicing the same amount of time, if not more” than they are. In more recent events, they have confessed that they are learning every single time they play against another pro team. Now as a result, they are not only catching up to LCK’s standard game management, but even exceeding some more established organizations as it places itself firmly in fifth place.
That isn’t to say that they looked unhappy or even phased by the amount of practice they have. On the contrary, they actually had some funny stories to share about their life in the gaming house or fresh perspective.
Top laner Kang “ADD” Gun-Mo said the biggest challenge wasn’t the practice, but “finding the right socks and clothes,” while jungler Kim “Beyond” Kyu-Suk said “living together with the team is loud and fun.” Support Max said that it’s a “good experience, since it feels like (we are) getting a lesson on professional life.”
Another memorable moment was when they were asked what they wanted to do before they retired. Most said they wanted to win the world championships, but Maha said he wanted to switch roles to a support. This prompted mid laner Ian to turn to face Max and jokingly say, “it was nice knowing you,” with the entire team bursting into laughter.
These are the viewpoints of professionals who have accepted the dedication necessary to stand out among their peers and live out their dreams. Twelve-hour work days are just par for the course, and they still find other joys big or small in the time they have. The bond they had with one another transcended the simple realm of coworkers to something more closely resembling a family. To many casual players in the West and perhaps even in Korea, this amount of physical and mental fortitude is something to behold.
MVP is the model rookie team right now as it traverses a road that is arguably even more difficult than ever before. The competitive nature of the LCK is reflected on the amount of practice that is expected of them, and yet they confess they still have much to learn. In the midst of this, we are seeing the longest golden age in League of Legends history in the form of SKT as they continue to dominate the region and the world. Even the teams battling to take down SKT have been established a long time ago. Teams like Samsung Galaxy, Jin Air Green Wings, KT Rolster, and CJ Entus have made their bones years ago as organizations and groomed a roster of players that are shining examples of their craft. This is the environment that only the hardest may survive, and yet, MVP isn’t an organization that bought its spot or even inherited it. The players have proven their skill at the Challenger level, and alongside ESC Ever, they have finally made it to the pro circuit. They are one of, if not the most, tenacious teams in the LCK right now, and despite their difficulties in the early parts of the split they aren’t going to slip silently into the night. The strongest weapon that MVP has when facing established teams is its undying spirit.
The LCK still has much of the summer split left to play, and MVP will continue to be a team that deserves the attention of every viewer as they will continue to grow as a team from the challenger scene to, perhaps one day, the top of the LCK.
Cover photo by Andrew Kim.