A month’s work of routine has made the start of this day as systematic as the rest. I am awakened by the coach with a loud knock on the door. “Shuttle’s in two hours!” That’s my cue.
My room is simple. Its main features are my laptop, bed, closet and teammate in a bed across from mine. It doesn’t feel like home. The feeling of home was never invited into this gaming house. Practice takes its place. That practice has been boiled down to a science, and it begins with getting enough sleep every day. Seven hours today. That’s more than my teammate gets every day. He claims he’s fine with coffee, but I wonder if today’s drowsiness will finally take its toll on stage. Thinking in bed isn’t going to help me today, so I get on with my day.
The showers are all being used and breakfast isn’t ready. There’s enough time to fit in a game of solo queue. My game finishes quicker than expected so I ask my coach if I have time for another game. Denied. We need to eat together as a team and away from the computers. It’s what the staff thinks is best for us on game day. “Bonding as a team will matter more today than an extra game of solo queue.” I can’t disagree, so I get in the shower and head to breakfast shortly afterward.
I’m the last one to the table. The food is still warm and no one is finished yet. We all gather round making idle conversation, some still with crust in their eyes and heads in their pillows. Someone asks about today’s game plan. It’s a plan a week in the making, tailored to our very first opponents. The scrim meta changes (sometimes drastically) every day, so it’s not possible to refine something even with more time. You never know what Korea is going to play that might change the entire game. This game needs constant interpreting, and being wrong with what we believed was worthwhile practicing would be a disaster.
The draft is one of the few things that can be prepared before hand, and we all want to help in perfecting it. We sat on the final plan the night before, so we offer the thoughts that brewed overnight. Not much changes; sentiments for various scenarios are over-explained and minor details added. Everyone is as satisfied with the game plan as they are with the food.
After breakfast, I go back to my room to change. The clothes of the team I represent are pristine. Yet the thin layer of clothing is forgotten when compared to the weight of the responsibilities I wear today. Communication, mechanics, leadership and trust. It’s only a lot if you think about it much. Losing myself in the moment will be my only recourse. I grab my bag and pack my keyboard, mouse and mousepad. The LCS has an identical set of gear for me to use exclusively on stage to avoid tampering, so I’m taking this one with me to further warm up in the team’s practice room. Our ride arrives.
As we pile into the shuttle, the ritual begins.
Some conversations develop, while silence and thought loom over others as they stare out the window into a city as unknown to them as the fate which lies in store today. I’m in my own world. My thoughts are arranged by the music I’ve chosen completely by intuition. After a while, we arrive at the studio. Parked right in front of the lines of fans eager to get the season started.
We unload and wave, thankful for the cheers yet knowing it’s nothing to dwell on. Once inside, we make our way to our practice room. Along the way you’ll catch glimpses here and there of other teams or players and say hello or good luck. Casual small talk. These conversations tend to be exceptionally shallow. There are walls of an unspoken restriction, stemming from an attachment to the privacy of a team that darken these few connections.
The practice room feels like an extension of the shuttle ride. There are about eight computers, a TV screen, a mini fridge with drinks and everyone left to their own devices. Some choose to go to the player lounge and socialize with players from other teams. It’s one of the few chances to do so in this lifestyle. Others go there to eat, as there is catering available for those hungry before the game. I’ve brought my gear so I replace the stock keyboard and mouse on one of the computers and play either a solo queue game, an ARAM or custom games with my teammates in 1-v-1s or against bots.
An hour goes by and we receive a knock on our door followed by the face of a Rioter saying “Makeup in 10.”
The time draws near and all I care about is getting my fourth pentakill against bots.
We waddle our way like penguins to the makeup area. Not too far from our player room but enough of a stroll to eye out other teams. “Those guys look happy. I heard their scrims were going really well.”
“Scrims don’t mean shit”
A statement that serves as a double edged sword. A feeling of discredit starts to linger. After all, all we’ve done is scrim, and they’ve been going well, so does that mean…
“Who’s next?” My thoughts are interrupted.
I take a seat in the makeup chair and emphasize to avoid putting makeup around my eyes. Sometimes the powder makes my eyes cry, and crying’s not compatible with gaming. We wait for everyone to finish their makeup and head back to the practice room. The countdown on the TV tells me it’s time.
Making our way to the stage has an odd way of putting me in a trance. It’s a long hallway filled with inspirational league images of success and lingo. It’s as if the passion instilled in the walls permeates through my body. At the end of the hallway we split up and have our last chance to use the bathroom. An odd reality to snap back into.
The rest of us wait by the lockers. The lockers bear the same logo that’s on all our shirts. A logo on one of the most ordinary lockers one could imagine. The contents inside: our gear. Lifeless and plastic. Yet in my hands they bear resemblance to the starting deck of a kid who just learned about magic.
A scurry for a team huddle happens. Coach is giving an inspirational speech and after we’re expected to yell out our team name at the top of our lungs. Cheesy, isn’t it? Yet it feels so damn good. The screams of united individuals make me feel like a Power Ranger combination unit coming into action.
I walk toward the stage, push the curtains aside and see a crowd eager to verbalize its love for the game. To finally see the people they’ve been cheering for so vigorously. As we each sit on our thrones, a shedding begins. Everything we have worked for so hard must be revealed now. All our inhibitions and doubts must be cast aside in the name of competition. The headsets go on, and through the white noise, through the focus of the task at hand a sound remains heard. The crowd chants, “Three!, Two! One!”
I glance at my teammates and through uncertain eyes it’s understood. It’s time.
Cover photo courtesy of Riot Games