Why players keep getting sick at worlds and how they’re trying to help/prevent the problem

An unfortunate theme has seemed to emerge at the League of Legends World Championship: Players getting sick.

It’s apparently not a new trend, as talk during last week’s group stage included that this has happened in previous editions of worlds, which moves to the quarterfinals this week in Chicago. But at least half the 16 teams in attendance this year have been affected by illness at some point leading up to or during the tournament.

The most extreme case is Albus NoX Luna’s Kirill “Likkrit” Malofeyev being diagnosed with chickenpox, but other teams and players have had various ailments. Slingshot talked to representatives from Counter Logic Gaming, Splyce, Royal Never Give Up, H2K, ahq e-Sports Club, Samsung Galaxy and the ROX Tigers, who all mentioned players and/or staff being sick. They offered a variety of thoughts on what might be happening and how to manage the problems.

Handling sick players is a difficult balance for teams. They’re preparing for the most important tournament of the year and what the players have been working the entire season — and, in some cases, their careers — to reach. Teams practice more hours than usual, and many went to Korea to do so this year, which can throw off a player’s equilibrium and sleep schedule. Getting rest for the ill isn’t easy.

“We try to sleep as much as we can,” said CLG’s Jake “Xmithie” Puchero, who along with Zaqueri “Aphromoo” Black have been sick. “I was the first one who got sick in Korea. It was worse than Aphro’s, actually. I literally couldn’t get out of my room until scrims. After scrims I would literally go back straight to my room either in the toilet for hours or just in my bed for hours.”

RNG’s Cho “Mata” Se-hyeong said a player or two being sick can affect not only that player, but the entire team. (In an unrelated note, Mata also said Jian “Uzi” Zihao is fighting through a back injury that requires massages in between games).

“Of course if we say we need to practice about 12 hours a day, being sick or hurt takes some time out of that,” Mata told Slingshot’s Andrew Kim. “If the pain is bad enough that it’ll impact the game in a negative way, you have to take time out and take care of that, so I think it had a large impact on practice.”

There’s also the fear of sick players infecting others. H2K’s Marcin “Jankos” Jankowski said they tried to isolate sick players as much as possible, but there aren’t many opportunities to do so when you’re playing for 12 hours each day and also living in close quarters.

For H2K, traveling from Europe to South Korea and then to California seemed to be the problem. Jankos said the flight home from the team’s bootcamp in Korea was the root of the problem

“I was fine and FORG1VEN was fine, but we were jetlagged,” Jankos said. “Everyone was super super jetlagged for the first week as well.”

Luckily for H2K, Jankos said, Oskar “Vander” Bogdan, Ryu “Ryu” Sang-ook and Andrei “Odoamne” Pascu were all only mildly ill, and it didn’t have too much effect. Chou “AN” Chun-An from ahq also said illness wasn’t a big deal for his team.

“We make them wear face masks and just talk through teamspeak,” AN said through an interpreter.

ROX Tigers coach Jeong “NoFe” No-chul said he and one of the other coaches had been sick, as well as Lee “Kuro” Seo-Haeng and Song “Smeb” Kyung-ho. They all felt better by the time worlds started except Smeb, who fought through the illness during the group stage in helping the Tigers win Group A.

“I think because the area here has very steep changes in temperature and gets very cold during the nights, the recovery was slow,” NoFe said. “We tried our best to contain the illness to the people who were already sick, and I’m very relieved that no one else got sick afterwards. I’ve heard that other teams also had trouble with sick players, so it’s quite fortunate for us that it stopped with Smeb.”

When it comes to being at the tournament, Riot Games offers assistance for sick players, which encompasses anything from first aid kits to taking players to the hospital if necessary. Separately, RNG and Samsung brought medicines over from their respective countries to help treat their sick players.

“I think it’s very important for the pros to protect themselves, especially during the worlds tournament,” Mata said. “If you get sick during worlds, it can really make you feel less power.”

So why is this happening? It’s not possible to draw a concrete answer, but the combination of longer practice hours, constant travel across the country (and world) and the increased stress of worlds could all be factors.

“Our practice regiment was completely different,” Splyce coach Jakob “YamatoCannon” Mebdi said. “When we were in Korea, we practiced harder than we ever had. If you don’t go outside much and get that breath of fresh air and you just push all the time, your immune system is going to be weaker for sure.”

Xmithie mentioned the changing of seasons affecting him personally but also that the amount of work teams have put in for the entire season might finally be taking their toll.

“I think especially this time it’s flu season, also changing in weather for me is a lot because usually every time I try to travel (there’s something),” Xmithie said. “Everyone tries really hard, but it gets our immune systems weaker and weaker because we’re overworking ourselves.”

As teams and players continue to deal with illness, An had a tongue-in-cheek solution he old his teammates during the group stage:

“I think the best way to prevent it is probably the guys working out more.”

Cover photo courtesy of Riot Games

Slingshot Editor-In-Chief. Former newspaper reporter from Cleveland, Ohio, who appreciates clean copy and good Counter-Strike.

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