For those unaware of esports, who say, happen to come across this semi-recent phenomenon - one of the bigger disconnects might be in making the connection to traditional sports. From the perspective of teams, players, training, and figuring out how they might react after a devastating loss. Or, how best to capitalise on a win as the next round of competition fast approaches. How does all that work in esports?
Recently we had the chance to catch up with the LG Dire Wolves, who recently made history as the first Australian team to compete in the League of Legends World Championship. And as it turns out, sport is the same no matter whether it involves a field and a ball, or a digital world filled with fantasy, action, and spectacle.
“We've seen it grow up from a sport where teams were playing in internet cafes to where the teams are now in houses,” Russ Prendergast, Senior Marketing Manager at LG explains. “They play as a team. They train as a team. They live as a team, and they compete as a team.”
Like with any professional sport, training for esports requires discipline and focus. For League of Legends, this means day-to-day structure and planning. “Our days revolve around two major scrim blocks a day,” Dire Wolves coach, Curtis Morgan tells me. “A scrim is an organised game of practise against other teams within the league. Each block consists of three games with a break in-between the blocks. Outside these two scrim blocks we have pregame and post-game processes to make sure that we make the most of the learning from the games that we play. For the rest of the day the team generally play personal solo queue. So, they can refine their skills on a micro level.”
This happens every day of training. And a typical day for a member of the Dire Wolves looks a little like this. Wake up, get in some physical training at the gym, have breakfast, and then meet up with other players and coach for a pregame meeting before heading into the first block of in-game practise. Which itself can last up to three hours. Add in another round of meetings, block of practise as a group, and you get the picture that life inside an esports training facility or gaming house is a lot more than just time spent playing games.
“It's very structured,” Curtis adds.
For a title like League of Legends the requirement is not simply to have a place to call home, but equipment, financial support, and infrastructure. This is where the LG in the LG Dire Wolves come in. The incredibly successful company best known for making great TV screens, white goods, and PC products. Russ Prendergast notes that internally LG has been watching the rise of esports and games like League of Legends for a few years now.
“We came across this thing that was called esports back in 2015 or earlier. The more we delved into it, the more we found there was this massive following, very enthusiastic fans, but not well known within the commercial environment.” This exploration led to the discovery of League of Legends, where discussions with Nathan Mott, Founder and CEO of Dire Wolves, began. And it’s a testament to not only the dedication of the team, but also partners, that has resulted in the Dire Wolves growing from strength to strength over the last 12 months.
“When I started playing competitive in Oceania around four years ago there was barely any infrastructure to play within,” Curtis recalls. “Now we have full-time gaming houses. We have a league full of hungry players. Sponsors that are continually coming onboard throughout the region and LG have been one of these.”
“From just from a grass roots perspective we're providing our production technology and helping them from that technical edge perspective,” Russ continues. “I think what else we bring to the team is our own support in terms of financial. But, also providing them with all the resources that we have internally. We've got our own social media manager, our own digital manager, and we can help in terms of that engagement that the Dire Wolves have with their audience.”
Like with traditional sports, corporate partnerships not only provide stability and resources that were previously unavailable, but help elevate any professional team to reach their fullest potential. For the Dire Wolves it’s these partnerships, coupled with the hard work carried out by both the team and coach, that has seen the team rise to the global level of competition in 2017.
The Science of Teamwork and Coaching
There’s an old saying that revolves around the notion that you should get to know your opponent before engaging in any conflict. Which, makes perfect sense. And in preparing for any upcoming showdown, competitive season, or elimination series, the same rings true for the Dire Wolves.
“If the match is of high importance I tend to work with our analyst,” Curtis explains. “We do in-depth analysis of trends and habits in the opposing team's gameplay and to see how we can work towards exploiting these.” For Curtis the importance of identifying not only his own players strengths and weaknesses but also those of the opposing team, is paramount in the lead-up to any major game.
“I think preparation is an art, it's like bouncing between playing to your strengths and manoeuvring around the strengths of the opposition to put pressure on their lead points. It's taken me the whole year just to even scratch the surface of working on this craft.”
Curtis, like the sport he’s now a big part of, is acutely aware of just how young the field is. And how new it all still feels. Especially when you factor in the almost exponential rise in popularity of esports in the last two years. For the Dire Wolves coach, the transition to becoming a leader in the field was one we’ve seen across other sports over the years. Albeit, accelerated. “I was an ex-player,” Curtis tells me, noting the path that a lot of coaches over the years have travelled. “I started playing competitively in Oceania about four years ago and then eventually played with the Dire Wolves. As a player you have a lot of leverage in terms of being able to be a coach afterwards. I had that respect from being a decent player, so people were willing to work with me.”
In speaking with Curtis, he notes even simple things like maintaining his composure no matter if it was after a win or a loss directly impacted team morale. Keeping a level head as he put it, whilst also diligently researching and absorbing as much as he can about great coaches from across the globe and history, resulted in a strong year and clear direction for the Dire Wolves. Which led to an appearance at the World Championships.
“We went into the competition with high expectations placed by ourselves,” Curtis pauses, to recall the milestone when asked whether competing at the global level put any additional regional pressure on the team. “We feel one of the most integral parts of being a great player stems from a belief that they can achieve their audacious goals. If you set the bar too low, it's only going to hinder your growth. And this is the philosophy that we live by in the Dire Wolves. I would say that no player really felt the pressure from any external source, rather, just themselves.”