Work hard, play hard: Living the gamer dream in e-sport team houses

E-sport team houses are spreading around the world. But does packing half a dozen gamers under one roof translate into professional success?

Seamus Byrne Editor, Australia & Asia
Seamus Byrne is CNET's Editor for Australia and Asia. At other times he'll be found messing with apps, watching TV, building LEGO, and rolling dice. Preferably all at the same time.
Seamus Byrne
4 min read
League of Legends e-sport crowd at OPL Grand Final
Riot Games

It's a teen gamer fantasy. Live in a house full of friends, get paid to play and train, stream to your fans and become better players because you live and breathe video games.

E-sport team housing has been common amongst the top-flight teams for years. As the practice trickles down to smaller leagues the question looms large -- does living together truly take your team to the next level?

In Australia, two League of Legends teams are betting it does. Legacy and Hellions both set up houses in Sydney to see how far they could push their game in the local Oceanic Pro League, with tens of thousands of dollars and qualification for the world championships on the line. League of Legends is the world's most played e-sport with serious tournaments and prize money supported by the game's creator, Riot Games, all around the world.

Team Legacy League of Legends Australia

All thumbs up from Legacy on its team house experience so far.

Riot Games

Legacy was last year's OPL runner-up, looking to go one better and become the top team in the region. The other team, Hellions, battled to avoid relegation to a lower division last year, so had a lot of ladder to climb this season.

A tale of two houses

Just two months into the experience, both team captains had noticed the houses were having an impact on performance. And it goes well beyond the 8 to 12 hours a day the team spends training.

"I didn't realise exactly how much it would improve us," says Tim "Carbon" Wendel, captain of Legacy, the team constantly finding itself in the runner-up slot of the OPL. When we spoke, Legacy was on a 16-0 win streak for the season.

"I didn't think living together magically makes you a better team. But out of nowhere it kind of seems that it does. We don't have some magic potion in the back room that we all drink and become amazing. It's just been having this house."

Hellions was a new team formed after an organisational change at the end of 2015. In its previous form it had fought to avoid relegation to a lower division league, but was sitting more comfortably in the mid-table this time around.

"I thought there were going to be a lot of issues between players since they live in the same apartment 24/7," says Tae-Hyung Ryoo, captain of Hellions. "But when you see others play the game and whenever you see everyone working hard, it's motivating."

Pursuing a strategy of importing key players from South Korea, it made sense for Hellions to have a team house when they were already organising accommodation.

Ryoo v Carbon

Tae-Hyung "Ryoo" Ryoo and Tim "Carbon" Wendel: Captains of the teams with the first professional team houses in Australia.

Riot Games

"The only drawback I would say is when you have work and personal life all under one roof," says Ryoo.

That drawback can take a real toll, with tensions rising and team members having nowhere to escape to. When you're winning such issues are easy to sidestep, but when you're losing things can be very hard to overcome. Even cultural differences between team members can blow up quickly if people are feeling the strain.

"I had one player screaming at me after the first week, because we hadn't bought him chopsticks yet," said Wendel. "That wasn't the first thing on my mind when I was buying cutlery for the house."

Make or break

With the right coaching and support, the hothouse environment that can break a team can also bind one together. By the end of this first season of 2016, Hellions had stayed out of relegation danger but it had been a tough first season in the house -- a team member left and the hunt for a replacement was on.

For Legacy, things sound more positive.

Speaking with Jake Tiberi, professional League of Legends shoutcaster for the OPL, he commented on Legacy's new ability to turn things around fast.

"When you watch their games...game one they might have a little bit of a rough patch, and it goes to 40 minutes, but they still drag it home," says Tiberi. "They go away from their computers for five minutes, they regroup as a team, they come back, they smash you in 22 minutes. It just shows that it's more the environment than the walls around it."

"Last year when we were all working online you can't read body language," says Legacy's Wendel. "But when you're together you very quickly learn what sets certain people off and also what calms them. Living together has taught us how to help certain people out of the hole when they get stuck in it."

League of Legends OPL Final 2016

Legacy in action during the first season final for 2016.

Riot Games

In the OPL season final in early April, Legacy did just that. Rapidly losing the first two games in the best of five series against arch-rivals the Chiefs, the match looked all but over. But Legacy rallied in games three and four in convincing fashion, and suddenly they looked most likely to win.

The final result was a Chiefs victory in a close-fought game five, but there was no question that Legacy knew how to step up when it counted. Having been forced to play with a substitute player in the final, many will feel Legacy could have taken that next big step with its core team on deck.

"It's been incredible so far," says Wendel. "I'm really excited to see what the future holds."

The future -- in some parts of the world -- is to move past team houses, as elite global teams add offices to any housing arrangements to balance the benefits of housing with a truly professional work environment.

But for many aspiring e-sport pros, the idea of living in a team house sounds like a dream come true.