Competitive gaming as fans know it is now an established industry after being a novelty in the 1980s. Events like the Nintendo World Championships, QuakeCon and the Evolution Championship Series proved the interest in tournament-level competition. South Korea’s tech-boom would professionalize it.
With cable channels televising matches in titles like StarCraft, its players suddenly found there was money in their hobby. This changed the way they practiced and interacted with each other. Groups began strategizing. Some players, like the now-legendary Lim “BoxeR” Yo Hwan and Hong “YellOw” Jin Ho, even moved in together.
This is how the first gaming houses formed. Corporate sponsorships then formalized the teams living in them. These players’ successes, in turn, showcased much of what would seem to be the “right” way to practice. After all, it’s hard to argue with someone standing in front of a cabinet full of trophies.
Sleep. Eat. Play. Repeat.
Despite having a regulating body overseeing players’ living conditions, life in a team house was not easy. Playing games for a living may sound fun, but most players had never lived away from home before. Cooped up in small apartments with other young men and following a strict ten hour a day training schedule changes a person’s perspective.
In Korea, this model worked largely because of the high value its culture places on hard work and respectfulness to one’s elders. In this case, the star players and coaches. Western teams ran into difficulties trying to emulate this. By having housework and travel removed from their lives, players’ games were improved and they grew closer to each other. However, ideas about work ethic and personal space differences caused friction.
Nowadays, even in Asia, this way of doing things is found to put too much pressure on young players and can border on exploitation. As the industry grew, a new approach needed to be found. Complexity owner Jason Lake has characterized this as esports 3.0.
The first generation of players played games from home, only seeing teammates at events. The second generation lived in team houses, improving their game but not their state of mind. And now, esports is where players’ environments are tailored to so they can perform their best.
This still involves lots of practice. But it also features physical factors like a balanced diet and fitness plans. Team Liquid, once a proprietor of crowded gaming houses of their own, has since opted to separate players’ work and life environments. TL operates a giant training facility in Santa Monica, California, but players no longer live on the premises. Instead, they live in an apartment complex ten minutes away. The team still has these dorms cleaned and takes care of player meals and such. TL even enforces a curfew by shutting off the internet there at 2 a.m. But players stated that this separation helps improve focus.
As esports evolves, new questions on how best to achieve improvements arise. Soon, the Overwatch League will start playing away games. How will players react to the increased travel? Europe’s League of Legends teams are already experimenting with this dilemma as well. Other problems may soon follow.
While “work smarter, not harder” is a cliche of our age, in esports, it’s very applicable. Nothing tells this story better than the evolution of the team house. It will be interesting to see what shape it takes in the esports 4.0 future.
Written by Xander Teunissen