Still the seemingly ultimate statement of legitimacy in esports, most team houses are an anachronistic practice that some experts say is stunting growth in the esports space while actively hurting players at the same time. Back in the day, it was the dream of budding video game players to throw off the shackles of real life and go to a place where nothing else mattered but playing the game. It was supposed to be heaven, but for some has turned into a hell.
The first reported opening of a North American esports team house was in 2005 when compLexity and owner Jason Lake rented a house in Plano, TX for his Counter-Strike team. This opening of the team house coincided with the broadband access boom of the Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) era. This wired access that used your existing telephone landline was the first to see connection speeds of up to 3 mbps which helped players practice and compete by getting closer to LAN ping speeds. With the team house, not only did these players have the best internet access money could buy, they also had all the players under one roof practicing and competing side-by-side.
However, while these components were helpful in playing better Counter-Strike, there were many downsides as well. The worst of which saw privacy as a premium and the close quarters made it very difficult to find any time for yourself or have a relationship.
The beginning of the team house era often saw a lack of boundaries and rules as it struggled to evolve. Having no separation between work and home often created an environment of stress and burnout. There was nowhere to turn if you needed to be alone. You closed your bedroom door and hid. Yet, you knew there were people all around.
One expert performance coach, who wished to remain anonymous, says that these type of team houses still exist today, even in high-profile leagues and they need to be changed.
“An unstructured gaming house with a lack of boundaries and rules is very negative on mental well being,” the coach said. “This is because an individual can never truly leave their work environment and have a separation of work and home. We know major causal factors in burnout are stress and workload.”
On top of the usual peaks and valleys associated with competing in any sport, there are bound to be conflicts, arguments, and sometimes physical altercations that occur in these houses. When this happens, it is almost impossible to get away. And without somebody living with the team that has a working knowledge of how to handle these situations, the players suffer.
“If you have individuals who are fighting, not communicating properly, or do not feel like they have a safe place at home, it is going to increase the amount of stress that an individual has,” the expert told VPesports. “This can lead to a multitude of mental illnesses that can compound on themselves and must be handled by a trained therapist.”
When gaming houses have multiple people confined to a space who may not be compatible or not understand the separation between work and personal time it will undoubtedly lead to issues, diminishing the ability to compete and get along. In order for team houses to work, our expert says certain conditions must be met.
“It is important to realize that gaming houses can work, but certain conditions need to be implemented. There needs to be spaces that are completely free and allow the individual to de-stress,” the coach admonished. “There needs to be an understanding of rules that this is no longer work and if a person is in their room it’s their personal time. There also should be a trained professional who is monitoring individuals and their mental wellbeing to see if any adjustments need to be made for the players.”
Tyler “Skadoodle” Latham, MVP of the ELEAGUE Boston Major and whose Cloud9 Counter-Strike: Global Offensive squad won the Major, has some experience living in team houses. The six-year veteran of professional Counter-Strike echoed our experts sentiment.
“I loved living in a team house because I believed it was a lot easier to communicate and work with teammates upfront and in person,” Latham said. “However, as time went on I had a hard time separating my work life and personal life. Living with teammates twenty-four seven made it hard to get away and do things on my own to reset. That being said I’d much rather live on my own and go into work at an office or practice facility.”
The connection between Latham and our expert appears to be that as esports players get older, they need more space–literally and emotionally. Life starts to take over. You want a girlfriend, maybe a pet, a garage, and a place to be alone. These things are extremely hard to manage when you have five or more people living with you in one house.
Jordan “n0thing” Gilbert, formerly of Cloud9 and now an on-air analyst and streamer, believes that team houses have their ups and downs and needs to be used properly.
“Team houses can benefit organizations in some situations that can solve some problems. Maybe a brand-new team moves everyone to a new place and they have friends or know anyone. Having these guys in the same place would allow everyone to appreciates the comfort of a family style environment. However, the older players and players who have already entered independence usually appreciate having their own space and being able to practice in a separate location then they live.”
The common theme according to our expert, Latham, and Gilbert is that there is no one size fits all when it comes to having a team house. Team owners are taking notes and listening.
And If there was one owner that has seen the different dispensations of how the team house has evolved in esports, it is compLexity owner Jason Lake. Lake is widely considered one of the founding fathers of esports having formed his organization in 2004. He believes you can break up team house evolution into three different eras.
“Esports 1.0 saw guys playing from their mom’s basements trying to grind and get better,” Lake said. “In esports 2.0, we saw the birth of the team house. In 3.0, we are seeing a tailored approach for each situation. And in complexity’s case, this means luxury apartments, proper food preparation, medical care and much more.”
Lake and his complexity organization are on the leading edge in terms of providing players different options in living arrangements and perks. compLexity players can choose to live together or in luxury apartments, eating at what’s called the training table alongside members of the Dallas Cowboys. Additionally, compLexity players have access to trainers and an ultramodern workout facility. The new era in esports has arrived for Lake and his organization.
They aren’t the only ones. Cloud9 and NRG have also figured out that there is no one approach.
Jack Etienne, owner of Cloud9 and the London Spitfire, knows a little something about esports. Having been in the scene for years, he and his wife turned a few thousand of their own dollars into a successful esports brand. Etienne also believes that there is no one approach that works for everyone. Making sure that everyone gets what they need in order to be successful is Etienne’s No. 1 priority. Especially when it comes to team houses.
“Team houses are a personal choice. Our players may move into their own places if they like and we assist them in setting up and maintain these accommodations,” said Etienne. “We also have several houses and most of our players prefer having the services we provide in team houses which often include housekeeping, laundry, facilities management, most costs covered, chefs, and much more.”
Owner of NRG and the San Francisco Shock, Andy Miller has a unique perspective. Also the co-owner of the Sacramento Kings, Miller has dealt with both professional and esports athletes on a very high financial scale. He has to get it right.
“We actually have both houses and apartments. Some games and teams like our Counter-Strike guys really want to grind together and hang out together,” Miller said “They genuinely like each other and are a family. Five guys and a coach against the world. However, Overwatch is a much bigger organization with 12 players and five coaches and managers and a bunch of social media people as well, so a team house is not a possibility. The irony is that NBA players aren’t much older these days and the non-married ones inevitably spend most of their time at one guys’ house hanging out during home stands playing games anyways. Lots of parallels.”
Having a training facility or housing facility is very difficult if you aren’t backed by investors such as the teams in the Overwatch League or North American League Championship Series. This forces a lot of teams do what they can do in order to make it work. Some organizations don’t have millions of dollars or extra money to bring in a coach or someone to help make a team house work. In this case, some choices must be made.
“If you are an organization that has just found the funds to put up players in a team house, but with no supervision, think twice,” our expert advised. “You must weigh all the factors. And while it may seem cool or give you some validation as an org, do what’s best for the players. Without them, you have no org.”
*Title Photo: Team LDLC Twitter