Maria Creveling is a former League of Legends professional with stints at Renegades, Misfits, and Flyquest.
Special to VPEsports
It is no exaggeration to say that historically League of Legends has been Korea versus the world. The rise of SK Telecom T1 in season 3 set the stage for continued Korean dominance up until this year. With China showcasing their domestic talent and cohesiveness at this years Rift Rivals, they may be poised to cement their status as the number one region. Meanwhile, North America trails lazily behind making no notable improvements in international showings over the past few years. From TSM’s iconic crashing and burning in groups to C9 falling to Fnatic at 2015 worlds, fans of the North American pro scene have been left wondering why their teams fail to perform internationally. Now I know what you’re thinking, North America blows because it’s a for fun region. The pros don’t try hard, they don’t dedicate their life to the game like the other regions do! Angry fans will cite average ping to server, work ethic, IQ, and culture as reasons why North America will never succeed as a region. One of the most common statements is that North American teams and players don’t practice enough. They aren’t dedicated enough to the game, they aren’t willing to stay up and scrim ten hours and then grind solo queue for another five hours. Time and time again I’ve read these words on social media criticizing domestic teams and players for not dedicating enough time to training. People are willing to cite some mythical Korean work ethic as the reason why Western teams are miles behind Korea but the perpetuation of this idea can be damaging in its own right.
“The players on Team Liquid, a professional League of Legends team, practice for a minimum of 50 hours per week and most play the game far more.” – Business Insider, 2015
Now I’m just going to say it now. Real life is not an anime. Sorry to break it to all of my weeb followers. You cannot will yourself to succeed in a game of League of Legends. Friendship will not stop the enemy team from taking your nexus and devoting 16 hours a day to grinding scrims and solo queue will not slingshot you into first place on the world rankings. If one wants to make the claim that League of Legends professionals are elite level athletes then let’s look at an athletes training regime. Olympic level athletes on average do not spend every waking hour training. Kristin Armstrong rides 20 to 25 hours a week. Michael Phelps practices daily 3 to 6 hours. Simone Biles trains 32 hours a week with a day off. I would say the average LCS schedule, from my experience being an LCS player, is 8 hours a day with weekends dedicated to competing at the studio. These are simple double scrim block days. To give you an idea, this is what a typical training day in North America looks like. Wake up. Three hour scrim block from noon to 3pm. Review vods until 4pm. Another three-hour scrim block until 7pm. Review again. That’s eight hours of practice right there. Triple scrim blocks include another set from 8pm to 10 or 11 pm bumping up practice times from 8 hours a day to 11+ hours. This does not include solo queue. Already League professionals are putting in between 40 and 60 hours a week not counting competition. That’s absolutely fine if someone loves the game and dedicates their time freely towards improvement but what happens when it is imposed on them by an organization?
Before we broach that subject, I would like to make the argument that League of Legends is not a “physical” game compared to traditional Olympic athletics. Nothing stops women from competing against men at the same level in esports, an 8 hour session of League probably won’t leave you with sweat dripping from your forehead, and the chance of injury is lower than that of traditional sports unless you count hurt feelings as an injury. I would compare League of Legends more to chess in the sense that studying the game and understanding each situation to make the optimal decision is more important that how fast you can react to a fog of war Malphite ult. Between chess grandmasters, some choose to practice absurd hours a day out of passion while others refuse to practice more than an hour a day. No doubt to get to the professional level one must put in countless hours of practice but once an elite level is obtained, putting in more hours to maintain and perfect gameplay does not show significant increases in performance. Obviously practicing more can’t hurt but the question is not whether pros should practice 14 hours a day. The question is this: Should a 14 hour work day be expected and the industry standard imposed by teams in LCS?
Obviously it shouldn’t be. Instead of making players endure an additional 4 hours of low quality training a day perhaps teams should look towards working smarter instead of harder. Instead of criticizing teams for not forcing their players to burn out or endure unreasonable work days, fans should criticize management and coaching that cannot produce results even with a 40+ hour work week. I would say that scrimming is not about improving mechanical play, it’s about improving team cohesiveness and shotcalling. A coach can sit down with a player and go over every opening in League of Legends and what to do in an effort to build up that player’s shotcalling playbook. There are creative ways to improve that I don’t think North American coaching staffs are even looking into. From my experience on Renegades, the band-aid solution to poor results was cramming in more scrim blocks in a given day. Doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results… People say that is the definition of insanity when it’s much closer to the definition of stupidity.
The ‘Korean work ethic” is not a healthy or viable option and the consistent claim that this is why North American teams will never succeed is frankly low effort and harmful. Nadeshot, CEO of 100T, said in a recent interview that the training his team undergoes is rigorous with 10 hours of practice a day and solo queue on top. His staff works hard to motivate and keep the team on track and I’m sure they know that tacking on another 2 hours of practice won’t turn them into super saiyans, it will probably tip them over the edge into burn out. Yet the owners feel under a type of pressure of their own to say these things to try and placate the fans that don’t know any better that measures are being taken to turn their favorite players into winners. It’s rare you see owners of sports teams come out and say “we’re training for X amount of hours” to reassure the supporters but this is a weekly occurrence in League of Legends and the fans praise it every time.
As long as team owners understand and work with their coaching staff to make sure the players are healthy mentally and physical and don’t get locked into a “more practice = more results” mindset, then they can make better use and improve the quality of their already high stress work schedules. Setting a reasonable length on a work day and working within those boundaries to create the optimal schedule is something that all teams should be on board with. If there is an industry standard, this should be it. And to the fans, the idea of working 12 hours a day might not sound so bad if you say “they’re just playing video games” or “they’re elite athletes they should push themselves to the limit” but to any team that cares about their players health and wellbeing, they should know this is not healthy, sustainable, or even beneficial.