Currently, team houses are used by pro gaming teams for StarCraft II, League of Legends, Dota 2 and even Hearthstone. However, despite their important role in supporting eSports, they are rarely given the attention they deserve.
Worth their weight in gold
Fua Hsien “Lance” Wan of the Malaysian Dota 2 team Arrow Gaming said that their new team house has really helped them improve because they’re “having lots of discussions before and after matches”. Has it paid off? Absolutely. They just beat MVP.Phoenix in the SEA qualifiers, and are now going to The International 4 to compete for the largest prize pool in eSports history (over US$7 million at the time of writing).
The League of Legends (LoL) team Ninjas in Pyjamas also recently acquired a team house, which is a considerable investment for a Challenger league team. Has it paid off? Definitely. NiP have gone from placing fifth or lower in tournaments to winning the SoloMid Invitational, the FACEIT Challenger Invitational, the Copenhagen Games and the EU Challenger Series Spring 2. However, despite this string of successes, the team failed to qualify for European LCS Summer Split, and was reforged early in May with two players leaving the roster.
A team house can clearly bring success to a team, but it cannot work miracles if the team has internal issues. It’s obvious that team houses do far more than simply house their players. They provide an effective training environment where they can receive immediate feedback from their teammates. Jeffry Liu, moderator for Team Liquid, said in the documentary Good Game, that “there’s no alternative to a pro house with really sick players… telling you how to get better”.
In addition to providing critical feedback, a team house allows players to bond together in a way that is simply impossible over the internet. This creates synergy between players which is crucial in team games like LoL and Dota. A team who understands one another can anticipate each other’s actions and will be better coordinated in team fight situations. This is why we have seen so many team houses in the LoL and Dota scenes, but they are by no means any less important in other games.
Room to rent
Given how beneficial team houses are, it’s no surprise we are seeing an ever-increasing number of them. However, this means that it is becoming increasingly important to have one, as it is difficult to remain competitive otherwise. Joe “InnerFlame” Eloussai commented to me that LoL teams are “at a disadvantage compared to the other teams in LCS if you aren’t in one”.
However, it is not always so easy to get a team house, and for the same price they can be dramatically different depending on whether you are in Europe, North America or South Korea. I chatted to Joe Brophy, current manager for Unicorns in Love and previously the manager for Millennium and Alternate Gaming. He stressed that “not many house owners in Cologne are willing to let five young males who are gamers rent their house”. So, it’s not always the price that stops teams from getting a house, but rather sceptical landlords.
Life in a team house can vary wildly from one house to another, but there are also some big differences between continents. In Europe, most houses are taller than they are wide, meaning that rooms are quite small, while in North America, houses often have a lot more floor space and so it’s much easier for each player to have their own bedroom. The situation is strikingly different in South Korea however, where space is an issue. Bedrooms are compact and may hold as many as ten players in a single room, sleeping shoulder to shoulder, but because housing is so much cheaper in Korea, almost every team there has a house, and in some cases several.
At the end of the day, though, gamers are a bunch of nerds living in a house together, and sometimes that can end up being just what you would expect it to be. James “Stress” O’Leary recounted a story to me from the Dignitas house in LA. It seems that someone had turned the oven on and forgotten about it. This ignited some leftover oil in the pan and soon the whole oven was on fire. ODEE rushed in to put out the blaze and burned himself in the process. Later that week, Dignitas’s Scarra had a string of bad luck and managed to break the washing machine, tumble dryer and his glasses all in one day.
Any athlete needs to focus on their training and prioritize it over the maintenance of their household. This is why many South Korean teams not only employ cleaners and launderers, but also cooks to ensure that all members of the team are fed regular, well-balanced meals. In the West, it is typical to expect everyone to pull their own weight and to cook their own dinner. However, in South Korea, the structure of the team house can be entirely different altogether.
In the documentary State of Play, Kim “Impact” Joon-Hyuk describes the hierarchy of the Woongjin Stars team house. As a junior member, he had to clean up after dinner, wash dishes and do the laundry while senior players were omitted from such chores. After a year of being a junior, he would no longer be required to fulfill these duties.
Train hard, or train well?
It’s hard to imagine such a hierarchy in a Western team house, were the general consensus is that everyone should pitch in together. But the differences don’t end there. Greg “Idra” Fields, commented in the documentary Good Game, that Korean team houses are “a good way to get good… but I think they actually practice too much, to the point where it becomes unproductive”.
This fits in with what I have seen myself in China as an English teacher. Before an exam, students will take an insane number of extra classes in the hopes that it will improve their chances of success. The prevailing idea is that the more time you spend studying, the better you will become. This is true to an extent, but there is no concept of ‘studying well’, and valuing that over simply studying a lot.
This was the attitude of the StarCraft team Hwaseung OZ (disbanded in 2011), who used to practice ten to twelve hours a day. However, there are still differences between Korean teams. Startale only practice six hours a day, in two three-hour segments, which is much closer to Western practice regimes. We can probably also assume that Startale is more relaxed about its team hierarchy than other teams are.
Some teams go beyond the old paradigm of practicing long hours, and have increasingly incorporated physical training into their regime. Na’Vi say that they aspire to creating “socially and physically developed gamers”, while Team Liquid’s Dota squad appeared in a series of photos on Twitter where they were doing a variety of physical exercises in preparation for Ti4. Even StarCraft teams value this aspect of training, as we see Korean teams practicing yoga with an instructor in the documentary State of Play. However, in all of these cases we could not confirm whether physical exercise actually features as a regular part of these teams’ training schedules.
Team houses are becoming more and more commonplace, but we still underestimate just how important they are. Team houses are the foundation upon which the future of eSports will be built, so we must learn how to effectively use them now in order to create a supportive infrastructure for the pro gamers of the future.
Stay tuned for further articles taking a closer look at team houses and their role in eSports!