A look inside a League of Legends Team House with the Immortals
A Team House is a familiar concept for e-sports pros, but for those of us not in that world it can be truly baffling. Whenever I talk to people about it they are inevitably confused by the concept. Is it like a fraternity house? And who pays for everything?
In short, a team house is a place where e-sports players live and work together. Depending on the organization the size and location of the team house will vary, but they all have certain things in common. Organizations rely on Team Houses or similar shared spaces because that's the only way to be competitive in team-based games such as League of Legends. The closed environment the players have to practice, work with their coaches, or just be away from the world is crucial to honing the skills required to be in that top 1% of players.
The owners of a team own or rent the facility in which the players and support staff live. Often this is a house somewhere in the close vicinity of where they have to compete. League of Legends (or whatever the game of choice is) becomes life for the players at this point. Whether it’s scrimmages against other teams, streaming, or preparing a special build for the week's matches, they are always thinking about the game. Winning is the goal, and absolute dedication to the craft is necessary.
And it’s quite easy for them to just think about the game. Team owners, managers, and support staff take care of almost everything else for the players. Cooking? Most teams have a professional chef that takes care of meals 5-7 days a week. Many will also have a person on staff that does the majority of the cleaning, laundry, and everyday activities that come with living in a house. We can’t forget the biggest part either: players don’t have to worry about the rent because it’s paid for by the organization.
A visit to the Immortals Team House
You might get the idea that being a pro gamer is pretty cushy at this point. No expenses, the best equipment money can buy, the best support staff, and you get to play video games for a living, with all the fame and fortune that comes with it. But what’s it really like for players and staff?
In the short time I was at the Immortals house the gravity of the situation really set in. The team lives in is massive house, though you wouldn’t know it from just looking at it from the street. The doors open up into a small living room area with a giant flat screen, a comfy couch, and a few extra chairs. Across the hall we have framed player jerseys and other assorted merchandise. Moving further into the house we have the dining room and kitchen, both equally impressive in size. Upstairs the players have their rooms, though some are sharing with each other.
Outside in a small, yet impressive backyard for the Santa Monica/Brentwood area, is a verdant lawn where players can relax in privacy. But it doesn’t stop there. In the basement Immortals has a miniature studio where they produce their own content, and then there’s the second structure. Another two story building, albeit much smaller, which houses the majority of the staff.
Then there’s the gaming area in the main building. The walls are lined with computers, while the windows are nearly blacked out in order to minimize screen glare. The players are along one wall, while the coaches are opposite them observing their games.
The whole idea of the setup is to emulate the setup at a League Championship Series (LCS). The monitors, chairs, and even the desk height are exactly the same as what’s used on stage.
But not everything about life in a Team House is perfect. In my conversations I heard multiple times how, because of how gaming houses are set up, many of these young adults are missing out on crucial life skills. Players enter into the scene right after high school, or earlier, so they miss out on the entire college experience in many cases. Many of these players never develop skills such as cooking for themselves or even doing laundry. And while the team house environment is necessary to compete, many believe that players living and working in the same place is detrimental to their health.
I sat down with the Immortals team manager Kang “Dodo8” Jun-hyeok and Jake “Xmithie” Puchero to talk about their experiences with Team Houses.
These interviews were edited for clarity and length.
Team Manager Kang “Dodo8” Jun-hyeok
GameCrate:So first off, what’s it like being in charge of a team as a team manager?
Dodo8: Basically, I just have to take care of their everyday lives. Like before we got a chef I usually had to figure out what they had to eat three times a day. I usually cooked almost every day, but now we have a chef, which makes my life a lot easier.
Also scheduling stuff: Riot events, team activities, and just keeping the house clean so it’s not a dumpster to live in.
GC: Have you ever done something like this before?
D8: I haven’t, but when I was a player I was doing kind of the same job. I was the oldest, and I’m from SoCal and had a car, so I was like managing the kids.
GC: Okay, so what do you bring that some other team managers don’t?
D8: I’m also a translator and assistant coach. I was a pro player before, and since I also speak Korean I act as a translator for many of the Korean players and coaches. So I do those kinds of things as well, in addition to the managing part.
GC: Do you like the team house environment?
D8: Yeah, definitely. Especially with Immortals because we have an awesome house. I think it’s one of the best houses in e-sports. I’ve been through all of the team houses from when I was starting up through Challenger Series. I started up from this small apartment living with like seven guys.
GC: Very much like college.
D8: Yeah, just like college. And then into a smaller house, and then a smaller house, and now with Immortals it’s like a giant mansion.
GC: Nice. Now do you think there needs to be a separation for the players of work and home? Or are you pretty happy with this setup?
D8: For me personally, I think there should be separate space for working and living. When I was a player and I experienced going somewhere to practice, the environment just makes you practice harder and focus a lot more. Because if you just practice in the living space you’re living in it just doesn’t feel like working, and sometimes they get lazy; sometimes they just wake up and come straight down to their computer and they may be still sleeping in their brains.
I think just waking up and going somewhere else- just that setup is good. Also on the computers, I know some other teams just have League of Legends on their computers. Here they have other things like their music and movies. I just think it’s better to have that separate office space.
GC: Okay, walk me through a standard day’s schedule.
D8: So right now since we’re in season we’re scrimming every day, expect for maybe one off day. For me I wake up around 8:50 because the guys are supposed to wake up at 9, but they don’t wake up at 9 so I have get up a little earlier and go wake them up.
Then we get ready for practice starting at 10am, and that goes to 1pm. After that first block we eat whatever the chef prepared for us. There’s a small break until 2pm, and then we have our second block of practice from 2-5pm.
And during those practice times I watch next to our head coach and translate whatever he wants to tell/teach the players.
Then after that second block we have another break to let them rest up, and then we would eat dinner around 6-6:30. Then our day kind of ends. During the rest of the free time we require them to play a bit of soloq. For that free time I just try to watch the guys and try to figure out what we have to do tomorrow.
GC: So for that free time in soloq, is that when they have to practice for the upcoming patches that haven’t been applied yet?
D8: Pretty much. For soloq they practice new champions, whatever the coach told them to practice, and mechanics. They also have to have a monthly streaming hours requirement that they have to fulfill.
GC: Can they request extra days off during the season?
D8: They could, but the answer is most likely no because it isn’t fair for the other players.
GC: So that kind of leads into my next question. What are some of the house rules?
D8: The house rules is basically wake up around 9am, and be ready to practice by 10am. Our bedtime is at 1am. We try to get everyone at least seven hours of sleep so they aren’t tired during scrims and we actually have a productive scrim time.
Other house rules: no soda, no junk food. That’s what our coach Robert enforces a lot. So we just try to have a healthy living style so they don’t get sugar crashes and that sort of thing.
GC: So Robert also acts as a nutritionist, making sure they’re eating the rights things. So sodas and energy drinks are just gone; what about stuff like sweet iced tea and stuff like that?
D8: No, we just try to feed them fruits and healthier choices in general.
GC: Are there any consequences if one of them breaks the rules or something?
D8: Well, we’ll just yell at them and take whatever it is away from them. We can’t really punish them for it, and they’re old enough to know that it’s not allowed in the house.
GC: And you said their bedtime is around 1am. Is there like a curfew they have to deal with?
D8: Yeah, I’m usually up the latest, so if it’s past one I’ll just straight up tell them to go to sleep. If they’re in game after that game go to sleep. Obviously they won’t go to sleep right way. They might be on their phones, but we can’t really stop that.
GC: You recently brought in Jake “Xmithie” Puchero. When deciding on new players how much does personality play into your decision?
D8: We look into that. I think all the teams do. This is a team game so personality matters because it can affect how the team meshes. We knew that Jake was very chill, and Eugene was very close to him from when they played in CLG so that was one of the factors in choosing Jake.
GC: But what if there is a problem between players? How do you deal with that?
D8: If there’s any conflicts that happen between players, we (the coaches) try to talk to them one on one and try to figure out what the problem is. We hear what they really want to say because they won’t say it to their teammate because it will mess up their relationship. We just try to make the relationship better.
GC: What about Noah? How involved is he in all this? Does he just let you do your own thing, or does he actively get involved?
D8: He usually lets us do our own thing, but when things get really hard to deal with he comes in and makes the final call. He stops by the house maybe once or twice a week and sticks around for a while. He was living here before so he knows what the environment is.
GC: I was curious, have you ever had to deal with any threats to the players?
D8: Nothing in particular, thankfully. The most threats the players get is negative comments on the web, but there hasn’t ever been anything life threatening. If something like that happens we’d talk to Riot and local law enforcement of course.\
But I am worried about players safety and life torments. There could be crazy fans like in traditional sports.
GC: Yeah, that’s part of it.
D8: But we talked about this with Riot last year, and they’re actually enforcing a lot of things.
GC: So they’re involved in the team house environment?
D8: Not really, but with the live tournament events and stuff like that they take an active role.
Jungler Jake “Xmithie” Puchero
GameCrate:For you, what’s it like living in the team house? The environment; what’s good about it, what’s bad about it?
Jake “Xmithie” Puchero: Since I’ve been living in gaming houses for like, four and a half years, it’s pretty different from just living at your own home where no one is around you. After you scrim, your team is around you, and you go back to whatever you’re doing.
To be competitive, especially in LCS, you really need a gaming house. People need to be together post-game to talk about how to improve. It’s not always about just playing the game and that’s it, you’re done for the day. There’s always the need to review, and what you need to do to eliminate your mistakes.
GC: Is there anything particularly bad about living in a team house that you don’t like since you’ve been living in them for so long?
XM: The biggest thing is privacy. Usually gaming houses is where people sleep, too, so you don’t really get to separate work from your life. You finish work, and then you’re like I’m gonna go practice and then relax, oh wait, you’re still at the gaming house and at your computer with the same people around you.
GC: Is that something you would change about gaming houses? The separation of life and work?
XM: Definitely. I always like where people commute to work, like a normal job. You separate your lifestyle from going to work, and if you want to just go and hang out you can have your own space.
GC: I can imagine that would be challenging. Did you do the college experience at all?
XM: Yeah, I went to college for 2-3 years before this.
GC: Does this feel at all similar?
XM: (Laughs) Not at all. I don’t see many similarities between going to college and playing this. This is something you have to put more time into, and it’s much more stressful. Your job is not stable, and you have to perform at your highest every time. And if you want to win that’s obviously what you have to do. It’s pretty different.
GC: Okay, so up there (the second floor of the house) you all have your own rooms, or do you share?
XM: At the moment I’m sharing one with Cody Sun. The only one not sharing right now is our mid laner.
GC: Is that going to change in the future? Or is it just going stay that way?
XM: Uhh, hopefully? I would like my own personal space.
GC: Okay, what’s something people wouldn’t expect about a team house?
XM: Like I said before, there’s no line between work and outside of work. It’s always work, then go to sleep, and you’re still in the gaming house. You’re with your teammates all the time. 24 hours a day.
But I guess the gamer stigma where people say that everyone’s unfit, and everyone goes out to eat Chipotle every single day; most teams are actually getting a chef and some form of a nutritionist. And everyone wants to be healthy, because in order to play at your best you need to be in a good place mentally and physically. And I personally believe that the mental and physical are linked, and you need one for the other to work.
GC: Yeah, Jun was telling me about some of the house rules you have here like no caffeine, no high sugar stuff, and one of your coaches kind of acting like a nutritionist - it’s definitely different than what normal people have.
You were at CLG last season. What are some of the differences between the two houses?
XM: I guess I’ll talk about the similarities first. Both of them have a chef. Both have very strict schedules. We have times for scrims, a time to wake up, meetings before that, VOD reviews, post-game, and team activities.
I guess what separates here from CLG is not that much, to be honest. It (Immortals) has a really good atmosphere to it, though. I’m trying to think of differences, but it’s really hard.
GC: It kind of just all starts blending together?
XM: Yeah. Like I had my own room there, but that’s it. The big difference is we’re really close to LCS here. It’s like a 5-minute drive, but CLG is like a 50-minute drive. It’s kind of stressful most of the time because, for example, we play at 3 and then we end at like 5 or 6pm, and that’s like primetime for traffic around the Santa Monica area. At CLG it was like 1-2 hours of just going to or from the house to the LCS studio. It’s just really stressful because you’re just sleeping or sitting there in the shuttle for so long and it can affect your mindset.
GC: Yeah, traffic is not fun to sit in at all here in LA.
XM: Especially in Santa Monica because everyone wants to leave right around 5:30.
GC: Between the two, CLG and Immortals, which has the stricter schedule?
XM: It’s almost identical, but CLG has a much tenser atmosphere. Like, everyone wants to win, right? But the branding at CLG is that everyone expects us (CLG) to be up there.
But here, everyone wants to win also, and everyone is improving, but everyone’s mentality is on the same level, which is why we’re doing really well right now. And we all have the same goals to do really well at Worlds, and stuff like that.
GC: Definitely. How was the transition between the two houses for you? Did you know any of these guys? You’ve played against them, but did you get to know them before you were here?
XM: I was actually teammates with Eugene back in CLG, and I’ve seen Cody, Olleh, and Flame in LCS, but I never really talked to them. But when I came here everyone was really friendly. Their attitude was pretty good, too. For example, Cody was a rookie last season and his mentality was really good. He really wants to improve and he works really well with Olleh. They talk after each game, which is something not a lot of bot laners in LCS do.
XM: Yeah. Everyone is like; they got screwed in lane 2v2 and they’re mad at their partner because they’re screwing up.
GC: But it’s a team game.
XM: Yeah, but everyone’s still pretty young, and if people are actually...like if the tension keeps increasing and it doesn’t get solved, some bot lanes hate each other. And they don’t talk to each other because they don’t want the other to get mad.
GC: How is it with food choices here? I know you have a chef here, but do you have rotating food choices? I know Flame was happy that you guys got a Korean cook, but not everyone loves Korean food all the time.
XM: You’d be surprised. I love Korean food because that’s what I usually get if I go to K-town. I go get some BBQ. But usually we have one or two days off where the chef isn’t here where we get whatever we want like Chipotle, or Korean BBQ.
GC: So you guys are pretty good about deciding what to eat?
XM: Yeah, cause everyone likes rice, pork, and beef, and that’s pretty much like the options. And chicken. And the chef is really good, and he just melds it into whatever he wants.
GC: What about the other teams. Do you guys hang out with them at all?
XM: For Immortals, I’m not sure. But for me, I usually hang out with the old guard. The guys from early on- they’re still in LCS, but we’ll hang out to go get food, or go to someone’s event.
GC: Cool. What about relationships? How do you guys deal with that here at the house?
XM: I think there’s only one person on our team who is in a relationship right now.
GC: Like are they allowed to come here?
XM: I haven’t seen girlfriends here, yet. I don’t know if the staff or the company is against it. No one really wants to bring someone here because everyone shares a room.
GC: Jun mentioned that you guys have a streaming requirement. Do you view that as a time to try out new things or to get some more fans?
XM: For me, I like streaming because I get to hang out with my fans. I have a Discord that I can use to hang out with them. And I just love interacting with fans.
GC: The last thing I wanted to talk about was your vacations. What is it like for you guys? Do you go out with your teammates, go by yourself? What do you use that vacation for?
XM: Actually, I don’t remember any other team besides SKT that went out on a team holiday together. Usually everyone just wants to go back to their families or their old friends. Or just stay here and stream 24/7. But usually no one tries to group everyone together. It’s like, oh, we’ve been together for the whole last season; you guys wanna hang out again?
GC: So no one is like, you have to hang out together?
XM: Yeah, everyone wants to do different things in that small amount of free time.
GC: And if you make playoffs it’s even less time.
XM: Yeah, last year at MSI we only had a three week break so we had only five vacation days and then it was back to practicing.
GC: That’s rough, but it’s life for you guys.
XM: Yeah, it’s like a curse and a gift, winning all the time.
GC: So how long do you think you can do this? Living in a team house environment and this hectic schedule? It’s gotta take a toll.
XM: It’s actually gotten better. In past years the scheduling was really bad, and not everyone was on the same page. But it just keeps improving, and I actually like this season’s schedule because even though we have to wake up really early, we finish around 5, and then after that you can hang out with your friends or stream more. So I really like this schedule.
You can follow along with the Immortals on Twitter as they play for the NA Summer Split title this weekend.