Being an E-sports enthusiasts opens up unique opportunities through unexpected means. My two friends started their own sport agency and being a design student, I helped them design their brand and company assets. One day, they contacted me and asked if I would be interested in interviewing a coach of a Korean amateur League team. They wanted to branch out to E-sports, but none of them had any knowledge of the scene, so they turned to me. Obviously I was very excited for the opportunity; my very first interaction with someone involved in the Korean League of Legend scene. Never would I have guessed it would be Coach Lee Seung Eun, aka, “Firebathero”. What followed after the interview is a story of learning the harsh reality of becoming a professional League of Legend player.
For those unfamiliar with Firebathero, he was one of the notorious Starcraft: Brood War players in the Korean scene. He made his mark in Brood War history during 2006, showing off his flashy and innovative Terran gameplay, winning against the likes of BoxeR. You may remember him as the Brood War player who did over-the-top win ceremonies.
The King of Ceremonies
Firebathero dived into a deep slump in his career during 2009, being eliminated from the group stages during various tournaments. On top of this slump, he ended his time at Samsung KHAN as he left for paramilitary service. This would mark the end of his career as a professional StarCraft player as the two years absence is too long of a period for many players to catch up to when they get discharged. When he finished his paramilitary training, he joined the GSTL caster team at GOMTV in 2012 and would continue to cast StarCraft for the next two years.
In 2014, BigFile E-sports club signed Firebathero to coach their amateur League of Legend team. BigFile Miracle had two teams in the amateur scene; BigFile Amor and the newly formed Bigfile Miracle. Bigfile Miracle was the amateur team, Quvic E-sports, renamed. The roster Bigfile Miracle consisted of familiar players such as Huhi of Counter Logic Gaming, Beast of Snake Gaming and CoreJJ of Dignitas. BigFile Miracle managed to advance to HOT6iX Champions Summer in 2014 to play against the strongest teams in Korea. However, the pro scene was too much for BigFile Miracle as they went 0-3 in the group stages and was eliminated from the tournament. Following this tournament, BigFile dropped their sponsorship of the two teams, leaving Coach Lee to make a difficult decision.
Following the BigFile E-sports club disbandment, BigFile Miracle rebranded themselves as Quvic Gaming. On September 2014, the team released the roster consisting of Huhi, Beast, Sudal, CoreJJ and LinLan. These players soon left for their new respective teams across the world. Coach Lee recruited 6 new players and resumed to practice as Quvic Gaming to participate in the upcoming 2015 Champions Spring qualifiers. The new roster consisted of Smile, Jackpot, Sasin, Nuclear, Ray and Ghost. If you are a follower of the LCK scene, you might recognize some of these players (Nuclear and Sasin of SBENU Sonicboom) Even with the excitement of forming a new team, there were many worries on Coach Lee’s mind. With the lack of financial support and a brand new, unproven roster of players, there was a rough road ahead of him.
Running an amateur League of Legends team is not cheap. The cost of renting a gaming house, paying for the player’s and staff’s food, equipment and most importantly, the player’s salary. The salary of an amateur player aiming to be pro is pretty low and according to coach Lee. The pay was enough for spending cash, but not enough to live off of. Coach Lee did not have the funds unlike some of the rich investors funding the challenger team in North America. Due to the inevitability of insufficient funds, Coach Lee turned to crowd-funding to keep the team running.
“Please help Team Quvic E-sports team take on the challenge of becoming pro!”
The crowd-funding was a great success, raising over three thousand dollars, reaching their estimated goal. The kindness of the Korean League of Legends community gave the team hope and determination to bring back good results. Unfortunately for Quvic Gaming and Coach Lee, they were defeated by Xenics E-sports in the group stages, failing to qualify for the next season of OGN Champions. This was the year when HUYA Tigers, now KOO Tigers, and Incredible Miracle entered the OGN Champions, so the bracket was pretty stacked. However, the fact that they have lost still lingered and left a bitter taste for the fans and the team.
This was when my interview with Coach Lee Seung Eun took place. As I talked with him about his current situation and his thoughts in the Korean League of Legends scene in general, I learned of his passion to lead the players to help them realize their dreams of becoming pro. There were times when he wanted to give up, but seeing his players work so hard inspired him to continue. But as he said in his crowd-funding campaign, passion alone is not enough to operate an amateur League of Legends team. The team was still under financial problems even with the success of the crowd-funding campaign and Coach Lee once again started to vouch for the expenses out of his own pockets. He also suggested that if they fail to win in the upcoming Challengers Korea Spring 2015 to play in the promotion tournament, he would consider disbandment as an option.
You might be thinking, “Why don’t they look for another sponsor?” Unfortunately, sponsors in Korea only support teams that managed to make it into the OGN Champions/LCK circuit. This is why Prime Clan became SBENU Sonicboom after entering the OGN/LCK. Companies will not sponsor teams that are not in the main league unless they had a high percentage chance of entering the main league. This is why HUYA Tigers picked up a sponsor even before entering the LCK. The roster comprised of veteran players like Pray was a good reassurance for sponsors. Quvic on the other hand, while being branded as the “ex-Pro” team in the challenger scene, was not good enough in the eyes of the sponsors. The need for sponsorships were apparent and I decided to try my best to help the team out.
I decided to look at potential sponsors. A company that could support Quvic Gaming during their participation in the Challenger series and continue with full-time support should they get into the LCK. At the time, the team was playing with any equipment they could find. They didn’t even have headsets or the high-end equipment that other teams received from their sponsors. Obviously you have to work your way up, but it was depressing to hear that they were playing without equipment which even I had personally owned like headsets. I looked up companies like Razer and Corsair, but seeing how they already sponsored Najin and SKT, I doubted that they would sponsor an amateur team with no pedigree. I searched for companies that did not have involvement in the League of Legends scene yet. I found Mad Catz.
Mad Catz is well known for their presence in the fighting game scene as one of the biggest arcade stick providers. Their products are excellent and is one of the go-to sticks for pro players. Asides from arcade sticks, Mad Catz makes computer peripherals. Seeing the lack of involvement with any League of Legends team and the scene in general, I thought they would be interested in an opportunity like this. I started to write a proposal to apply for the sponsorship for Team Quvic.
During this time, Quvic made it out of group stages and waited their quarter-final match against Anarchy Gaming. My friends, who organized the initial interview, advised me to hold off on sending the sponsorship application to Mad Catz until the challenger series have concluded. Coach Lee was busy with preparing for the quarter finals and did not have time to review the document together.
This is when everything seemed to fall apart for Quvic and myself.
In the quarter finals, Anarchy clean swept Quvic and advanced to the semi-finals to face Winners Gaming. Quvic was one of the favourites to win the tournament and this was a bit of a shock for many. They were one of the few teams that were able to execute lane swaps properly and had pocket picks such as Jarvan mid and Pantheon jungle which nobody played at the time. However, the carry potential of MickeyGod (mid-laner of Anarchy) proved to be too much for Quvic as they constantly gave him his comfort champions like Zed, which is ban worthy against him in LCK to this day, resulting in their demise.
The loss was devastating as the chance of the team’s disbandment came closer to realization. After contacting Coach Lee, he stated the team was preparing for the loser bracket match. In a twist of fate, Anarchy, who advanced to the semi-finals, lost to Winners and became Quvic’s opponents in the loser bracket semi-finals. The stage couldn’t get any better as team Quvic had the chance at a runback of the 3-0 sweep to clench the ticket to the finals.
Post-game screen of game 5 of Quvic vs Anarchy
The loser’s bracket semi-finals was a great set. Each team dominated the other convincingly one game after another, setting up the stage for the final game 5. Although Anarchy’s loss was due to the unorthodox Veigar support pick which did absolutely nothing for them, Quvic held their own and snowballed accordingly. The final game did not go Quvic’s way, but they still held on making it an even game. However, one teamfight resulting in a pentakill for Anarchy sealed the deal as Anarchy advanced to the finals to face against Winners. They would eventually beat Winners in the grand finals, securing their ticket into the promotion tournament and entering the LCK.
I was at a loss. Staying up all night to watch the game only to witness Quvic’s defeat was depressing to say the least. Following the tournament, I put the finishing touches on the sponsorship application without any news from Coach Lee or Quvic gaming, assuming that they would participate in the next Challenger series.
I was wrong.
Coach Lee’s official statement of disbandment of Quvic Gaming
My friend who set up the interview with Coach Lee told me the team will be disbanding as Coach Lee could not continue to support the team. The original plan was to wait for the next Challengers Korea series and hope to win that tournament. But the defeat must have hit the team harder than expected. I hoped that during the preparation for the next challenger series, I could submit the application for the sponsorship which could get them at least an equipment sponsorship. Within the next few weeks, Coach Lee officially released his statement regarding Quvic gaming and started to sell off the various PC equipment on his Facebook page. Even though I learned of their team’s existence only a few months prior to the tournament, I was sad that all of this had to happen. Maybe I could have prevented this if I sent the document sooner and acquired the sponsorship for the team. Even if it’s just new peripherals, the morale would be higher in the team with the news of a new sponsorship. I felt powerless and just watched as one man’s passion to support six players trying to realize their dream of becoming pro abruptly end.
ex-Quvic AD Carry Nuclear after entering the LCK as Prime Clan
Fortunately, the ending to this story does have a happy ending. Some of ex-Quvic members joined Prime Clan Gaming and participated in the second Challengers series. To anyone who watched the promotion touranament, Prime Gaming made it into the LCK beating Xenics and was acquired by SBENU and became SBENU Sonic boom. The article of their entry into the LCK and with a picture of Nuclear, the former AD carry of Quvic, crying his eyes out for finally making it pro was good to see. Nuclear even mentioned his desire to enter the LCK with Quvic gaming and the hard times he went through with the team. While not all of the ex-Quvic members made it into the pro scene, at least some did.
Coach Lee with WE members
As for Coach Lee Seung Eun, he was picked up by World Elite shortly after the disbandment of Quvic and is currently acting as the coach. I’m sure he will do his utmost best to support the players in World Elite as he did with Quvic. Hopefully he will find some success this time. From his recent interview, he seems to be doing fine in China, trying hard to learn the language.
Making a career out of competitive video gaming is difficult to say the least. Unless you are part of the big gaming clubs such as SKT or KT as trainees, it is hard to enter the pro scene and stay in it. From hearing the story of Quvic gaming and the difficulties they had to go through, the support staff and the coach deserve recognition. Even under the pressure of low funds, lack of equipment and facilities such as a good LAN PC bang’s, they tried their best to make sure the player’s had everything they needed to succeed even if it meant paying it out of their own pocket.
For all those who wants to become pro in League of Legends and are working with a coach and support staff that genuinely wants to see you succeed, don’t take their kindness for granted. Practice and play to your absolute best to succeed. If you are going half-heartedly, don’t even bother and waste the time of your fellow teammates and support staff who are working hard to realize a shared dream. It is a dog eat dog world. But to those who make it out, they can savour the victory of the pro stage where a new hell awaits them. Never forget those who have helped you to get to this point.