Hunger Games

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    To be a pro gamer you have to be hungry for the pain, because esports is going to bring it. You will lose and you will feel terrible. You will not be prepared. Relationships will be strained and broken entirely in the pursuit of glory. Your expectations of pro gamer lifestyle will be crushed by its reality. As esports grows so do the standards of professionalism for everyone involved and that means having to do things you don’t like, things that are difficult, and you have to jump at the opportunity to do them. You have to be hungry for the act of competing in and of itself, not the fame or money that you think comes with it. If you aren’t, then there will be somebody who is and they will take your place at the first chance they get. Hunger is the most important trait of pro gamers because it will drive and guide them through all the risks, difficulties and pain that comes with competing at the highest level of League of Legends play. This may be an industry built around a game, but it is anything BUT a game.

    “Hunger” may not be a regular term applied to esports but it’s an extremely applicable one. I picked up the term from being an MMA (mixed martial arts) fan and more particularly from Dana White-president of UFC and one of the most successful pioneers of a competitive industry in the modern era. He has helped to grow his sport from a cultural obscurity into a mainstream powerhouse. Sound familiar? He uses the term to describe a fighter’s willingness to put themselves into harms way for a chance to compete at higher and higher levels of competition. He also uses it to determine how to place fighters in various matches with opponents. It’s one of his most highly valued traits when it comes to creating an event that will compel people to watch. Hunger, at its core, is a basic and fundamental state of being that drives a persons actions at all times. Everyone can identify with the concept on one level or another. In its most literal sense it’s the drive to stay alive by consuming sustenance. For competitors that sustenance is the act of competing rather than the rewards of competition. Stepping onto the rift and going toe-to-toe with the best in your region, or the world, IS the reward. The old saying “it’s the journey, not the destination” comes to mind. So when an audience is determining their favor for one competitor over another they are subconsciously using it to evaluate their options. Fans want to watch and support a competitor who is going to go out there and give it their all and leave it all in the ring, so to speak. So hunger isn’t just a motivating factor for the competitor itself but something that the audience uses to motivate their own engagement in the sport (or in this case, esport).

    Why is hunger relevant to esports, in this case League of Legends, in particular? As covered previously by our former General Manager, Kelby May, the lifestyle of a pro gamer is not very glamorous. This remains true and is even more relevant as standards continue to go up within the industry to coincide with its success. Sure, the rewards can be great but the general lifestyle of a pro League of Legends player is becoming increasingly regimented and responsibilities continue to pile up. Not only do players have a responsibility to themselves as competitors to be in the best condition possible to compete effectively but they also have a responsibility to their teammates to establish effective relationships based on trust and respect. That means making concerted efforts to develop social skills and methods of communication that aren’t typically expected of people in their age group. Giving and receiving criticism at this level of play is difficult when you are fresh out of high school (or in some cases still in it!). Players are also brand ambassadors with a tremendous amount of pressure placed on them to accurately, and favorably, represent the brands of their team and its sponsors. This requires a level of self awareness that is also difficult to establish for anyone let alone men and women of this age demographic. All these things combined are a package deal for competing at the top level. Players have to hunger for competition so intensely that they are willing to fulfill all these responsibilities so they can be in the position to compete and thus satiate their hunger. It has to be so powerful a drive that it wakes them up early in the morning, gets them to the gym, through a day of 6 to 10 hours of practice and pushes them to fulfill all the sponsor obligations and standards of behavior that are expected of someone who stands amongst the very best players in a massive pool of talent. You can’t just want to compete; you have to want it so badly that you will put up with nearly ANYTHING to get it. And there are plenty of things pro’s have to put up with.

    At the core of all of this, as I’ve alluded to a few times already, is the “how” of this concept of hunger; how does it compel people to break through the barriers to get to the reward of competition? Firstly it must be established that the act of competition is the reward; in and of itself is inherent value. Not only are they playing a game they enjoy, much like an artist enjoys creating, they are doing something they are good at, which provides an inherent sense of accomplishment. The salary these guys get, no matter how high, and the perks they receive from being in the limelight are not sufficient, though they are necessary, for success or even happiness. Obviously players need to be compensated for their time and work but the difference between good and great can often be gleaned in their perspectives on the game and competition itself. If a player is motivated solely by material reward then he can never be great. Material rewards are objects that one can possess but the act of competition itself provides a state of satisfaction that cannot be bought or possessed. When a player competes at the highest level, against opponents that challenge them to be better, they attain a sensation of agency that, in essence, validates all the sacrifices and difficulties they have made and gone through to get to where they are at. Knowing that you are good at something you enjoy, and that you can always be better and enjoy that activity even more, is nothing without the proper means to apply those skills. For a pro gamer that opportunity is being on a team and competing in the LCS. So that hunger to compete is what drives them to achieve that opportunity to realize their potential. This is how hunger affects the state, play and effectiveness of a pro League of Legends player.

    So the concept of hunger, in relation to League of Legends, isn’t all that strange given how it applies to competitors of all types. It is a drive that is necessary to succeed and one that is familiar to all of us on one level or another. Given all of the responsibilities in the average pro player’s life it’s clear why such a drive is necessary to provide the opportunity to simply compete. At the core of this that’s  what this all about, the act of competing. The best competitors in any field are the ones that are sustained by the act itself. The act of playing at the highest level possible is the reward, and the concept of hunger is what pushes them to that level. Without that drive to constantly push these pros past adversity there is very little chance that they can find the kind of satisfaction they are seeking when they start down the path of competitive esports. They are hungry for the opportunity and for the challenge and that’s a big part of why League of Legends is such a great game to watch. When the players are hungry to compete, everyone, including the audience, wins.

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by Matthew Marikian, on November 17, 2014