So, first off, the title is a bit weird given that it’s in response to something said on Town Hall Heroes, like, four months ago. However, at the time I didn’t have room in my writing schedule for this article, and I’ve just sort of been sitting on my feelings about it since then. So, apologies if that comes off a bit click-baity, but hopefully the content makes up for it. With that out of the way, real intro!
A few months back, the Town Hall Heroes crew were discussing Bstep’s upcoming boot camp (I’m really good at relevant, timely content). During that discussion, Zoia brought up the differences and pros/cons between a boot camp and a gaming house. His conclusion was that, when teams are negotiating with potential sponsors, they should focus on being provided a structured boot camp, rather than a gaming house. This was based on his experience with the ultimately failed Tempo Storm gaming house. I won’t spend any time in this article specifically on the drama surrounding that team and gaming house, there’s plenty of content out there about it. However, I do want to strongly disagree with Zoia on parts of his conclusion. To me, the spectacular nature of the Tempo Storm house’s failure has left the HOTS community with the wrong idea of the value of a gaming house. Today, I want to provide a defense of the practice, and encourage teams to keep pushing towards their own gaming houses going into the 2018 season.
What is a Gaming House?
For those who haven’t been following esports for almost a decade, the concept of a gaming house may still seem obvious. It’s a big house where everyone on the team lives and practices together. Players have their bedrooms at the house, and a large section of the house is devoted to computer space where the players can practice, stream, and play casually. There have been many iterations of the gaming house, but the first major success with this practice came from Team Solomid way back in Season 2 of League of Legends. The team moved into a house in New York together, and the results were immediate.
They dominated the North American tournament scene while also producing a massive volume of content both in and out of game. Since then, nearly every Western team in League of Legends has followed suit to varying degrees of success. There’s enough data from these League teams that I believe we can gather enough evidence to show how, when done properly, a gaming house can be key to a team’s growth.
While pro gamers are usually anything but lazy, they are still generally young, inexperienced humans. Even the most mature and driven pro may not know the importance of a balanced diet, how to manage a sleep schedule, or how to create an efficient practice schedule. Having a gaming house allows a team manager/coach to accurately monitor all aspects of their team. They’ll know what the team is eating, because they probably did the grocery shopping. They can monitor if players are spending time at the gym, what time they go to bed and wake up, and how many hours they are actually devoting to their individual practice.
Now, some of you reading this may find that concept invasive or weird. However, remember this–as a pro athlete, your body is an instrument of your success. How you care for it has a direct result on your ability to perform. During training camps, pro athletes in traditional sports are closely monitored on their sleep, nutrition, and exercise. Esports pros should be no different if they want to have every possible advantage over their competition.
In a MOBA, team synergy is everything. Trust in your teammates translates directly into performance on the field. We’ve seen time and again that when players like each other, the team performs better. When those bonds of friendship are broken, the team’s play deteriorates. Having the team in one central location allows for a greater opportunity to strengthen those bonds.
This was, I believe, Zoia’s central point in arguing against a gaming house. When players are living in such close proximity, it presents also presents a greater opportunity to get annoyed with each other. Instead of just disliking someone’s jokes, you now have to deal with their weird smells, their snoring, and the mess they leave in the kitchen. A toxic personality can cause far greater damage in a gaming house than they can remotely. However, I believe that the Tempo house was an exaggerated example. That roster was trapped together long after the team bonds had begun to break because of Blizzard’s insane roster locking policy. While much of that policy remains in place, there are now two clear periods of release built into the competitive season. A team is locked into a roster for a much shorter period of time. If problems develop, they can be addressed far quicker.
Teams have access to more resources as well. They can hire managers who help deal with conflict resolution and coaches who protect the players from unproductive criticism. If implemented properly, and using good player acquisition practices, teams can prevent a situation on the level of the problems in the Tempo house. Instead, they can use that close proximity to strengthen team bonds. To create more productive discussions, to schedule team activities outside the house.
Branding–Access to Faces
Want more Twitter followers? Want to sell more merch, get more YouTube/stream views, and earn more subscribers? Use your face.
It’s a very simple rule in branding, but one that most esports stars still seem to struggle with. It’s why big brands pay athletes millions of dollars to appear in their Subway commercial for three seconds. Seeing your face builds an emotional connection with the audience. When all your players live in the same house, you have direct access to their faces! A team can produce IRL content easier and more consistently. This has a direct, guaranteed result on fan loyalty and investment. Yes, you can do this during a bootcamp, but that only provides you with a small window in which to produce content. A window that also happens to be the time when your team needs to be spending the most time practicing. Having a gaming house means you can produce recurring content long term.
Reduced Player Expenses
There are still many pro HOTS players in college, meaning they have lower living costs. However, there are many players out of college who are relying on their player salary to fund their lifestyle. Some are forced to take in roommates or remain in their parents’ house. That player salary and stream revenue is great, but it does not allow an adult to pay their expenses, build up savings, and pay off any debts from student loans or credit cards.
When players are competing in the HGC as their full time job, a gaming house helps reduce their daily expenses. Rent is either paid by the organization who owns the house, or divided among the players. Utilities and internet fees are similarly split or covered. Food is cheaper because it can be bought in bulk and cooked for more people at once. This reduced cost of living will allow players to enjoy a greater quality of life while they compete, and let them prepare better for the future once their esports career comes to an end.
Let’s Move In Together
Ultimately, I am a huge supporter of any team looking to pursue a gaming house. However, I am by no means suggesting that teams start looking for a house to move in to next week. We need to see what Blizzard intends to do with the 2018 season. It may well be that the HGC moves to a LAN-style weekly event, in which case all players would be forced to move to a central location whether they get a house together or not.
That said, I would encourage all teams, sponsored or not, to start pursuing the possibility and logistics of a gaming house now. When planning for free agency, take relocation into account. Start examining housing markets near HOTS servers. If you have contact in other esports, talk to those players about their experience with a gaming house. When courting new sponsors, make sure a gaming house is part of that conversation.
Like coaching, I believe that gaming houses will be a natural evolution in Heroes competition. The teams that figure out how to do it right will have a natural edge over everyone else in the league.