The Oceanic Pro League in Australian League of Legends will be debuting its newest team tomorrow night, but it’s not without familiar faces. The Hellions are one of two teams, along with Legacy, to be living and training in a team house this season, hoping it’ll give them an edge over the long-dominant Chiefs.
Part of the Hellions squad comes from Immunity, which is now banned from League of Legends for two years after not paying its players. The other part comes from Korea, in the form of two exciting additions to the league in mechanical masters Beom “Bomb” Park and Byeong “Cookie” Kook Choi. I ventured out to visit their new place.
I have a fair amount of time to collect my thoughts as the lift ascends a full 27 floors to Hellions HQ. My ears even feel a bit of pressure. As I step into the hallway, team manager Michael Choo is holding the door open for me with one foot keeping the 6th Hellions member, Toby, from running outside. I’m told Toby likes to wee, and make a mental note to be on my guard.
The view is incredible, reaching in all directions around Olympic Park. Off in the distance is the Harbour Bridge, while just below is several stadiums and a decent sized national park. I try to open the door to get a better shot, and am rewarded with a massive gust of wind that nearly knocks me over. I close the door.
It’s quite a clean place, while still being very much a gaming house. A line of computers faces outward to minimise glare. While not playing LoL or talking about LoL, I’m betting the PS4 on the table gets some use.
If I weren’t already jealous of the view, I’m instantly jealous of the NBN. That feature was strategically targetted so the players could stream and build their personal brand. I ask if each player can stream at the same time.
“Yep,” says Choo.
“Everyone’s been here for about a month or so”, says Choo. “It’s going quite well. No problems. If you see the big teams across the world, they all have team houses. It’s good for the players to build relationships and synergy. I think this will be a big advantage in the future.”
Of the Hellions, the only player who has been in a gaming house before is Ryoo “Ryoo” Tae-hyung, thanks to playing Starcraft 2 competitively in Korea. But after going back and forth between there and Australia in recent years, he decided Australia was where he wanted to stay.
“I share more values with the Australian culture,” he says. “When I spent time in Korea I just felt like I didn’t belong there. After I became old enough to know what I want to do with my life, I just felt like I belonged here more.”
It’s indicative of just how turbulent Immunity’s run in League of Legends has been, that I couldn’t even remember which controversy Hellions sprung out of. Was it the one where all the players left due to some kind of murky dispute over flight costs? No, wait, that was how the Chiefs started. Then it must have been the one where Immunity just wasn’t paying its players?
“Yeah, that’s the one,” says Ryoo.
He’s coy on the specifics. Suffice to say, some middle men were keeping the already-small-amount-of-money from players, which rather sucks when you’re the ones practicing every day. Not wanting to punish the players, Riot stepped in and banned Immunity while retaining the league spot for the players. With all said and done, Ryoo is happy with how Riot handled it.
“In hindsight, it gave us more control over what we could do. As a player, it felt like we were given more rights and more responsibilities. We got paid, which is the important thing. It all turned out good, in my opinion.”
Without the support of Australia’s longest running name in eSports, however, the big question was: Should they join another eSports organisation?
“It didn’t really seem beneficial,” says Ryoo. “We weighed all the pros and cons and decided we’d rather keep what we build. At that time, we already knew the Koreans were going to come over, and we were already talking about getting a house. That’s when I reached out to Michael to help out.”
Even if Hellions wins the league, and gets the sponsorship money it’s seeking, and even considering Riot has doubled player pay this season, each Hellion will have to help out financially. “At the moment, we’re all invested in some way,” says Ryoo, who is taking a year off of his medical degree to give the Hellions its best chance of success.
Others have made sacrifices, as well. Two of the players in the house have come all the way from Korea to compete in Australia’s burgeoning OPL.
With the rise and rise of eSports, gamers might become one of Korea’s main exports in the same way footballers are for Brazil. The OPL requires three out of five players to be Australian, liberating two spots on the Hellions squad for imports Bomb and Cookie, the latter of whom met Ryoo at a university Starcraft competition.
This isn’t the first time Cookie has been courted. There was interest from well-known Chinese secondary league team OMG, just as Cookie was approaching the most inconvenient period for a Korean pro gamer.
In South Korea, when you turn 20, it’s time for your two years of mandatory military service. During that time, Cookie couldn’t practice -- and while no one is expecting rusty mechanics from the Korean duo of Cookie and Bomb, two years out of the game is a red flag for world class teams.
“So how long did it take you to get your skill back?” I ask.
“He’s still getting it back!” interjects Ryoo. We all laugh, but it turns out, that friendly banter is half true. Little did I know, Cookie only concluded his military service last November. That means not only has Cookie only had three months to get his groove back, he now also has to adapt to the Oceanic region’s love affair with teamfighting.
Australia is known for its aggressive play - it’s something that comes up any time I cover MOBAs, let alone League of Legends - so I was curious as to how Cookie was adapting. Does that aggression warrant playing more cautiously? Or is the Korean style of play better suited to punish that aggression?
“Actually, I think Bomb and I are more aggressive than OCE guys!” laughs Cookie. “Maybe we will be punished! But we practice to control our aggressiveness. Me and Bomb always play YOLO.
“I think there is actually no difference. But sometimes they might play too aggressive and screw up, and can be stunned. I’ll try to follow them and if they throw the game I’ll try to help them.
“Korean guys try to influence the whole map. Support is never in the bot lane. It always roams between top and mid, and jungler never camps jungle. With support they stay together, trying to gank top and mid. So there are so many teamfights to gain the advantage. That’s different. Even OCE guys try to fight a lot, but they don’t use top TP or mid throne. I’ve never seen top or mid 3v3 or 4v4. I never see OCE players roam to other lanes or junglers going somewhere with the support. So that’s different. All Korean junglers and supports stick together.”
While the Chiefs beat Bangkok Titans in the group stages in Turkey before last years’ Worlds, they failed to beat them in the knockout stage. If the Hellions enjoy local success, I wonder if they’ll be better suited to the pressure and outlandish experience of international competition. “Every match for us is an international match!” says Cookie.
“Compared to the other teams, our average age is quite high,” adds Choo. “Most of the other teams, it’s around 17-18, and ours is around 20-21. So when it comes to mentality, I think we’re less tilted, and we focus more. If we can go to the world stage, we won’t feel the pressure as much, because they all have experienced it.”
All signs point to the Hellions having a season in which they grow stronger and stronger. As the Korean duo Bomb and Cookie settle in and regain their magic, the team will also gel, bond, and learn how to react to slight aggressive overextensions with the cohesion of a hivemind.
Those rabid enough about their LoL to watch Korean games are already talking about big expectations from the league’s newest faces. But while all eyes will be on Bomb and Cookie, it’ll also be interesting to see how other teams react to the new styles introduced into the league. Will it be a baptism of fire, or will we see a calmer show of respect?
All the league’s teams have been scrimming in the last month or so, but we won’t find out for sure until tomorrow night at 9pm, when the Hellions face Avant Garde in its first match.