Excel Esports: What is life like inside a professional esports team?

They are a team of international stars who live together and train at a state-of-the-art facility at Twickenham Stadium.

Their backroom staff includes sports psychologists, nutritionists and people who have worked in football.

But these are not your traditional sports stars. They do not compete with a round or even oval ball. Their arena is international esports tournaments – playing League of Legends.external-link

And they have to deal with the pressure of being professional players, while navigating the same coming-of-age challenges as other young men.

In a new five-part series, narrated by Peaky Blinders star Cillian Murphy, we follow upstart British team EXCEL ESPORTS as they tough it out for a play-off place in the League of Legends European Championship (LEC).

Here are a few takeaways from the series.

This is an underdog story

Founded in 2014 by brothers Joel and Kieran-Holmes Darby, EXCEL ESPORTS set out to become a British powerhouse.

They compete in the LEC – Europe’s most-watched esports league – and boast big names including Jaden ‘Wolfiez’ Ashman, who won £1m by coming second at the 2019 Fortnite World Cup.

They also have Tottenham Hotspur and England footballer Dele Alli as an ambassador.

The series tells the story of their second year in the LEC, in which 10 teams compete across a season divided into the spring split and summer split. Finishing in the top six puts a team into the play-offs and, from there, they could go to the World Championship.

In their first season, EXCEL finished last.

“We’re kind of a new team, but we’re looking to take on the best and become the best,” says 24-year-old player Marc Lamont, who is known as ‘Caedral’.

Marc Lamont
Lamont wants to be part of one of the best teams in the business

In a bid to make themselves competitive, the team has assembled an international squad.

“Our investors have put millions into the team – all they’re going to see is play-offs or not,” says owner Kieran-Holmes Darby in episode one.

Before the 2020 LEC, they also made some key appointments in their training staff, including 29-year-old Joey ‘YoungBuck’ Steltenpool as head coach.

There’s big money in this game

Professional gaming can be a very lucrative career path.

A spokesperson for the team said they could not discuss individual players but did add the best can “earn six-figure yearly salaries”. In North America, that can stretch to seven figures.

The prize pool for the LEC year is 400,000 euros (£362,000), divided between the top six teams.

Tore Hoel Eilertsen of EXCEL ESPORTS
Tore Hoel Eilertsen is one of the team’s standout performers

Esports pros train like athletes

As is common in esports, the team live together 24/7 and are on the same daily, regimented training programme.

In episode one, Kieran Holmes-Darby talks us through some of what makes them a modern sports team.

Kieran Holmes-Darby
Kieran Holmes-Darby founded the team in 2014 with his brother, Joel

“The big difference this year is we’ve got sports scientists, sports psychologists, nutritionists,” he says.

In November 2019, Fabian Broich was appointed as head of performance. The 30-year-old had previously worked as a sports psychologist with professional footballers.

“I want to create the perfect training environment,” he says.

The EXCEL ESPORTS coaching staff
The team brought in a new coaching staff to make play-offs

Lamont talked us through their daily routine when we went to meet the team at their base last year.

They start most days with cardio work at the gym, before an hour-long warm-up game.

“After that, we have a meeting for an hour to discuss what we want to achieve that day,” he said.

“Then we practise from 1pm-6pm, playing five games. From 6pm-12am, we play on our own.”

Healthy eating and perfect sleep patterns are also part of the programme.

“The amount of stress you put yourselves under is equal to, if not more than, traditional sports,” says Lamont.

Living together all the time is intense

In the series, Daehan ‘Expect’ Ki talks about staying up until 4am and drinking alcohol until he blacked out.

In episode three, Broich puts a curfew on the 24-year-old, telling him he must be home by midnight.

Ki’s behaviour causes quite visible rifts in the camp too.

“In League of Legends, we have one player per role and if you’re underperforming, you can notice it straight off the bat,” says Lamont.

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The fan community is strong

Dedicated fans follow the team around Europe, chanting in the stands.

In episode three, Amy-May O’Connell-Wood tells how League of Legends has brought her and her partner together.

“We met through League and, now, two years down the line, we’re planning our wedding,” she says.

Another fan refers to the group as “a close-knit family” – and one credits the community with helping him “conquer my demons”.

Online abuse is a real issue

Son Young-min, known as ‘Mickey’, joined the team in 2019.

He is a mercurial talent, who has had to deal with a lot of online abuse.

“When I was in America, I had a very hard time,” he says, in episode two.

Kieran Holmes-Darby says: “The hate they receive on social media is very difficult to turn off.”

EXCEL player Son Young-min, known as 'Mickey', signs autographs
‘Mickey’ goes on a journey in the series to deal with online abuse

It’s hard for professional esports athletes to have relationships

The commitment demanded of these young people often means sacrificing other things, including relationships.

In episode two, Steltenpool says a lot of players have a “stigma” against others having partners, believing it prevents them from “fully committing” to the game.

Broich concurs, saying: “When you’re in esports, it’s really rough having a relationship with your partner, or even having a lot of contact with your family and friends.”

Aside from all of these obstacles, these young men face all of the same challenges that other people their age do.

Czech player Patrik Jiru talks in episode two of “chickening out” of setting up a dating profile.

“I’m a man who is playing video games most of my time, so I feel quite insecure about women,” he says.

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