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Velocity Esports: The LCS’s biggest trainwreck – Looking back at the cause of NA’s original bad team

Oddball 2021-05-25 12:01:58
  Introduction At the time of writing this, Golden Guardians are far-and-away the worst team in the LCS. Their bold decision to field a roster completely made up of rookie talent has exploded in their faces. The team has no direction, no experience, and not even a feeling of being capable of upsetting a top team. They're like the Golden State Warriors whenever Steph Curry gets injured: they suck. Because of this, criticism's thrown at the heads of the Golden Guardians organization. The brand has done nothing to grow the fanbase, develop content, or do anything to define themselves in the league. They’ve faced backlash for their staffing choices, lack of investment into the team, and failure to pay some of their employees. Even the name Golden Guardians sounds like they threw a dart at a board listing words starting with "g".
Still, I can’t help but feel happy about the Golden Guardians organization. The main reason for their bad results are obvious: the players don’t have enough experience. They’ve demonstrated how much the LCS has matured over the years. The fact the worst team in the league is a poorly-managed pet project of one of the largest sports organizations in the world shows how far we've come. Sure, the team hasn't been as good as others in the industry. It could be worse. It could be Velocity Esports. The one split of Velocity is one of the most interesting dumpster fires in esports history. Though not burned for long, the flames certainly burned bright. The team was inexperienced, but showed they could beat top teams and had talent. Their lack of success is far more complicated. Watching the flames, you can see failure on every level: the attitudes of the players, the incompetence of the management, and the hatred of the LCS fanbase. I’d contend that with a few changes, Velocity could’ve been a successful team. They show not only what can happen when a raw team with no guidance is cast into the limelight, but prove how much esports has matured. Buckle-up, it’s a wild ride.  Taking a Dirt Nap Velocity spawned from another organization: Dirt Nap Gaming (which by the way, had cooler branding than LCS teams today). A gaming community that sponsored many teams—the one we care about is Dirt Nap Gaming Eternus, managed by Brian “Guitar” Cordry. In late 2012, Dirt Nap recruited Cristian “Cris” Rosales, Joseph “jdwu” Wu, Neil “pr0lly” Hammad, Tyler “ecko” Orr, and Daniel “Prophet” Fetterman. They were one of many teams made up of high elo players without much professional experience. The opportunity of a lifetime came in Season 3. There would be qualifiers for the inaugural split of the League Championship Series.  Dirt Nap Gaming came into the event with a lot of promise. They won their first two games, but lost the chance to immediately qualify in the bracket stage. Sent to the losers bracket, Dirt Nap beat out Azure Gaming 2-1, allowing them to compete for the last LCS spot against Team MRN. Though starting strong in both games, Dirt Nap couldn’t secure a win, and lost their final chance to qualify.
While many of the failed teams evaporated, Dirt Nap stood their ground. With most of the players leaving (except for Cris), the team had to build up again from scratch. As new players joined, the team announced their desire to create a new image. The team left Dirt Nap to create the famed Velocity eSports (that’s how they spelled it, that’s how we’ll do it). After many roster changes, the lineup from top to support, the roster was Cris, Andrew "Nk Inc" Erickson, Joseph “Vileroze” Bourassa, Ainslie "Maplestreet" Wyllie, and Evan “Evaniskus” Stevens.  Velocity The team’s goal was to qualify for NA LCS 2013 Summer. The team showed promise in challenger competition—placing high in many events. Already though, cracks were beginning to show in the team’s foundations. They already had internal issues. According to Nk Inc, Cris and Maplestreet had personal issues from day one, with nobody else involved that interested in mediating it. Mistake #1 was Velocity failing to either replace one of the feuding players, or quash the beef as soon as possible. Instead, it hung in the air. Despite that, the team continued practicing and reviewing strategies, finding themselves in the Promotion tournament for NA LCS Summer 2013. Like their predecessor, Velocity progressed through the tournament, finding themselves matched up against MRN—the very team that knocked them out before.
In an extremely close five-game series, Velocity defeated their old demons and entered the LCS. Or in their case: hell. [Insert C9 article] What’s weird about Velocity is when you stack up the roster against the rest of the competition at the time, they don’t seem that bad. Vileroze and Evaniskus weren’t the most earth-shattering players, but both were highly communicative and serviceable. Maplestreet was considerably skilled, and had one of the most effective Dravens in the region. Cris was a top laner that proved many times he could win lane and carry games, and Nk Inc (my favorite) was a very mechanically talented Jungler with an impressive sense of innovation. In many of their games, Velocity secured early leads. It was only in the mid-game they’d usually throw. Velocity had the pieces to be a decent team. I don’t think they could’ve topped the standings, but would have certainly made playoff seeding more competitive.  What made Velocity so bad? Well, a lot of things. In fact, I think the only way to organize it is in a nifty week-by-week format. Without further ado, “Velocity’s Wild Ride.” Pre-LCS Velocity were officially in the LCS. It was time to clean up the champagne and start working to compete with North America’s best. MRN’s mid laner ecco asked to replace Vileroze as mid laner, which the team played around with. Ultimately they gave Vileroze the chance to prove himself, adding ecco on as a substitute instead. Additionally, there were discussions among members of the team to replace Cris—again allegedly causing many internal difficulties. Nk Inc stated “Literally everyone said get rid of him, but our manager talked us down and made Cris apologize so we decided to keep him for now if he fixed his attitude.”  Besides their roster, the team had no provisions for a gaming house near Riot’s studio. From their qualification to their first week of LCS, Velocity continued searching for a gaming house, while playing scrimmages in less than ideal circumstances (shoddy internet and lag issues). Riot pays for the team to fly out to LA for the first week. Week 1 Here Velocity came out swinging—coming in with solid practice and a strong game plan. They win a game unexpectedly against Counter Logic Gaming, but then drop their second two games. They definitely showed promise though, as both games they had decent leads and simply threw the games later on. After the games, the team still does not have an established home base, because of California’s tricky housing laws, as well as none of them having good enough credit to acquire a house. This was a challenge, compared to an organization like Team SoloMid also located far. Velocity did not have the money to fly their players round trip every week. Half of the team (Maplestreet, Evaniskus, and Cris) opt to stay in the area, while the others (Nk Inc, Guitar, and Vileroze) decide to fly home and make their way back through their own means. Complexity Gaming apparently offers to let the team use their small apartment for practice and lodging.  The former continue practicing at the apartment, while the latter group pack their bags and join the team at Complexity’s apartment. This was a multiple day process. They've lost many valuable days of practice time, but with their new home secured, their rooming problems were over, right? They were only beginning. Their new home base only has two computers, one bed, and zero sense of cleanliness. Without a proper computer setup, the team must take turns to even play solo queue. As far as the living conditions, Vileroze described it in great (and gross) detail. “I did not bring a pillow nor a blanket so sleeping on the ground was very very tough, I used my backpack for a pillow, and a couple of my clothes for a blanket. Thank god that by the 3rd day Nk had blow-up beds, and even if my back was in pain from sleeping on the ground for 2 days, the 3rd day I slept on an inflatable. The shower was also covered in mold/mildew, and I mean a good 1/4th of the shower was complete mold/mildew(w/e u call it). So even taking showers made me sick to my stomach, I wasn’t used to these living conditions, and LCS week 2 was only a day away.” It reads like someone's experience hiding from loan sharks...but it’s from someone describing what it was like getting their dream job. Well, the nightmare was just starting.  Week 2 With no practice, the team is obliterated 0-3. Tough break. With no practice and a petri-dish for a shower, though, what would you expect? The team finally had a house lined up, but one that wouldn’t have internet for almost two weeks. Yet again, the conditions of the home read like a halfway house. The food provided consists of hot pockets and potato chips, there are only three inflatable beds for seven people, and for two days the house lacks even water and electricity. The team resorts to practicing in a LAN cafe.   It's easy to see how poor of a decision it was on management's part to not plan for the team making it into the LCS.  Week 3 The team has another poor showing at 1-2. Again, who would’ve expected otherwise? But the past was the past. Their secret weapon was now here: food, shelter, and computers to practice the game they played professionally. With their work environment now comparable to most other humans, Velocity was ready to shine. Week 4 The team again loses all of their games. Problems with Cris start to arise again, but issues start rising up with every member of the team. The general atmosphere is very tense at this point; with players missing scrimmages, acting hostile towards one another in practice, and even communicating sarcastically during LCS games. It got to the point that Vileroze—the team’s shotcaller—didn’t even want to speak during official games. Let me repeat this: the shotcaller felt discouraged from calling shots. Also during the week, Maplestreet releases a poignant blog post discussing the team’s results, his mental health, as well as the hate he was receiving from fans. I think this a good time to talk about how ruthless the community was towards Velocity. Just like Golden Guardians today, Velocity faced criticism for their poor performance. It got uglier. Any YouTube video, Twitter post, or Twitch chat involving Velocity was likely to include comments about the personal appearance of the team’s players. About how they looked like certain champions. In addition to the constant losses and toxic work environment, it’s obvious the reception of LCS fans was a negative on the team’s morale.  Week 5 Because of the poor performance of Vileroze—someone who was repeatedly banned out in games—the team swaps him out for ecco. They once again go 0-3 for the week, but see potential from ecco during the games, and continue with the experiment. Back at home, both ecco and Nk Inc claimed the team was unproductive as far as practicing went—refusing to properly communicate. Nk Inc stated “Since no one really wanted to watch replays or give input I had stopped attempting that futile exercise as each time we did it literally only I talked about what happened and no one said if they agreed with me or not. I might as well have talked to a wall and thought about the philosophical implications of such an action, as it would have most definitely been less wasteful of my time than beating the replay horse to death. Any time we got behind in a scrim everyone got quiet and basically turned into a robot hitting buttons.” Although I for one am a fan of meditative practices like trataka, wanting to stare at a wall instead of helping your teammates can usually be viewed as a bad sign. Week 6 The problems with Cris come to a head. They ask Vileroze to roleswap to the top lane and take over for Cris, a change he claims did not come with much support, “Certain things I don’t know about top lane are conveyed to me sarcastically and I get rather sick of it.” There are additional talks to replace Evaniskus. The team performs well in the LCS—winning both of their games against Vulcun and CLG. Week 7 Velocity lose all three of their LCS matches. Most of the blame is thrown on Vileroze, who enemy teams found had a small top lane champion pool that could easily be banned out. According to Vileroze, the team then began to discuss replacing him with another player. The team started out unwilling to make adjustments that could've prevented a meltdown. Now they were benching people like Oprah giving away exercise equipment. Upon learning about their discussions, Vileroze announced he’d be leaving the team, later saying “I refused to be part of a team that talked behind each other’s back constantly, and didn’t support each other. I could not be a part of such a stressful house, between people being shady, to people having emotional fits during practice games, I just could not take it anymore. A week passes and I’m out of the house.” Week 8 Cris rejoins the team, and the problems between him and some of the other players recommence (shocker). Velocity loses all their games again. Week 9  With no hope of making the playoffs, Velocity spends their last week playing random champions and cheese strategies. They even pull off this:
This week’s my favorite. Post-LCS  After the LCS Summer Season, ecco immediately runs for the hills, with Maplestreet switching to mid, and Sean “Slackoh” Paul joining as the AD carry. The team proves incapable of even beating Challenger level teams, and is soon dumped at a Buffalo Wild Wings (true story). The LCS relegation spot is sold to Evil Geniuses, and the team officially dies. Numerous allegations come out from former staff claiming they were either paid late or not at all. Only news of the team since has been in the form of personal experiences from players, as well as dramatic retellings from obsessive nerds wanting to write about bottom tier teams eight years later.  Conclusions A lot of the details surrounding Velocity's failure are shocking. Funny at times, but shocking (remember, these are people's lives). More than anything, though, Velocity shows how far the esports industry has come. There are still problems with staff not getting paid every now and then, but you don't often hear stories of players living on Pringles and showering with the Mold monster from Resident Evil.  Velocity should be viewed as a warning of what can happen when ill-prepared management find themselves in the spotlight. It can hurt the spectacle, the business, and most dire, the people. When Nk Inc reflected on his playing time (a reflection, when speaking to him, still holds mostly true to this day), he concluded "When I look back on all the hours and effort I put in to be a pro gamer in League of Legends I find it hard to justify it being worth it. I've made a few good friends playing this game, and one friend who I would have no problems calling a best friend or even beyond that, a god tier friend, but I would have met him regardless of being a pro gamer. I wrote this to let people know that the path to pro isn't just sunshine and rainbows, and that you should be prepared to go through hell only to receive nothing in the end but bitterness and self loathing."  They shouldn't have to.
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