Search for gaming house tours on YouTube, and you’ll find dozens of videos of pro gamers showing off their sweet cribs. Though this might seem normal now, team houses have only been around in the Western esports scene for about 6 years. It all started back in 2011, when TSM decided to move in together with a simple goal in mind: to replicate the Korean practice environments that have been tried and proven since the Starcraft days. Naturally, TSM was also the first to deal with the powder keg that houses like this can produce. The recipe for disaster is pretty simple: take a group of young men, some living on their own for the first time ever, with a group of friends, no supervision or rules, and it’s easy to see how things can go off the rails.
Take something as simple as eating. In 2017, orgs often showcase delicious, nutritious team meals that would impress Gordon Ramsay. In 2012, TheOddOne was dining exclusively on Arizona Iced Tea and junk food. The result was a health condition that included fever, skin peeling, and pain. It was pretty much pro-player scurvy.
Teams also had more than just diet to worry about. Spaces that were too small could bring exhausted players into close quarters, making it easy for tensions to rise into passive-aggressive cold wars. Differing and unhealthy sleep schedules led to unproductive practice, and the cleanliness of the space was also a constant issue.
Despite these challenges, gaming houses were never abandoned, because the advantages are so clear: you can get everyone together within minutes, scrim all day, at any hour, and on top of that, constantly build synergy both in and out of game as a team. So instead of giving up on the concept, orgs decided to evolve. Teams started investing heavily in more staff and more infrastructure. Nowadays, players in gaming houses work within balanced schedules and a sturdy command structure. Each house has at least 3 staff members: coaches and managers who make sure everyone is healthy and taken care of, both mentally and physically.
It’s not uncommon for a team to have the same number of support staff as players in the house. For some of the more well-equipped houses, these staff can include professional sports psychologists, analysts, nutritionists, personal trainers, and chefs. Everything is taken care of for the players, and their time is carefully apportioned across activities to maximize practice time while avoiding burnout. Players don’t have to think about doing chores or paying bills or even what they’re going to have for lunch. All they need to focus on is playing the game and getting better, and the West’s steady growth over the years shows that they have. Now that the team house formula has been extensively tested, some owners have ambitious plans to expand on it.
Noah Whinston, CEO of Immortals, casually dropped in a Vainglory announcement video that he’s planning to create a complex for all Immortals teams. They’ve got players as young as 13 and as old as 26, and they could all be working together on the same grand campus. There’s one more huge advantage to having all of your players under one roof: orgs are becoming more and more dependent on marketing to pay the bills through social media pushes, sponsorships, and slick branding. This becomes much easier when all of your players are within arm’s reach for a photo shoot or some video footage. Gaming houses aren’t just for practice anymore; they’re ground zero for each team’s marketing efforts, and players are the assets.
Now there’s just one big question left about gaming houses: is the current format of “live where you work and work where you live” actually the optimal environment for training esports athletes? Psychological studies suggest no. There’s been a lot of research on the effect of environment on recalling memories, and the collective results show that we build strong mental associations with where we are when we do certain things.
This means that when players try to relax in the same home they’ve spent hours of practice in, especially around their teammates who are basically their coworkers, their brains may struggle to let go of work. On the flip side, trying to work in a place that your brain has associated with resting and goofing off may lead to decreased focus and productivity. Players themselves have reported the struggles of location association. Dignitas top laner Ssumday recently said that, compared to KT Rolster’s separate living and practice facilities, the single gaming house can encourage laziness, and that a separation of space can mean time to mentally prepare, as well as decompress after a long day.
Meteos, of Cloud9 and Phoenix1 fame, has also said that moving into his own apartment and treating the C9 gaming house like an office was hugely beneficial for his mindset.
Although gaming houses have improved tremendously over the years, they might still not be the best path to success. Moving forward, we may see team houses become more “opt-in,” where players can choose their own living situations and meet up with the rest of the team at set times. Or maybe we’ll see more gaming houses expand into whole complexes, as suggested by Immortals, with clearer delineation of living and working spaces. We can only hope that the next great esports living experiment doesn’t involve scurvy.