The five pro video game players who belong to Team Liquid spend nearly every day together hammering away at their keyboards for up to 12 hours, playing the wildly popular League of Legends.
The gruelling schedule is only possible because the five 20-somethings live together in a “gaming house,” a phenomenon in the pro-gaming world reminiscent of the MTV show “The Real World.”
The majority of the players have never lived away from their parents’ houses. As such, many are just learning the basics of adult life — cooking, paying the bills, doing laundry. It shows. Takeout boxes, empty energy drink cans, and dirty clothes litter the apartment. The cramped duplex in a newly built Santa Monica Condo complex looks like a college dorm.
This is the team’s living room. It’s packed with all the equipment they need to train 50 hours or more a week. High performance gaming PCs, mice, keyboards, and monitors, fill an apartment that’s adorned with little else.
Everything in the kitchen is labelled so players don’t have to look for anything. The drawer above the microwave is labelled “Team ‘Liquid'” and has a few bottles of alcohol inside.
The only things in the pantry are energy drinks, toilet paper, protein chips, and pasta. The team doesn’t use the kitchen much because they’re so busy training.
The apartment has four bedrooms, but because their manager gets his own room, most players have to share a bedroom with another player. The lack of privacy can get to them.
“It gets in the way if you want to have a call with your parents or bring your girlfriend over. You have to work around it,” Team Liquid player Diego “Quas” Ruiz told Business Insider.
Each bedroom has little in it besides mattresses, sheets, half-unpacked suitcases, and a few mementos of home. With the team’s intense schedule, there isn’t much time for decorating.
Ruiz described living in the gaming house as “a learning experience,” and he said he was motivated by living with people who “all with the same goal in mind.”
At the same time, the close quarters can exacerbate conflicts between players. None of the players has his own car, which makes it difficult to have any life separate from the team or the game.
“You have no privacy or freedom,” Ruiz said. “You play with your coworkers all day and then you live with them. It gets tiresome.”
As one might expect, a winning streak can make the atmosphere in the apartment upbeat. A losing streak like the one that happened during a chunk of this past season can infuse the space with negativity.
The team’s manager Steve Perino described the scene in the apartment when Team Liquid struggled in February and March.
“These guys were sitting next to each other, but they might as well have been around the world. We were benching players, trying to figure out what was wrong,” he said. “There were so many talks, intense conversations, and arguments [in the apartment.] There were players crying and people looking like they were going to get into a fist fight.”
By the end of March, as the team began winning again and secured a playoff spot, the atmosphere had changed completely.
Much of the discord in Team Liquid was driven by its difficulty in integrating their two Korean players, Chae “Piglet” Gwang-jin and Kim “Fenix” JaeHoon. They have the messiest bedroom by far. The room has a balcony so they step out to smoke cigarettes.
While gaming houses have become the modus operandi for gaming teams, that could soon change, according to Team Liquid co-owner Steve Arhancet. Through his experiences with Team Liquid, Arhancet has seen how gaming houses can be bad for players’ psyches.
“Gaming houses are a pressure cooker for team dynamics, which play such a vital role in team performance,” Arhancet said. “When you don’t have separation between work and life, everything bleeds together.”
To ease some of this tension, Arhancet rented out space in a nearby office park at the beginning of this year to provide players with a training facility. He hopes that providing players with a distinct place to “work” can create a lasting structure and management philosophy that will help the players improve.
Arhancet thinks that as pro-gaming develops, teams may move towards having a central gaming facility for training, while players live on their own in nearby apartments.
This is what Team Liquid’s “office” looks like.
For now, though, every pro League of Legends team, from Los Angeles to China has a gaming house. Some are small apartments like Team Liquid’s. Others are more extravagant. Newly formed European League team Origen lives in a mansion in the Canary Islands, complete with a pool, gym, and a spectacular view. Check it out in the video below: