Esports News UK editor Dom Sacco writes a blog post on a staple of Insomnia: the post-LAN night out at the casino.
After a hard day’s play at another Insomnia LAN, the UK League of Legends collective gather in the evening for a different kind of game.
A game where elo, skill and reaction times aren’t quite as integral as guts and luck. Where the players are out for themselves to establish a proper gold lead. Where legends are made and losers are played (and Syndicate helps Ayleex win at roulette, pictured).
I am of course not talking about Summoner’s Rift, but the Genting Casino next to the Birmingham NEC.
I’m not surprised why so many UK esports types like gambling at LAN. It makes for a nice change of pace from the BYOC hall, ‘Spoons and live esports matches; it’s a good way to relax and unwind. And perhaps most of all, it’s an opportunity to improve the prize pools grassroots esports has to offer (though it’s not nearly so bad nowadays, what with the salaries starting to trickle in).
I think I notice more familiar faces in the casino than I do in the NEC. It’s easy to miss people in those dark, long LAN halls, but you’ve got no escape in a bright, compact casino. Everyone’s here: players, streamers, admins, casters, GAME business execs, Furndog drunk off his tits. FrozenDawn chatting the world up.
For a nosy hack like me, I bloody love it.
Poker memes and roulette dreams
Walking into the casino one night after a day of i62 with some of Barrage Esports and Raise Your Governors, I immediately head to my game of choice: blackjack.
Except every table is taken. And one in particular is completely dominated by a single org in particular (who've asked not to be named).
There’s pretty much the whole team roster here, plus managers, except for one other random guy stuck on the end of the table, an outsider heathen.
Other UK League of Legends players are around the table. One of them, experienced UK scene support player Hadow, is sat in the middle, his shiny tracksuit jacket a beacon in the casino’s sea of suits. I am drawn to it like a moth to a flame, except there’s no room for little old me, and there’s already a queue of others trying to get in on the action.
With the org I mentioned earlier denying me some blackjack, we wander around looking for some other games instead. At this relatively early hour of around 10pm, it’s pretty packed, and the only free tables seem to have some odd variations of poker I’ve never tried before, with expensive minimum bets.
"For a moment I feel like Robert De Niro, or something from Oceans Eleven. But I inevitably lose all my chips a few minutes later."
We sit down here, and by the time I’ve learnt to play from the polite chap sitting next to me, 15 minutes later I’m about £30 out of pocket already. The guy next to me must be down about £500.
I shuffle away swiftly, he doesn’t look happy - maybe he thinks I’ve brought him bad luck. But don’t worry annoyed guy, you made it into a silly article on Esports News UK that has absolutely nothing to do with esports.
We have a look in another room, full of more poker tables: this is where I’m warned the ‘sharks’ play against one other. I leave; this is probably the kind of place Nutri would do well in, not an idiot like me who goes all-in with the worst hand in the world to desperately try and bluff my way to victory.
After grabbing drinks and taking the time to socialise, I look at the blackjack tables again. They’re still packed, and the same org are around the same table. Some have stopped playing and are talking, while others have taken a seat. Hadow is still there with his determination and perseverance, helping to support the house.
A wild Furndog suddenly appears. If I had to use one word to describe his aura, it’d be this: merry.
I like to play a game with others when bumping into Furndog at Insomnia in the evenings: guess his level of ‘merriness’. Tonight it’s a 7.
I decide to try another game: this time roulette. A few of us head to a table and I start my same-old routine of always betting on 26 (my lucky number) and scattering some other minimum bets into the corners of random numbers.
After 20 minutes, I’m not doing too badly, and have probably tripled my money.
At this point, two people join the table: one is Mike Craddock, the boss of the Lightning Pandas, and the other is Ben from Barrage, who still has reams of stickers with his face on.
— Ben (@Ben4J) March 27, 2018
At one point I wonder if he’s going to start sticking them onto the sodding casino chips. Thankfully he doesn’t, but he does make it a habit of leaning over me to place bets on numbers at the far end of the table, like 0. I start to think he’s playing a different game: see where he can place bets the furthest to annoy Dom.
Over the next half hour, Ben somehow makes a ton of money, and at a sizeable amount I advise the casino noob to quit while he’s ahead. He does so.
Mike, meanwhile, has been placing huge amounts on red, black and thirds of the table and is winning almost every spin in an astonishing manner.
I can’t believe how well the two of them have done. I even tried to copy some of their bets at times but it didn’t work. I end up losing what I’ve made (I could swear they took my luck! ) and head back to the bar.
There always seems to be casters at the bar, whenever I’m in this casino, and tonight is no different with the likes of John Allen making making some great observations about the night and smooth operator FrozenDawn chatting everyone up.
Ben is still trying to get everyone to put stickers of his face on them.
I’m told Syndicate was here earlier buying everyone drinks (a great way to curry favour after CSGO Lotto-gate), but I can’t see him around.
'I’m telling you, the dealer is using a pedal to cheat'
I look back at the blackjack table. I instantly see the back of Hadow’s head, still there of course, but the queue has died down now and some of the exceL guys and gals have joined the other org I mentioned earlier. Two teams from the League of Legends Insomnia tournament that took place at the NEC that weekend.
I say hi and hang around for a bit, and soon enough a space on the table becomes available.
I get cosy with all the UK League of Legends legends around me, and forget everything else for a while as I enjoy some blackjack.
As is usually the way with me, I do surprisingly well early on, with about three blackjacks in five or six rounds, before descending into chaos (either losing loads, or being slightly up).
I can hear some of those behind me whooping and cheering silliness like ‘Sacco’s popping off, he’s here to clean up, look at his bald head he means business’.
An org manager (who asked not to be named) is sitting to my left, and Hadow to my right. Their playing styles couldn’t be more different. The manager is gung-ho, taking forever to decide whether to stick or twist, a high risk, high reward player making risky bets and trying to engage in chit-chat with the dealer.
Hadow, on the other hand, is calm, makes regular small bets and is here for the long haul. He’s part of the furniture.
I start to think Hadow and I are similar blackjack players, until he mutters something about how the dealer is probably using a pedal under the table to cheat and give him the perfect cards - something I think he says every time the dealer has a strong hand (I love you Hadow, I know you're probably joking).
"I can hear some of those behind me whooping and cheering silliness like ‘Sacco’s popping off, he’s here to clean up, look at his bald head he means business.'"
exceL MD Kieran Holmes-Darby is two seats down from me to the left, next to the nameless org manager, and occasionally the pair of them blame me for their poor hands!
While this is all going on, I have blackjack noob FrozenDawn in my ear asking me what’s going on and what the moves mean. I find it funny and ironic that it was the other way round earlier on that day, with him explaining to me all the high elo strats in League of Legends during the UK Masters final between exceL and Diabolus.
We start comparing gambling to RNG in video games, how certain blackjack players who are losing need to pray to RNGesus , and how others are getting 'tilted' or 'snowballing'. I realise I've never heard gambling described with gaming terms before, but soon enough FrozenDawn is well-versed in the world of blackjack.
Over the next 20 minutes, Kieran does well but the other org manager's luck falls away. Hadow, like me, seems to be breaking even. The org manager to my left steps away and Ben from Barrage takes his seat next to me.
“I thought you quit while you were ahead?” I ask. He tells me FrozenDawn encouraged him to go back in earlier but ended up losing quite a bit (never take gambling advice from FrozenDawn)! We sort of team up as I want him to regain what he had earlier.
I soon get bored of placing small bets and start doing well with higher bets. Just as things are looking good, I lose most of my chips with a couple of stupidly high bets.
I then throw my last £15 or so from this night into one bet, Ben sees this and, inspired, throws a very high amount onto his playing area. We both win - a huge round. I'm back in the game and Ben is doing really well.
For a moment I feel like we’re Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci, or something from Oceans Eleven.
When I inevitably lose all my chips again a few minutes later, Ben kindly buys me back in. And I start to slowly regain what I had earlier.
I quit while I’m slightly ahead, and give Ben the amount he bought me back in with earlier.
It’s been fun, but this point, I’m spent with gambling. I chill at the bar for the remainder of the night. Furndog’s stage of merriness is probably at an 8 out of 10 now.
At around 2am, I call it a night.
As I’m leaving the casino, I turn back one last time, and notice the blackjack table.
Hadow is still there, sitting and betting, still not giving up yet.
I admire the man’s perseverance and hear his accusing voice again in my head one last time: "I’m telling you, the dealer has a pedal."
I smile. I can’t wait for Insomnia63.