In the UK League of Legends scene, it's been easy to focus on the ESL Prems and the UK Masters (and now, with them departing, the Forge of Champions and EU Masters), but what about the lower tier?
Sure, we have ESL's division 2, the NUEL university tournaments and now the British Esports Championships for colleges, but the latter two are age-restricted. What about the lower tier at a LAN level, can we be doing more to foster grassroots talent in this space?
We caught up with 26-year-old Michael "Tempus" Ashford from Rewind Gaming, the winner of the most recent LoL Intermediate tournament at i62.
ENUK: Please tell us about Rewind's history and why you were set up.
Tempus: We've had the same group of players with us for about four years now, we started off playing for fun. Around that time in 2014, teams started to emerge and brands and identities were built.
We started in League of Legends and went in to other games, but we don't have massive funds to get talent or properly go cross-platform, so we've stuck to what we know and where we have a core group of players. League is where our sweet spot is.
So we're in League of Legends now, and have guys that have a Rocket League team underneath us, they play under the brand but represent themselves. We've taken part in i58 through to i62 now.
Tell us about the intermediate cups. You feel these tournaments can get overlooked, what with ESL Prem, UK Masters and now Forge of Champions taking the limelight.
Intermediate is open to everyone and you always get a small cluster of teams that fall out of the Open on Friday and into the Intermediate tournament on Saturday.
So there's a varied skill level. The tournament is underepresented and untapped. We were first inspired by Worlds in 2015 in London, and eventually signed up to the i58 tournament, where there were teams like Choke Gaming, MnM etc. So, fantastic teams, and MnM have been very successful, KalKal is a fantastic team owner and really inspired us.
We were quite low ranked at that point, we were there to understand it. There were about 12 teams at i58 - we played MnM and wanted to improve for next time. They were very curteous about the game and that we were underskilled compared to them.
We had more successes in the Intermediate tournament, something just clicked. We didn't want to lose our players, we're friends - and improve ourselves for i59.
"We accept we're not gonna be the cream of the crop, but we want a piece somewhere. We're not asking for thousand pound prize pools in the Intermediate, we'd be happy to win some merch"
Where did you go from there?
We were fortunate to get a small-level sponsor at the time and got some jerseys and a website together. Enclave won i59, they had a very good team. We could see the gap shortening between i58 and i59, it went from a novelty to putting in the work and getting results.
i60 a year ago was probably our low point, we brought in a coach for that tournament and shifted the roster, and we were punished. It was a hard bracket in the full Open. Unfortunately the Intermediate was very small at the time, it was more scrims than a tournament.
So we thought: is this dying out a bit other than the top teams? Tundra made some comments at the time about there being a low level of skill, and it made us think: are there not more teams that can be stepping up, like us?
We have about 100 LoL teams in the UK that wouldn't get into the top 8 at Insomnia. The teams at the top have to perform, because esports in the UK is still a bit of a new commodity, and they're under pressure to keep their sponsors.
There's no ladder to climb to that level, we've been trying to counter that. You need a talent pipeline.
What about ESL division 2, have you looked at that?
We chose not to get involved in division 2 at this stage, it's comprised of players who are in the academy teams of the UK's well-known orgs.
Elsewhere, there will be great support for the EU Masters, but again there's a barrier. We are bringing through fresh talent.
We have a team of Diamond 5s to Diamond 2s, I'd say a couple of our players could get into the top 8 UK LoL teams, but the way you build talent is you have feeder teams with decent rosters but maybe one standout player, and they feed the top teams.
At the moment we don't have a lower level. At the Intermediate Insomnia tournaments there aren't many teams taking part. I think the new setup Riot is working on (with the Forge of Masters etc) will bring some fair prize pools.
Rewind Gaming wants the Intermediate tournaments to have some more support
Why you play Intermediate? What's the appeal?
We love it, we're all friends which makes it a lot better, we play for pride too.
We keep coming, we keep investing, we have a first team and our second team [equal ability] Rewind Reforged... we faced them in the semi-finals and beat them, it was a 61-minute game. There's a lot of jokes around who's the first team and who's the second team!
We also have Astral Gaming and Celestial Gaming in the Intermediate, and Spartanshield Gaming team. The Open gives us experience but we play for the Intermediate.
We finished 8th at i58 and now we're consistently performing, even upsetting some of the teams in the Open.
We placed just outside the top 8, in ninth, but made the decision we'd rather play the Intermediate again.
There are some fantastic teams in the Open, we played exceL and you can see the disparity in skill, it's very clear. We can't compete on a micro level but we can focus on the macro.
You could probably have the likes of Gross Gore and other streamers on your team as guest players at that low Diamond level...
We gave him an offer to play some games with us actually. He was there at i59. We had a good laugh, I've spoken to him on a few ocassions.
He was up for it, it was when he was doing that documentary with Matt Glanfield for the BBC, but it didn't happen.
"Intermediate needs a bit of a nurturing and looking after, we got 10-15 people watching our matches at the end of i62. It'd be nice for top players from the Intermediate leagues to go to the top UK teams"
What are your thoughts on the Intermediate tournament and its setup, and how it can be improved?
It needs a bit of a nurturing and looking after, we got 10-15 people watching our matches at the end of i62, we have non-endemic sponsors supporting us for our personalities and we're trying to grow the brand. It's a kick-back to them to say we've won the tournament, but it's, how do we celebrate that?
It'd be nice for top players from the Intermediate leagues to go to the top UK teams. At the moment they're picking up players from across Europe and perhaps not as many UK-based players from the lower tier, who maybe haven't been identified yet.
We've been there for two years, and we're happy to be at this mid-level, but we spoke to the tournament admins, and they didn't know if they'd have enough teams to support it this year.
I just feel that's a real shame, we're losing that grassroots element, we need that talent pipeline.
We accept we're not gonna be the cream of the crop, but we want a piece somewhere. And there's not prize pools for the Intermediate, but we don't need thousand pound prize pools, we're happy to win a couple of controllers. Roccat sponsored it and gave us some merch once.
There's probably hundreds of teams like us that aren't being catered to. If there isn't a market there, then you stop going. We can play in online tournaments for small cash prizes, so I don't understand why we don't get more of that into the Insomnias.
What about the school, college and university level, with the Digital Schoolhouse, British Esports Championships and the NUEK?
Well, looking at that 18-34 demographic, when someone leaves uni and the NUEL, there's not much [for lower tier play].
If players don't go up the ladder, they might follow the UK scene, but they might not, so we're losing people in their early 20s.
There's a lifecycle, 18-26 players can do it... players leave uni to get a job maybe in another city, they can't play in the NUEL so they're out of the loop.
The Intermediate LoL tournament takes place in the BYOC hall
Thanks for the interview. Please tell us your roster and some of your top achievements to leave us with.
- Top lane: legend11
- Jungle: Tempus
- Mid: Leashfreak
- ADC: eppzy
- Support: fahhy
- i59 Intermediate - Second
- HMD LoL Tournament - Third
- i60 Intermediate - Fourth
- Game Belong 2v2 - First
- EGL Open - First
- i61 Intermediate - First
- i62 Intermediate - First