Dan Whitfield visits the GAME Belong store in Hull to check out the new Summer of Legends coaching activities, which are running throughout this month across the UK.
As well as sharing his thoughts on the Belong Arena, Dan gets to interview experienced UK League of Legends player/coach Billy "Nutri" Wragg.
Buried deep with a shopping centre in the middle of Hull lies a GAME store with a difference - it's one of 19 stores that hosts a Belong Arena.
These Arenas contain a collection of gaming computers allowing for competitively inclined individuals or teams to congregate and play together (or against one another).
The idea is that anyone on the high street can head in, pay a nominal fee then sit down and crack on playing with like-minded gamers.
The turn-out to the event itself was a little lower than I was expecting, but organisers are probably going for a tight-knit community vibe.
It would be nice to see an event like this reach more potential MOBA players and PC gamers, with perhaps greater advertising of the event. It’s perhaps an area for improvement for the future. However, whichever way you look at it, esports at grassroots level in Britain is still very much in its infancy and schemes and clubs like these can only do the scene good. The intention is there, but perhaps the execution needs work.
Each Belong Arena has their own team name such as the ‘London Lionhearts’ and ‘Bristol Brawlers’ and tournaments arranged between the different arenas. The GAME store in Hull plays host to the ‘Humber Hunters’.
Today the store is hosting ‘League of Legends Level-Ups’ as part of Summer of Legends, with an experienced player volunteering his time and energy to help players improve.
Billy "Nutri" Wragg is suggesting skill prioritisation, laning strategy and item builds to those who seek his sage advice.
Nutri was previously a coach for Hyperion Esports, with ESL and Masters qualifiers under his belt. He has also played for a multitude of UK teams over the years, including FM-eSports and Choke, winning several LANs.
Asides from trying to glean whatever information I could out of him in terms of League wisdom (who knew timing the press of ‘W’ on Draven when he catches an axe gives you a free auto attack?), we sat down to discuss the nuances of the British esports scene.
Dan ‘FlyYouFools’ Whitfield: Hi! For those of you who aren’t aware of who you are, can you briefly introduce yourself please?
Billy "Nutri" Wragg: Hi my name is Billy (or Nutri), people may generally know me from old Insomnia events and a brief stint in Unicorns of Love, as well as high elo solo queue in Season 4 or 5. I’ve also played in a lot of teams and been on a lot of rosters that were in Challenger Series that tended to fall apart!
Have you played with or against any of the current UK players in the pro scene?
I’ve played a lot against Maxlore and historically had a very good record against him back when he was rising up and playing at LANs. Back then I’d say I was better than Maxlore but then he kind of disappeared for sixth months, studied and got really good!
On the topic of the British esports scene, how have you seen it change over the last few years?
I’d say the exposure has stagnated or decreased, whereas the investment has increased. So if you compare the Four Nations period where Riot were heavily involved and created that specifically, there were about 30,000 concurrent viewers on that stream. Since then, it’s been very dry and quiet. However, now it seems to be reviving again.
Especially with things like Forge of Champions, right?
Yep, Forge of Champions is a big one. I’m really interested to see how that turns out and develops. Just as a guess, I think this is just the start of things ramping up again and getting bigger. exceL Esports and Wind and Rain just announced gaming houses which is big for the infrastructure and shows the money is either there or coming.
"The advice I would have given myself at 14 would be to learn discipline sooner, and not be as emotional during games. The sooner you get rid of that, the sooner you’ll start improving."
Definitely, it looks like things are starting to improve again after that period of stagnation that you described. What more do you think needs to be done to improve players coming through from grassroots and in terms of general improvement?
From grassroots I think we need more tournaments that bring up the 'lower' ranked teams, those in Platinum or Diamond.
The NUEL is a great illustration of how people can go from being considered bad or irrelevant in the scene. Some of them are exceptionally competitive and are competing.
The average team years ago, the highest ranking was probably Diamond 3 - now you’re seeing Master and Challenger players and the standard is actually quite high.
So the talents out there, is just making sure there’s that exposure?
I think so, yeah. It’s making people aware of them and once they’ve started playing League competitively it’s about incentivising them to carry on playing and putting the work in.
However, some people may be in Challenger solo queue and may want instant results, but they need to understand it’s a team game and there will be a period of forming bonds, partnerships and understanding before the results come.
So if we flip it around a little bit, what advice would you give to say a 14-year-old aspiring to be a professional League of Legends player?
Play as much as you ‘reasonably’ can. The advice I would have given myself would be to learn discipline sooner, not be as emotional during games (as hard as that is when you’re 14)!
The sooner you get rid of that the sooner you’ll start improving. I’d also suggest focusing on players' streams in the positions you play, concentrating on specifics such as movement and pathing. Think all the time, treat it like school and another subject.
If you’re not willing to treat it like a subject then don’t expect results, as someone out there will be putting the consolidated effort in and will get better than you.
"Some Challenger players may want instant results, but they need to understand it’s a team game and there will be a period of forming bonds, partnerships and understanding before the results come."
There’s certainly something to be said for watching streams and videos for learning rather than just pleasure. There are a few guides out there as well I think which gives you hints and tips of what to look out for if you’re watching and analysing your own replays.
Exactly. Faker wasn’t born insane at League, there are numerous factors at play both cultural, environmental and that bit of raw talent, but I’m sure for the most part it’s the infrastructure and self-coaching that’s gotten him to where he’s gotten to.
All of the original Season 1 players essentially coached themselves, so it is possible. Now though, you need to put in that extra work as the skill level has increased on average and I think that’s where we need to look at the coaches that are available to the different teams.
Given we’ve discussed what you’d say to a 14-year-old, what education and knowledge do you think needs to be given to parents of prospective players?
Tough question! At the very minimum I think people need to understand the intellectual development that gaming does give people, there’s historically been a lot of negative press out there surrounding video games which I think is now gradually disappearing.
I’m not the best role model in this regard though, as I quit school at 16 to play League and I was Platinum V (but got to Diamond 1 two weeks later)! However, I’m a complete anomaly so wouldn’t use myself as an example.
I’d say parents need to understand there are now proper career options available, but it is important parents are responsible and ensure their kids have a back-up plan. Pursue it, but pursue it as a hobby until you think it could be something more.
Also, another hard-to-swallow pill I think parents need to make sure their kids understand is the amount of saturation currently in the streaming area. A lot of people think they can devote time to streaming and it is free money, but nowadays there are so many people trying it, it's so hard to break into.
Thank you for your insight. I know you’ve got some more coaching to do so I’ll let you go and enjoy yourself!
Thanks very much.