by Brandon Porter and Matthew Wang
We sat down with Andy “Reginald” Dinh to get his expert insights on eSports. Reggie, as he’s known to many industry insiders, is a former professional League of Legends player and the owner and manager of the North American League of Legends Championship Series team Team SoloMid (TSM).
Brandon: Your family is originally from Vietnam but you grew up in San Jose, California. What can American eSport leaders learn from the Vietnam, Korean, and Chinese gaming communities?
Reggie: So basically from a cultural perspective, Koreans just take eSports more seriously and on top of that too, they are willing to give up more than players in the United States. So, if you look at North America and Europe, teams have a more balanced life than the Korean players, whereas the Korean players that play eSports, they play like 10 to 12 hours a day every single day. They don’t have much of a social life. On top of that too, the Koreans also believe in teamwork more so than individual talent. If you look at the way NALCS or ELCS orchestrate, the midwinners are super highlighted, and a lot of that mentality carries on to the players here. So a lot of the players in North America have really big egos and they play for themselves. Whereas in Korean culture and Korean sports, there is a lot more teamwork.
Brandon: So that begs the question, do you think Koreans should regulate to prevent overworking, or do you think North American gamers need to devote more hours and raise the level of play?
Reggie: I definitely think that is difficult to answer. To be honest, I think that as better practice programs are implemented and better support staff is hired, it will get to the point where practicing has shorter turns. One of the biggest reasons why spending a lot of time in the game right now rewards you is because the games are changing, right? So the more knowledge you get about the most recent patch really actually gives you a huge advantage in the game. As Riot gives us more notice on patches, and as there are less patches before big events, that really helps even the playing field. What honestly needs to happen is the organizations themselves in North America need to take it more seriously and they need to instill a culture of teamwork and a more team-oriented atmosphere. If you look at TSM, we really do focus on that, and that is one of our biggest focuses every single year. But, we can be only so good compared to our competition. So, the better our competition is, the better we will become. I think in Korea, they just have more competitive teams.
Brandon: Another question about organizations. It is well known at this point that the LCS is switching to a franchise model over a relegation model. What is your viewpoint on that change from an owner’s perspective?
Reggie: First off, I want to clarify that Riot’s actually moving to partnerships and what that means is we will have a permanent spot with the LCS. They are going to remove relegations and it will also be a form of revenue sharing. But it is not necessarily correct to use the term franchise. To be quite honest with you, from an overall perspective, it is actually only beneficial. Despite there being differing opinions, primarily because it is not only better for players but it is also better for owners and in return it will be better for any LCS and it will be better for the spectators overall. Honestly, one of the biggest positives is that the teams can now invest a lot more into paying higher player salaries. And in return, that is going to benefit the players. Most of the players overall, even though their careers are expanding, they have short careers so they need to make it worth it for them. The second thing is now owners can invest a lot more not only into talent recruitment but they can invest into content creation and they can invest into better support structure, they can invest into a facility, they can do so much more because they know that their investment will not go away every six months. This is compared to before if you made these crazy investments and you had the option to lose it every six months, it would be daunting. No one in their right mind would spend millions of dollars every single year to know they could lose it all in six months. I think removing relegations is a really positive thing. The only thing that people can actually point to is a lack of competition and it being anti-competitive, but I think for the next couple years it is going to be more competitive than ever. No one is going to invest ten million dollars into buying a franchise slot and then try to come in last place. It is almost just embarrassing. So I think it is only positive. Clearly, relegation wasn’t working. The teams that tried were spending hundreds of thousands of dollars if not millions trying to get in and they still couldn’t get in. On top of that, the whole idea of relegation was the dream for five guys to make a squad and they would make it to the LCS. That just doesn’t happen anymore. People just pick up LCS players, ULCS, or LCK players and bring them to be in their challenger circuit. So the purpose of really having that didn’t even make sense at that stage.
Brandon: The build off question to that: one of the biggest positives of physical sports in the sense of soccer, baseball, basketball is that there are really strong amateur and youth scenes. Do you think that having a stronger amateur scene in eSports would be beneficial?
Reggie: First off, I think that it is really is great that the community and every League of Legends fan is dedicated and has high expectations. I just want to take a step back, and I honestly think the expectations are too high even though it is great that it is high. You have to think about eSports. eSports has only existed for 15 or 20 years, but things didn’t really start picking up until livestreaming for gaming existed, particularly Twitch. You have to think about it, eSport has really only been growing for the last 5 years in a very exponential way. If you look at eSports compared to physical sports, you really have to make the comparison for the timeline associated with where we are at now. I think we are at the very beginning. I do think it is important, and it is good to create clubs and have clubs for high school and college and little leagues is extremely important for the future of eSports, but I think that ultimately comparing it to sports that have been around for 100 years isn’t necessarily the best comparison. We are just starting, and the truth is with how things have progressed we are moving faster than when physical sports just started. We are definitely moving at a really fast pace. It is good that expectations are high. I think things are going to move fast. Within ten years or so, we are really going to be where at you expect. But it will not be over night.
Matthew: Reggie, you talked about how teams are getting more competitive. What’s your stance on imports from Korea for this team? Do you think that the two import rule by Riot is helping the homegrown talent come out or should we allow more imports to stimulate growth?
Reggie: To be quite honest, I think the import rule is pretty good as it is. That rule has never affected me in any particular way. I am trying to understand it from a viewership perspective. And also on top of that, our players are more relatable to our fans and are more able to also communicate and engage with our fans. I think it is important to have English speaking players in our league just because it keeps fans more engaged. Our players are more relatable. From a fan building perspective, it is a lot easier to relate to people speaking the same language versus having a completely Korean team, because at that point we would just be LCKT.
Brandon: How long do you think League of Legends will last? Do you think, like most other games, it will reach its heyday and decline? If so, how would TSM adapt to this?
Reggie: From a League of Legends standpoint, I strongly believe it will be around for 10 more years. Whether it is the biggest eSport or not is questionable. From a TSM standpoint, our goal is to be a major eSports trend and a gaming symbol and we want TSM to really represent something. Aside from League of Legends, we do plan to expand, and we want to be known to be one of if not the best brands in the future. We are really thinking about the long game here. It is not a short term thing, that is for sure.
Brandon: What is it like working with Riot as a team owner? There has been a lot of drama regarding other teams as of late working with Riot. If you had to put a rating on how Riot is working and interacting with you guys, what would that be and why?
Reggie: It is honestly really difficult to put it in a simple number. Our relationship with Riot is definitely a positive one now. Overall, we have had our ups and down over the years. It was a case of just not communicating enough. As we have started to communicate, the relationship has only gotten better and better. Overall, our relationship is definitely positive.
Brandon: What are your expectations for Worlds for TSM? What are your hopes for this year? What do you plan on doing differently this year to achieve greater success than last year?
Reggie: What we want to do is win Worlds, at a minimum my expectation this year is to hit semifinals. If we hit semifinals, I will be happy, but ultimately we are in there as competitors and we want to win it all. It will be really difficult. We haven’t hit the semifinals yet. Every single year, we have gotten closer. The competition will be really difficult this year. We are going to try our best, hopefully we will surprise people with our different approach this year.
Brandon: If everything goes exactly as planned, where will you be in 5 years?
Reggie: It is really difficult to tell where I will be 5 years from now. One thing for sure is I will still be running my team. I am extremely passionate about what I do and it never feels like work. That is one thing for sure. And I think 5 years from now, eSports will be completely different. A lot of things we are talking about will be different. There will be more clubs for eSports worldwide. That will be huge. I think in the future, eSports will only get bigger.