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'League of Legends,' chores and Red Bull: Life in an esports training house

Josh Carr-Hummerston, 21, calls himself the "mum" of five grown men.

He and his so-called sons are holed up in a rather empty apartment in the harbourside suburb of Pyrmont in Sydney, Australia. There's a lovely view of some yachts from the balcony, but this group has more indoor tastes.

Carr-Hummerston is the coach of The Chiefs, an esports team competing Saturday in the Oceanic pro league grand final for the multiplayer video game, League of Legends.

The match is approaching just as Australian gaming becomes increasingly professionalised. While still a long way from the highly organised esports scenes of northern Asia and the U.S., the country is starting to benefit from some of the trappings of legitimacy.

For the first time, The Chiefs are living and training together in one house — something common in other regions.

On Wednesday, the apartment is clean but pretty impersonal for a place occupied by six men for months. Rows of computers and large gaming chairs are the living room's crowning feature, along with a couch, a whiteboard and the obligatory giant television. 

There's also a large container of protein on the counter, and a cupboard full of donated Red Bull. These guys are nothing if not energised.

For many of the team members, this is their first time living out of home. 

"Living with your friends for the first time, it's really an experience," 22-year-old Bryce "EGym" Paule told Mashable Australia. "You're around each other literally 24/7, sleeping in the same rooms.  You piss each other off a little bit."

The sleeping situation is proving particularly intimate: There are two rooms of three people and one of two.

Nevertheless, the team appreciates the edge living together has given their training. They were originally spread across Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra, so coordinating practice sessions was difficult.

Unlike other sports, there's no practicing drills or weight sessions for pro-League of Legends players, but training is arguably as strenuous.

The team play hours of "scrims" (short for scrimmages) against other teams daily. "We have two blocks — we play in between 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., and then from like 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. or 8 p.m. to 11 p.m., with a break in between for dinner," Paule explained.

That's not to say everything is regimented. Everybody wakes at their own pace — read late-morning — and often they'll play a couple of games solo before team training starts.

"Even when I was back home, it was the same sort of regime. It is kind of exhausting," Paule admitted. "If we have a bad run and we're not playing well, it's hard to get 'dumpstered' and then have dinner, then get 'dumpstered' again."

At only 21, Carr-Hummerston has taken it upon himself to act as the group's authority figure. From Sydney's northern beaches, he's never lived out of home before either, but has quickly been designated team cook and enforcer. "I'm the one yelling and stuff: 'do the dishes,'" he said.

"He just filled the role. Slotted in quite nicely," Paule interjected.

While he describes his culinary repertoire as "healthy but boring," lots of chicken and rice, Carr-Hummerston does make homemade pizzas on game nights — a highly appreciated team tradition.

Despite their love of the game, The Chiefs are well aware their pro-careers can't last forever.

"We're kind of old in comparison to the players in our scene, and we're only 22," Paule explained, attributing the ageism to the fledgling state of Australia's esports scene. 

"In smaller regions, they generally have younger player bases because there's less to get out of it and it's less structured and legitimised," he added. "As people get older, they're like, 'I need to finish uni and get a job.'"

The dream, of course, is to play overseas by getting picked up by one of the foreign leagues.

Things are evolving locally, though. League of Legends' developer Riot Games implemented a standardised league in Australia in 2015, which allowed players to become full-time. "I would be comfortable telling someone 'I'm a League of Legends player,' because I live in a gaming house and all I do is play League of Legends," Paule laughed.

While most of the team has deferred university or only recently graduated, they do earn some money from the game. They receive funding from Riot Games, for example.

"This year, players receive A$300 per game, managers receive $100 per game, teams receive A$5,000 per split and the total prize pool for the year is $64,000," a Riot spokesperson told Mashable Australia.

They also are given a salary by the owner of The Chiefs, Frank Li. The players are paid A$400 weekly during the regular season, Li told Mashable Australia in an email. Covered costs also include groceries, overheads for the house and flights back home once a month.

And they get a little taste of fame. While there are no groupies to speak of — "we're hoping to get some" — they did get recognised in their team hoodies the other day. 

Twenty-two-year-old Sam "Spookz" Broadley, who joked he was "married to the game," said only one of the team had managed to maintain a romantic relationship while training.

That would be Brandon "Swip3R" Holland, 22, who admitted he hadn't seen his girlfriend in three weeks.

According to The Chiefs, the team is still held back by the relatively small size of the Australian league.

The only form of practice they can undertake is playing against other teams, and it's become harder to find quality opposition as the season drags on.

"In an underdeveloped region, it feels like it's hard to push ourselves forward when we're trying to carry the weight of everyone below us," Carr-Hummerston said. "We can't play against better teams."

They also hanker after some of the benefits overseas teams have access to — sports psychologists, for example. "Some of the [North American] teams have really created a good environment for their teams to make sure their practice is on a different level," Broadley said.

In the absence of greater supervision, if any issues arise between teammates, they just have to deal with it. "There's a lot of clashing," he added. "It gets really emotional a lot of the time."

Ultimately, The Chiefs are striving to master the league, but also to master having roommates. "Someone set the fire alarm off at 1 a.m. this morning," Carr-Hummerston pointed out.

Broadley admitted he had forgotten to turn the exhaust on and Holland ended up burning the eggs. 

Even pro-League of Legends players need to learn their way around a frying pan.

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