Vici Gaming is well-established in esports, with teams in DotA 2, League of Legends, and Counter Strike: Global Offensive. Vici Gaming CEO, Lu "HunTeR" Wenjun, has worked in Chinese esports for more than a decade, having worked for Team WE and MarsTV before joining Vici.
This year, VG's LoL squad only narrowly managed to make it into the LPL Spring Playoffs, and their Dota team had to be totally overhauled after finishing at the bottom of their group at The Shanghai Major. To gain more insight into some of the struggles VG and the Chinese region have had, theScore esports sat down with HunTeR. He discussed Vici Gaming's recent performances, international competition, China's streaming culture, and the rise of CS:GO in China.
Right now, VG's League of Legends team is not living up to expectations in the LPL. What do you think is your responsibility as CEO in a situation like this?
My League of Legends managers and coaches handle everything. Yet when these things happen, I will talk to every sponsor. Usually, I will meet sponsors and say, “You should sponsor us. We perform very well!” But if we are not doing well, then I need to talk to my sponsors and reassure them. Every team needs money to pay players and staff.
I will also have a meeting once a month to talk to each player. Yesterday, I talked to all of our League of Legends players. We haven’t done well, so I asked all of my players, “Do you think the team is bad? Do you want to leave?” In these cases, I won’t talk to them as their manager, but as their friend or as a brother.
We talked in a very friendly manner. They told me everything. I talked to Easyhoon for about an hour yesterday. “What do you want? What do you want me to do for you or for the team?”
If we don’t have any problems, I will spend less time on League of Legends. I have many things to do since we have many teams — but if we have problems, I personally have to go and talk to everyone, especially the players and my head coach, Homme.
So do you feel that your involvement is more important when the team isn’t doing well?
I think my Korean head coach feels much more pressure than I do. The pressure I feel only comes from my sponsors. My sponsors may say, “Your team didn’t perform, maybe we'll pay you less next season.”
My coach is pressured by me, the players and the other managers. I pay my coach well, so he may feel very bad if the team isn’t doing well.
Everyone has a lot of pressure, but I think the coach has the most.
If you're facing a situation where a player isn’t doing the best, do you go with what your coach decides should be done?
Yes, the staff goes by the coach’s decision. This is what I feel I should do. If he is correct, I will support him 100%. If I disagree, we will talk and have a discussion, but every time I will always respect his decision. He wanted Easyhoon to come here? Okay, I went and picked up Easyhoon. He says that Endless can still play [even if he is not at his best]? Alright, I support his decision.
Aside from DanDy, Mata, and Easyhoon, the team seems to prefer to recruit inexperienced Chinese players. What was your motivation for building the team like this?
Each player in China can only stream for about 45 hours total a month. I think this is very important; I say pro gamers should be pro gamers, not streamers. They should pay more attention to the match, and not just stream.
Yet streaming is also very important for the fans. Fans want to see what the players want to play, and they want to communicate with the players, so this is very important for marketing and the industry. My Korean players are some of the best in the world, so they have many Chinese fans who like to watch them stream.
I've gotten Korean players interested in coming here to Vici Gaming — not just the players, but the coach as well. I want the Korean players and the coach to teach my Chinese players how to play League of Legends.
Mata is a very, very talented player. There are three kinds of League of Legends players in the world: there's Faker, there's Mata, and there's everyone else. Faker is very good with his mechanics. Mata is very smart about the game; Mata knows everything about the game.
Players like DanDy and Easyhoon also have a lot of experience. They've played at World Championships. My Chinese players are very young. So the Korean players want to teach my Chinese players to play with them. This is why I asked them to come here. It may take two or three years, but this is what I hope for.
Last year, you transitioned through many Chinese players. What qualities do you look for when you’re recruiting rookies?
The coaches will look at game rankings. They will check for any new players, and if they find players they think are good — or if my players find players they think are good by playing the game — then they'll talk to them. If the new player is interested in coming to join Vici, we'll bring him here. He will stay here for one week or one month.
Because the game is played by five players, it's not just important for a player to have skills, but certain characteristics in his personality. During the period where this new player stays with us, the coaches will make sure that he can be a good team player. If everything works out, he can stay and play with us.
After Mata left the team, you hired Easyhoon. Why were you interested in him?
The coaches made this decision, because Mata is a very talented player, but his personality is not the most agreeable. He is also a support. The coaches said that if we can get a very strong mid laner instead, the synergy between a powerful jungler and mid laner will level up the strength of Vici Gaming overall and make the team much stronger.
Why did you decide to get involved in CS:GO?
I think CS:GO will be the next most popular esport in the world. CS:GO is Vici Gaming's first FPS team. My boss and I played Counter-Strike before. We feel sentimental about it. Maybe in five years or something, there will be a WarCraft 4, and since I used to be a WarCraft 3 gamer, perhaps we will get a team in WarCraft 4. We just love esports CS; CS is a very traditional esports game.
We have the best CS:GO team in China right now. VG CS:GO is the best one! We bought an existing one, we didn’t build it, so we know it is already very good.
CS:GO is a very good game, not like CrossFire — CrossFire isn’t very good. So everyone likes to play Counter-Strike. Sometimes it’s just a feeling. I feel CS:GO will be very popular. When I think a game is good, I will make a team.
For example, I think Heroes of the Storm is not a good game. It won’t be popular. So every time Blizzard asks me, “Why don’t you have a Heroes of the Storm team?” I will tell them, “I think Heroes of the Storm is not a good esports game. I will not have a team, ever.” Now you can see that.
You can judge whether or not a game will be a popular esport just from the streaming platform numbers. On Douyu, you can see how many streamers and how many fans watch the streaming. League of Legends right now is the best game because we have many streamers and games.
Yet Heroes of the Storm doesn’t have a lot of streamers and very few fans. So this is a very good way for us to judge the quality of the game.
I think Overwatch may have a chance to be a popular game. Maybe the day after tomorrow, Blizzard will come and ask me if Vici will have an Overwatch team. I think Overwatch has a chance. I know there is a streamer on Douyu who has about 20,000 fans who watch his stream, so maybe Overwatch will be popular. Yet right now I have to say “I don’t know,” since I’m not sure what Blizzard will want to do in China with Overwatch.
Are you noticing any differences in managing CS:GO from some of your other titles? You mentioned it is your first FPS game, so I was wondering if that means your responsibilities feel different.
It’s hard to say so far. In general, it’s the same. There are five players. There’s a team manager and a coach. I think the CS:GO team may be easier to manage because the players are older than the League of Legends players. Two of my players used to be the best in China, so they just know everything. Right now, I've only had to talk to them about what needs to be done.
League of Legends is not like that. They're very young. So I think CS:GO management is more like Dota 2. They know everything they can and should do. So I will just handle the business side, and it’s fine. They will have great competitive achievements, and then my job is very easy to handle the sponsorship, marketing and streaming.
You mentioned that you judge the quality of an esport by streaming viewership. Do you believe esports in China right now is very stream-driven? How does the streaming industry interact with esports?
Perhaps 80% right now is based on streaming. Streaming sponsors are the richest. They will offer much more money for players than other sponsors. This money is very important. Esports is very popular in China because of money.
Koreans did esports very early, about 20 years before, so they were the best esports country. But right now I think China has the best esports market in the world. We have more money, so this is very important. Money can build everything. Why are Korean players in China? Why are many events held in China? We have the most fans and the most money in our esports market. We have Douyu, Huomao, Zhanqi, Huya, XiongMao [PandaTV], QuanumTV.
Too many platforms, probably [laughs]. I was very confused at first as to why China had so many platforms. There is just so much more money.
Why do you think streaming has taken off in China but not in the West?
The payment is different. If you are a very popular or famous streamer in China, a streaming platform will pay for you first for the year. If your stream does very well, you can have even more money. On platforms in the West, you will not be paid by the streaming company. You will receive the pay from fans. This is a very different system.
In China, players earn their money from the platform. Our platforms will pay you much more than the fans are able to pay. In China, we give you a bonus when you sign a contract, and you’re fine.
So some streamers, their performance will not be good. They just want to earn money, not to stream for the fans. In the West, they make a big show for fans. So I think this is the main cultural and structural difference.
The LPL has introduced the reserve league this year, the LPPL. They also seem to be shrinking the Secondary League, the LSPL. Does this suggest to you that they’re moving toward a franchise system, where current teams will remain in the league and only the players will move up into existing organizations?
As you know, we have three teams in League of Legends. The first is Vici Gaming, and the second is Unlimited Potential. UP’s first name was Vici Gaming Potential. When they were promoted to LPL, I changed the name to UP, but the team still belonged to me.
Last year, they failed and went back the LSPL. LSPL is very important to the new players, but I’ll tell you the plan. I will sell UP to other teams since I don’t want to have a second team anymore. The players in UP don’t feel like a team, just five players. Why is this? Because they want to play in the LPL. If they are in the LSPL, they cannot play in the LPL this season.
Yet under the new reserve league system, if they play in the LPPL, they can also play in the LPL in the same season. I think because of this I have no need of a secondary league team. I want all of my players to have a chance to play in the LPL if they perform well.
Perhaps LSPL is very important to new players who want to qualify for the LPL and haven’t played in the LPL before. For me, if I wanted UP to return to the LPL, I would have to pay much more money and hire many more good players. Yet you still can’t say you will 100% return to the LPL. So right now I feel UP is not as useful, and I will have to sell.
I can put the current UP players in the LPPL where they will have a chance to play in the LPL. This is up to the coach as well. I have two mid laners in the LSPL. We have a strategy for UP’s two mid laners. If we are on red side, we would have the ability to counter-pick. We would play with Peng on blue side and Hetong on red side, because Hetong is a very good counter-pick player.
Perhaps we can use this kind of strategy in the LPL again with some of our players, just like QG have Uzi and Peco.
Vici Gaming will pay more attention to LPPL in the future, but I cannot speak for other teams. Maybe teams like EDward Gaming and Team WE will prioritize the LSPL more.
We also have to talk about recent poor performances in international tournaments by Chinese teams in both League and Dota. Do you have any thoughts?
I never thought that Chinese teams were the best in the world. The media may have said that, since an LPL team got the championship at MSI last year, but I didn’t think the Chinese teams were necessarily the best. Partly because a patch can change things. I also think we have more problems with communication on our teams.
For things like “Go, go, go, back, back, back,” this is very easy. To say a long sentence, if you are a Korean player, you will have to think about what you want to say first before you can say it. Then for a response, the Chinese player will also have to think first about what he will want to say to reply to you. We still have this problem.
Another thing is that we don’t necessarily know how to work with some aspects of our Koreans’ culture. For example, when DanDy and Mata joined Vici Gaming, if DanDy or Mata were not performing well, then they could speak directly to each other because they were the same age. But if Easyhoon doesn’t perform well, DanDy cannot speak to him directly because he is older. DanDy has to consult the coach. This is fine in practice, but if we’re in an LPL game, if DanDy doesn’t communicate with Easyhoon easily, this is a problem we still don’t know how to work with. Because in China, if you are two years older, I will just tell you directly, “This is your fault, this is your mistake.” I can still talk to you directly.
I have talked to Easyhoon. Who is the shotcaller in SKT? Easyhoon said that when Faker is playing, Faker is making the calls and everyone should listen to Faker. Yet when Easyhoon was playing, everyone talked to everyone and made decisions together, so it’s different.
Overall do you think Chinese teams have gotten worse and Western teams have gotten better?
I think it’s about 50%. I just think that Chinese teams aren’t bad, but they are also not completely strong. The Korean teams are still the best in the world. I think Western teams are probably 50/50 with Chinese teams.
Huni — nobody knew him when he was in Korea. Just like QG’s Doinb. In China, Doinb played very well and became famous. In Korea, you can find many good players, even among their practice players. In China, I think that maybe culturally young players don’t see esports work as pro gaming. Perhaps they just think “I can play games and earn money.” In Korea, they think, “This is my job.” We will have to change that. In China we have too much money.
Any final comments you would like to make to Western fans?
Thank you to our sponsors. I also want to say that Vici Gaming will be one of the best League of Legends teams in the world. I don’t know when this day will come, maybe one year later, but I have confidence in this. Just like, “Veni, vidi, vici,” we will conquer everything.
This interview was conducted primarily in English with some translation assistance by Jenny Lee for more complicated questions. It has been edited and condensed.
Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for theScore esports. You can follow her on Twitter.