Team SoloMid shocked fans this week when it announced that star AD carry Yiliang "Doublelift" Peng would be sitting out the 2017 NA LCS Spring Split. After TSM's disappointing group stage finish at the 2016 World Championship, fans feared the team might be looking to change its formula for the coming season — but as it turns out, Doublelift was the one who decided he needed a break to preserve his own well-being.
In a candid interview with Yahoo Esports' Travis Gafford Wednesday, Doublelift expressed his frustrations with the relentless lifestyle LoL's elite players are now expected to endure, giving fans a rare glimpse behind the curtain at the physical and mental demands pros face. The conditions Doublelift described were certainly brutal: 10 hours or more each day of relentless scrimming, little if any time off (he estimated he's had, on average, one day off each month over the past two years), and virtually no life outside the game.
"It just seems so bad," he told Gafford. "It's such a bad life to scrim 10-12 hours a day for 10 months, 11 months in a row, and then at the end of it... 99 percent of pro players don't win. So at the end of it, to feel empty and disappointed."
In the early days of pro LoL, he remembers having time to stream and interact with fans, but as the competitive scene has developed and the number of games and events expanded, the practice schedule has become much more onerous. As he noted on his stream yesterday, schedule creep has led to a season that lasts for nearly the entire year, with outside events like IEM slated for what's supposed to be the offseason.
For some players, that lifestyle has started to eat away at their physical health. Doublelift pointed to Aleš "Freeze" Kněžínek, who has been sidelined by an arm injury since the 2016 EU LCS Summer Playoffs, and he listed others like former Cloud9 mid laner Hai "Hai" Du Lam and his teammate Søren "Bjergsen" Bjerg who he has seen struggling with wrist pain. Outside of LoL, Counter-Strike players have been falling left and right, and are beginning to pull out of smaller tournaments so that their players can take longer breaks.
Though Doublelift hasn't been diagnosed with an injury himself, he said the constant scrimming has led to discomfort in his neck and knees, and he's begun to feel "lethargic and fatigued." He said the burnout that drove him to take a break was mostly mental, admitting that as the 2016 season drew to a close he began to resent the lifestyle — but he's not really sure what overall physical condition he's in, because in six years of pro play he has not seen a doctor.
"I haven't been to the doctor since I was a teenager," he told Gafford. "I've never had a physical or checkup because there was no time."
It's unlikely that what Doublelift described is unique to TSM. In fact, its players may be better off than some of their competitors, as TSM is one of the few NA organizations that have hired a full-time psychologist and lifestyle coach, Weldon Green.
Though Doublelift is one of the first to speak so openly about the strain that being a pro has put his mental health, he thinks that his choice to sit out for a season may encourage others to take the same leap. "They're going to realize that yeah, maybe scrimming for 12 hours a day for 10 months is not a good life. Maybe I should take a break for a whole year, maybe I should take a break for ... the spring split, which is inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, and in my opinion a gigantic waste of time for a pro."
During his time off, Doublelift plans to keep a 40-hour streaming schedule, working Monday to Friday with weekends off. Not only does he see it as a lucrative opportunity — he says TSM's players most definitely sacrificed income by scrimming instead of streaming throughout the year — but it's important to try out the life of a streamer and see if it fits, since he can't plan to play LoL forever.
"I don't think League is going to last 100 years, it's gotta die at some point. So, the game dies, and [pros] go to streaming," he said. "I think testing out the streaming life and non-competitive play life before that happens is going to be really important for me, to gain perspective and to see if that's something I would be interested in doing in the future."
Gafford pressed Doublelift about whether he might enjoy the freedom of the non-competitive life enough to stick with streaming after the spring season. The player said he sees it as a possibility, but a remote one, since he still feels the will to compete.
"This is not a retirement announcement. This is an announcement of a small break," Doublelift said. "One split over six years is going to be nothing. It's just going to be a blip in history. There is a chance that I don't come back, but it's really small. For me the biggest goal is to come back stronger than before."
If the summer split arrives and TSM is performing well without him, he doesn't see himself joining another team or leaving North America. He says he needs closure, and that can only come from another, better performance with TSM.
"My story can't end with that awful performance at Worlds," he told Gafford. "I know we won the summer split, and we had a dominating regular season, and we were the best NA team in a long time. But that's not how I want my story to end, and I'm gonna work my ass off like usual to come back and be the best."
You can watch the full video interview at Yahoo Esports.
Jeff Fraser is a supervising editor at theScore esports.