Two splits in a row, a team fresh from the LoL Secondary Pro League has raced to the top of the standings and placed just below powerhouse Edward Gaming in the regular season. Unlike Snake last year, Qiao Gu's players come from more experienced backgrounds, but the organization itself is new.
Qiao Gu formed this January upon acquisition of the LoL Secondary Pro League spot from Dream Catcher. Because of the new single ownership policy prohibiting organizations from owning more than one LSPL team, Qiao Gu separated from parent organization, Stand Point Gaming. By the end of the spring, however, Qiao Gu had smashed through the top of the LSPL, and SPG found themselves relegated. Now, QG holds the second seed into the Playoffs for LPL and a high chance to qualify for the 2015 World Championship.
In part because QG are so new, they defy the western stereotype of a wealthy Chinese League of Legends club. North American and European fans of LPL have grown accustomed to images of grand industrialized gaming houses like Edward Gaming's or Snake's. When I visited Shanghai, QG invited me to come to their more modestly sized villa.
Qiao Gu's gaming house rests in a gated community in Shanghai. As soon as I walked through the door, I found myself in the team's practice area standing next to Baek "Swift" Dahoon's station. I may or may not have photo bombed his stream reflexively.
Twelve PCs were bunched together in the main room where the team spends most of their time practicing. When I first arrived at the house, jungler Swift and two of the substitute players were at their machines while the rest of the team were out. Just off the main room was a small dining area and a kitchen where the team's "nanny" prepared their meals for them.
The villa also had a top floor and a basement for bedrooms and relaxation.
A small landing above the dining area overlooked the main room. Most likely because I was there, the team dog, CarryMyTeam—I am told he is indeed named after Vici Gaming's ex-top laner—waited in a traveling cage.
The team's manager, Link0, sat with another substitute player at two additional PCs watching Royal Never Give Up play their promotion matches against LSPL team Young Glory. He let me ask him a few questions about running the fledgling club.
Link0 has been with Qiao Gu from the beginning, starting with the acquisition of AD carry Yu "TnT" Rui and support Zhang "TcT" Hongwei, known better to fans of the North American League Championship Series as Mor, the previous support for Team LMQ.
"When I looked for players to join Qiao Gu," Link0 told me in English, "I asked them, 'Do you have a dream?' Wanting to win Season 5 is very important." He laughed and then had my translator give me the more detailed answer. "It's important that a prospective player can coordinate well with others—you know, they don't try to screw over their friends. I want players who can make mature decisions, and even if they are young, to think like adults."
In the esports world, especially in China when some players have entered the industry at a much younger age, that can be difficult. Link0 was able to find players willing to play for QG with experience in three of the five major League of Legends leagues around the world: TnT, TcT, and Swift.
QG's solo lane pickups, Bao "V" Bo and Kim "Doinb" Taesang, don't have major league experience, but have played for other organizations. V spent time moving from LSPL team to LSPL team, training in competitive environments constantly on the verge of making LPL like Kx.Happy and Energy Pacemaker. Doinb has experience on CJ's regimented training teams. They're already familiar with failure and the importance of team work.
A high level of experience and teamwork are reflected in how QG play. When QG ran through the LSPL, they were focused on individually outplaying their opponents, but more lately in LPL they lose advantages and rely on team fights and coordination as a group to come back.
"After QG entered LPL," Link0 said, "they became much more like a team. They understand how to play the game together much better, instead of just as five players. They may not try to destroy the lane, but they are like 2014 Edward Gaming because they can win the team fight in the mid and late game."
The season hasn't been seamless, and Qiao Gu have not had a dominant track record. Though they only ever lost two games in a row to first place Edward Gaming, they had a tendency to split series 1-1 while experimenting with their play and struggling with growing pains. The only team with more ties than QG was sixth place Vici Gaming.
After a rough Week 10 in which QG played three series and split even in all of them, top laner V expressed some displeasure with how the team was working on stream.
As a manager during this time, Link0 emphasized communication and staying positive. "I tell them failure is not a bad thing. The earlier my team meets failure, the earlier they can solve problems. It’s good that they face failure in the regular season so that we can solve problems before the Playoffs."
During my interview with Link0, more of the team started to come in and play at their stations. Noise drifted up to the half landing. Though I couldn't tell what they were saying, the team talked a lot before settling in and continued talking throughout the afternoon.
When selecting QG's coach, Lee "Hiro" Woosuk, Link0 said he wanted a Korean coach for communication reasons. "If players are arguing, the coach needs to be able to solve the problems. I can communicate very well with my Chinese players, but I wanted a Korean coach to communicate better with the Korean players."
Between the two of them, they've been able to keep the team talking and prevent the atmosphere from stagnating too much. Problems with the team in-game still exist, but they're continuing to actively work through them.
As a result, Link0 hasn't had to impose heavy infrastructure yet. Compared to teams like OMG and Edward Gaming, QG players have a lot more responsibility to organize their own training.
"If we have a scrim scheduled, it’s very strict; they have to be on time. Otherwise, the players are free to do as they please as long as they are practicing and performing."
As many teams have found, there's a lot of risk to a more relaxed schedule for players. Sometimes if a team starts to lose a lot, they lose motivation and a more regimented schedule is required, but at the moment QG are focused on what works and doing well this year in LPL. As a fledgling organization and team, QG has a lot of areas where they can expand and improve, but success in the game always has to come before everything.
"In League of Legends in China, you have to do well in LPL first, then you can develop a brand. Right now, we have to focus on our matches and improving. If we can make the World Championship, I can work more on the brand and maybe hire someone to run the team."
When I asked him to identify the biggest challenge of a new organization, Link0 went back to money. "Money is a big problem. Although the team plays well in LPL, if you want to build a brand, you need investors. We don’t have a lot of investors right now, so we operate at a loss, despite getting second place this season. We’re looking for more sponsors."
Link0 couldn't help adding, "If there are western brands interested in sponsoring us, I am happy to talk to them."
Even if money is tight and results aren't perfect for Qiao Gu right now, the team seems confident. When I interviewed three of the players after Link0, they all felt QG will make the World Championship.
When fans think of QG, Link0 said he wants them to think of players who are "healthy, passionate, humble, and positive." At the very least, when I was trying, at times in vain, to take pictures of them, they seemed very animated.
As with any interview, I left the most important question for last. When QG first appeared in LPL, AD carry TnT said the team decided to dye their hair different colors to commemorate their debut. I asked Link0 if the team had discussed dying their hair again for their semifinals match in the LPL Playoffs.
"I am not strict about my players’ hair. If they want to dye their hair, it is no problem. Maybe they will."
Part 2: Interviews with Doinb, TnT, and TcT coming soon.
Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for theScore eSports. Thank you to Link0 for the interview and the visit and for Ryan Luwei for facilitating the introduction and acting as my translator.