Distance between Beijing and Los Angeles: 6,248 miles. Distance between Cologne and same: 5,684. Average respective flight times: 12 and 14 hours. Continents involved: 3.
Minimum years of personal history left behind: 17 years.
To be an esports expatriate isn't quite glamorous jet-setting. Cramped economy-tier seats on double-digit hour flights are painful but transient, and are just the start of the challenges that lies ahead of a player. Lying ahead of them is an indeterminate time abroad an unfamiliar country with unfamiliar customs, with a brogue and tongue all around them standing in sharp contrast to what they've listened to all their lives. There is, necessarily, risk involved. For example, at its best, US Immigration is a right pain to deal with -- assuming you're a citizen in the first place. It is never at its best for foreigners.
Counter Logic Gaming jungler Marcel "Dexter" Feldkamp is altogether too familiar with the nastier side of American immigration law enforcement. His multiweek holdup, including a night in jail, a flight back home and couch-surfing through the European esports scene, was an infamous chapter in Counter Logic Gaming's 2014 story. It's enough to put to question why he'd bother going through the trouble.
So, first, the obvious question: why leave the EU? Why CLG and NA instead of a team closer to home?
Marcel "Dexter" Feldkamp: The reason why I decided to join CLG was simply because of the missing infrastructure in the European organizations. It's hard to understand why any European player would go to NA, simply because the past has been proven that the competition is not that great compared to Europe ,but I really wanted a stable organization with coaching stuff and it was really convenient that I ended up talking to CLG and they had the same interest.
Alongside his brush with US law enforcement, Feldkamp has plenty of first-hand experience with tribulations in European esports. Prior to joining CLG, he was part of Season 3 World Championship representatives Lemondogs, but left a month after fellow teammates Mithy, Nukeduck and Zorozero departed. Said Dexter on his preseason troubles:
In the past I had to deal with a lot of unnecessary stuff because of inexperience from the management side and it actually is quite frustrating if you have to chase certain things that should be natural. I actually worked hard: nRated and I had several meetings with people to make certain things happen but in the end it didn't work out, and I don't think I'm allowed to talk about those things at this point of time.
I think the usual perspective is that NA's the one lacking infrastructure, and CLG was a player-owned team. As you mentioned, you're not allowed to discuss the specifics, but is there something the NA organizations are especially good at?
Marcel "Dexter" Feldkamp: You have big organizations like Fnatic in Europe, but that's not the case for newly joined LCS teams and it wasn't the case for Dragonborns and Lemondogs. You have to deal with the process of getting a gaming house, and after we went to Worlds we still didn't have a gaming house, which was one of the reasons of the split. Obviously, working together with MonteCristo had a certain appeal to me and I wasn't wrong about it: he helps a lot.
Getting Down To Business
Meanwhile, Dexter isn't the only one to have taken a flight over an ocean to play League of Legends. Among the many imported players making their way onto American shores, the three letters of LMQ have been especially terrifying for native North American Challenger teams. The all-Chinese team, last known as participants of Tencent's League of Legends Pro League, struggled to stay relevant in the face of OMG, Royal Club, Invictus Gaming and Team WE, but are finding North American waters much to their liking.
In contrast to public opinion, however, they don't feel that the level of competition's slackened with the move. Said team owner Eno Li, as translated by Alex Gu:
We think NACS and CNCS are both very competitive scenes. They are in the same level of competition. Our strengths are the abilities to learn new things and adapt to a new environment. But it seems like there are lots of things that we need to improve in the early game.
Have they (LMQ) observed differences in the way teams practices, or how often they practice?
Eno Li: We have scrim time from 2pm-9pm for the most of day here in NA. And one thing about the difference is that in China we used to just have a BO3 or BO5 with another pro team. But here, we book the scrim time usually it's a two hours period per scrim.
The daily scrimming hours are similar to CLG's current regimen, though Feldkamp notes that it isn't necessarily North America's average work rate.
Are there any notable differences in NA and EU esports culture in particular? Especially from the pro level, whether in how scrims work and get scheduled or otherwise.
Marcel "Dexter" Feldkamp: Can't really talk about the schedule of other teams and how much they play - we decided to up the schedule to a new level and we play 7-8 hours a day, at least for the time we are still a new team. EU teams usually play that amount on a daily basis and have NO off-days compared to NA. I think that this is one of the major reasons why EU teams are considered better than NA teams - more practice and commitment and less streaming to take care of the brand itself.
Do you think NA's heavy streaming emphasis may be impacting their competitiveness?
Marcel "Dexter" Feldkamp: Just take a look at Korea. They are not even allowed to stream soloqueue games in their off-time because they are scared that valuable information could be given away. So yes, heavy streaming emphasis is impacting the competitiveness by a lot. Or do you know any big streamer in EU that is currently in LCS?
Making A Name For Themselves
But for expatriates, especially from vastly different cultures and languages, brand management can help cut through some of the difficulties they encounter. On one hand, there's the hustle for sponsorships...
Are there major differences between how North American and Chinese esports organizations operate? In terms of contracts, sponsorships, and anything else of interest.
Eno Li: In China we're not dependent on sponsorship money like how NA organizations are. We are usually funded by our owner and have very little sponsorship. So for sponsorship we are not used to having to do things for sponsorship like making content. But now that we are here in the US we are learning there are things you have to do to attract and maintain sponsorship. And ibuypower is helping us with that transition, which make it a lot easier.
...but there are distinct advantages, too, in maintaining a brand.
California especially has a particularly large Asian and Chinese community. Has that helped you adapt to the new region, or do you and the team mostly keep to yourselves?
Eno Li: Yes, definitely. A lot of our fans in NA helped us and gave us lots of useful tips. It helped us a lot adapting the life here. For now, our scrims schedule is pretty tense and we have a lot tournaments to participate. So there is not much time for us to hang out with our fans and stuff. But, yes, hopefully when we get into LCS, we will have more chances to see our fans.
The American athletic visa coverage extension to include esports has opened the doors wide for international talents seeking to escape the setbacks of their motherland, or out of the stifling shadows of the titans back home. But their success is not yet guaranteed. Though players like Bjergsen, Dexter or team LMQ have thus far successfully demonstrated why American teams and sponsors have been so eager to acquire them, it comes at a long term cost. They might have breathed new life into the North American scene, but it's that same life that is quickly growing to challenge them right back. America bids them a welcome to the jungle.