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Intentionally Feeding

Eat. Scrim. Eat. Scrim. Eat. Solo Queue.

In 2012, former TSM top laner Marcus “Dyrus” Hill triggered the fire alarm in the TSM house because he entered an extra zero onto the microwave — turning four minutes into forty — and then disappeared into the shower. The fire department showed up. The police showed up. They evacuated everyone for the day so nobody would inhale too much of the burnt plastic. I’d like to dub that as the starting point for pro teams bringing in chefs.
Eat. Scrim. Eat. Scrim. Eat. Solo Queue. Sleep. A strange kinship develops when you smash strangers into this routine and into the same house. They become a second family for you — a fresh start from whatever dynamics you grew up with. For some pro players, that’s a blessing. For others, it’s an adjustment far more difficult than making it to the professional stage in the first place.
The professionalization of the esports scene — these carefully crafted schedules and fraternity-like living experiences — made me curious as to what the current state of these family units were. I wanted to know if they’d become more like business relationships or if having all of that internal support lended itself to a more familial atmosphere. Moments around the kitchen table can define a family. For pro players, these are the few times in their day where they’re not deeply embedded within Summoner’s Rift.
Eat. Scrim. Eat. Scrim. Eat. Solo Queue.
And so I set out to document dinner with a few teams to learn more about their lifestyles. Perhaps get a glimpse of their home lives in a new city and into their eating habits — it is, after all, even more important to be fed off the Rift than on it.
Los Angeles is known for a lot of things. From the standstill traffic that dots the Hollywood hills to the waiters and bartenders who all carry dreams of grandeur. Los Angeles is a vast sprawl of smaller communities — you can find just about any type of food here. From dollar tacos on street corner trucks to a massive Koreatown, it is home to, in my opinion, one the world’s most diverse food networks.
And yet, in West Los Angeles, I find myself returning to ramen over and over again.
Instant ramen was voted the best invention of the 20th century according to a Japanese poll in 2000. It is the meal I have consumed the most in my life span — at this point, my bones are blocks of ramen chiseled to look like bones.
In the information era, there are countless think pieces and videos on how to improve instant ramen. Eggs, meats, veggies, sesame oil, sriracha. You name it. Instant ramen was my favorite meal long before I moved to Los Angeles — long before I had a chance to eat at an actual ramen shop. The first real bowl I had was in Little Tokyo in downtown LA — it is, perhaps, the moment I discovered my life was a lie. I’ve been trying to recreate that feeling ever since.
Many ramen shops in LA also have donburi — small rice bowls which come with a type of fish or meat — on the menu as well.
The other reason I wanted to take a few pros out was simple — they otherwise don’t go out. They don’t get a chance to notice the undercurrents rippling through the city — the nightlife and the food and the culture. Many of them migrate here from thousands of miles away, and the only people they get to know are their teammates. I wanted to give them a change of pace from that familial environment.
And if nothing else, I would be safe from the blazing wrath of their microwaves.

Immortals — Kotoya Ramen

“Say something funny,” said Cody Sun. IMT’s AD carry egged on his bot lane partner, Joo-sung “Olleh” Kim.
We were at a small ramen shop called Kotoya Ramen — at full capacity it seats maybe a dozen people. One chef stands behind the bar arranging the ramen into the bowls — it is a process that ends in him taking a blowtorch to the pork char siu. One more person takes the orders and tends the tables. A poster framed on the wall reads, “No Ramen, No Life.”
I’d just started recording. Olleh held his chin and thought for a moment. “Ah!” he said. “I have tried to stop smoking. It’s been three days. I’m dying. I’m killing myself.”
Olleh has an eccentric personality — this is not terribly surprising if you’ve tracked his career. One that began with KT Rolster then spanned to paiN Gaming in Brazil and then Hong Kong Esports in the LMS before becoming the solo import support player in the NA LCS.
He actually started smoking because of an ex-girlfriend. “Whenever I be with her I can smell the smoke. I ask, ‘Hey do you smoke?’ And she say, ‘No, I didn’t.’ And I thought, ‘Oh, I’ll smoke because you can’t stop.'”
“But you hated the smoke?” asked Cody. Olleh gestured his disdain for the smell of smoke.
“I fucking hated it.”
The two of them confessed to having a little club within their team. Before and after LCS matches, they’d go outside and talk about bot lane or random life stuff. Sometimes substitute jungler Andy “Chorong” Hoang (cousin to FlyQuest top laner Balls) or coach Ssong would join them as well.
I like to imagine that all the players on a team do everything together. But maybe watching too much Power Rangers or anime skewed my understanding of what a squad might look like. It makes a lot more sense that some of them are going to become much closer than others. Not necessarily cliques, but even within your family you are often closer to one parent or sibling than another. And if you want anybody on your team to be close, then it may as well be your bot lane.
Olleh’s effort to quit smoking is tied to one of IMT’s coaches, Robert Yip. He is pushing a healthier lifestyle overall.
“We’re not allowed to eat instant ramen,” said Cody Sun. “No soda either.”
“No coke. No ramen,” echoed Olleh.
“But when we win — we get to drink one coke for each [LCS] win. So whenever we win and go out to eat, we have like 10 people ordering cokes.” Cody admitted to not even liking it that much but felt it was important to take advantage of the rare occasions.
Olleh chimed in and said, “I just drink Red Bull.” I asked if that was okay.
“We have do it in secret,” said Cody.
“Robert said it’s okay if I do it. Just me,” said Olleh. He laughed. “I’m special.”
“Get the name out there! Robert!” says Cody. “We have to drink coke behind his back. He just really hates soda.”
We ordered coke.
Cody continued, “Robert is all about the healthy lifestyle, but when we look at his plate he only eats meat. No vegetables!” Olleh held his head down and cackled the entire time we talked about Robert — who they have a lot of respect for.
One thing that’s good about the NA LCS lifestyle is there’s a lot of money in the scene. So says Olleh. “I like America the most [out of Taiwan, Brazil, and Korea]. It has everything you want. You want to take a rest or a big room? You want to take a shower or a bath? You can do whatever you want. Other countries it’s hard to do that. Maybe after these years things have changed, but when I was [in other countries] it was not as professional.”
Immortals have a team chef who cooks anything from eel to soon tofu. Like most other teams, their diet revolves largely around Korean-style or influenced dishes. As a result, they don’t really need to leave the house much to eat. I asked if there are any restaurants they do favor.
“McDonald’s,” Olleh immediately answered.
Cody shook his head and looked at him, “No — you went there by yourself.”
Olleh laughed. “I get some potato shit there.”
“That’s what he calls french fries,” Cody explained. “Normally we go to Korean BBQ.”
Neither of them had ever been to Kotoya. It’s definitely lesser known than some of the bigger ones in Los Angeles, but of the 10 or so ramen places I’ve tried, it’s my favorite. Growing up, ramen to me meant instant noodles or cup noodles. Basically packages of sodium, and spice them or top them as you might, it was still super unhealthy and a far cry from what actual ramen should taste like. I’ve never been to Japan, so I don’t know how Los Angeles ramen compares, but the existence of such shops is magical for someone who grew up in a city in which the best restaurant was Applebee’s.
Cody laughed. “It’s like chocolate milk but not as good. By the fourth day or so we got sick of it,” said Cody. “We also have a secret stash of candy. Sometimes we go there and goon out like animals.” It’s important to find places of solitude in such an active household.
The pair talked a bit about how they never really go out. “It’s not that we don’t like going out,” said Cody. “Koreans for example just don’t have as many friends here because they don’t know anyone. And my friends are in Canada. The only people we can hang out with are our teammates or other pros. If you know a lot of other pros that like to go out, then they can invite you.”
Most pros are at the age where people start to make some lifelong friends — be it at college or whatever life adventure one pursues after high school. Instead they acquire a massive amount of exposure — fame even — without the chance to reciprocate the watching eyes. Their relationship with fans is important, but it’s not one with two way dialogue.
Olleh doesn’t really want to talk to people, either. “My friend list [on League of Legends] is literally empty,” he said.
“What about me?” asked Cody.
“No, I deleted you, too. When I play Solo Queue I don’t want to talk to anyone.” Here’s your tip for the day. Delete your entire friend’s list and you too can reach rank 1.
“I would hang out with other people,” said Cody. “I like hanging out with people.”
“I don’t have time to care for myself,” Olleh followed up, “How can I care about other people?”
By the end of the dinner, though, Olleh relented a bit. “Introduce me to some friends. Some Koreans! I know the old KT players.”
We rattled off the names of a few players.

“No!” he responded. And then, laughing, said, “They are my enemies.

With so many restraints on what they can or can't eat in the house, I wondered what happened when they became hungry at say midnight or even later.

Team EnVyUs — Stout Burgers and Beers

I originally wanted this piece to center around ramen, but Team Envy requested a change because their new mid laner Yasin “Nisqy” Dincer doesn’t eat pork. As such, ADC Apollo “Apollo” Price specifically requested we go to Stout Burgers and Beers, which is right off Ocean Avenue — a block from the Pacific Ocean. So if you end up going here and not liking it, blame Apollo.
Apollo was also flanked by his other former mid laner, Jun-sik “Pirean” Choi. Together, the two mid laners have helped turned NV into a playoff contender. I met with them before Pirean’s trade to Phoenix1, and while I wish I could tell you Pirean lost a food-eating contest to Nisqy and was subsequently traded, that was sadly not the case.
“It is 100% Pirean and Nisqy,” said Apollo about NV’s new fortunes. Of the three, Apollo is clearly the most comfortable — even in a casual interview setting, players frequently come nervous. It usually takes a bit for them to open up. But Apollo’s been around since 2013 and has some two to three times as much experience as the other two combined. He continued, “Their livelihood is good for this old man. It’s nice having the younger players around.”
He is 22.
I asked if the pro life style had worn on him yet. “I don’t get sick of the lifestyle, but sometimes you want to do something else. You kind of feel guilty if you don’t stay home playing games because everyone else is at the house doing that.
If I’m out with friends, I feel guilty, which sucks because I don’t know if that’s the way you should feel. But you do. I’m not sick of the League lifestyle, but I know it’s not 100% healthy to always focus on it.”
Pirean chimed in and said, “As a pro gamer, I feel pressure to play. Sometimes I play bad and I always think I have to play better next time. We have to win.”
And for Nisqy, the matter was much simpler. He said, “I love the game so I just play.”
Apollo laughed, “I remember when I used to love the game.”
It was said mostly in jest, but I think it’s a sentiment anyone who has poured hours into League can relate to. I’ve got over 4,000 hours invested into this game. I write about it for the company that made it. I clearly do not hate it. And yet I find myself saying “I hate this game” every other game. The LCS is still a new and exciting adventure for the likes of Nisqy. For Apollo, it is inextricably work.
Nisqy’s time with Fnatic Academy provided him with some preparation for the NA LCS. “NA is more chill,” he said. “In Turkish culture (his family is Turkish and he was raised in Belgium), you just eat together. In EU we go out and eat together and do things together — like trampoline.”
We all looked at him. “Wait. Trampoline?” asked Apollo.
“Don’t you guys have trampoline?” he asked. I clarified — the bouncy thing — just to be sure it didn’t mean something else over there. Slang is hard to keep up with! I asked if it was normal for people or teams to have a trampoline over there.
“I mean, it’s not normal,” he said, “But it was fun.” I guess it’s not the strangest thing for 16 or 17 year olds to jump on a trampoline. I don’t know what teenagers do for fun these days. But the thought of a bunch of LCS players bouncing up and down — doing flips and the like — made me laugh.
Nisqy has only been around for a couple months, so they’re still getting to know each other. I’m sure the trampoline isn’t the last time they’ll surprise each other. Apollo said, “One thing I’ve learned about Nisqy is he hasn’t eaten many foods. Like he didn’t know what tuna was. It’s just funny — whenever I bring up a food, he doesn’t know what it is.”
So, it seems, in Europe they have trampolines but not tuna.
Pirean was the quietest of the three, but sometimes I wonder if that’s more of a personality thing or if it’s because English isn’t his first language. Plenty of Korean players on other teams are considerably more talkative when the conversation is in Korean, for example. And at one point in my dinner with Olleh, he smiled and nodded at the chef speaking to him before telling us after he had no idea what the chef was saying.
But when I asked Pirean about his favorite dishes, he had a lot of answers. “Pork belly, kalbi — with rice and side dishes,” he said. “And Korean chicken. And Korean burger.”
Being that we were at a burger joint, the last answer surprised us. America seems like it’s more well known for burgers than Korea. So we asked him what he meant by burgers.
“It’s good. McDonald’s.”
“McDonald’s?” I asked. At this point I was even more confused (and still am), as was everyone else.
“I like Korean better than here. The bulgogi burger is really good,” he said. “You guys might not like, but I like. They have sweet sauce. I like it.”
The Envy house isn’t nearly as strict as the Immortals house. They’re allowed to eat or drink as they please. They all go to the gym except for Nisqy, who said he prefers to just play Solo Queue. Which to me is the ultimate workout — enduring that is the epitome of mind over matter. Their owner even bought them a car recently, though nobody in the house can drive outside of their manager, Toby Kwon.
For their regular meals, they have a Korean chef that makes them all three meals. “I think over the years, I’ve been forced to like Korean food,” said Apollo. “I think if I didn’t I wouldn’t be on a team.” He laughed thinking about it.
Pirean nodded in agreement. “Sometimes you eat more than me. You really like Korean food.” As they say, you are what you eat. And Koreans are winning Worlds, so…
Here is my assessment of Stout Burgers and Beers: it’s not ramen. I don’t want to go into too much depth about how the egg melting in my mouth complimented the crunchy bacon perfectly — I’m not a food critic. I just know it wasn’t ramen. I like burgers, but I love ramen. Which is all to say I can’t recommend this place if you’re looking for ramen. But if you’re looking for burgers, then it was quite good. And being that it was a street away from the ocean, you can’t really top the view.
All of that was a great surprise to Nisqy, who upon stepping out of the restaurant looked westward and exclaimed, “Whoa! Is that the ocean?”

Echo Fox — Tsujita Artisan Noodles

“I’ll prove my worth. I’m one of the best for sure,” said Austin “Gate” Yu. We were not talking about League of Legends. We were talking about being able to handle spices and assembling a strike squad to hit different spice challenges across Los Angeles. I just told him I’d take the quote a little out of context. Do with it what you will.
Tsujita Artisan Noodles is one of the most famous ramen joints in West Los Angeles. It’s located in a neighborhood most people refer to as Sawtelle, where countless other Japanese restaurants stand, including at least five other ramen places. This is one of the streets where you’d be most likely to randomly run into a professional player. For example, we ran into Gold Coin United coach Yoon-sub “Locodoco” Choi and some players from his team as we were being seated.
We are joined by his bot lane partner, Yuri “Keith” Jew — the two of them are some of the friendliest people you’d ever meet. Gate was actually just at Tsujita two days before seeing me because the Echo Fox organization was hosting “Fox Con” in Los Angeles — a gathering of over some fifty people involved with the organization. Gate went out for dinner with Street Fighter V pro, Hajime “Tokido” Taniguchi. This was about a week before EVO, where Tokido went on to win the Street Fighter V Championship. You might call it a “coincidence” or a “small sample size” but to me it’s irrefutable proof that you should get dinner with Gate before a major event in your life. He is, perhaps, the Gateway to heaven.

As for his superstitions? Bananas. “We’re all just monkeys on the inside so we just need our bananas,” he said. LCS pros seem to all favor bananas as a pre-game snack. “I feel like at some point there was some science behind it that I was told, so I said okay, and now I just eat bananas. I don’t eat protein bars anymore. Maybe someone said if you eat a banana before every game, you will win everything. Maybe a monkey snuck into the LCS and told me. I will go out of my way to eat one because I think it has super powers.”

Echo Fox is a bit of an outlier in the NA LCS. Owner Rick Fox is beloved by fans thanks to his charismatic personality and the affection he shows towards his players. His background in the NBA may be one of the reasons FOX became the first team to decline scrims with teams outside of their organization and instead opting to field a 10 man roster that plays against each other internally. Because of this, their family unit is much bigger than the other teams.
They live in two separate houses in Beverly Hills and also have an office they walk to where they actually practice. “We have a chef so we convene at the main house for food,” said Gate. “Everyone eats there.” You start to learn things about people pretty quickly. I asked if anybody at the house had weird eating habits.
“Froggen is really picky about his food,” said Gate. “Our chef does a good job catering to him. He’s literally a kid and doesn’t eat vegetables. He’s like a four year old. She cooks separately for him — I think it’s awesome. Definitely if it has vegetables, he’s like, ‘I don’t like these vegetables.'”
Gate on the other hand said he eats everything. He’ll try it and most likely enjoy it. “I didn’t like eggplant, though,” he said. “Actually, my mom told me it’s a Chinese staple. I’m disappointing her.”
Of the two, you can tell Gate is the more talkative one. It makes sense that he’s willing to try any sort of food. He said when he orders wings, he just randoms the flavor. Same with ice cream pints — a guilty snack for him — he just goes to store and grabs something random. “It’s a new adventure every time,” he said. He first gained acclaim in the pro scene for playing three different roles in basically as many weeks — it seems all random all the time is a good fit for him.
A 10-man roster makes for boisterous meal times, but I imagine splitting the work office from where they live and sleep makes it easier for everyone to manage their personal space and energy. This, to me, is what it means to have good backing and investment in your team and is what players mean when they talk about NA infrastructure.
It is at times a little too high end for Gate, though. “I want to go out and eat bad food but everything costs $30. There’s no taco trucks. Nothing $5.”
“We just live across from some car companies. And a piano shop,” added Keith.
Gate laughed. “I can’t afford it! It’s too nice.”
Their chef cooks a lot of Korean food, but also makes plenty of American dishes. Otherwise, they’re left to forage on their own at night as well. They order the likes of Chipotle or Wingstop. Or in Keith’s case, instant noodles. He buys Korean brand fire chicken noodles — as does Looper. Looper otherwise seems to have plenty of subsidies from his fan girls in China. They send him crates of snacks at a time.
From what I gathered, the Echo Fox squads have developed a good kinship with each other. One of the things about traditional scrims against other teams is that they don’t talk after the sets. FOX has the ability to communicate with each other before and after the games, and if need-be in the middle. They can cater the situation as they please instead of just trying to win the scrim.
FOX, without a doubt, is a family unit. The two of them still talked to their parents regularly though — this seemed to be a common trend across the board for the players. Most of them kept up with their folks.
“My mom always nags me to call her on Skype,” said Gate. “So I usually do it. My mom is like my coach. She doesn’t know how the game works, but she says, ‘I feel like you should do this or that.’ I can’t tell what’s good advice — I feel like it’s all good [that she gives me] as long as I interpret it a specific way. She says a lot of random things about game. And I say, ‘Yeah maybe that’s true.’ Like she says, ‘If I were playing Blitz, I would have hooked this guy.'” He laughed thinking about her.

“I like spicy things in general. I remember I did the Buffalo Wild Wings challenge,” he began. “I don’t remember the name. I went to the bathroom after and touched my eyes on accident. I washed my face because I was sweating or something. Putting spice in the eyes — that’s the [spice] level I can’t handle.

At the gaming houses, players find new brothers and sisters. Many of them experience love and heartbreak for the first time. They undergo major changes to their lifestyle. Their diets change. They start exercising. Maybe they stop. They stop smoking. Or maybe they start. All of this under the burgeoning spotlight of fame.
What I mean when I say kids is that the players are parts to much larger organizations. The old wild west way of forming a squad of five through Solo Queue doesn’t work anymore. They are kids in that for most of them, they’ve been cast into the world for the first time — away from their parents. You will find mentors and people you can lean on in life, but that is different from parents.
Being able to enjoy a meal with the family is one way to stay close. FOX just got a chef this split. Before that, they’d just order food and eat on their own. “It kind of sucked actually,” said Gate. “Even the food we ate at the desk wasn’t that good. This is definitely better.”
At the gaming houses, players find new brothers and sisters. Many of them experience love and heartbreak for the first time. They undergo major changes to their lifestyle. Their diets change. They start exercising. Maybe they stop. They stop smoking. Or maybe they start. All of this under a burgeoning spotlight of fame. A thin veil separates them from their harshest critics. It is through this that they learn to lean on each other. And play together. And eat together. And like that grow into something new.
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