How teams (and Riot) are recreating the Korean boot camp

There's no better way to practice than going to South Korea. But this might very well change, as teams are already trying to recreate the Korean boot camp experience.

(Image Credit: Riot Games)

The 2018 World Championship is coming! With that, many Western teams have already taken the first customary step to prepare for the event. Of course, I’m talking about the Korean boot camp. 

The boot camp practice is widespread, and competitive powerhouses like TSM, Fnatic, Immortals, G2 Esports have all spoken out on how much better it is to train in South Korea compared to their home regions. 

For one, Korea has always been regarded as the mecca of esports, so it’s only natural that the region is home to the best teams to ever play the game. On top of that, the Korean Solo Queue receives a lot of praise for its low ping and competitive nature. In fact, the halo surrounding it is so dazzling that the likes of Rekkles and Goldenglue went on solitary pilgrimages to Seoul in an effort to supercharge their practice. 

But lower ping and better Solo Queue aren’t the only things that make Korean boot camps effective. There are other factors at play here, and Western teams (and Riot Games) are already trying to recreate them in their regions. 

The boot camp mindset

When you’re trying to imitate something, you need to first understand why it works. In the case of Korean boot camps, everything starts with mindset. 

If you were to ask League of Legends pros what their dream is, most would immediately answer winning a World Championship. This desire is so overwhelmingly powerful that players are willing to go above and beyond to fulfill it, which is the main reason why most Worlds participants punch their ticket to Seoul in the first place.

So, the moment they get off the plane, they enter the do-or-die mode. After all, they just went out of their way to hone their craft in a different region, and considering what’s at stake, they’re not likely to let this opportunity pass by. With that, pros go through a League of Legends equivalent of cramming before an exam. 

Every scrim, every Solo Queue game becomes precious, and not a single minute of practice time goes to waste. 

Of course, the stakes aren’t the only thing that gives Korean boot camps weight. 

Everyone who’s ever tried to hit a particular milestone knows the importance of a dedicated workspace. And nothing screams dedication as much as going halfway across the world with the singular goal of playing quality League of Legends. 

Now, you could argue that the training process still comes down to the same group of people spamming games in a dimly lit room. But the change in environment is key here. As soon as pros arrive in South Korea, the entire region becomes their practice arena, a constant reminder that they’re not here to mess around. They’re here to grind. 

A similar approach exists in other established esports. 

Professional Dota 2 and CS:GO teams are no strangers to boot camping, and it’s common to see them doubling down on practice before a major tournament. However, there’s one notable difference. That is, Dota 2 and CS:GO boot camps don’t necessarily involve anything other than getting all the players together and setting them up with a highly structured practice environment. 

It’s this exact concept that Western teams are trying to recreate.

Paving the way

One of the most recent steps in this direction is the introduction of Rift Rivals. 

Now, I know what you’re going to say. Rift Rivals is basically a set of glorified show matches, and—for all intents and purposes—it’s little more than a throwaway tournament for the fans. And I agree! As far as the competitive side of things goes, the Rift Rivals event is underwhelming. But it still comes with the stakes of determining the winner of the EU vs NA rivalry. Plus, it’s an absolute godsend in terms of practice! 

Even during its limited runtime, Rift Rivals became valuable training grounds for the West. In 2017, North American teams humbled their European counterparts by highlighting the importance of fighting for mid lane control. Next year, Europe returned the favor by showcasing the strengths of gold funnels and unorthodox bot lanes. And even though they didn’t have the renowned Korean Solo Queue at hand, both sides still took away a lot from the experience. 

Then, there’s the workspace part. We’ve already mentioned this above, but having a structured practice environment is a key part of the boot camping equation. After all, it’s one thing when you’re grinding at your home computer (even if that home is a team house), and it’s another when you’re honing your League of Legends game overseas. 

Granted, the overseas part can be hard on the budget. Also, it’s a bit unrealistic to expect a team to go on inter-regional boot camps every time it needs to make a push for the playoffs. But there’s a definite push in Western League of Legends to separate home and work environments by moving scrims out of team houses and into dedicated training facilities. For instance, Team Liquid has already taken steps in this direction by building an Alienware Training Facility, and Counter Logic Gaming has done the same thing with its CLG Performance Center. 

Of course, these don’t completely mimic the boot camp experience. But they provide a place where players can fully focus on the game. 

Setting the stage

So, what does this mean other than that Rift Rivals isn't entirely worthless and a few franchised orgs spent a lot of money on their own training grounds? 

Well, it’s clear that Western teams won’t ever get the low ping or cutthroat competitiveness of the Korean Solo Queue. At least, not without booking a ticket to Seoul. However, you can still look at other factors that make practice so effective in Korean. 

As more and more teams attempt to recreate the Korean boot camp effect in their regions, the West will get one step closer to catching up to their Korean overlords.

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Daniil Volkov

I craft League of Legends narratives and cover LCK, NA & EU LCS.