Six months ago, Ram “Brokenshard” Djemal moved to the United States from Israel to pursue his dream: to become a League of Legends professional gamer and compete in the League Championship Series (LCS).
Now that dream rests on the outcome of a single match between his team, CompLexity Black, and the relegated sixth place LCS squad, Team Coast.
“It's definitely an overwhelming amount of pressure,” Djemal, 20, said.
“It all comes down to the final push. Winning is everything.”
The match is the last of a set of six, called the Summer Promotion series, that will decide the careers of 12 teams of budding pro gamers. The six winners enter the LCS, Riot Games’ premiere league, where they will compete in a full season of regularly broadcast matches, complete with a full-time salary. From there, the teams will have a chance to qualify for League’s Super Bowl, the World Championships. The losers are doomed to battle tooth-and-nail for half a year, just for another one series shot.
This isn’t Djemal’s first rodeo. His team, then known as Determined Gaming, made it to the Spring Promotion in December of last year, but fell 3-0 to Evil Geniuses. And that isn’t the closest he’s come to LCS: as a member of Dragonborns, Djemal actually qualified for the LCS in Europe. But he never appeared in a game after illness forced him out of the lineup.
“I honestly feel robbed of my opportunity to play,” he said. “It motivates me incredibly hard now that I’m so close once again.”
It’s been a long road to get there, both for Djemal and his CompLexity team.
The team's core, top laner Jonathan “Westrice” Nguyen and marksman Robert Lee, have been together since March of last year.
Nguyen has a long history in competitive League. He was a member of the now legendary Team SoloMid back in 2011, and was one of the founding members of the team Epik Gamer, along with LCS stars Marcus “Dyrus” Hill and Peter “Doublelift” Peng. Nguyen spent most of 2012 on Curse Gaming, part of their experimental reality show. While many of his former teammates are now staples in LCS, he’s never had his shot.
The team’s marksman, Lee, has actually been closest to the lights. When EG had visa problems during this past LCS split, they called on Lee to sub for the week.
But Lee’s had his own struggles during his League career. In March of 2013, he suffered a case amnesia after falling down the stairs and hitting his head. He couldn’t recognize many of his friends, teammates, or even his girlfriend of two years. He nearly quit playing League entirely, but his parents convinced him to keep at it. Over time, he recovered.
Djemals’ path has been the longest, both literally and figuratively. After missing out on LCS with Dragonborns, he made a drastic move to further his career. He hopped a plane to to the U.S., six thousand miles from his home in Israel.
He settled into the roster of Determined Gaming as they sought to land a spot in the LCS—a dream that became more real when CompLexity Gaming bought the team and helped them fight up into the Challenger playoffs.
Adjusting to the new culture was easy at first, he said, though it’s been trying at times.
“I've met some great people, learned to live on my own and manage money responsibly, and to take care of myself,” said Djemal, “Moving to the US I feel has helped me become a better person.”
While that may be true, Djemal moved to the U.S. to get results in the Summoner’s Rift. And if that doesn't happen, he may move back home.
“I feel that I've put in a lot of effort and gone almost nowhere with it,” he explained.
“I've qualified for LCS and been a part of every promotional tournament but have just barely been able to go that extra mile and qualify. I feel as if the right thing to do would be to move on if I fail once again.”
Since Djemal’s taken over the captaincy of CompLexity, they’ve sat near the top of the Challenger scene. But that’s not good enough when your goal is the LCS.
In an interview with League-Central in January, Djemal said that “anything less than domination” in the Challenger Series will be a failure for CompLexity. That team did look dominant in the first split, going undefeated until a battle against Chinese side LMQ.
They never got off their feet in the second, however, after being forced to forfeit against Cloud 9 Tempest when Lee was unable to log in to the match. (Unlike regular LCS matches, which are played in Riot-run studios, the Challenger Series games are played via the Internet, and are more prone to DDOS attacks and disconnects, and come with the added challenge of making sure the game client is up to date.)
In the Challenger Series playoffs two weeks ago, CompLexity placed a disappointing third. “I’m not very happy,” Djemal said about the results. “I don’t consider that domination.”
All that will be forgotten and forgiven with a victory against Team Coast.
CompLexity enters the match the underdog, facing a team with three seasons of LCS experience. In the past, Coast has placed as high as second place in the LCS after a cinderella run last spring. They’ve also been relegated, and survived, besting The Walking Zed (now Cloud 9 Tempest) 3-2 to maintain their LCS standing.
The pressure of the do-or-die promotion game isn’t new to Team Coast. But it's not for CompLexity, either. That’s a good thing, considering their 3-0 loss to Evil Geniuses in their first try, highlighted by an embarrassing mistake by Djemal that saw him dead after an attempt to clear an important jungle camp.
“The last time we came emotionally and mentally unprepared,” Djemal said.
“I learn a lot from losing, and I've taken a lot from our loss to EG.”
CompLexity has faced Team Coast once before, when they fell 2-1 in the semifinals of the North American Challenger League in December. Djemal knows his team has the skill needed to win, but it’s going to come down to execution. “I feel very good coming into the matches,” he said.
But anything can happen on the Summoner’s Rift. Dedication, skill, and teamwork only go so far, and even if both teams put in the effort and deserve to win, one will will still go home.
“Hard work will be put to the test, and the hungrier team will win,” he said. “And frankly, I'm starving.”
CompLexity and Djernal will fight for their LCS dream against Team Coast this Sunday at 6pm ET.
Screengrab via Riot Games/YouTube