From EU to IWC and back: the story of UoL's Xerxe

Romanian jungler Andrei "Xerxe" Dragomir joined EU League of Legends team Unicorns of Love before the 2017 Spring Split. Despite his youth, he has high-level competitive experience in the IWC region of Turkey. Provided by Riot Games

The Unicorns of Love stood atop Group B as the lights dimmed in the European League of Legends Championship Series arena, following a tense 2-1 victory over H2k-Gaming on Saturday in the second week of the 2017 Spring Split.

Jungler Andrei "Xerxe" Dragomir, 17, couldn't be happier about his squad's current standings. "I kind of expected it, yet I didn't expect it," he admits, fresh off a fan meet-and-greet. "It's kind of hard to describe it. It was hard to get here."

Xerxe's path to the LCS started early. As a 13-year-old on the EU West server in 2013, he was one of the only players from his home country of Romania to achieve Challenger rank. At 15, he was inspired to post an Ask Me Anything thread on the League of Legends Reddit hub. "I thought, 'Why not? People will get to know me, [and] I will make some good [first] impressions,'" he recalls. "It was quite popular, [and] I got a few questions. Since then, I wanted to be in the [pro scene's] LCS."

What would a player do to prepare for the LCS? Conventional wisdom dictates that the Challenger Series -- the LCS' amateur division -- is the go-to hub for prospective pros. After all, the Unicorns of Love themselves had gone through daunting trials in the circuit. However, Xerxe's experience was less successful. "The only time I wanted to play in the Challenger Series was with a kind of random team -- not known players -- and our mid laner didn't come when we were supposed to qualify," he said. "That was my only attempt at Challenger Series."

Instead, he explored opportunities in the International Wildcard regions, a much less common route for those angling to make it into a major region like EU. He chose to venture into the Turkish Champions League. "I was 16, and I wanted to get some experience for the LCS," he said. "I was confident that I would get into [the] LCS at some point, so I thought, 'Why would I play solo queue when I can play [on a more organized team and] get experience?' It really helped me."

Xerxe quickly made a name for himself within Crew eSports Club in the 2016 TCL spring season, and the country's premier esports organization Dark Passage noticed. More importantly, he overcame what several professional players still struggle with: stage pressure. And it was not easy. "My hands were shaking and my heart was pumping. I was afraid to do anything in game," the jungler reflects. "When you play over and over again, you have to get used [to it]."

After winning the 2016 TCL summer season playoffs with Dark Passage against SuperMassive eSports, Xerxe decided it was time to return to Europe. Months later, he was signed by the Unicorns of Love, which had taken fourth at the EU LCS 2016 summer playoffs. The squad has traditionally had a knack for unorthodox approaches to picks, bans and the game itself, and Xerxe has been no different as he has demonstrated so far with his efficient use of Zac and Rumble.

Drawing on his previous experience, Xerxe adapted to the high-pressure European LCS stage environment quickly. He attributed some of this to his coach, Fabian "Sheepy" Mallant, whose help instilled him with confidence. But Sheepy was not the only one. "All of the team helped me," Xerxe said. "We were doing so [well] together. They were so nice with me. This was pretty cool for me."

The Unicorns of Love seemed prepared for their encounters and team fights. Unsurprisingly, their practice regimen has strongly influenced their current success, as it helps the squad prepare for ways to use their team compositions to the fullest, including their risky skirmishes. "We play scrims every day. Some scrims, we just stomp enemies, [and] sometimes we get stomped," Xerxe said. "We learn every day, and Sheepy teaches us a lot. Learning [over and over] every day, you just get experience. You know what to do in some scenarios."

Xerxe approaches his future with serenity, as a member of a Unicorns of Love squad that is making a case for itself as a top team in Europe. "It was kind of expected because the roster we have right now is so good!" he said about the squad's success. "I really want to go to Worlds this year, and I think we will do [well.]"