Being a League Championship Series player isn't easy. Now imagine if you were also the owner of a squad, and that your squad experienced a potentially damaging roster turnover following tough scrimmages and an unsatisfactory Week 1 showing.
Imagine you're Enrique "xPeke" Cedeno Martinez, owner of Origen and the 2015 Challenger to World Championship semifinalist squad.
"The situation was pretty much that -- with FORG1VEN -- we wanted to get a strong lineup for this split," xPeke explained. "We all knew with [our team's] mentality that it's gonna be pretty hard at the beginning. Because we have a new bot lane that had to adapt to each other, and [because] we also have a new team -- completely new team -- we had to adapt to each other on a new patch. That's really hard."
Although the departures of Alfonso "mithy" Aguirre Rodriguez and Jesper "Zven" Svenningsen caught Origen off-guard, it salvaged the situation with two hires in the bottom lane: 2016 LCS spring split champion Glenn "Hybrid" Doornenbal and mechanical virtuoso Konstantinos "FORG1VENGRE" Tzortziou-Napoleon. But as the two failed to develop chemistry and a common approach to bottom lane play, their frustration spread to the rest of the team.
Hybrid desired a team-oriented approach, where the lane contributed to the overall unit's success, even if it meant losing early on. That approach clashed with FORG1VEN's lane-dominant and carry-oriented play-style and required ample amounts of communication. "At the same time -- as a team -- we were doing really, really badly," added xPeke. "For everyone, it was coming to a point that is like -- 'We have to try harder.'"
Whether FORG1VEN thought Origen would top the rankings from the beginning, or whether it was the same burnout that led him to initially call it quits for the summer split, Origen found itself without an AD carry, forcing xPeke to find a solution fast. As he stated, "We knew we had little time to look for a new AD carry because we had to submit it to Riot. They have to approve it, and then we can use it."
The most promising prospects were ineligible to participate in the LCS due either to being under the allowed minimum age (17), or to commitments such as final yearly exams. With that in mind, the squad had two alternatives.
"It just came to a point where we had to take some guy that is AD carry, but never played in a team and never really experienced how to play as a team. We're not even sure if he's that good to make it up with his skill that we can just teach him the game," said xPeke pensively before adding, "or, [we had to] play with me."
A skilled AD carry without team experience, at the highest level, would be a gamble for the short term. "If we bring a rookie, put him on the team, and we start losing," xPeke continued, "it can be bad for him as well as a player to develop."
That left the team with an unthinkable prospect turned into a reality: xPeke donning the AD carry mantle. In the short run, the squad has an experienced player filling in a role he had never played competitively. In the long run, the team is free to try out prospects and integrate them to the lineup down the line, either as substitutes or as starters if their performances prove convincing. "We won't win lanes," xPeke admitted. "[But] we can be even or lose by a bit, and then at least we can keep improving as a team until we find an AD carry that we find suitable."
But he had to mull over the decision as a player, as a friend of his players, and as an owner: a delicate tightrope act that few have performed. "I would be more happy and stay at my house not playing and relaxing, but it's a lot of stress and we had nothing to do," xPeke reflected. "As an owner, I don't know what the best decision is. As a player, I don't know what's the best. And as a teammate, I don't know what's the best."
With no better alternative, the choice was obvious: Don the black and blue jersey in an unfamiliar role, and help the squad in any way he could.
"What I feel is important that I bring to the team is a positive environment," said xPeke. "Maybe other players tend to not talk, or to be more quiet if things are going bad, or not be positive and be doubtful [but] I bring that comm to the team. Even though I have no idea what's going to happen, I'm more calm in a way that I'm more like 'Let's wait for this, and then we play for that.' If the game is equal, we are not losing either."
The impact was immediate. Short of a crushing defeat against the Unicorns of Love in Week 1, the squad played more decisively against Vitality during Week 2's first day and secured a tie. In both games, Origen started strong and overcame early-game jitters, but the outcomes differed. Paul "sOAZ" Boyer's woes took Game 1 out of Origen's hands, and his takeover early on in the second game secured the team's first victory of the split.
Two games, two outcomes, two strategic calls. A matter of execution.
"I feel that the moment we put everyone top [in Game 1], the idea was really good but we did it in a wrong way," xPeke elaborated. "sOAZ shouldn't have TP'd, we should have fought them out of the turret. Take the turret and sOAZ stays bot. And I think when we misplayed on that, it went down from there because sOAZ is behind. And when sOAZ is behind, we don't really have anything to play for anymore."
As for the second game, following a Vitality gank on the bottom lane, Maurice "Amazing" Stückenschneider's top lane camp initiated a map-wide snowball with the French top laner at the center. xPeke was uncertain on whether his Lucian pick -- a mobile carry pick with no utility, unlike his Sivir pick in Game 1 -- was the right one, but Origen prevailed.
"It's really stressful sometimes being the owner, the player and being a friend," xPeke admitted. "Sometimes, when you have to act as a friend, you have to say things differently than if you act as a teammate. And even more different if you act as an owner."
The players will count him as a teammate for the foreseeable future as he seeks to hire help on the organizational front. It's the only way around the bundle of stress a player/owner deals with in esports. More importantly, it provides him the ability to help in different ways. "I can focus on playing," he said. "And maybe, if at some point I'm not playing, [I can] help them focus on learning the game -- teaching them and helping them."