X7 CEO Josh ‘Hyrav’ Kingett spoke to Dexerto about the surprising offseason roster moves in League of Legends, and how the organization is innovating in Europe’s regional leagues.
X7 Esports are looking to make their mark on the world of European League of Legends. Founded in December of 2020, they’ve quickly moved their way up through the ranks of UK League of Legends, from the UKEL to the NLC.
In 2021, they finalized the acquisition of long-standing British organizations Bulldog and Absolved, and their application to join the NLC was approved after the tournament underwent a restructuring.
All they were missing was a roster – and that final piece fell into place on December 17, when the organization officially announced their 2022 lineup on Twitter. And to the surprise of NLC fans and the wider community, that roster included two Korean imports- one of whom was none other than the former world champion jungler Kang ‘Haru’ Minseung.
We are excited to officially announce our @NLClol Division 1 roster for Spring 2022!
— X7 Esports (@X7_Esports) December 17, 2021
He won Worlds in 2017 as the substitute jungler for Samsung Galaxy, and bounced around teams in the LCK between 2018 and 2020. In 2021, he took a brief stint in the LLA as the jungler for Latin American side Kaos Latin Gamers.
The other marquee on the roster is mid laner Kang ‘Tempt’ Myunggu, an ex-teammate of Haru’s and an incredibly strong player in his own right. Alongside their Korean signings, the team also includes European veterans Raymond ‘kaSing’ Tsang and Lennart ‘Jaeger’ Warkus (formerly known as SmittyJ) in the support and top lane roles.
Add rookie AD Carry Nataniel ‘Nata’ Fikrisellasie Asrat to the mix and this is, on paper, one of the strongest lineups the NLC has ever had.
The method behind the madness
But how exactly did that deal come about for an organization that’s only existed for a year?
According to Hyrav, X7’s CEO, it was largely thanks to the input of head coach Nias ‘Nias’ Vanwalleghem, whose ties to the Korean league scene date from his time as an assistant coach for LCK Challengers team Spear Gaming.
His connections with Korean talent agencies helped facilitate initial negotiations between X7 and their mid-jungle duo. There is a large number of Korean players looking for a shot in Europe, with their end goal being competing in the LEC.
Btw. @X7_Esports is here!
— Kinguin Esports Performance Center Warsaw (@epcwarsaw) December 21, 2021
ERL teams often will not have the resources to secure professional English teaching for non-native players, and so Korean player agencies will offer English lessons in the hopes of setting their players up for international success. This was the case with Haru and Tempt.
Both players already speak reasonable English, according to Hyrav, and so communication issues should hopefully not be too major for the team. X7 will continue to facilitate their learning during their time on the roster.
The ERL scene offers a perfect jumping-off point for those players to get a taste of European competition. Entering the LEC straight away is getting more difficult year on year for imports as the region focuses more and more on fostering homegrown talent.
Not just an esports organization
The region is tending more and more towards bringing up young players from its regional leagues rather than importing talent. Playing in the ERLs could be the key to unlocking a path to the LEC for future import players.
This is where X7’s vision comes in. According to Hyrav, X7 wants to be more than just another team competing in the ERLs.
“We want to import foreign talent across, similar to Haru and Tempt, and then offload them to franchise teams,” he said. They want to be the “facilitators” of a resurgence of imports in the LEC to help put together the kind of EU superteam that Hyrav believes imports can help create.
Their goal is to help players get through all the tedious processes of securing visas, taking English lessons, and finding housing to play on X7, and then move them onto other European organizations when the time is right. We’ve seen ERL teams foster native talent to then move them on to LEC teams, with both AGO Rogue and MAD Lions Madrid promoting entire ERL rosters onto various teams in the LEC. However, this will be one of the first times that an ERL team is doing this with imported players.
A roster like this does not come cheap, especially not for an organization that’s existed for a single year. In June of 2021, X7 unveiled a partnership with the Isle of Man government, which helped fund an undefeated run through UK’s grassroots tournament, the UKEL.
We're incredibly excited to announce our sponsorship of the Isle of Man's first professional esports Org, @X7 Esports! Read more: https://t.co/qViJKknClz#esports #isleofman #esportsnews pic.twitter.com/C0jZ5gbKPU
— Digital Isle of Man (@DigitalIOM) June 14, 2021
However, this NLC roster is significantly more expensive than the roster the organization fielded for the UKEL. They have increased their investment in League of Legends massively, but Hyrav is quick to assert that the org’s NLC team isn’t being bankrolled by government funds.
“All the funding since we left the UKEL, including the acquisitions of Bulldog and Absolved, has come from me and a few other key investors,” he explained. “I’m putting a lot on the table to help grow the ecosystem.”
X7 are also looking to enter other esports outside of League. Explaining that competing in League of Legends “is not profitable and won’t be for a long time”, Hyrav said that the organization is looking to dip its toes into First-Person Shooter esports waters.
Will it pay off?
It is a gamble to bet everything on an ERL team, even more so on a team in the NLC, which will be operated by Freaks 4U Gaming in 2022. There has been an exodus of UK organizations from the region in recent months, with Fnatic CEO Sam Mathews explaining the decision to move their academy roster, Fnatic Rising, to the Superliga – through a partnership with Team Queso – with the competition’s attractiveness.
Yeah, it has.
We feel it's better to have more viewership/more competitive league to play in, as better players will want to play in that league. Aka better talent pool.
— Sam Mathews (@sammathews) September 3, 2021
Multiple teams have cited a lack of financial stability and investment in the region as their reason for departure, and yet here is a CEO betting his personal finances on an endeavor that has no guarantee of success.
“I’m very conscious that a large majority of the teams that would’ve been in the NLC have left for a number of reasons,” he explained, “whether they’ve lost trust in the region itself or the TO.”
With the new era of the NLC coming into effect this year, X7 aim to be “pioneers” in the region by “investing a considerable amount” into the new system and having faith in Freaks4U to be able to bring a level of popularity the NLC has been sorely lacking.
The NLC is one of the least popular ERLs in terms of viewership, despite having an all-English broadcast. In the Summer split, its peak viewership was a mere 9,519 viewers; a stark contrast to the LFL and Superliga, which peaked at 183,709 and 73,000 viewers respectively, according to statistics website EsportsCharts.
After some changes, the final teams for 2022 are now set! In Division 1, look forward to: @EXCEL @dustyiceland @SNG_Esports @RiddleEsports @Astralisgg @X7_Esports @VanirGG @MNMGaming @NYYRIKKIesports @Bifrost pic.twitter.com/zuaxdp4WoE
— NLC (@NLClol) December 21, 2021
It will take nothing short of a miracle for the NLC’s popularity to catch up to that of its more successful counterparts, and maybe the arrival of an ex-World champion is the miracle the region needs. Or at least, that’s X7’s plan.