Lawrence “eXyu” Xu has got his chance.
After his free-agency announcement blew up on Twitter, the former Cal League of Legends player was handpicked by Cloud9 CEO Jack Etienne to jungle for C9 Amateur. The team is C9’s first incarnation of a tier-two roster, designed to pick out and train the future stars of the League of Legends Championship Series, or LCS.
Xu has made the ideal first step, by any aspiring pro’s standards: He has full-time coaches, LCS veterans for mentors and the backing of one of North America’s most prestigious esports organizations. It’s the dream: a hard-won opportunity to prove that he deserves not just this chance but more.
Before he withdrew from school and caught C9’s attention, the 18-year-old jungler was balancing a full course load at UC Berkeley, weekly College League of Legends matches and 41 hours of practice a week.
“As long as the (Cal Esports Community Center) was open, I was in there. Then, when it was closed, I would be trying to grind out whatever classwork I had,” Xu said. “Without that burden, my schedule can be a lot healthier. I can take more breaks, focus more on my mental health and then actually use 100% of my energy on improving (my) game.”
Xu, who would be a junior at Cal if he were still attending, hit Diamond (approximately the 97th percentile of all League players) when he was in middle school. He thought about playing professionally in those early days, but his parents advised him to focus on his studies.
When he got to college, his taste for competition only grew — playing for Cal’s top League of Legends team ultimately convinced him to try going pro.
“Playing collegiate, scrimming every day and playing in matches that were actually worth a good chunk of money, … the whole experience was really exhilarating,” Xu said. “I actually enjoyed grinding and learning more about the game, which is something that honestly didn’t apply to school. But when I played League and studied the game and worked with my teammates, I really found my home.”
Xu also made time to compete in the tier-two circuit, playing for two now-defunct amateur teams in the span of two years. Even with his mix of competitive experience, playing under an organization such as C9 is a completely different world.
“The biggest difference is that the scrim blocks aren’t, ‘OK, you get on and you play and then leave.’ We have a lot of mental health stuff that we do. We do meditation, we do finger stretches together, warmups and VOD reviews between games,” Xu said. “That level of professionalism is really nice.”
Xu is highly appreciative of the resources that C9 Amateur affords him — he’s no stranger to playing on scrappy teams. The competitive League program at Cal is entirely volunteer-run: Students do all the coaching, schedule every scrim, run tryouts and more.
Even so, Cal League of Legends has earned some competitive success. With Xu on board, the team made the top four in the College League of Legends West Conference and won first place at DreamHack Anaheim’s collegiate tournament last year. But even for the most robust of collegiate programs, it’s unusual for competing students to be scouted for professional play.
Despite that standard, two collegiate veterans will go straight to the LCS in 2021. During the offseason, the Golden Guardians announced the signing of Aiden “Niles” Tidwell and Ethan “Iconic” Wilkinson, a top-jungle duo from Maryville University.
Xu hopes the move spells change for the popular perception of the collegiate scene.
“There’s a lot of players in collegiate who are extremely talented but are held back by the fact that collegiate is constantly disrespected and looked down upon compared to the amateur scene,” Xu said. “Maryville did a crazy job of showing the world that they were wrong about collegiate and that it’s possible to be a student and a good competitor at the same time. I think what Maryville did is really, really impressive, and I hope that they set the tone for collegiate programs in the future.”
Looking ahead to 2021, C9 Amateur will compete for the chance to enter the LCS Proving Grounds, the highest-level competition in North America outside of the LCS itself. The qualifying tournaments will begin in January 2021.
In the meantime, Xu has set some goals of his own.
“Right now, I’m kind of just focused on going through the progression. Hopefully, by the end of the amateur season, I’ll either get an Academy or LCS offer. From there, the goal would be to win NA LCS and then eventually do as well as we can at Worlds.”
Pretty ambitious, no?
“Yeah,” Xu laughs.