The Northern Frontier: NVision Esports’ incredible journey through UK League of Legends in 2020

NVision

As UKLC spring semi-finalists, UKLC summer champions and NLC Fall Open runners-up, NVision Esports have had a strong year.

Megalodontus looks back on NVision’s achievements and speaks to members of the team to reflect on their achievements and ethos.

When one thinks of League of Legends organisations within the UK and Ireland, who immediately comes to mind?

It has to be Fnatic, who opened their London HQ a few years back, and Excel Esports, based out of Twickenham Stadium.

But when you take a step back from the glitz, glamour and glory of the LEC, who else is there?

In the lower-tier regional leagues, where stability and consistency are often rare commodities, one team rose from near obscurity to make a splash big enough to wet the lips of many skeptics and spectators alike: NVision Esports.

As UKLC spring semi-finalists, UKLC summer champions and NLC Fall Open runners-up, NVision has had nothing short of an incredible year, and it would be remiss of us not to recount their journey through the often grim times of 2020.

Excel-lent Inspiration

The name ‘NVision Esports’ was first seen in 2019, where they qualified for the now defunct Forge of Champions tournament.

NVision would eventually be promoted to the UKLC, then run by LVP, by taking down DarkSpawn Gaming.

Founded by Simon ‘viCey’ Vinson and Stuart ‘StueyB’ Butcher, the club’s roots are firmly entrenched in Preston, but their inspiration came from elsewhere.

“The idea of starting NVision actually came from Excel’s success,” Stuart says. “After Excel got into the LEC and we heard their story about how they did it, we kinda thought, why don’t we give it a go?”

“To reach the final of the NLC Fall Open is an incredible achievement for any roster, but to do it against all odds and to be playing so well in six weeks was truly special.”

FireVortex

Simon agrees and elaborates further: “I remember Stu and I got talking one day, I believe it was about Worlds 2018 to be exact, and Stu made a passing comment that one of his high school friends was in connection with someone who owned an esports organisation in London, which as you can guess, turned out to be Kieran Homes-Darby of Excel. 

“At the time we were thinking, rather naively: ‘How hard could it be?’

“Little did I know, yeah… it’s pretty hard!”

Following the often disastrous musings of Jeremy Clarkson, NVision Esports were born. However, their entry into the UKLC for 2019 summer was, to put it lightly, unmemorable. The side were relegated from the UKLC in November 2019.

Another newcomer – Demise – had done considerably better and were a more hopeful prospect. Many did not expect to see NVision return in 2020. 

But what a return it would be.

Chasing the crown

NVision entered the UKLC, now run by DreamHack, by taking the spot of Diabolus Esports.

From their campaign in summer, they were not given much of a glance to make an impact until they signed a roster that many were hoping could don the mantle of ‘academy killers’.

They had an uneven regular split but started to gel nearing playoffs, where they ultimately fell to a still unbeaten BT Excel, the team that inspired their foray into the LoL esports scene.

Nevertheless, one series away from making the European Masters (EUM) was an achievement they could build upon. Which was exactly what they did for the UKLC 2020 Summer Season, starting with their coach: James ‘FireVortex’ Warren.

“It didn’t take us too long to decide we wanted FireVortex back. He fits so well into the org, we see eye to eye on pretty much everything,” Stuart says. 

FireVortex adds: “When the offer came through from Stuart and Simon it was easy to say yes. I really enjoy working with them both, they have been incredibly supportive of my ideas and coaching and I cannot thank them enough.”

And indeed, even NVision’s process selection was further polished, as Simon explains: “For UKLC summer, our trial process was considerably more rigorous and thorough than it had been. We held in-house 5v5 tryouts for two and a half long weeks, and it was a really informative process, not just to decide the better player mechanically and mentally, but to also make sure they would mesh well with their peers, personality-wise.”

Some of NVision’s players had limited competitive experience, and very few knew what to make of them at all, let alone put a tenner on them to become champions, especially when compared with rosters such as London Esports, Munster Rugby Gaming Academy and Demise. 

But as we know, the organisation lived up to their namesake and foresaw a vision of victory from the very beginning, with FireVortex echoing Simon’s thoughts: “With the new challenge of the ULKC, I felt I needed to learn a whole scene in just over a month, as I had been coaching in the DACH region for most of my career, so we held open trials. We took feedback from all the players who trialled – and those that performed well ultimately made the team.

“I believe our summer roster ‒Efan, Alexx, BBMuffin, Spark and Nash‒ all had potential to win the UKLC before we even started.

“The challenge we faced was finding a team identity and still being able to play to our strengths even if the opponents target banned one of our players. 

“Once we found our identity, the players already had the talent and became unstoppable for the rest of the season. 

“If only Telia Masters was not the day after the UKLC final, alas.”

All in the mind

As the light of summer softly fades, the gentle breeze of fall greets us with a tranquil kiss (if you’ve been out, at least). NVision would participate in the first ever NLC Fall Open, and despite their roster again being heavily underrated, they would make it all the way to the grand finals against Barrage, eventually losing 3-1.

“Our NLC Fall roster – Icebreaker, Music, Twiizt, Kadaver, PederseNN – were another incredible roster to coach. To reach the final of the NLC Fall Open is an incredible achievement for any roster, but to do it against all odds and to be playing so well in six weeks was truly special,” FireVortex reminisces. 

Though, perhaps it was proving the naysayers wrong which excited him the most: “To have a year like this is truly humbling, but in the same sentence to prove most wrong put a very cheeky smirk on my face.”

Their current results are testament to NVision’s commitment to doing things the right way, from recruitment to translating that into tangible boons.

Many have sung their praises in recent times, but perhaps one of their more overlooked contributions to recent success is not just hiring an astute coach or implementing a reworked approach to roster building. 

Laura Swettenham, a sports/performance psychologist, was announced to be joining the team on July 3rd, approximately in the middle of the UKLC summer’s regular split.

With a background in traditional sports, such as her current tenure with the Blackburn Rovers Academy, Laura was enthusiastic about trying her hand in a field that has always fascinated her.

“NVision is definitely the best thing out of the COVID-19 pandemic for me, since my applied work decreased due to COVID,” Laura recounts. “Esports is something I’ve wanted to work in since I started training, and when I saw adverts on the BBC for UKLC summer I decided it would be a great time to try and get involved.”

While initially challenging due to her limited knowledge on how LoL functioned, she adapted and was able to implement her expertise in helping to guide NVision onto the right path: “I worked closely with FireVortex and the players, and drew on a lot of FireVortex’s experience of LoL to support the development of the psychology programme for the players and the staff, in order to ensure we were targeting areas that would be impactful. 

“The processes I led were across three areas: individual work with players, team workshops and work with coaches and staff. For me, an important part of sport psychology is creating a psychologically informed environment (as psychology is for everyone!), meaning psychology can be implemented in the day-to-day workings of the team by coaches and staff.

“For example, developing awareness of each other’s strengths, and how these strengths can be overplayed or underplayed and turned into a weakness – especially when under pressure.”

With many top organisations in esports seeing the benefits of of sports psychologists, this has led to an influx in demand in a field many do not yet fully understand.

“We can argue that traditional sport psychology is still within its infancy, and esports certainly is! There are some fantastic people out there researching in this space at the moment, which will take time to build and develop,” Laura says.

However, she also cautions against hiring a sports psychologist without a clear goal in mind: “I do think there can be a misunderstanding about the role of a sport psychologist. I have seen roles in the past where organisations have been asking for one individual to be a psychologist, nutritionist and strength & conditioning (S&C) coach all in one! I simply don’t believe it is possible to do to a high enough standard, as they are all professional positions in their own right.”

The road up north

Going into 2021, the climate for esports looks uncertain, especially for the smaller teams residing in the regional leagues. However, the lessons learnt from their 2020 endeavours will be more than just decorative baubles, hung on the shelf to be forgotten.

For both NVision’s owners, these precious experiences will further fuel their ambitions to light a blaze upon their trail towards the NLC.

“Until we break into the NLC, it will always be our goal. It was our goal for 2020 too, but unfortunately, we fell short in the Telia Masters tournament and it wasn’t to be,” Simon recalls.   

NVision continue to soldier on, striving to build an organisation based on what Stuart and Simon set out to do, while trying to cement their hold in the North of the UK.

Perhaps the rivalry with fellow Northern team Barrage will be a more prestigious affair in the future, especially after the Fall Open final battle. 

“For me, an important part of sport psychology is creating a psychologically informed environment, meaning psychology can be implemented in the day-to-day workings of the team by coaches and staff.”

Laura

For Simon, he can’t wait to claim the title of ‘King in the North’ from Barrage: “It’s not often you get to represent your hometown or ‘The North’ as people like to call it! To show that success is attainable up here is really awesome, and I hope it inspires fellow gamers around these parts to do the same.”

And for Stuart, his (N)vision for the team is much closer to home: “I honestly just want to give people a chance to be a part of a team, and make sure that NVision can be a place where they strive in whatever goals they have, because I never had that opportunity to grow up in gaming.”

The future of NVision: What the org members say

No one knows what will happen tomorrow, if the pandemic will end, if Brexit will make esports a more untenable venture, or some other unforeseen event that forces teams to make hard decisions. As such, we leave the final word for NVision’s year to their dedicated staff. 


Stuart: “It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster but overall I’m thrilled with the progress that we have made over the last year. I think just having the time and the right staff in place to work out a few issues and continually learn from our mistakes, has created a fantastic team environment.

NLC will always be the goal for our league team and I think we are on track to at least make the promotion games next split. We would also love to branch out into another esport sometime in 2021.”

Simon: “To think, we weren’t really a proper ‘org’ at the start of 2019 and now we have won the UKLC and contended for first place in the NLC Fall Open… it’s really quite amazing and puts everything into perspective. We are hoping with the restructured match schedule in 2021, we will make the NLC playoffs and hopefully meet our Northern rivals once again.”

FireVortex: “Spuds and Laura were instrumental in their areas of coaching, and work especially hard to meet the needs of the team. I cannot speak highly enough about each of them in their respective fields. 

I have been exploring options. In no way does this reflect the relationship I have with NVision and I would also be very happy to stay with NVision. My ambition is to be the head coach of an LEC academy or an NLC team.”

Laura: “My experience has been only positive with NVision’s management, staff and players. Knowing very little about the game when I first started, Stuart and Simon made sure to answer all of my rookie questions.

If anyone is looking for a sport psychologist I would suggest looking for practitioners who are accredited or on a training route, such as the British Psychological Society (BPS) and British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences (BASES), and engaged with supervised practice. We must remember that, ultimately, we are working with peoples’ minds and we must ensure that best practice is taking place.” 


You can follow NVision on Twitter here

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