Fnatic are one of the most popular European esports teams
As a young child Daniel “Dan” Hockley dreamed of being a professional footballer.
Like many who have the same dream, those ideas faded as he moved into secondary school and realised how unlikely his aspirations were, but now, aged 23, he is just one step away from reaching the biggest stage in another sport, League of Legends.
Hockley plays on Fnatic Rising, the development roster for the most successful European League of Legends team in history, who are undefeated so far in this summer’s Northern League Championship (NLC) with an 8-0 record and are eying a clean sweep in the group stage before the play-offs in August.
The step up to a main roster in the League of Legends European Championship (LEC) is the ultimate goal for all European players. It’s akin to making it into the Premier League or Formula 1, and now Hockley is loudly knocking on the door trying to take that last step through to the promised land.
Hockley started to play League of Legends just as it was picking up a massive player base around the world, and he was intrigued by this new game that was bringing in millions of players. He gave it a try, not knowing that, eventually, the game would become his path to stardom.
“To begin with I didn’t actually enjoy the game too much so I went back to playing games on console, primarily Call of Duty and Fifa,” says Hockley. “After some time passed I saw that my brother was playing League a bit, so I decided to give it another shot and play it with him.”
Playing alongside his brother made Hockley fall in love with League of Legends, and he continued to play right through his time in school. As time passed he managed to climb the in-game ranks, and eventually he and some friends decided to compete in community tournaments.League of Legends: Aux, Hiprain & Troubleinc simply explain game
Before long he was being scouted by the Unicorns of Love, a top team in the European region, and was invited to join.
Other players on UoL at the time included Kiss “Vizicsacsi” Tamas and Zdravets “Hylissang” Iliev Galabov, who have both gone on to successful careers at the very top level of one of the world’s biggest esports.
But Hockley was in a difficult position: he was still in education, and trying to balance the two was not easy. Eventually, he chose to stick with school, leaving UoL and pushing his career back by a few years to secure good qualifications.
But unlike most of us, he knew that as soon as he finished education he would be going straight into pro LoL, and never even had to look for a normal job.
“I went into professional League of Legends as soon as I finished school, but I was already competing semi-professionally for around three years alongside studying,” says Hockley.
Hockley eventually found his way to the Fnatic Rising squad, the development roster for the most successful European League of Legends team in history.
“I was scouted by [former coach] Joey “YoungBuck” Steltenpool and recommended to them by [Fnatic coach] Nicholas “NicoThePico” Korsgard as an experienced UK player who could help build and lead the project,” says Hockley.
“I had previously been on Fnatic Academy for a short stint in spring 2017, so I was familiar with the organisation and some staff members. For me, it was the obvious choice to rejoin Fnatic.”Fnatic’s main roster were runners-up at the 2018 League of Legends World Championship
The Fnatic academy team is perhaps the best place he could be outside the top tier at this stage of his career. The NLC, which combines the best teams from the UK, Nordic countries and Ireland, provides some of the highest level of competition outside of the LEC.
As far as things go in League of Legends this is a great place to be, but for Hockley, this is ideally a stepping stone to bigger and better things.
“Initially when franchising was announced [in the LEC] I thought that being on an academy roster would be the best route into that level,” says Hockley. “Also for my development as a player, because it would provide a unique opportunity to scrim against the main team and speak to players/coaches with more experience than I was used to working with.
“I think based on last summer when I spent the split with our LEC team, I am good enough to compete in the LEC. That’s my goal. However, stepping into a team that is considered top two in Europe from an academy team, I think is far more difficult than joining an academy of a lower-ranked team and progressing there.”
The roster has provided some much-needed stability and experience for Hockley, but now he feels ready to take the next step in his career and become one of the best players in Europe.
The payday that would bring for him if he successfully navigated a career in the LEC would have life-changing implications, but while most will look at the big money and pray they make it, Hockley is more bothered about winning, like any top athlete.
“Certainly a promotion into the LEC comes with financial incentives. However, for me, this is a secondary thought,” says Hockley. “I have wanted to be able to prove myself at the top level my entire career and I’m hoping to get that chance in 2021.”
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