How Marcus "Dyrus" Hill overcame his shy nature and slow Hawaiian internet speeds to become an elite gamer
How Marcus "Dyrus" Hill overcame his shy nature and slow Hawaiian internet speeds to become an elite gamer
It's the 2015 League of Legends World Championships, and Marcus "Dyrus" Hill is struggling to give his final speech as Team SoloMid's top laner. Technically speaking, his team has already been knocked out of the tournament a few games ago, but with this final, no-stakes loss to the Chinese team LGD Gaming, it looks like Hill won't even go out on a high note. Standing on the stage with the broadcast reporter Eefje "Sjokz" Depoortere, Hill is at a loss for words. He scrunches his nose to keep from falling apart after her first question. 4.2 million people are watching around the globe.
"Unfortunately, on my side, I wasn't able to perform when it most mattered, and –" his signature monotone voice wavers, "I'm really sorry to all of my fans, that I let you down."
Throughout his final season, Hill has been stretched to his breaking point. The forum posts blaming him for TSM's struggles have shot his reputation. His undeniable misplays at the World Championships have shot his confidence. He's poured out everything, focused all his emotional energy on winning, and now that it's over, his composure finally gives out.
In front of hundreds of European fans, an ocean away from home, Hill breaks down crying. Depoortere places a hand on his shoulder. For a second, the room goes quiet, and then, in a moment worthy of any all-time classic sports reel, the crowd starts chanting Hill's name.
He looks around the room, lifts up his hand, and smiles.
Two years later, this is not the moment he remembers when he looks back on his retirement.
THE MAKING OF DYRUS
Most of the time, Marcus Hill is quiet, shy, even sedate. It's not that he's anxious about interacting with people – he streams League with a candor most would reserve for their closest friends – but he spends a lot of time in his own head. "I'm not able to give commentary every single time I play because I'm really focused on the game," he says, "so when I think of something to talk about, I just talk about it no matter what it is."
As a kid growing up in Oahu, Hawaii, Hill mostly kept to himself, and he'd opt to stick around in his room getting good at games like Halo 2 and SOCOM: US Navy SEALs instead of playing outdoors with kids from the neighborhood. Eventually, he spotted an ad for League of Legends and climbed to the top with his two favorite champions, the hard-hitting hypercarry Jax, and the poison damage-dealing top laner Singed. In the higher ranks, he became known for two things: his "trolly" tendencies like binding the laugh emote to a button on the keyboard and spamming it, and his penchant for raging in ranked games when his teammates didn't carry their weight.
"I understood him very well because I had the same mentality," TSM founder and Hill's former teammate Andy "Reginald" Dinh tells me. "We weren't angry people, we just expected players around us to play at our skill level... We were fueled by competitiveness."
Outside of League, Hill finished high school and like most other people his age, struggled to adjust after graduation. During the day he'd work at his dad's plumbing company as an apprentice – a job he hated – and at night he'd hop on Ventrilo game chat with high-profile players like Dan and Andy Dinh, slowly working to become one of the world's best League players. Despite his skill and popularity in the community, Hill's day job and slow Hawaiian internet put a hard cap on his ability to reach pro status. But his friends were out making moves, and eventually, Andy invited him to come live in his gaming apartment in New York. After playing in the house for Andy's brother Dan's team, a spot opened up on TSM, and the rest of Hill's career took off from there.
"When I started out, I just played for fun," Dyrus says. In those early days, it wasn't just about winning or losing: it was about the sportsmanlike drive to "play, have fun, face off against good competition, and have a good match." That motive, still uninhibited by corporate interests and multimillion-dollar stakes, gave Dyrus and TSM a symbolic grassroots magnetism that was hard not to root for.
When it comes to iconic teams, basketball has the '95 Bulls, baseball has the '98 Yankees, and League has 2013 Team SoloMid. It may not have been the best TSM roster from a raw skill standpoint, but the team dominated the NA scene and came to embody the League zeitgeist in all its chaos and excitement. At the time, nothing was established, organizations worked like dysfunctional families, and "esports" as a whole felt like a grand experiment that could fall apart at any moment. In those days, Hill would show up to World Championship games in a t-shirt and light-wash jeans, and it seemed perfectly normal that Andy Dinh – now listed on Forbes' 30 under 30 list for gaming – could successfully pull off triple duty as TSM's mid laner, coach, and owner. Even though the League audience was massive enough to sell out the Staples Center in less than an hour, there existed few organizational barriers between team and community.
"It was kind of the glory days," former TSM jungler Brian "TheOddOne" Wyllie tells me. He and Hill always got along as teammates, and back then, they lived in a post-graduation nirvana where all they had to do was play League, hang out with friends, stream, and ignore everything else. One time, Wyllie tells me, the team's swimming pool turned green; not because they forgot to hire a pool guy, but because they didn't even realize it was something that needed to be done. Another time, Hill accidentally left a meal in the microwave for 40 minutes (thinking he'd set the timer for four), and went off to take a shower. When he got back, the kitchen had filled with smoke and a swarm of fire trucks were waiting outside.
It was pure immaturity, but that was the appeal. Watching Hill and his friends act like fools in a massive, gorgeous house felt like you were getting away with something just by watching them. "I don't know if it would ever happen again," Wyllie says. "I think we had something pretty special."
But the structurelessness had its trade-offs, like the complete lack of protocol in the face of issues like player burnout and escalating team conflicts. Since almost every interaction was captured on stream, there are still video records of ugly, personal arguments between teammates – which, to be fair, is something you should probably expect when a group of stubborn teenagers live and run a competitive organization together. "As with any family, you'd get in a really big argument and after a few hours, or maybe a day, it'd go away," Andy Dinh says. "I think just taking a step back as I got older, I started to see things from other people's perspective. I think Dyrus learned that too, and it helped us communicate better as we grew up."
Over time, the structure of TSM and League of Legends as an esport would evolve into something altogether more buttoned-up: Andy stepped down from his spot on the roster and became Hill's primary confidante, and TSM grew into a marquee brand across multiple high-profile games. But while the scene's stakes began to skyrocket, Hill's demeanor stayed the same, and soon enough, League of Legends had grown into something bigger than he was ready to confront.
"Playing League professionally is like, you get a lot of development in one area, and you put a pause on a certain area," Hill's former coach and house-mate Dan Dinh says. "Specifically, one of Dyrus' shortcomings is that he's really quiet and doesn't express things. He bottles everything up, and then he explodes."
In season four, Hill's self-proclaimed best era as a player, success came accompanied by loads of bottled-up stress. According to Hill, that season, he tunnel-visioned so hard on winning that it damaged his ability to communicate with his teammates. "It was like balancing between being really toxic and good, or getting really good, and getting complacent and then falling behind again," he says.
The mounting tensions finally came to a head in season five. In retrospect, Hill's performance wasn't bad – he and his teammates did well enough to once again qualify for the World Championships – but Hill's remote position as top laner only intensified his sense of isolation from his teammates. "When Dyrus played, top lane was, you sit there, you survive, you pressure," Dan Dinh tells me. "That's a big aspect of what I connect to Dyrus especially. He hates being a liability. He has to hold his own."
In one scrimmage against the ROX Tigers (known as the KOO Tigers back then), Hill smashed his opposing top laner Song "Smeb" Kyung-ho with the carry champion Darius. But when TSM ultimately lost the game because of the Tigers' superior macro-level play, he found it hard to shake the feeling that he was a liability. "Sometimes, moments like those kind of break the way I play, because I'm trying to find the best way to carry the game, but I focus too much on that instead of trying to help my teammates. I would put too much pressure on myself instead of doing what I could to win."
With Hill's mediocre performance during the group stage of the World Championships, the armchair pundits of Reddit had officially turned on him. It wasn't 2013 anymore, and slipping up on the international stage meant shaming the region and reneging on the unwritten contract a fan enters into when choosing to support a team. People called for his retirement.
Even though it was the stress that eventually got to Hill, Andy says it was League's rapid evolution as an esport that made things difficult. "I think Dyrus' biggest issue in the game was that as Riot changed things to be more communicative and focused on teamwork, it put Dyrus in the situation where it was harder and harder for him to play the game," he says. "He was a really good laner, he was really mechanically talented, but when it came to communication, he had a really hard time learning the game."
Even Hill's late-night discussions with Andy weren't enough to rekindle his morale. Things had changed too much, and he no longer got the sense of fulfillment from pro play that he used to. "I got really burnt out and I tried my best, but I lost it from being overloaded on stress."
In typical fashion, with as little fanfare as possible, Hill announced his retirement in a two-word comment on a Reddit thread about another player's plans to leave League after the World Championships: "same honestly."
It's 2017, and Marcus Hill is still streaming League of Legends for 10 hours a day. It's easy to wonder why he still does it. If you catch him during an off game, you'll find that he has no qualms talking about his levels of frustration or tilt – units of self-measurement he seems to have down to a science. "I'm honestly sick of the game," he tells me when I ask why he continues to play, "but I still have fun playing it because I'm good at it."
In a lot of ways, the initiative he takes in opening up is a sign of personal growth for Hill, and his old reflex to leave frictions unexamined is something he's worked a long time to fix. "If I knew [back then] what I know now in terms of recovering and resetting my mindset – whether it's drinking a coffee or getting a massage, or just stepping back and instead of focusing so much on mechanical play, focusing more on team play, it could have been a lot different," he says.
He's practicing that new mindset outside of his stream, too. When it was announced just a few weeks ago that Hill would be playing on Echo Fox's low-commitment, ragtag Challenger Series team with other beloved former pros like Joedat "Voyboy" Esfahani and Michael "Imaqtpie" Santana, it was hard to tell whether the group would destroy the competition or fail miserably. So far, the team's win percentage suggests the latter, but even when Dyrus fails to dominate in his former top lane role, his instinct is to reach out, to put his mental roadblocks in words, and to address his stress the moment he feels it.
"Sorry for the games, I'm just gonna get off now," Hill tells his teammate Joedat "Voyboy" Esfahani after a demoralizing duo-queue game where he finishes with one kill and eight deaths.
"Don't sweat it, man. We'll get it next time," Esfahani replies.
Thinking he's hung up on his voice call with Esfahani, Hill sounds defeated, and he addresses his viewers to wrap up his stream: "Sorry guys, I'm done today. I'm just gonna play some off-stream and just call it a day."
But Esfahani is still on the call.
"Hey, you're a beast, dude," he chimes in. "Don't beat yourself up too hard, it's just a game."
The capacity to actually stop playing when he's on tilt is a new luxury for Hill. But these days, it's just not worth it for him to emotionally commit himself to something that'll take more from him than it gives back. Right now, he's dedicated a lot of effort to making his life as laid-back as possible. From his housing arrangement with his girlfriend, his agent, and TheOddOne in Austin, Texas, to his no-pressure plan to stream until it's no longer a viable option, simplicity is happiness. If there's one thing he likes more than playing games online with his friends, it's "getting food, sitting down, and watching TV while eating."
While Hill may have left his post as a committed member of the League of Legends pro scene, his career left a mark on one of its most influential organizations and, in turn, the scene as a whole. "He really helped invent the culture for TSM in terms of being a friendship-oriented organization," Andy Dinh says. "The time I spent with Dyrus on the team, we really enjoyed ourselves. I think those were probably the best times of our lives."
And that's the thing: maybe those really were the best times of their lives. But things moved so fast in that era it was hard to comprehend what was going on, much less savor it, and in a matter of months, the "glory days" had given way to something bigger, something different. At the very least, Hill's time on TSM gave him a sense of perspective about what made him happy and what stressed him out, and it taught him how to try and make the most of both. "All I've ever wanted to do was to make people happy," he says. "Over time, that evolved into some kind of 'I don't give a shit' personality, but I still care... so I'm gonna keep doing what I'm doing until people stop watching. And I'm gonna keep doing my best at it."