I always imagine the jersey: its colors, the logo. The team’s name, Vape Treatment, wraps around the emblem on the front, all caps. The font’s something reasonable… Helvetica, maybe. The logo is a little abstract, a rendering of the breathing exercise apparatus I was gifted at the hospital. Two handles, like ears, frame the main tube, which acts as a game—you blow into a separate tube to keep the ball raised at a certain level. It’s called an incentive spirometer, and it’s supposed to keep your lungs healthy during recovery. My name’s on the back of the jersey, of course, though I’m not exactly part of my League of Legends fantasy team—just the illustrious owner.
The League of Legends fantasy draft for the North American Championship Series is just a few days before the summer season. I know the names of the teams, a few of the players’ handles, but I’m not a League of Legends fan. I don’t actually understand the genre—the MOBA, or multiplayer online battle arena. It’s a five-on-five game that takes place in a virtual area called the rift. League of Legends has nearly 150 playable characters, though only 10 different ones can play in a single game. It’s a free game, one that I’ve tried and failed to play. At a very base level, it’s a simple premise: the first to destroy the other team’s base wins. The challenge is in attacking the other team’s base while protecting your own, and in facing the unique obstacles that League of Legends’ different characters add to the game’s complexity.
Teams crash into each other, like miniature hockey fights, across the map. Sometimes it’s big, crushing battles—five-on-five—that leave one team totally overrun. Other times, the moments are smaller but just as significant, with one team sending out a single player, like a sniper, to take out the other team’s most essential player.
I don’t have very long before the draft begins to choose a name for my League of Legends team. I don’t have very much time to research the players, learn about the roles. A nurse knocks on the door, but comes in before I can answer. It’s not like I have privacy, anyway; my mom and dad are here, both sitting on the cot outstretched in the corner. (We’re lucky to get a cot, a hospital volunteer told us earlier, since they go quick on this floor.) My fiancé is there, too, tucked away in another corner. By then, we’d been engaged for just a few days, and still getting used to the titles.
The nurse is here with my vape treatment, sorry, the nebulizer, that’s become a staple in my care since I stopped being able to breathe.
Passing Out in Walgreens
There are two pages to my first hospital bill, the one from the hospital itself and not the doctors that work there. Each day is defined by the price—you can map my health by the way the numbers rise and fall. My first day, the emergency room visit, is not the most expensive of the visit, despite an extra charge for being a “high severity” patient with a “threat to life function.” The most extravagant day was a couple later, after I thought I’d stabilized, when I woke up unable to breathe normally. The oxygen levels in my blood dropped too low due to acute pulmonary edema, a side effect of the damage myocarditis did to my heart. I’d needed critical care, apparently, for 74 minutes, which added an extra $500 to my bill for the day.
I don’t know exactly how much the total bill cost; it hurt too much to tally up the total of all the charges I would eventually receive. I do know that I drained my savings account entirely, around $8,000, before I started to use my credit card. The rest of the amount was covered by my insurance, which, ironically, had been given to me by my employer, a competitive gaming news website, and switched on only days before I got sick.
My husband—then boyfriend-turned-fiancé—and I can joke about it now. We wouldn’t have gone on such an expensive vacation if we knew this was about to happen! Of course, it’s probably that expensive vacation, particularly the plane ride home, that’s to thank for my descent into sickness. A few hours before arriving home, the airline served breakfast. I chose porridge. He had something different, but I don’t know what. We can’t know for sure if that’s the moment I came in contact with the salmonella that would later infect my heart, though. We also ate at a local diner once we returned home to Somerville. There, I had pancakes and he had eggs.
I was fine for half a day home before the sickness hit. Then it was all shivers and sweats, vomiting and diarrhea—sometimes both! I passed out in Walgreens, somewhere between getting my medication and asking for the bathroom key, to the shock and horror of everyone in the store. I went to the walk-in clinic and then to the emergency room—for the first time—to get poked with an IV and rehydrated before I was sent home. Back to the bathroom floor, alternating between shivers and sweats.
The AD Carry
A League of Legends draft works the same way one for the NFL does. Participants pick in rounds until everyone’s filled out a roster of 10 players. There’s some strategy involved, of course—what roles to fill first, how to get all your desired players. But for me, largely unfamiliar with the competitive scene, it’s about the best names and stealing my colleagues’ top picks.
The nurse starts my nebulizer treatment just as we’re scheduled to start the draft. I’m already in a video call with my fellow drafters. All of them know I’m sick. Clearly, they can see I’m in the hospital. Most of them don’t know how bad. The nebulizer is the easiest part of my treatment, it just looks worse than it is—a turtle shell suctioned to my face—on top of the wires, tubes, and cords hanging behind me.
Someone pushes “Go” on the draft once the mask is strapped to my face. Puffs of smoke dramatically plume out of the nebulizer when I breathe. Someone makes a Darth Vader joke—maybe it’s me. We move on with the draft; the good thing about a timer is that you can’t focus on your sick coworker. When the draft starts, it can’t stop. Each participant has one minute for each pick. My first instinct is to choose a full team of players with animal names, so my first round pick is Jason “WildTurtle” Tran. Wildturtle plays a role called “AD carry” for a team named FlyQuest. I didn’t know what an AD carry was then, but I do now. (What else was I supposed to do during my six-month recovery?) AD stands for “attack damage,” which means the AD carry is playing offensively. The “carry” part of the role is a nod to its importance—the AD carry starts off fairly weak but will become so strong over the course of the match that they’ll hopefully be able to carry your team to victory.
League of Legends’ virtual arena, the rift, is split in two. Both sides are nearly identical, with three lanes each leading to the center of the map. One side is controlled by your team, the other by the enemy’s. The AD carry typically plays in the bottom lane—shortened to bot in League of Legends speak—with a support character assigned to protect the carry at all costs. The rest of the players on each team are assigned to roles according to their places on the map, too: top, mid, and jungler.
But the role that can change games? That’s the AD carry. And that’s why I like it so much.
I woke up early on Labor Day Monday still shivering and sweating, but now with additional pain in my chest. The pain was more like pressure, though, an anvil and not a knife. The force was so heavy I was sure my ribs would give way to the weight, and with a crack and squish my heart would pop.
The thing about chest pain is that it fast-tracks you in the emergency room—an un-fun version of Walt Disney World’s FastPass, a magical hospital band that propels you to the front of the line. Here’s the special treatment I got: an EKG, a portable ultrasound, multiple blood draws, a cheese sandwich, and two IV lines. The doctor said a lot of words, but once he started talking about my heart, I stopped listening.
He was the teacher and I was Charlie Brown.
Troponin. Wahwah wah, wah wah. Heart damage. Wahwahwah, wah. Wah, wahwah wah.
I didn’t ask if I was going to die, but I wanted to. My fiancé asked if the doctor could call my mom. He explained to her what troponin was (a protein in the blood) and what high levels meant (heart injury). And yes, she should drive up to Massachusetts immediately.
In 2013, WildTurtle joined one of North America’s best League of Legends teams, TSM. Playing against compLexity Gaming during the League of Legends Championship Series 2013 spring event, WildTurtle’s debut on the team, TSM was coming off a stagnant season. WildTurtle was a new addition to the team, a replacement for another AD carry who didn’t work with the roster. WildTurtle had always been known as an aggressive player, one who won’t settle back into complacency. Sometimes it’s gotten him into trouble, as he’s wandered out into mid-field without his support, looking to make a big play, only to get ganked—that’s League of Legends speak for a surprise attack—by an enemy player.
That wasn’t the case in his first big game, the one that shot him into contention as one of League of Legends’ most prominent players. More than 30 minutes into the match, TSM and compLexity are near equal in points and kills, each only one potential fight away from winning the game. It’s TSM that makes the first break, through the bottom lane, to compLexity’s base. Both teams have all their ultimates—the big, flashy power moves that can turn games around in an instant—when they collide. The screen is a mess of colors and numbers, spells flying and characters slashing away with virtual weapons.
But there’s WildTurtle at the back, tap-tap-tapping away on his mouse to unleash ranged shots at the enemy. With the compLexity players low on health thanks to assistance from the rest of TSM, WildTurtle is able to eliminate each of his enemies one-by-one, all five wiped off the map by a click of his mouse. It’s called a pentakill, and yes, it’s very impressive.
TSM’s match against compLexity was a turning point for the team that struggled to get itself out of third place in the overall standings. They’d always been good, but they hadn’t been able to unseat the teams above them in the rankings. Each subsequent week after WildTurtle’s arrival on TSM, the team had marginally better results—until the 10th week, where they shot to the top with a 21-7 record.
No one Choose Piglet
I’ve announced my intention to create a League of Legends fantasy team that purely consists of players with animal names. As I’m scrolling through the list, another nurse arrives, the one who comes in every few hours to poke my belly with a needle. I turn the laptop away from me, but not before giving a warning: No one choose Piglet! Chae “Piglet” Gwang-jin, then playing for an organization called Team Liquid, is a bot laner like WildTurtle. I certainly didn’t need another AD carry at this point, but there are barely enough North American League of Legends players with animal names to fill my team.
Almost immediately, someone else chooses Piglet.
The nurse pinches my belly and pulls up as much skin as she can find. She’s dodging the bruises that already dot my skin. She gives me these shots of heparin, a blood thinner, every few hours to prevent blood clots; anyone that’s in the hospital and laying down for an extended stay is given the medication.
My computer makes a sound. Not a beep or a ring, but a sound like a sword hitting steel. I think you’re up, the nurse laughed. (She’s right.) But you’ve got to go for a walk first. (Dang it.) Before I could turn the laptop back towards me, she was disconnecting the wires that kept me tangled to the bed. It’s useless to argue with the nurse, so auto-draft it is. With the auto-drafting system, if you don’t pick within a minute, the drafting system will choose the next best player, points-wise, for you.
My walk is more like a shuffle. Each breath in is a little easier because of the nebulizer. I wonder who’ll be on my team when I return.
The Next Six Months
The League of Legends Championship Series’ 2017 summer event begins a day after I leave the hospital, but FlyQuest—WildTurtle’s team—doesn’t play until the next day. I’m happy with my team, a mix of players chosen for me and those I ended up randomly plucking from the list: guys named Ssumday, Trashy, Hai, Doublelift, and Olleh. But only one of them’s got an animal name, and that’s WildTurtle.
My mom moves up to Massachusetts for a week or two to care for me outside of the hospital. There’s a laundry list of things I’m urged not to do until my six-month recovery is up, but at this point, I’m not exactly up to trying any of them anyway. I can hardly walk to the bathroom without losing my breath. And so I watch League of Legends. My mom does, too. It’s impossible to watch all the matches in a week, because there are 10, so we watch WildTurtle. We watch him lose twice in week one and once more in week two before my mom’s got to go home. Neither of us can really parse the action.
The League of Legends Championship Series continues its regular summer season for eight weeks. Each week, something gets knocked off my “Don’t” list. FlyQuest and WildTurtle win only six of their 18 games and don’t make it through to the next stage.
Vape Treatment, my fantasy team, fared worse: we won no games. Most of the time, it wasn’t even close. But League of Legends became something of a constant in my life, a life that now had limitations. I read online after the fact that the 2017 summer season was the first time that WildTurtle didn’t make the event’s playoffs since he joined the league. I learned it was his first event with the team; he joined FlyQuest only days before the League of Legends Championship Series’ summer event began. He’s still on FlyQuest now, a staple in a mostly-new roster.
He told an interviewer last year, I think struggling on FlyQuest really opened my eyes. He’s trying not to look back at the past with fear or contempt. I’m trying to do that, too.
Nicole Carpenter is a writer and reporter based in Massachusetts. Follow her on Twitter @sweetpotatoes.
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