Three weeks before the College League of Legends Championship, UC Irvine mid laner Jeffrey "Descraton" Du spent his Friday morning studying a different kind of ADC.
Instead of breaking down VODs of opposing AD carries, Descraton (pronounced "DESS-crah-ton") was one of roughly 75 UCI students attending Dr. Fadi Kurdahi's lecture on Analog to Digital Converters-small electronic circuits that translate analog inputs (like voltage) into readable 1s and 0s. It had nothing to do with preparing to defend his school's national title against Columbia College this coming Friday, and everything to do with completing his Computer Engineering major on time.
"The world around us is analog," Kurdahi began, his explanation of the conversion process washing across the quarter-full Engineering Hall. As the talk shifted to flash ADCs, a particularly fast type of converter, Descraton scribbled down the finer points into his notebook, taking advantage of a coveted left-handed seat he'd been on the lookout to secure. Kurdahi's hour-long hardware class was Descraton's third of the day, followed by a Parallel Computer Systems' midterm that he bombed.
Descraton spent the morning racing around Irvine's sun-kissed campus in 10-minute gaps between classes, never straying far from Engineering Plaza until his scholastic appoints ended in the early afternoon. Only then did the quiet third-year jump on a PC at the campus Esports Arena and boot up the League client for some solo queue before the night's upcoming scrim block.
For now, Descraton's priorities are clear: classes first, Summoner's Rift second.
"The biggest thing for me is time management," Descraton said. "I have this many homework assignments, this is my timeframe in which I have to do them, and I have to make sure I have enough time to complete [them]. Outside of that, with the remaining amount of time I have, I should practice League."
Descraton heard about the varsity League of Legends team after he earned admittance into UCI in 2016. He tried out for a scholarship slot that fall, and after three evaluative sessions under the eye of then-Team Dignitas support Alex "Xpecial" Chu, Descraton was placed on the school's second team behind mid laner Jung "Youngbin" Young-bin. When Youngbin left for a stint on Team Liquid in the middle of the 2017 season, Descraton was promoted to the varsity side, and he held onto the mid lane spot even when Youngbin eventually returned.
It was jarring for the kid who was raised in the isolation of solo queue to suddenly find himself bumping shoulders with proven professionals. AD carry James "Lattman" Lattman and support Lyubomir "BloodWater" Spasov had seen serious playing time in the North American League Championship Series, with BloodWater competing at the Season 3 world championships on Team Vulcun. Whatever chemistry and confidence Descraton had built with the B team eroded when he was promoted, forcing the naturally shy freshman lower on the shotcalling totem pole. Descraton found his voice in time, helped by Youngbin's choice to change positions when he rejoined UCI in 2018.
"Youngbin coming back as a jungler and not shooting for mid lane showed to me that he sees my competency as a mid laner," Descraton said. "I appreciated that a lot. I'm pretty sure that he's still a better mid than me because there are a lot of small things I can improve upon that he has a lot more experience in. I think him coming helped facilitate my growth."
Descraton and Youngbin's growing jungle-mid synergy helped propel UCI through the 2018 collegiate season, a campaign that culminated in a 3-0 sweep of Columbia College in the championship final. It was Descraton's first on-stage LAN, and he thankfully discovered that he wasn't the kind of player who choked because of stage fright. Competing at the LCS Arena felt familiar, recalling past performances where he'd needed to reproduce long series of complex keystrokes under a spotlight.
"Growing up, I played piano, and every year we'd always enter piano competitions," Descraton said. "Being able to play the piano in front of judges, playing without forgetting the piece I memorized, hitting wrong notes -- I think that experience definitely helped a lot."
Descraton still plays when he can, favoring a jazzy interpretation of Niccolò Paganini's 24th Caprice. His passion for piano was so resonate that he attempted to minor in the instrument at UCI before learning only the major was offered. With Computer Engineering and League already packing his schedule tight, Descraton chose mechanical keyboards over imitation ivory.
"Even though I'm may not be pursuing it as a career, it's something I can always keep as a part of my life," Descraton said. "And as long as I choose to keep it as a part of my life, it'll always be there for me."
Back home in Cupertino, California, his family owns two upright black Yamahas placed side by side in their front room. With two pianos, Descraton can play duets with his younger brother Richard, who studies Electrical Engineering at the University of California, San Diego, when they're both at home.
A Buddhist altar stands near his parent's two Yamahas, composed of a pair of bookcases filled with sutras, offerings and bodhisattva statues. Descraton's entire family is Buddhist, and he continues to uphold the Five Precepts at all times. No killing, no stealing and no sexual misconduct are easy to follow; no lying is trickier, and no intoxicants means his upcoming 21st birthday will lack a certain celebratory edge.
On days when his schedule lightens, Descraton finds time to meditate in a clearing at the center of Aldrich Park. It's slightly elevated with many flat, smooth stones to sit on and clear his mind.
"I try to regulate my breathing so it's slow," Descraton said. "In, out, one. In, out, two. I try to use that as my center of attention, and if I notice myself drifting off and thinking other thoughts, I bring myself back to counting. The less breaths I can count, the better."
Descraton's parents passed on those values and also kept an open mind as he pursued new interests. They actively support his esports career by watching all of his games and attending his live events, most recently the Bloody Invitational Gaming Finals against Hai "Hai" Du Lam's Radiance in the City of Industry. Descraton's mother, Michelle, even installed League on her personal laptop, and after a handful of Miss Fortune games, she's at Level 3.
Their support helps buoy Descraton in his attempt to chase the professional career glimpsed at last year's college championship. For a week, Descraton lived the life of a pro player, devoting his entire energy to League and bonding with his teammates in the scrim rooms at the LCS Arena It was welcome change of pace considering his focus is so often split amid the responsibilities of a college student.
The experience also exposed the downsides of being a pro player: long hours, job insecurity, a narrowed social circle, unceasing pressure to perform. But the experience showed Descraton that he's willing and able to face those obstacles.
"I've been playing this game for almost 10 years now, and I want to see how far I can go," Descraton said. "It's the strive to perfection. I think at the end of the day, it's something I want to pursue because it's something I'm really passionate about, and I'm going to put in the effort to go for it. I was always really competitive in that sense, where if I want to do something, I want to be the best at it. That's the main motivator for me to keep pushing myself to improve, to choose this path that might be a bumpy one."
Apart from his time at the college championship, Descraton has seen up close the rewards of constantly seeking perfection. When SK Telecom T1 traveled to North America for the Season 3 world championships in 2013, Descraton matched up against legendary mid laner Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok on the solo queue ladder. During laning phase, Descraton sensed his Gragas had a solo-kill opportunity on Faker's Lulu. All Descraton needed to do was correctly predict his Flash to land a Body Slam, and the kill was sealed.
"I Body Slammed, and I predicted [Faker] would Flash backwards, so I Flashed forward to predict that," Descraton said. "But instead, he Flashed forward. I saw that, and I was mind blown; I didn't even consider that possibility, and obviously he killed me for it."
To be a pro like Faker, Descraton needs to improve mechanically, but lately it's his mental game that's required the most attention. The mid laner couldn't seem to regain his focus against Radiance mid laner Jackson "KatEvolved" Dohan at the B.I.G. Finals, and during Friday's scrim block with F3VP had to excuse himself from the Esports Arena after the second game.
Head coach James "Coachman" Bates followed Descraton outside to the picnic benches where he told his mid laner, in no uncertain terms, to stop beating himself up for playing badly.
"I was straight up with him and said, 'This is not the way professionals will conduct themselves. You have to have more resilience than this,'" Coachman said. "'You have to have a mindset where you're not thinking of yourself as bad. It'll hobble your ability to improve. Nobody inside is mad at you, you're only mad at yourself, and that's not very productive. A good player doesn't get down about what they did wrong, a good player figures out what they need to do right.'"
Descraton played better in the third match, and UCI won the best-of-three. But it took a little more work with Youngbin for Descraton to build himself up over the past few weeks, Coachman said. Youngbin's key piece of advice? Good players aren't good because they make good plays. Good players are good because they don't make mistakes.
"I've been telling him the same thing for over a year," Coachman said, "but I guess because it's Youngbin it matters more."
UCI's collection of talent and experience outclasses most of the college championship field. They did not drop a single game during the Western Conference regular season or playoffs, easily securing the automatic bid to the college championships.
However, second-seed UCI drew seven-seed Columbia College in the best-of-three quarterfinal. It will be a rematch of last year's final well before either side wanted to see the other. Led by top laner Ian "MistyStumpey" Alexander, the Cougars were forced to qualify for the championships via play-in after losing the North's automatic bid to longtime rival Maryville University in a tight five-game final.
Most expect a Maryville vs. UCI or Columbia College final, though the same was assumed last year before Maryville was upset in the quarterfinals by underdog Illinois.
For Descraton, whose pro dreams rest on surpassing this level of competition, the toughest enemy lies still within.
"The only thing holding me back at the championship is confidence in myself," Descraton said. "My highest highs are just way above the competition, but at the same time I can hit low lows. Being able to stabilize that and find balance, where I can consistently bring out my best performance, is my biggest struggle. I think if I just trust in my ability and my decision-making, I should be able to play at a level higher than any of my opponents."