The kids are al­right

The lives of teen es­port play­ers

Hyper - - FEATURE - James O’Con­nor seeks the foun­tain of youth

Kim "Ge­guri" Se-yeon is con­sid­ered the world’s best Zarya player in Over­watch. She’s the first fe­male player signed to an APEX team, has a win rate of 80%, and en­dured a scan­dal dur­ing the Nexus Cup qual­i­fier where she was so good she was ac­cused of cheat­ing (she wasn’t). Ge­guri is also 17 years old. Young peo­ple have bet­ter re­ac­tions – stud­ies sug­gest that re­flexes start to de­te­ri­o­rate at just 24 – and are preva­lent within the var­i­ous FPS es­ports scenes. In the same way that your high school’s best footy player was later signed to the Crows, the kids who are mas­ter­ing head­shots now have rea­son to think about how this might im­pact their fu­ture.

NERF THIS

Ley­ton Gilchrist, 15, is ex­cited about his Over­watch team DarkSided’s im­pend­ing first spon­sor­ship deal. He mains off-tank (“the tanks that can also do dam­age and pro­tect team”) for one of the top four teams in Aus­tralia, and has been tak­ing FPS games se­ri­ously since he was 12 years old, when he got very into Halo. “One of my friends showed me CS:GO on his com­puter about a year later and I in­stantly fell in love with the com­pet­i­tive na­ture of the game”, he says. “I bought a com­puter and played the game heaps. When there was a ma­jor tour­na­ment on, I tuned in to watch the best peo­ple in the world play the game. It was amaz­ing: the crowd cheer­ing, the com­men­ta­tors re­ally get­ting into it, and the at­mos­phere was like noth­ing else.”

It took six months of play­ing Over­watch for Gilchrist to con­sider that he could “make some­thing out of gam­ing”. Right now, he plays the game 4-5 nights a week, which he does around his school­work by stick­ing to a regime. “My av­er­age day con­sists of me go­ing to school, then 4-6pm I do my home­work, and 7-10pm I play Over­watch and prac­tice with my team”, he says. “Some­times I can feel busy and I may need some ex­tra time to do my work; usu­ally my team is flex­i­ble and can work around that”. He takes Fri­days and Satur­days off, usu­ally, to main­tain his so­cial life and avoid burnout. Although Over­watch is a ma­jor part of his life, he’s learned to com­part­men­talise it: “I usu­ally don’t talk about games and Over­watch with my mates. I feel like school is a good time to sep­a­rate the gam­ing and just chill with them.”

De­spite Gilchrist’s suc­cess, the in­fra­struc­ture does not ex­ist yet to profit from Over­watch at his level. “There haven’t been many com­pe­ti­tions or tour­na­ments lately”, he says. “There have been some an­nounced that are com­ing within the next few months that I’m ex­cited to par­tic­i­pate in and hope­fully win.” While Gilchrist’s “ideal fu­ture” would be to play games pro­fes­sion­ally, he knows that it’s im­por­tant to fo­cus on his ed­u­ca­tion too, and to not rely on Over­watch. “If Over­watch gets big enough I might take a ‘gap year’ play­ing games; how­ever, it’s pretty un­cer­tain right now. Who knows what the in­dus­try holds in the fu­ture.”

THE YOUNGEST PAL­ADINS

Pal­adins has been big with younger play­ers for a sim­ple rea­son – it’s free to play. This makes it more ac­ces­si­ble to gamers with low dis­pos­able in­comes, in­clud­ing teenagers. This was the case for Munadi, who plays as xParagon, and is cur­rently on the team ‘Kings’, ranked 4th in the Pal­adins Pro League. He’s 14, and usu­ally plays the game on his lap­top. “It’s very hard – the screen is small, and I have low frames”, he says. “I live in a fam­ily of five, with two sib­lings, and they’re con­stantly us­ing the wifi. I usu­ally play with high ping and low frames per sec­ond.”

I spoke to him mo­ments af­ter his team had com­peted against Kanga Es­ports at the Road to Dreamhack Va­len­cia Grand Fi­nal (Kings lost, but were ex­cited to have taken a set against Kanga). For Munadi, play­ing with pro­fes­sional equip­ment made a huge dif­fer­ence. “It’s so much eas­ier to hit shots. If I shoot my pro­jec­tile, it’ll ac­tu­ally go for­ward and not to the right. Be­cause of that my skills have sky­rock­eted. I’ve done so many things I could never have done on my lap­top. It’s like I’ve en­tered a whole new di­men­sion.”

Munadi, who lives in New Zealand, had just met most of his team for the first time. “When they got to the AirBNB and came in… I looked at their heights and my heart dropped”, he said. “These guys are pretty tall, and I’m pretty small. I think Mr Flexi is dou­ble my age. But it’s been fine. I’ve re­ally got­ten along with them.” Right now, Munadi is try­ing to save up for bet­ter equip­ment so he can play at home as well as he had at the tour­na­ment. “I re­ally like this game, and I’d give up ev­ery­thing just to make this my job”, he says. “That’s the dream.”

Joel Shiels, younger brother of Kanga Es­ports team cap­tain Hay­den Shiels, has fol­lowed his brother’s foot­steps and joined the team too. He’s 17, and plays Pal­adins for around 35 hours a week. He’s made money from the game – “some­where in the five fig­ures” – and hopes to make a “full time ca­reer” out of the game. “The game un­doubt­edly takes up a lot of your free time”, he says, “but if you can man­age your time wisely it shouldn’t be a prob­lem to bal­ance gam­ing and school. In say­ing that, you do have less time to do your stud­ies.” As a mem­ber of Kanga, cur­rently the best team in the coun­try, Shiels has been able to travel to other coun­tries to com­pete along­side his brother.

THE CoD KID

Call of Duty has a huge fol­low­ing with teenagers, de­spite their age rat­ings. Reef ‘Em­i­nence’ Galloway is 19 now, but he’s been play­ing Call of Duty com­pet­i­tively since he was 15. He lives in New Zealand, and is a mem­ber of the team SYF Gam­ing. “I’d been play­ing CoD ca­su­ally since 2009”, Galloway re­calls. “Af­ter watch­ing the first Call of Duty Cham­pi­onship, I stepped into the com­pet­i­tive scene with the goal to make it there one day. I achieved this on my first at­tempt in 2016, when I be­came el­i­gi­ble to com­pete.” Galloway is clearly con­fi­dent in his abil­i­ties, but the first com­pe­ti­tions he en­tered were a “rude awak­en­ing”, he says. “I thought I was the best around, but some kid who dom­i­nated in a ca­sual scene wasn't so dom­i­nant in a com­pet­i­tive en­vi­ron­ment. Not at first that is…”

At 16, Galloway was pre­sented with a big op­por­tu­nity – en­tre­pre­neur Kim Dot­com ap­proached him with an op­por­tu­nity to move in with him and fo­cus on his es­ports ca­reer. “Kim re­ally wanted to pro­vide an en­vi­ron­ment where I could put all the ef­fort into my ca­reer and boost my­self into the pro cir­cuit”, he says. Mov­ing out at 16 to pur­sue a ca­reer is un­usual in any field, but Galloway took the op­por­tu­nity. “I had left school a lit­tle ear­lier and I had to de­ter­mine what I wanted to do with my fu­ture”, he says. “I was get­ting into the the­atre in­dus­try want­ing to be an ac­tor, but gam­ing

MUNADI SAYS HIS PAR­ENTS WERE SKEP­TI­CAL WHEN HE FIRST ASKED TO TRAVEL OVER­SEAS TO COM­PETE. "I'M ONLY 14, YOU KNOW."

re­ally took over. I was play­ing 12 hours a day and lov­ing it. I al­ways put the im­por­tant things first in life but took ev­ery minute I had free to grow as a player.”

Galloway’s suc­cess in the game has al­lowed him to fo­cus on it full time. “I had a rather suc­cess­ful year last year, so I haven’t needed to get a job”. Galloway ex­plains, although that in­ter­est waned slightly this year. He “didn’t re­ally like” In­fi­nite War­fare, which has “re­sulted in less ef­fort and com­mit­ment to the game”. He still loves to com­pete, though. “2017 for me was re­ally about find­ing what I wanted to do next in my ca­reer and life which I can gladly say I have fig­ured out what I want to aim for next.”

FAM­ILY CON­NEC­TION

There’s an old Gary Lar­son Far Side comic where two par­ents watch their son play­ing Nin­tendo and imag­ine abun­dant fu­ture ‘help wanted’ ads for Su­per Mario ex­perts. We’re not quite there yet, per­haps, but these four play­ers all said that their fam­i­lies have been sup­port­ive.

“My fam­ily are ok with me play­ing Over­watch”, Gilchrist told me. “They didn’t used when I was younger, but now, as long as I’m keep­ing on top of school­work they don’t mind at all.” He said that his dad of­ten comes with him to es­port events and has formed a deeper un­der­stand­ing of the in­dus­try. “My par­ents are sup­port­ive of me play­ing and try­ing to make some­thing out of gam­ing”, he’s glad to say. Galloway is very thank­ful that his par­ents have let him take the chances he has taken, es­pe­cially when they let him move out of home to pur­sue his pas­sion. “Most par­ents wouldn't al­low their 16-year-old kid to take that type of op­por­tu­nity”, he says. “They flew to LA to watch me com­pete in Call Of Duty Cham­pi­onships in 2016. I am se­ri­ously lucky to have them, and wish I could see more par­ents show the same sup­port for other com­peti­tors around me.”

Munadi says that his par­ents were “skep­ti­cal” when he first asked if he could travel to com­pete. “Go­ing over­seas, on your own, with a bunch of guys – I’m only 14, you know.” They changed their minds, though, once their son ex­plained that he’d be earn­ing money from the game. “I’m re­ally happy to bring back a medal to show them that I can go to high lev­els if I put my mind to it”, he says. But he also knows that his par­ents won’t nec­es­sar­ily feel the same way about their son try­ing to make gam­ing a ca­reer into adult­hood. “I know they want me to do well at school, go to univer­sity, get a high-pay­ing job… all the things a par­ent would want,” he says, with a clear recog­ni­tion of the fact that these are sen­si­ble con­cerns for par­ents to have. “But I think once they start see­ing how well I do, and what I’m tak­ing in, in terms of cash and other things, I re­ally hope that they un­der­stand, and see that this is some­thing I en­joy. This is my pas­sion.”

LEY­TON GILCHRIST

MUNADI

REEF ‘EM­I­NENCE’ GALLOWAY JOEL SHIELS

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