Top Malaysian gamers are getting recognised worldwide.
THERE are some skills that certain people seem to be born with. Brazilians, for example, are known for their footballing skills in the same way that Kenyans are good long-distance runners, and Russians, amazing chess players.
As for Malaysians, we’ve always had a knack for badminton, and for some inexplicable reason, lawn bowling. Well, now you can add DotA to that list.
Defense Of The Ancients, simply referred to as DotA, is a multi-player computer game that has become a big part of competitive gaming in the last few years, especially in Asia. The game is extremely popular in countries like Thailand, the Philippines and China, as well as in northern Europe.
DotA is a custom scenario from the strategy game Warcraft. Two teams, usually made up of five players in competitive games with each of them controlling one of a large number of “hero” characters with unique abilities, battle it out to destroy their opponents’ “Ancient”, which is a building on the game map.
For whatever reasons, Malaysians are pretty darn good at the game.
Some of our top players are superstars on the international competitive DotA circuit. Fans post replays of their games online, discuss their playing styles in gaming forums, and approach them for photos and autographs at tournaments.
For example, Nirvana.MY, Malaysia’s premiere DotA team at the moment, were greeted like celebrities at the World DotA Championship (WDC) in Wuhan, China, last month. The tournament was held in a stadium, and the gamers were a bit shocked by the overwhelming reception they received.
“The fans actually paid to watch the competition in the stadium, and there was even a VIP area for us,” said Nirvana.MY player Joel Chan, 22, better known as Xtinct on the gaming scene.
“At local competitions, we might have a few people asking if they can take photos with us, but here they were asking us for autographs! It was crazy,” he said.
New kids on the block
Nirvana.MY is a relatively new team, having been put together just 10 months ago. Local gaming tournament organiser Leon Lee noticed that some top local gamers had lost their sponsors, so he decided to pull a few of them together, secured a sponsorship deal with a gaming organisation called Nirvana and set out to build an all-star Malaysian line-up.
“I’ve managed to get some Malaysian gamers that are really star players around the world, but they can only play as semi-professionals in Malaysia. I pay them a salary, but they can only train part time,” said Leon.
Leon has been working hard to help Malaysian DotA gamers the recognition and support they deserve, but he says it hasn’t been easy because the Government isn’t terribly supportive of gaming.
Nevertheless, Nirvana.MY has qualified for major DotA tournaments in Thailand, Singapore, France and China since it started. Its biggest achievement so far was a win at the Electronic Sports Thailand Championship (ESTC) in October, for which they received US$5,000 (RM15,500) in prize money.
That victory, which saw the team beat top professional outfit team Ehome from China in the finals, made it one of the favourites to win at WDC in Wuhan.
Unfortunately, things didn’t quite go according to plan and the team was knocked out in the quarter-finals of the tournament billed as the “World Cup of DotA”.
But even without Nirvana.MY, a second Malaysian team, Aeon.MuFc, was able to finish fourth, and win RMB20,000 (RM9,400) for their hard work.
Training for the top
Malaysia’s rise to prominence in the DotA circuit started about two years ago when Johorbased team Kingsurf won a silver medal at the 2008 Electronic Sports World Cup (ESWC) in California. It was a competition that featured ESWC champions from around the world. That same year, Kingsurf also placed third in the Asian Cyber Games.
But even before that, Malaysian players were already creating a reputation for themselves in online DotA competitions, and it was only a matter of time before they got their big break on the world stage.
“It’s hard to say why we’re good at it,” said
Chua Chee Cai, 21, aka Ice, a former Kingsurf player currently on Nirvana.MY’s roster.
“Maybe we have an advantage because competitive gaming is not so popular in Malaysia. We get to see replays of the other big teams’ games online, and we can analyse their strategies. Those teams can’t do the same with us,” he explained.
It’s hard to think of it as hard work since it’s all about a computer game, but the Nirvana.MY gamers have a very strict training schedule.
For four days a week, they go for training after work or class at 8pm where they practice for about six hours, usually ending around 2am.
“DotA is a team game, it’s not about individual skill. You must have good teamwork,” said Xtinct, adding that the team works a lot on communication and executing new strategies.
Ice noted: “Sometimes it doesn’t feel like we’re playing anymore, especially when we’re getting closer to competitions; then we’re training almost every night. It’s very serious business.”
Ice even retired from gaming once because he was tired of the constant training. Unfortunately, that was when he missed out on Kingsurf’s ESWC silver medal.
“I just wasn’t enjoying the game anymore. And I had already decided to come to Kuala Lumpur for college (from his hometown in Johor), so I quit Kingsurf. Then a team came along and offered me RM700 to play for them, so I thought why not? But they never paid me, and thankfully Nirvana.MY came along so I switched over,” he said.
Just to show how good Malaysians are at DotA, some of the top professional teams from China tried to poach Nirvana.MY’s star players when they were in China for WDC, including Xtinct and the two players widely regarded as Malaysia’s best – Chai Yee Fung, aka Mushi, and Ng Wei Poong, aka Yamateh.
Xtinct and Yamateh decided to stick with Nirvana.MY, even though staying in China would give them the opportunity to play as full-time professional gamers. Mushi, however, decided to accept an offer from CCM, a top team in China.
“Mushi was expecting an offer from China even before we went there, so he had already told his family that he might be staying back after WDC.
“I had an offer from a team there too, but I wasn’t ready for it. I still have my friends, family and career back here in Malaysia,” said Xtinct, who does credit card sales for a bank in Malaysia.
One player who would definitely not be short of options is Yamateh, who was a key player in Kingsurf’s success two years ago, when he was only 18.
Back then, Yamateh was working as a shampoo boy and hoping to be a hairstylist. Now, he’s thinking about taking his gaming career to the next level.
“I did have a few offers. I couldn’t accept them at the time, but I have been thinking about it ever since. It is very tempting,” said Yamateh.
Xtinct explained that as a professional DotA player in China, everything is taken care of for you.
“Mushi’s team provides shared accommodation for the players, and they have, like, five computers at their place so they can train together anytime they want. They even have a chef to cook for them,” said Xtinct.
Ice, an interior design student, added: “We’d love to be able to play fulltime like that too, but I don’t think that’s possible in Malaysia. In China, it’s really like a proper job and the government supports gaming. Here in Malaysia, we’re the only team that gets paid a monthly salary, and it’s only RM800. Our friends from Aeon.MuFc don’t even get a salary.”
Up next for Nirvana.MY is the SMM Grand National DotA Tournament 2010 right here in Malaysia from Dec 3-5. It’s one of the biggest DotA tournaments in the world with over RM100,000 in prize money up for grabs, including RM50,000 for the champions.
But even though the team will have home advantage at the tournament, which will be held at e@Curve shopping centre in Mutiara Damansara, Selangor, they still have the “small” task of replacing Mushi.
“I thought we did very well to win ESTC, but it’s hard to predict how we’ll do at SMM because we’re still looking for a new player. We have to start training all over again and build up our teamwork again,” said Yamateh.
Unlike most top international teams, especially those in China, Nirvana.MY have a disadvantage because it’s hard for them to get good match practice in LAN (local area network) tournaments, which are competitions played in physical venues, like WDC, ESTC or SMM, as opposed to online tournaments.
Nirvana.MY can still take part in online gaming tournaments, where the prize money can go up to several thousand dollars, but local tournament organisers have almost completely banned them.
“Malaysians can be a bit kiasu. They don’t just ban our team, they ban us as individual players as well. But we need that experience. There is less pressure with online tournaments, because with LAN, you’re playing on stage with a crowd watching you. The China teams all seem used to it already,” said Ice.
There’s a high possibility for semi-pro gamers like the Nirvana.MY guys to be out of a job once the game they specialise in loses popularity.
“If that happens, then it’ll be GG for us,” joked Ice. GG stands for “good game”, which is what gamers congratulate each other with when the game’s over.
“But I think DotA will be around for a while more,” said Xtinct. “It only started five years ago, and there are a lot more sponsors coming into the industry ... just not in Malaysia.”
Stars of gaming: Nobody recognises DotA players Joel Chan (left) and Chua Chee Cai, until people see their onscreen nicknames –
Ice and Xtinct.
The Nirvana.MY DotA team: (From left) Ng Wei Poong aka Yamateh, Joel Chan aka Xtinct, Chai Yee Fung aka Mushi, Chua Chee Cai (second from right) and Lim Wai Pern (right), receiving the champions’ trophy at the Electronic Sports Thailand Championship.
Xtinct and Mushi (second from right) in action for Nirvana.MY at last month’s
Yamateh (right) and Ice playing on the big stage
at the ESTC finals in Thailand.