Game on!

Top Malaysian gamers are get­ting recog­nised world­wide.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - By IAN YEE ianyee@thes­tar.com.my

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.

Greener pas­tures

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.”

Chal­lenges

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

ESTC.

Ya­mateh (right) and Ice play­ing on the big stage

at the ESTC fi­nals in Thai­land.

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