Game to take on the world

Auckland City Harbour News - - NEWS - By STEVE KIL­GAL­LON

Mack Smith plans to quit high school for a sports ca­reer that could im­me­di­ately score him up to $100,000 a year.

But the 17-year-old isn’t a fu­ture All Black or War­rior – he’s set to be­come a pro­fes­sional video-game player.

Mack spends up to 10 hours a day play­ing the sci-fi ac­tion game Star­craft 2.

And rather than con­tin­u­ing on to year 13 in 2014, he in­tends to leave Western Springs Col­lege at the end of the year and move to Aus­tralia to join a pro­fes­sional team.

His friend and school­mate, Cameron Jones, 16, a lead­ing player in another pop­u­lar game, League of Le­gends, plans to fol­low in his foot­steps in a year.

Pro­fes­sional video-games – known as e-sport – are big busi­ness, par­tic­u­larly in the US, Korea, Swe­den and Rus­sia.

Win­ners’ cheques US$1 mil­lion ($1.19m) not un­com­mon.

Tick­ets for this year’s League of Le­gends fi­nal at the Los An­ge­les Lak­ers bas­ket­ball sta­dium sold out within the hour and 8.2 mil­lion watched last year’s fi­nal online.

In May, the US granted its first P-1 ‘‘pro­fes­sional ath­lete’’ visa to a Cana­dian gamer, Danny ‘‘Shipthur’’ Le, so he could join a pro­fes­sional team in LA who play in an eight-team tele­vised se­ries

of are


1.7 mil­lion watched view­ers.

Kiwi e-sport ex­pert By­ron McLean, a for­mer semi- pro­fes­sional gamer, sug­gests Mack could earn $60,000 to $100,000 in his first year.

‘‘If any­one can do it in New Zealand, you’ve got the right guy,’’ Mr McLean says.

‘‘For most peo­ple, I wouldn’t sup­port them leav- ing school, but in Mack’s case he is par­tic­u­larly smart and he’s got a unique op­por­tu­nity to pur­sue what most peo­ple never had. He’ll be able to make a ca­reer of this.’’

Mack and Cameron would live in team-owned houses in Aus­tralia and spon­sors would fly them around the world to com­pete.

‘‘It is kind of an un­sta­ble ca­reer path,’’ Mack says.

‘‘It’s a gam­ble. But it’s some­thing I am in­ter­ested in, and the more time I spend on it, the less in­ter­ested I find my­self in spend­ing more time in school and two years on a uni course af­ter that. I’d rather do some­thing I am pas­sion­ate about.’’

Both spend as much of their leisure time play­ing or study­ing op­po­nents – called ‘‘the­o­rycraft­ing’’.

‘‘Some days I hate the game,’’ Mack says. ‘‘But the will to im­prove is so strong.’’

Cameron says: ‘‘The amount of time I’ve played League of Le­gends ... I wouldn’t even like to think about it.’’

In Novem­ber, both plan to com­bine year-end ex­ams with flights to over­seas e-sport tour­na­ments.

Their par­ents sup­port their un­usual ca­reer plans.

Mack’s fa­ther, Nick Smith, says: ‘‘He’s in the lucky po­si­tion of be­ing good at some­thing, and pas­sion­ate about it. He wants to give it a good lash.’’

And Cameron’s fa­ther, Ernie Jones, says: ‘‘We thought he would just go to var­sity and do some­thing nor­mal . . . we’re blown away by the at­ten­tion.’’


Pro­fes­sional gamers: Cameron Jones, left, and Mack Smith, and want to be the first full­time pro­fes­sional Kiwi gamers per­form­ing to sta­di­ums packed with tens of thou­sands of fans.

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