PLAY TO WIN

To­day, it’s pos­si­ble to be an e-sports ath­lete with a six-$gure an­nual salary.

HWM (Singapore) - - Features -

Den­nis “Thresh” Fong is a leg­end. Last Au­gust, he was in­ducted into the e-sports Hall of Fame at QuakeCon in Dal­las, Texas.

Don’t know who Thresh is? You should. A Doom and Quake cham­pion, the man is gen­er­ally con­sid­ered to be the rst ever pro­fes­sional gamer, and he went pretty much un­de­feated up till his re­tire­ment in 1999. Tim Wil­lits called him the Michael Jor­dan of gam­ing when he in­tro­duced him on stage at QuakeCon, tes­ta­ment to his larger-than-life stature in the an­nals of e-sports his­tory.

As a teenager, Thresh was al­ready earn­ing six-gure sums an­nu­ally from prizes, spon­sor­ships, and ap­pear­ance fees, an un­heard of amount back in the day.

His May 1997 vic­tory over Tom “En­tropy” Kimzey in the Red An­ni­hi­la­tion tour­na­ment is the stu of sto­ried myth, not least be­cause the prize pot in­cluded John Car­mack’s cus­tom Fer­rari 328 GTS. Thresh dec­i­mated En­tropy in the Quake map Cas­tle of the Damned, and the nal score was a com­mand­ing 14 to -1.

Fast-for­ward 20 years, and Thresh isn’t much of a house­hold name to­day. But his achieve­ments are now be­ing repli­cated on a much wider scale, with top play­ers rou­tinely earn­ing com­fort­able salaries that many Olympic ath­letes can only dream of.

What’s more, those who are at the very top of their game can even stand to earn mil­lions of dol­lars in prize money, e ec­tively get­ting rich o the back of an ac­tiv­ity that has too of­ten been con­sid­ered a waste of time.

Just look at Su­mail “Su­maiL” Has­san, a Dota 2 player for Evil Ge­niuses. He has racked up over US$2.5 mil­lion in prize money, a stun­ning feat for an 18-yearold who had to sell his bike just to have enough money to log more hours on Dota 2 while grow­ing up in Pak­istan.

One of the bright­est spots on the map is South Korea, where gam­ing is a na­tional hobby and play­ers can see le­gions of de­voted fans turn­ing up at tour­na­ment are­nas to sup­port them with hand-made posters and plac­ards.

It was the Kore­ans that started the World Cy­ber Games (WCG) in 2000, an in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tion that helped spread aware­ness of gam­ing as a le­git­i­mate sport.

Ma­jor tour­na­ments over the past few years have been hosted in vast are­nas, from the Spodek Arena in Ka­tow­ice, Poland to the Lanxess Arena in Cologne, Ger­many. Dota 2’s The In­ter­na­tional, which boasts an over US$20 mil­lion crowd-sourced prize pool, is held at KeyArena in Seat­tle, a multi-pur­pose arena with a seat­ing ca­pac­ity of over 17,000.

As a sign of grow­ing main­stream ac­cep­tance, reg­u­lar sport teams have be­gun pick­ing up teams that test their met­tle on-screen rather than in the eld. FC Schalke, the se­cond largest soc­cer club in Ger­many, picked up a League of Leg­ends team, while Manch­ester City re­cruited FIFA player Kieran Brown.

With the in­dus­try pro­jected to gen­er­ate over a bil­lion dol­lars in rev­enue by 2020, ESPN – a lead­ing source of tra­di­tional sport cov­er­age – launched a sec­tion ded­i­cated to e-sports on its web­site last year, and has even teamed up with EA to broad­cast FIFA tour­na­ments on ca­ble TV.

“Dota 2’s The In­ter­na­tional, which boasts an over US$20 mil­lion crowd-sourced prize pool, is held at KeyArena in Seat­tle, a mul­ti­pur­pose arena with a seat­ing ca­pac­ity of over 17,000.”

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