The Kings of Gaming
They sit at the computer for up to 15 hours a day, practicing moves and formulating tactics. And these e-athletes can earn more than World Cup winners…
How e-athletes are earning more than World Cup winners
The stadium shakes as 15,000 fans roar at the top of their lungs to urge their favorite stars on. The voices of the commentators tumble over each other as they describe a turning point in the match: “An unexpected gank from the bottom lane brings the team close to the opponent’s Ancient!” Gank? Bottom lane? Ancient? A soccer commentator would say something like: “A surprising counterattack down the right flank exposes the opponent’s goal.” But what millions of people are watching in movie theaters and on screens around the world isn’t soccer—it’s the finals of The International 2015 championship, which, with a prize pool of $18 million is the most valuable global gaming competition. Clinton “Fear” Loomis led his team, the Evil Geniuses, to victory on August 8—garnering $6.5 million for finishing in first place. Per capita the esports players earned more than the German World Cup 2014 winners!
HOW DO YOU BECOME A PROFESSIONAL GAMER?
The game they played was Dota 2, a strategy game that pits two teams of five players against each other. The goal sounds simple enough: destroy the enemy base, or Ancient, by using so-called heroes. But the method is extremely complex. “Dota is a combination of football— soccer for the Americans—and chess,” says Su-leo Liu, one of the game’s star commentators. Only those who can react in fractions of a second and anticipate the moves of their opponents can go up against the best— and earn a living by playing the game. “A really good player can now earn a thousand times more than was possible during my playing days,” says gamer-turnedcommentator Dennis Gehlen. The revenue is derived from advertising, streaming games on video channels— and gaming tournaments.
80 professional gamers
16 teams from around the world
1 digital battlefield
$18 million in prize money
“It’s a viable career opportunity, but we are under immense pressure during every game,” remarks former professional player Zou Yitian. “That’s because we have to win to get revenue.” No victory, no money. And you have to train very hard for victory. For instance, Danil “Dendi” Ishutin of the Ukrainian “Na'vi” team has used the piano lessons he enjoyed as a child to great effect. Thanks to his dexterity, he is one of the fastest players in the Dota 2 scene. His fingers fly over the keyboard. Players must also adjust their diet: Healthier protein-rich food is crucial—and the body needs to compensate for hours of sitting in front of a computer. Many professional players rely on yoga and aerobic exercise to strengthen their muscles and help them completely relax.
Above all, players have to play—up to 15 hours a day. And that’s exactly what the youngest member of the Evil Geniuses team, Syed Sumail “Suma1l” Hassan, does: He’s 17 years old now and has been playing Dota since he was eight—in Internet cafés in Pakistan because his parents couldn’t afford a computer. His family emigrated to the U.S. about a year ago—and now he’s a millionaire.
RETIREMENT BY THE AGE OF 30
Almost no professional player is older than 30, because the ability to react decreases over time. “It means you’re always a crucial one-thousandth of a second slower than younger players,” explains former gamer Dennis Gehlen. After their career has ended, retired professional players can—like actual athletes—work as trainers. Furthermore, modern professional gamers also require a manager at their side. And coaches analyze the opponents and watch their protégés’ games to point out errors and give advice. Or ex-gamers can become commentators and analyze plays. Then their voices will also tumble over each other when a surprise gank from the bottom lane brings a team close to the opponent’s Ancient—and millions of dollars.
It’s waste of time if you aren’t going full pro.”