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…

iD magazine - - Contents -

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!


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.


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.”

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