GAMES TO PAY

India Today - - LEISURE - —Farah Yameen

Au­gust this year was a mo­ment of val­i­da­tion for gamers and eS­ports ath­letes. Tirth Me­hta from Bhuj, Gu­jarat, took the bronze medal in the eS­ports demon­stra­tion tour­na­ment at the Asian Games 2018. Tirth goes by the gamer name ‘gct­tirth’. He be­gan com­pet­i­tive gam­ing with Dota, moved to StarCraft for lack of a good in­ter­net con­nec­tion and a string team and, even­tu­ally, to Hearth­stone which is more strat­egy and less but­ton mash­ing. He has since been an ac­tive eS­ports gamer, play­ing through nights in in­ter­na­tional tour­na­ments while si­mul­ta­ne­ously work­ing on his skills as a game­play pro­gram­mer and pur­su­ing a de­gree in science and in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy.

It may be in­con­ceiv­able to some that an ac­tiv­ity blamed for turn­ing a gen­er­a­tion of kids into near­sighted di­a­bet­ics with mus­cu­lar thumbs is now an in­ter­na­tional sport. But In­dia’s bronze medal at the Asian Games is just the lat­est sign that so-called eS­ports are here to stay.

ES­ports ath­letes like Akhil Gupta of AFK Gam­ing say se­ri­ous com­pe­ti­tion be­gan to take off around 2014-15. Tour­na­ment gam­ing on a small non­pro­fes­sional scale has been pop­u­lar since the days of FIFA, Counter Strike, Street Fighter and StarCraft. But big league gam­ing with com­men­su­rate prize money be­gan in 2016, with the en­trance of the eS­ports League and tour­na­ments hosted by Flip­kart and the In­dian Gam­ing League.

Se­ri­ous money is now at stake. The largest In­dian tour­na­ment, the ESL Premier­ship, pays a to­tal of Rs 1 crore in prizes. So there’s an ar­gu­ment to be made that fid­dling with that con­troller isn’t a waste of time, says Sahil Vi­ra­dia alias Mi­CrO, an eS­ports ath­lete from Team Jukes on You. “That was the time when all the couch gamers re­alised that they could make a ca­reer out of this,” says Vi­ra­dia, who com­petes in Dota (once known as De­fence of the An­cients) tour­na­ments.

“ESL In­dia Premier­ship tops the list with three sea­sonsa year and the big­gest prize money.” In­dia now boasts a fairly com­plex struc­ture of or­gan­ised teams. Shounak Sen­gupta (alias Gam­bit) of AFK Gam­ing ex­plains that play­ers par­tic­i­pate in tour­na­ments at the am­a­teur, semi pro­fes­sional and pro­fes­sional lev­els. “Ama­teurs can af­ford to in­vest much less than oth­ers in terms or prepa­ra­tion, as most will have real-life com­mit­ments,” Sen­gupta says. “Semi-pro teams might have some min­i­mal back­ing be­hind them to cover for costs like trav­el­ling and stay­ing dur­ing tour­na­ments. More of­ten than not, these teams get to­gether and prac­tise at in­ter­net cafes. Pro­fes­sional teams will have a ded­i­cated boot camp where they prac­tise be­fore ma­jor tour­na­ments.” At these boot camps, pro­fes­sional eS­ports gamers get spend­ing money and room and board while they prac­tise to­gether as a team for the fi­nal tour­na­ment. Just as foot­ball team has de­fend­ers, goal­keep­ers, mid­field­ers and so on, a Dota team has “car­ries”, “sup­ports”, “nuk­ers” and other spe­cial­ists. A Nuker, for in­stance, can use high dam­age spells to kill en­e­mies su­per fast while Jun­glers can sus­tain high dam­age from an on­slaught. In CS:GO (Coun­ter­strike Global Of­fen­sive), spe­cial­ists in­clude Frag­gers, AWPers, Lurk­ers and Ri­flers. The names might not sug­gest it, but it is se­ri­ous work. “Of­ten teams train and play for 12 hours a day be­fore big tour­na­ments,” Sen­gupta says.

Games like Dota 2 and CS:GO are very pop­u­lar in In­dia and of­fer some of the big­gest money. Other fa­mil­iar names that are pop­u­lar in tour­na­ment gam­ing are FIFA, Hearth­stone and Call of Duty. On the in­ter­na­tional cir­cuit, League of Le­gends and StarCraft of­fer prizes up­wards of seven fig­ures, in US dol­lars.

In­dia’s En­tity Gam­ing and Sig­nify spon­sor Dota teams com­pete in­ter­na­tion­ally. And smaller teams play­ing pri­mar­ily on na­tional or re­gional level. So how do these ath­letes feel about the prospect of eS­ports earn­ing a spot at the Olympic Games, fol­low­ing its in­clu­sion as a demon­stra­tion sport at the Asian Games? If chess can qual­ify, why not Dota?

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