Professional Gamers: A Day in the Life

Take "Professional Gamer" off the list of fantasy careers--they're here, and some of them are making serious cash in the eSports world. But what is a day in the life of a cyberathlete like? We sought out three prominent StarCraft 2 professional players--a 17-year-old wunderkind, an international tournament veteran, and a team leader--to see how much hustle it takes to play games for a living.

Also, check out "2011: The Year of eSports," where we interviewed the people who turned competitive gaming into a business.

Adrian "KawaiiRice" Kwong, Team FnaticMSI

Adrian "KawaiiRice" Kwong is a member of team FnaticMSI, an international pro gaming team that fields players in several different games, including StarCraft 2, Quake Live, Counter-Strike, Call of Duty, and Halo.

Who are you, and how did you get started as a professional gamer?
My name is Adrian Kwong, I'm 17, and I live in Seattle. I played StarCraft pretty casually for five or six years, but then I saw a Lim "SlayerSBoxeR" Yo-Hwan highlight video on YouTube and got really interested in competitive StarCraft. So I played for 3-ish years, managed to make it to the World Cyber Games 2009 national finals, and when StarCraft 2 came out I made the switch and Fnatic picked me up.

Was there a particular moment that you realized you could make a
living as a competitive gamer?

Not really. It still hasn't really set in for me. I'm still kinda just playing around, I guess. Obviously it's something special to me to play StarCraft professionally, but I don't really feel like I could make a living off of it. We do have sponsors (MSI, SteelSeries, Bigfoot Networks), though.

Why'd you get into StarCraft over other competitive games?
Just because I've been playing it since I was seven years old. Nothing else really interested me, I never had anything else to do, and StarCraft was always there.

KawaiiRice at a Major League Gaming competition. (Image courtesy of Josh Sutherland.)
How much do you practice? What does a normal day in your life look like?
I play at least 3 hours a day, unless it's a weekend or a day where I have nothing to do, in which case it's 5 hours minimum.

What would you be doing if you weren't a pro gamer?
I'm really not interested in much. I like going to school, I'm kind of interested in business, but I haven't really thought about getting another job or anything.

What do you see yourself doing 10 years from now? Do pro gamers "age out"?
I don't know--that's really too far to predict. I could be anywhere--probably not playing games professionally, though. There are some players who age out, like SlayerSBoxeR, for example. He's still playing past his 30s, which is respectable, but I don't think older players can keep up as well.

What do your parents, friends, peers, etc., think of your pro gaming career?
My parents do know about this, and they're very supportive of me, especially when I have LAN competitions, and they try to be respectful and leave me alone when I'm playing an online tournament. It's sort of a good excuse for not getting out or doing stuff I don't want to do. For my friends and peers, not so much--I don't talk about StarCraft much at school, and I don't think they really care.

I'll be at MLG Dallas in April--wish me luck!

Paulo "CatZ" Vizcarra, ROOT Gaming Founder

Paulo "CatZ" Vizcarra is the cofounder of Team ROOT Gaming, a newly established StarCraft 2 team that is home to a handful of high-level players like Kevin "qxc" Riley and Andrew "Drewbie" Moysey. Unlike Fnatic and Evil Geniuses, ROOT Gaming currently is not sponsored--meaning that its members have to fund their occupation by coaching others and winning tournaments.

What's your name/rank/serial number?
My name is Paulo Vizcarra, and I go by the name "ROOTCatZ" on Battle.Net. I am 24 years old, and hold a degree as a Bachelor in Media Arts and Animation; however, my only interest at this point in time is to play StarCraft 2 and succeed alongside my team, ROOT Gaming.

How did this ROOT Gaming team come about?
A few years ago, when they announced StarCraft 2 was coming out, Andrew "Drewbie" Moysey and I were playing 2v2 in StarCraft. We were one of the best 2v2 teams at the time, and we were always really close friends. We decided we'd make the best StarCraft 2 team when the game came out. Then a couple of years passed, I quit StarCraft, Drewbie continued to dominate the 2v2 scene, and he joined the famous team Mousesports (Mouz) as their main 2v2 player.

When we both got our hands in the beta for StarCraft 2, we had a long and nice discussion on what our team should be named, trying to find people to help us get organized, make a Website, and so on. At the time, it was just me and Drewbie, but we announced a tournament where the winner would get to play against us and if we thought he was good enough, we'd let him into the team on a trial basis. We got a lot of responses and feedback--no one was very nice to us. They called us arrogant, said that we weren't that good, and asked why we would make a tournament and not even let the winner join a team that's not even famous or known or anything. It made no sense to them. But it made sense to us,because we were we were determined to succeed and had really high standards to uphold.

We decided that if we were both really good at both 1v1 and 2v2, we'd win most clan battles even if we only had two people on the team, but we started recruiting players as we got better. Kevin "qxc" Riley was the first member to join us, and we kept growing from there.

Is gaming your day job?
Yes sir, and I'm proud of it.

What are your goals for 2011?
For myself? To become better at the game, and to help the eSports community to grow. But as the leader of ROOT, I would like nothing more than for my team to grow even bigger, to continue to do as good as we did this past year and be recognized as the best.

We also want to find reliable sponsors and build a relationship with them. One of the toughest things for us has been the fact that so many teams have made our players so many offers (and in many occasions our team as a whole) to join these teams. You can count the ROOT members that have left us for these offers with one finger. It really makes me incredibly happy that despite all this we've been able to stick together; I couldn't be happier about the people we chose for the team. It's almost as if destiny gave me the most enduring, hard-working, self-respecting, loyal, and skilled group of friends to work with.

What would you be doing if you hadn't gotten into pro gaming?
I am a bachelor in Media Arts and Animation. I don't dislike it at all--I actually designed our Website and logo :). I quite love illustration, design, and some production, but not as much as gaming.

What does an average day in the life of ROOT.CatZ look like?
Every day looks different, I try to do a lot of game-related things every day. Sometimes I have meetings, sometimes I have interviews to answer, sometimes I have to help to make sure people show up for clan wars. Every day is different.

Generally speaking, every day I'll teach some lessons, live-broadcast a video stream of the games I'm playing on Battle.net, and practice with teammates. Drewbie is my roommate, so I see him every day, too.

How do you guys pay for the team? Do you have sponsors?
We are working really hard on getting sponsors, and we have a few things in the works with some fantastic companies--but for now we can only hope for the best. Up until now, everyone has paid for their own travel and fees.

Do you find that there is a huge difference in player ability and resources between ROOT and older, more-established teams like Evil Geniuses or Team Liquid?
Resources, sure: As long as we don't have sponsors, we have no income as players or as a team. We can't make promises other than to continue doing our best as the individuals and good friends that we are. In player ability? Absolutely not. This is not to say that EG and TL aren't great teams; they are. In North America, I doubt anyone will argue that ROOT isn't one of the top three teams. I know we've had the best and most consistent results to show for [our efforts], both as individuals and as a team, and we're not planning to stop any time soon.

What do your parents, friends, peers, etc., think about your pro gaming career?
Most understand it now, or even if they don't, they know that I am both serious and passionate about it. Sure everyone joked about it at the start--it's hard to get people who aren't into gaming to understand.

I'll tell you this much, though--StarCraft 2 is magical. Many of my friends watch me stream now, and the game has grown on them. My family now fully supports me, although that was a difficult battle, as my Mom wanted for me to work in my field of studies, especially right after I graduated.

What do you see yourself doing 10 years from now?
I don't have one plan, I have many. I can't tell you what I see myself doing because there are many things that I'd enjoy doing.

In StarCraft 2, I don't just plan the game from the beginning because I could get countered, and my units wouldn't be as effective. Life is the same--I want to win, and I will. But there are many different ways to get to many different places that I'd be more than happy with.

Greg "IdrA" Fields, Team Evil Geniuses

Greg "IdrA" Fields is one of the best-known StarCraft players out there. Not only is he is one of the few U.S. players who is good enough to hang with the Korean professional players (though he recently concluded his three-year-long stint playing in Korean leagues to return to the United States and participate in the growing U.S.-based eSports scene), but he also has the attitude to match.

How'd you get into all of this?
I actually wasn't much of a gamer at all. I played a bunch of sports--mostly soccer and baseball--and I was just really competitive. My friend introduced me to StarCraft when I was in sixth grade and it just kind of caught my attention and held onto it, and I'd usually move on to something else. When you play something so much, eventually you start to get good at it. Then I found out about Team Liquid, the community site, and found out I could compete in Non-Korean tournaments and stuff like that.

When you say "so much", how much StarCraft were you playing?
It ramped up. At first I'd play very casually, once in a while; then when I started to take it seriously on competitive maps, I'd probably play 5 or 6 hours a day, even on school days.

Why StarCraft?

I was never much of a gamer, and none of my friends were into gaming in general, so StarCraft was the only game I would have been competitive in--I never played Counter-Strike or anything like that. Later, I tried out some of the other games, like WarCraft, but StarCraft felt like a more complete game. You had to do everything, not just micro-manage your units.

Was there a point at which you realized you could do this for a living?
As soon as I found out about the professional gaming scene, I wanted to do that pretty much as soon as I found out about it. As for playing and competing in Korea, I never gave it too much serious thought until I had actually earned the invitation to join eSTRO three years ago.

Let's say you hadn't gotten that invite. What would you be doing if you weren't a pro gamer?
In college, studying physics or engineering.

So did you leave high school and go straight to Korea?
Yeah, I actually left a semester early by testing out of school.

Do you have a backup plan in case eSports doesn't work out?
I always thought I'd just go to college, but I'm pretty confident that I'll be in the eSports world. Even if I retire from playing, there are just so many opportunities in coaching and content production.

What's the age range for most pro gamers? Do you think there's an age cap in professional gaming?
I honestly don't think there's an age cap for gaming, just a practice cap. In StarCraft, you had to practice 10 to 12 hours a day to compete at the highest level just because the game was that hard to execute. When you're a teenager, it's not that hard to play that much--you don't have other responsibilities. When you get up to your 20s and 30s, you want to start thinking about life outside of gaming--you want to go meet girls, or go out and have fun with your friends, and stuff like that. So the older gamers would drop out due to necessity, not because there was a physical age limit. But StarCraft 2 doesn't require as much practice, so we'll see more pro gamers in their 30s and older.

Do you find that you practice less in StarCraft 2 than you did in StarCraft?
Yes. The state of the game kind of upsets me right now, and I find it counterproductive to practice too much.

What are your hobbies outside of StarCraft?
I'm a bit of a nerd. I follow politics, religion, other random topics, but no weird hobbies.

Is there a difference in how the Korean StarCraft 2 players will treat you compared to their own high-level players?
There's a bit of a difference due to the language barrier, but for the most part they treat you like any other player.

Are you recognized in public?
I have been recognized in public five or six times outside of eSports events in Korea, never in the U.S.

Why'd you leave team CJ Entus to work with team Evil Geniuses?

Greg "IdrA" Fields in his old CJ Entus uniform.
In the Korean system, you play 10 to 12 hours a day, with maybe one day off a month. I was getting kind of tired of all that, and I really didn't think it was necessary for StarCraft 2. On top of that, I think now is the time for eSports, especially strategy eSports, in the West, and I wanted to be a part of that. Korea is rather insular--they'll send players out to compete elsewhere, but they're focused on Korea. I wanted to be part of the opportunities outside of Korea.

What kind of opportunities?
The tournaments that are outside of Korea. MLG and IEM Gamescom can't even fit their audience in their event halls any more, and there are a few other big tournaments that haven't even been announced yet that I can't talk about. There are tons of tournaments, and outside of the tournaments there's broadcasting, content production, and a lot more cool stuff that I want to be a part of.

As far as the Team EG StarCraft group works, are you the leader of the team? It seems like you'd occupy a special place by virtue of the fact that you're competing at a higher level.
There are no official leader positions in team EG, and as for the unofficial leader, I'd say if anything it's Geoff "iNcontroL" Robinson, due to his personality. But really, we all work together pretty much as equals--if someone needs something and someone else can provide it, they do, and we don't worry about titles or roles.

What does a team practice session look like?
Varies depending on the team. With Korean teams, you play all day every day, with two or three people playing your next opponent's race and the rest of the team watching and offering advice. Since I'm in Korea, the latency makes it hard for me to practice with my teammates at all, but I know they have started setting up practice schedules where they're online all at the same time and practice together, which is much more formal than most Western eSports teams.

Who do you practice with, then?
I play a lot on the Korean (Battle.Net) ladder as well as some of the other foreigner players out here from Team Liquid.

Does your attitude ever get you in trouble?
Not really "in trouble." I've been told by managers and sponsors to be careful about it, but I've never gotten a specific reprimand. Like our team manager "Sir Scoots" says--he came from Counter-Strike, and anything I've ever said or done is far more tame than anything from the most timid Counter-Strike player. It pales in comparison. Relative to StarCraft I'm a bit more emotional than the average player, but I'm more calm than most pro gamers.

How do you fund your professional gaming career? Are you paid a salary? It doesn't seem like the tournament payouts are big enough to support anyone but the winners themselves.
I am paid a salary through EG, and I've made some decent money winning tournaments. However, prize money has been low mostly because StarCraft 2 caught everyone off guard--it was kind of tacked on at the last minute for MLG, for example, and their prize money was already budgeted for the year. I expect that to be changing this year. It's going to get a lot better.

Are you sponsored through EG, or do you find your own sponsors?
I'm sponsored through EG--you can't sponsor me specifically, just the whole team. Also, I get side deals here and there to write and produce content for other sites, so there are a bunch of smaller money-making opportunities.

Walk us through a day in the life of EGIdrA.
Well, it's very free-form--I left CJ Entus because I didn't like that much structure. Right now, I'm frustrated with the state of the Zerg and I feel like it's counterproductive to play. If I have a tournament coming up, I'll wake up, eat, shower, etc., until around noon, practice for 3 or 4 hours, get lunch with friends, then come back and practice for the rest of the night. It's kind of a boring answer, but that's what I do.

Do you ever burn out?
Not really because I'm playing too much, just because I'm frustrated with the state of the game right now.

Does your frustration prevent you from becoming a better player?
No. Zerg has been underpowered since the second phase of the beta, and everyone has been trying to figure that out with no success. 60% to 70% of the top 8 are still Terran players, so I think it's safe to say I'm just going to sit out and wait for Blizzard to get it right with a balance patch, so...

And you wouldn't pick up Terran?
Even if another race is better or easier, it'd take me too long to get back to a high level, and eventually Blizzard is going to have to patch it, and I'd feel really stupid.

Patrick Miller is a Staff Editor for PCWorld. Add him on Twitter or Facebook, or message him on Battle.Net (pattheflip.729) for a game.

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