Professional Gamers: A Day in the Life
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.
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?
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.