Faker

Mina Kimes, ESPN The Magazine 06/22/2015, “The Unkillable Demon King”, page 54:

Over the next 12 months, SK Telecom went on an unprecedented winning streak. In Faker’s first season as a pro, the team reached the Korean semifinals. The next season, it went all the way to the world championship. In front of a sold-out crowd at LA’s Staples Center — plus 32 million online viewers — Faker and his teammates swept a Chinese squad to take the Summoner’s Cup and a $1 million prize. After returning home, they continued to steamroll the competition, winning 15 games in a row.

In Seoul, where eSports are more popular with teenagers than baseball, Faker became a household name. He starred in a commercial for SK Telecom, striding toward the camera in slow motion. The Internet birthed a hashtag, #thingsfakerdoes. Some League fans nicknamed him the Unkillable Demon King […]

The game Faker — his real name is Sang-hyeok Lee — plays is League of Legends (LoL). Some of you might be poo-pooing this as “kids’ stuff” but its serious business. Here’s a list of some first-place prize money according to ESPN The Magazine “Resistance is Futile” pp. 68-69 written by FiveThirtyEight.com’s Ben Casselman:

  • $10M: World Series of Poker champ (2014)
  • $5.1M: Super Bowl champion (2015)
  • $5M: Dota 2–the International 4 winner (2014)
  • $4.1M: NBA Finals champion (2014)
  • $3.8M: Stanley Cup champion (2014)
  • $1.3M: Smite World Championship (2015)
  • $1M: League of Legends World Championship (2014)
  • $0.4M: Call of Duty Championship (2015)

Dota (Defense of the Ancients), Smite, and Call of Duty are multiplayer online games. In 2014 15.5 million viewers tuned into the NBA Finals; for the League of Legends championship it was 27 million viewers. The Super Bowl still reigns at 112.2 million viewers, but it is impossible to deny the exploding popularity of e-sports.

Serious money, yes, and winning, just like offline games, is tough; it takes practice. A lot of it. On page 57:

Faker lives with his teammates in an apartment on the fringes of Seoul, in an area populated by half-empty office buildings. The players share bedrooms. When they wake up around noon, a cook comes in and prepares lunch. Afterward, they walk a few minutes to their training center. For the next eight hours, they practice by scrimmaging against other teams, occasionally taking breaks to study game film. Faker usually practices by himself for at least four more hours.

Our kids like to play games, sometimes a bit too much. One day I asked one of ’em if he’d like to play games professionally. I could tell his mind was racing: A life where I get to play games all the time! Awesome! Then I told him it would take 12 hours of practice every day to get good enough to earn enough money to make a living. “Oh. Then no thanks.”

Professional sports — with or without an e prefix — is a job. Unless you really love what you do and are willing to invest insane amount of hours each day to get better at it, there’s little chance you’ll make it to the top.

PS: I enjoyed reading ESPN The Magazine, the paper version, about e-sports much more than the online version. Kind of ironic, isn’t it? For now the ‘screen’ is better on the real magazine: flexible, foldable, lighter, higher resolution, feels good touching it, makes a nice sound when I flip it, and I don’t need to worry when I drop it. And one more thing: unlike the online version there are other articles to read that created a more broad and complete picture of e-sports, like the two-page infographics article by Casselman, “The Whole Game is Beast Mode” by Sam Alipour, and “The Legendary Adventures of a Fearless Girl Gamer” by Latoya Peterson.