One key at a time: What it takes to be a pro-gamer in Malaysia

Do you dream of becoming a pro-gamer? Will passion alone be enough on its own to push and sustain you in the competition to be the best? Andrew Crum checked in with Iskandar Puteri based Academy of Esports (AoES) to find out more on this expanding industry and what it takes to become a professional gamer in Malaysia.

It’s that time of year again. You know, that time when everyone is excited to gather with other fanatics and watch their favourite clubs go head-to-head. This fits the description of many sporting events, but the FIFA World Cup is one of the world’s biggest with over 4 billion global fans. However, there is a growing challenger in the midst. Long have physical sports been a huge attraction for fans and players alike, but there is a rapidly rising segment along the periphery called eSports.

eSports is a form of competitive gaming at a professional level. Professional gamers generally play video games for prize money or salaries. Now, your inner child must be surprised. There is a career for purely playing video games?!

Earlier this January, Putra World Trade Centre (PWTC) hosted the biggest eSports festival in Malaysia. The 2018 Malaysia Cyber Games saw a total of 9 games played with a prizepool of RM300,000. If you’re still in disbelief, Malaysia made history at the 2017 Dota 2 - The International when a team was placed third at the event, earning more than US$2.6 million prize money.

What was once relegated to noisy arcades and kids bedrooms has moved into the living room and on to massive public arenas. Since the mid-2010’s there has been a surge in not only players but fans eager to buy tickets to watch and support their favourite teams and players. With such a significant rise in popularity, you may assume becoming a pro-gamer is a snap.

Just like the players in the World Cup, participants at top levels have dedicated their life to play as a profession. Imagine the amount of practice, training, strategy, and investment that goes into becoming really good at something. A gamer like Brey believes that much “like sports athletes, gamers must invest a considerable amount of time and money to rise to the professional level.” Pro-gamers must rise to be the champions of global tournaments such as Intel Extreme Masters, The Evolution Championship Series, and League of Legends World Championship.

All about professional gaming

The principal of Iskandar Puteri based Academy of Esports (AoES), Kieran 'ZergRush' Lam points to the thrill of “being able to choose your dreams and make a living out of your passion.” Sure, this all sounds standard to become truly successful at anything. Let’s look at some specifics to the gaming industry.

Competitive gaming as a whole can be viewed with a wide lens. Technology allows new segments to spring up while new games are released regularly to the public. Games are organised into a variety of genres that include real-time strategy (RTS), first-person shooter (FPS), fighting and multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA), such as Starcraft 2, Counter-Strike, and Dota 2 respectively.

eSports have moved from being just a form of personal entertainment into many levels of professions. Limits and boundaries are being pushed and explored as organisations, government agencies, game creators, technology producers, spectators and others become more involved. Asia is statistically the largest gaming market estimated to have generated revenues of USD$406 million in 2017. Similar to many sports, majority of the global revenue is focused on sponsorships and advertising.

To be a professional at what you do, you have to be mentally prepared to weather the industry storm that can follow a player's rise in popularity and industry players’ chase to capitalise on it. Some players are learning to go it on their own, much like independent musicians using platforms such as Twitch, Patreon, and Youtube. Considering the existing pressure on those that are already professionals; those fresh in the game face a steep and growing learning curve. Some argue that is exactly why it is necessary to create organisations and academies such as AoES to prepare young, potential pro-gamers.

Johor-based AoES as Malaysia’s first institution dedicated to eSports

Institutions like AoES seek to help channel players passions by building character and necessary skills such as perseverance, teamwork, and strategic decision-making. At the moment, two vocational certificate programmes are offered at AoES, which are Professional eSports Athlete and eSports Events Management.

Besides undergoing education and training by experienced eSports professionals, you are also given a certificate at the end of the programme to prove your competency and to gain a career boost. Before jumping onto the bandwagon, let’s take a few steps back to list the very basics of gaming.

First, you will need to decide if you have an interest in playing video games. Can you imagine playing a game for 8 to 12 hours straight? Do you have the means to play a game? If you already have a basic laptop or mobile device, you may be able to begin your practice. To compete on the professional level, you will need to purchase specialised equipments. Keep in mind, the tools of the eSports industry such as a fast-processing computer, controllers, memberships, subscriptions, the internet, and many of the games themselves can be costly.

Besides equipment requirements are social ones. Countless hours must be put into practice while competition against other aspiring pro-gamers is a must to perfect your skills. There are many community-hosted competitions in parallel to important growth activities such as pubstomps and bootcamps.

“It is very evident that Malaysia has a strong gaming community,” states Keiran. The growth of a beginner and the eSports industry work hand-in-hand with the community.

Keiran highlights that without giving back to the community, we will not have a healthy cycle of upcoming professional gamers. It is important to note that participation in any community helps to build a strong network that offers players a range of benefits. These can include the sharing of tech, developing strategies, and a support system.

When participation in tournaments is necessary to make a go at becoming a professional gamer, having the community there to guide and encourage is valuable. Through training and tournaments, players learn the code of conduct, similar to that of traditional sports.

However, some of the identifiable challenges for aspiring Malaysian pro-gamers are the shortage of big tournaments, team organisations, and the lack of industry financial support even for the current highest-ranked Malaysian gamers in Southeast Asia.

Keiran believes that the goal is to achieve a sustainable amount of tournaments, leagues, and new team sponsors in order to move this competitive industry forward.

The world is always changing, but what it takes to become a professional has maintained. Thanks to rapid advances in technology and networking, new opportunities and industries have emerged. Becoming a professional video game competitor holds many similarities to becoming a professional athlete or musician. There are a number of ways to participate in an industry you are passionate about and earn a living from it. That’s the key to be a professional in any industry, get paid doing what you love.

Visit the Academy of eSports to learn more about how you can get into the eSports industry and make it your career.

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