Pioneers of Chinese eSports: Generation Y representative ‘fy god’

By Zhang Dan Source:Global Times Published: 2019/3/14 18:44:14

○ Xu Linsen is regarded as one of world's top players and is keen to bring China onto world stage

○ eSports still seen as a 'poisonous' pastime by many parents in Asian countries

○ Prize money has soared in last few years as investors realize huge potential in industry

The Dota 2 team members of PSG.LGD Gaming become champions at the MDL Changsha Major on May 20, 2018. Photo: Courtesy of PSG. LGD Gaming

At 2 pm, he had the first cup of coffee of the day on the balcony of a villa in a Shanghai suburb, hoping it would refresh him. 

From his sleepy eyes and the flip flops on his feet, you could tell that he had just woken up. This kind of schedule is not uncommon for a professional Chinese eSports player, who often has to stay up after midnight - playing video games. Getting up at 1 pm, they have tight schedules that involve three rounds of game training followed by team discussions. 

"After midnight, you can go back to your bedroom. People say 'it's wonderful for you to make money by playing video games,' but they don't know we can get bored with the game after playing it for four to five years," Xu Linsen, a professional Dota 2 player currently playing for PSG. LGD Gaming in China, told the Global Times. 

Known as "fy," the 25-year-old is one of the top eSports players in the world, especially in Dota 2, a multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) video game developed and published by the US-based Valve Corporation. He was awarded the EPICENTER XL MVP Trophy in 2018's tournament and took teams to second place in The International 2018 (Ti8) and Ti4, the largest festival for Dota 2 fans. 

Popular with both Chinese and overseas game players, Xu was then nicknamed "fy god." 

Many features of Chinese Generation Y can be seen in this young man: he's tech savvy, independent and sometimes perplexed about life decisions. It is this generation, and even younger ones, who are taking China into the world arena of eSports. 

Xu Linsen, also known as "fy god", is one of the top eSports players in the world in Dota 2 and currently playing for PSG.LGD Gaming in China. Photo: Yang Hui/GT

Learning the game

Like many children whose parents were busy with work or business in China, Xu grew up with his grandmother during his childhood in Wuhu, East China's Anhui Province. With no parents around to supervise his studies, he indulged in video games during secondary school. 

In China, 18 percent of teenagers play video games for at least four to five hours a day, according to a survey conducted by the Ministry of Education's humanities and social sciences research institution between 2017 and 2018, China Youth Daily reported in July 2018. 

"I had to play the video game on a computer due to the lack of internet at that time, which gave me an opportunity to get to know the heroes and the game well," he said, "If you know a game well and start playing it earlier than others, you will have more chances of success."

The amount of time he spent on Dota helped him become familiar with it by the time he was 16 years old. When he competed with players online, he felt they were inferior. 

After doing badly at school, Xu didn't know what career to pursue, so he was pushed by his parents to learn to be a cook. 

However, he was too shy to ask the chef how to make a dish. "I stood behind the chef quietly and watched how he did it, but he scolded me when I didn't do anything. After I tried, it turned out that I couldn't cook." 

Family support

After a discussion with his parents, Xu decided to take part in the World Cyber Games at 17 years old. 

It was the first time for him to attend a professional eSports competition. It was also the first time his mother learned about eSports, which many parents of teenagers regarded as "poison," a view that is still held by many parents in Asian countries. 

"I think not every player's parents agree with their children's choice to become a professional eSports player at the beginning, because the industry is new. For some parents, playing video games is seen as wasting time," said Xu's friend Ye Jianwei, known as "Xnova," a Malaysian player at PSG.LGD. 

Indeed, few parents would allow their son to play video games for a year in a strange city by himself, but Xu was lucky that his parents allowed him to do that. In fact, they had little choice. "Even though my family was worried about me leaving my hometown by myself, I did it without hesitation," Xu said. 

The first team Xu joined was called AgFox, a second-tier eSports club at the time. Nobody predicted the team could become champion at a competition in Beijing. "I remembered the bonus for the whole team was 10,000 yuan, which was low. We each got 2,000 yuan and I gave the money to my mother," he recalled of that carefree period. 

With the popularity of video games and the growing number of players worldwide, prize money for eSports competitions has reached jaw-dropping proportions. 

According to Valve Corporation, the prize for the first place in Ti8 was $11.19 million and $4.07 million for the second place, which Xu's team got. 

"Nobody had won so much prize money before - about 3 million yuan after tax per person," he told the Global Times. 

Now the father of two children, Xu's life has seen great changes over the past years. He was taking part in competitions when his wife gave birth on both occasions. 

"My husband spends most of his time on training and competitions, so he has little time for holidays. Even though I understand his job and don't have complaints, it's a pity that he misses some moments with our children while they grow up day by day," Xu's wife told the Global Times, noting that while many people admire eSports players and their families, there are many things behind the glamour that they have to endure. 

Will to win

Professional eSports is a competitive activity like any other, such as basketball and soccer. Even though players sit in front of a computer, they are required to have clear minds and dexterous hands. 

Xu is famous for his operation of Rubick, a hero in Dota 2 who specializes in stealing an enemy's released skill and using it himself. 

Controlling this hero well requires excellent understanding of the overall situation as well as nimble fingers. For Xu, honor and what other players think of him count for a great deal. 

However, in the biggest worldwide competition for Dota 2, Xu has already won two silver medals - with Vici Gaming eSports (VG) in Ti 4 and with PSG. LGD in Ti8.

Chinese Dota 2 players had placed high expectations on PSG.LGD, but the team lost in the final moments of the Ti8 stage. For Xu, it was an issue that ate away at him for a long time. 

"When people mentioned Ti8 to me or when I saw news about it, I would get sad. Even though they appreciated my performance, I still came in second place," he said. 

However, another opportunity beckons for Xu and his team, as the Ti9 will be held in Shanghai this summer. With the eSports industry flourishing in China, many cities, such as Shanghai and Hangzhou, as well as Heilongjiang Province, are striving to attract eSports talents and capital to develop the local economy and try their hands at the emerging large industry. 

According to PwC, the total revenue of the eSports industry in 2018 reached $805 million, and is expected to surge to $1.58 billion by 2022. 

China's technology media 36Kr reported that China's eSports market accounts for one-third of the global market share and will hold 2.2 billion yuan in 2019. 

More and more young people of Generation Y in China are starting to spend time, money and energy on video games. They become fans of top eSports players and watch them on live streams night and day. 

Star players like Xu have also contributed to this potentially huge industry. They bring in competition sponsors and investors, helping the industry boom in China. 

"I am one of the people in the eSports industry who expect it to develop well. I hope eSports will win more recognition and more people can come to learn about it," Xu said. 

Players are one of the core forces of the industry, and are paid accordingly. Xu earned 5,000 yuan per month in 2013, almost nothing compared to what he makes these days. An industry insider told the Global Times the average monthly salary for most eSports players is 40,000 yuan. 

"Compared with athletes, eSports players have longer careers,  from 15 to 30 years old… Age is connected with how you look after your career. The more you cherish it, the longer you will stay in the industry," Xu said.


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