Million prize gamer

By Huang Jingjing Source:Global Times Published: 2014-8-8 5:03:01

Following the ups and downs of an elite e-sport player in China

The NewBee e-sport team from China win the top prize at the International DOTA2 Championships held in Seattle, Washington, US, on July 21. Wang Zhaohui (first from left) holds the national flag with four other teammates. Photo: CFP

Wang Shuangfeng, 58, from Huaihua, Central China's Hunan Province, danced with delight after receiving the call from his son in the US on the morning of July 22.

The five-player team of which her son Wang Zhaohui was a member had won the annual 'DOTA2' International Championship held in Seattle, scooping an incredible $5.02 million. After taxes and deductions by the team, her son brought home prize money of approximately 4 million yuan ($648,700).

"Thankfully, there were no special schools to treat Internet addiction during my adolescence," joked Wang. "My mom had tried everything she could to end my addiction, such as beating me with broomsticks and locking me in the house," he told the Global Times.

Wang, 25, and whose gamer name is "Sansheng," has also made a plan for how to spend the prize money: buy a house for his mother and a car for his sister, with the rest going into various investments.

However, Wang doesn't see himself as a particularly good example for others to follow. "When I become a father, I won't let my kid follow my suit. I'll encourage him to finish college and play matches in his spare time," said Wang, a junior high school graduate.

"Professional video gaming is just like other competitive sports, and the road to success is definitely not easy," Wang noted.

An image of Wang without his glasses Photo: Courtesy of Wang Zhaohui

Humble beginnings

Wang was born when his mother, a laid-off worker, was 33 and her sister turned 7. Despite living with basic living allowances, his mother was especially indulgent with him. Being quiet, good at school and introverted, he was a favorite of the family.

But the "trouble-free" young boy changed when he started Grade 5, after becoming fascinated by Internet games. "At first I had no idea whether it was good or bad for him. I just thought that it could tap into his intellectual resources," Wang's mother recalled to Women Today, a publication based in Changsha, Hunan Province.

But she became worried when he frequently skipped classes and his schooling performance sharply declined. She tried her best to convince him not to play Internet games, as she worried it would destroy his future prospects, but all her efforts were in vain.

In the end, she gave up and turned a blind eye. "At least he didn't do bad things and came home every day."

He has now become a hero among children in the community. Noted for his skills, he was even invited by some adults to play games and paid 20 yuan each time.

When he entered Grade 7, 16-year-old Wang Zhaohui directly expressed his intention to quit school. "Rather than wasting time being bored sitting in school, I wanted to study computer science in a vocational high school," he said.

Wang Shuangfeng agreed and made a deal with him: he had to depend on himself after turning 18. Unfortunately, he quit vocational school just a semester later.

Road to success

At the age of 20, wang first entered professional video game tournaments. In 2009, he went to Beijing to try for the EHOME e-sport club, then one of the country hottest e-sport clubs, but was unsuccessful.

This failure didn't do anything to dampen his passion for the sport, and he organized a team back in Changsha. "We are all video game lovers. Each day, between 7 pm and 1 am the next day, we gathered and trained at a Net bar," Wang said.

They then realized that the only way to earn money and prove themselves was to win competitions.

Life was hard at the beginning. Sponsors were scarce and they were only paid around 1,500 yuan per month. Occasionally, Wang found himself penniless and had to live with the help of funds from friends.

Sometimes, fate took a cruel turn.

Once, Wang's team took part in a video game contest held in Chongqing in 2009. The organizer didn't offer accommodation, so he took a quilt and slept in an Internet bar. His team won and each member looked forward to a prize of 80,000 yuan, the sum the organizer had promised. However, the sponsor went missing with the prize money after the contest.

"E-sport is like other sports. You have to keep training and playing. Only when you have won enough games can you stand out from the top players," Wang said. There are several hundred professional e-sport players in China, but only a few of them could achieve eminence, according to him.

After long periods of training, playing and winning various competitions at home and abroad, he became well-known in the community. Several clubs made him offers and his monthly salary grew to nearly 10,000 yuan.

On March 2, NewBee e-sport club was established and Wang was recruited along with four other leading players in the country. After a four-month closed intensive training session in a villa in Shanghai, the team of five set for Seattle and beat another team from China in the final of 2014 DOTA2 competition.

Difficult lifestyle

In the tournament, out of 16 elite DOTA2 teams, six were from China, who occupied the top seven places apart from third, which was held by a US team.

However, their achievements didn't draw much response back home. E-sport, despite being listed as the 99th official sport in China back in 2003, has very little recognition in the country. Most parents do not consider it a decent profession.

Wang's mother also felt a pang of regret. "I believe he will be successful. But if he puts this sense of devotion to his studies, it would be much better," she told Women Today.

Many teenage players hailed for their success. But Wang warned. "It's hard for someone to persevere if he doesn't have enough interest in it. It's OK to take it as a hobby and have fun. But if you need to play more than 10 hours a day for years, you will become bored and disgusted," he said.

The profession also carries health risks. An unhealthy diet, sitting down for long and staying up late can all result in health disorders.

Zhang Ning, another player from the champion team NewBee, announced his decision to quit on his Weibo on July 29. He revealed that he had caught a serious stomach disease and that his doctor had earlier suggested that he rest for a period of time.

Wang said e-sport is a profession for young people and the peak stage for an elite player is a short one.

"Energy and response ability declines with age. Sometimes, being 0.1 seconds later than your opponent will lose a match," he said, adding that at the age of 25, he is already considered old in the e-sport circle.

But he said he will join the DOTA2 tournament next year, and plans to be an e-sport host in the future.

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