On Becoming a Gaming Pro – Where Jake explores avenues of employment for his children

(This article first appeared in the May 22, 2006 issue of Jon Peddie’s TechWatch)

As the father of two avid game-playing children (a 9-year-boy and a nearly 11-year-old girl), I have long wanted to explore the career options that might be available to them as professional gamers, and E3 offered the perfect opportunity to do a little research. After all, if there is one place where the world’s best professional gamers could be found at the same time, it would be E3.

I hooked up with two members of the esteemed F-Players at the Fatal1ty booth. As you may know, Fatal1ty is the gamer handle for Johnathan Wendel, perhaps the world’s best-known pro gamer, and the best there is when it comes to merchandising and marketing himself. While John was busy on stage blasting the shorts off some gaming wannabe, I spent a bit of time with Magnus “fojji” Olsson and Alessandro “Stermy” Avallone.

Italian bred and raised, Alessandro (Stermy), now age 19, was of particular interest to me, as he was the youngest competitor to have ever competed in the World Cyber Games – at the tender age of 15. Stermy is now ranked as one of the top three competitive gamers in the world and earns around $120,000 a year. And Swede Magnus (fojii), age 22, is even better than Stermy. Magnus starting competing professionally when he was 17 years old.

The F-Players are the world’s top professional gamers. From left to right, Magnus “fojji” Olsson, Johnathan “Fatal1ty” Wendel, Alessandro “Stermy” Avallone.

The Athletics of Gaming

Both Stermy and fojii stressed that professional gaming is an athletic sport – one requiring long hours of prac-tice, good physical health, dedication, and focus. That focus is now on the PC version of “Quake 4”, a game in which they spend many hours a day refining their strategy and improving their hand/eye coordination and knowledge of the game. The time investment is so great that Stermy still has a year of the Italian version of high school to finish should he want to pursue a university education.

Magnus stressed that a key ability of professional gamers, just as with other athletes, is that they must be able to perform under pressure – and certainly with the whole gaming world watching, and with countless upstarts wanting to test their mettle, the pressure is enormous.

But, as Stermy pointed out, all the practice and training in the world will not help someone if they don’t have natural talent for gaming. And that generally holds true for any other sport, too.

Magnus and Stermy have both been playing video games all their lives, but got into competitive gaming via LAN parties and playing against friends. From there they went to regional events, and ultimately to international events. Stermy has found one of the side benefits of professional gaming is that it real-ly is a very social activity, and as such he has made friends all over the world.

I asked the guys how their families have dealt with their unusual career choice. Magnus indicated that he was lucky in that his parents were supportive from the start. Stermy had to work a bit to make his parents understand that gaming could be a real job, and any concern and reluctance his parents had when he started has now been overcome with the results (and money) he’s bringing home.

So, what would their advice be to a young gamer wanting to go pro? Practice a lot, enter competitions whenever possible, but don’t bet your whole future on your possible success either – keep your options open.

girlz Of destruction

Later that evening, I happened to be having dinner with three of the girlz Of destruction, a professional all-female gaming team assembled with the support of hardware maker VIA and its S3 subsidiary, and discussed many of the same topics with them. While the athletic aspects and analogies Stermy and Magnus raised were stressed by Alana “Ms. X” Reid, Therese “trito” Andersson, and Livia “Liefje” Sophia as well, their take on professional gaming was from the female perspective.

The girlz all universally had encountered some sort of sex bias in their gaming careers, with the most typical being, “But you’re a girl! You can’t play video games,” which would generally be followed with the chauvinist being handed his butt on a platter by the female gamer he had just put down.

They all agreed, however, that parental support was vital in their careers, and that in some cases they had to prove to their parents that they had chosen a worthwhile career path. Several of the girlz (there are seven members of the team) also have other work they do in addition to being a gamer, including going to high school (Barbie – a 16-year-old from Russia) or college (Missy – a 19-year-old American).

And, while the F-Players focus on Quake IV on a PC to the exclusion of all other games, because that’s where the big prize money is, the girlz have pursued a variety of games and platforms because the competition options for women are not as focused, nor nearly as prize-rich. The girlz lacked the intensity that I saw in Magnus and Stermy, but at the same time had a lively spark and general appreciation of life, which I missed in the F-Players. I can’t honestly say whether that was just a male/female difference or one produced by the environments in which we spoke: couches on the noisy E3 show floor vs. a nice dinner at Roy’s Hawaiian Fusion Restaurant. Talking with the girlz was less intimidating by far.

So, what did I learn to pass on to my kids about gaming as a career? Focus on a game with lots of prizes and competitions, play it a lot, kick a lot of butt, but, please, most of all, finish school first.