Life of an E-Sports Player
E-sports ecosystem is a world apart, with e-sports players, commentators and investors, as well as the fantastic characters and the new terminology it has created. When I decided to “step in” the e-sports ecosystem, which was alien territory to me, I chose Ömer “Cognac” Ünsal as my field guide. Ömer is the right breed for this task, as a player with six years of professional gaming experience, and as a commentator who streamlined in-depth game analyses at Twitch from the perspective of an e-sports player. Now he is working on applications that would make life much easier for LoL players, at his start-up founded in collaboration with friends. At the top of the residential towers of a shopping center, we had a long conversation overlooking a jungle of concrete and watching the sunset behind the Princes’ Islands. Below is what remains from that day…
“E-sports players should do physical sports as part of their daily programs. Currently, all the players of the best teams spend 1-2 hours in the gym per day. You’re fixed in front of the computer without moving much, and it takes two months to become gross, especially if you like eating.”
Why do we regard video gaming as a kind of sport? Is it due to the strategic team-play required, like in traditional sports?
As playgrounds are in electronic format, training and tournaments can only be held on electronic mediums. Using the term “e-sports” has a lot of pros and cons. People initially discussed it a lot. But now the federation accepts it an official sport. Its only difference from traditional sports is that e-sports does not require physical power. In fact, it is an activity that marches the brain for 12-16 hours a day. Even though you do not feel physical fatigue, it is an activity that tires you mentally enough to put to you sleep in the end. Aspects like team competition, training, and the presence of a goal (i.e.: the absence of gambling factors) set it apart from games of chance. It is a click away from traditional sports, but still a kind of sport.
How do you interpret the entrance of well-established sports clubs like Galatasaray, Fenerbahçe and Beşiktas into this new sector, without wasting time?
It is very natural for the big teams to enter every realm of popular sports. Their involvement has brought mass investment and a larger fan base. The pros: the rise in the recognition of the games and e-sports players, as well as rapid market growth. The cons: the fan base of conventional sports, who were previously unaware of e-sports, began to follow these teams, just because they carried the badge of their favorite club. As a result, a “poisonous” fan base was formed and some unwanted behaviors were imported from traditional sports to e-sports through social media and street hooliganism was introduced to virtual reality. The lynch in the virtual environment just feels as real as in real life to e-sports players, who are between the ages of 13-24, and spend their whole life in an electronic environment.
THE MOST POPULAR GAME: LEAGUE OF LEGENDS
It seems that the most popular game is League of Legends (or LoL as the fans call it), but is it also the most enjoyable one to play?
We cannot say it is the most enjoyable, as each e-sports player has different tastes. LoL’s particularity could be explained as follows: before LoL there was Dota, but this game was not able to offer big tournaments. LoL developer Riot Games opened its Turkey office at the end of 2012 and has started to organize tournaments, offer prizes and salaries. There were years when tournaments were held in every internet cafe. There are other nice competitive games, but Riot Games has become widespread in the industry with the right marketing techniques and became widespread in Turkey as well. The same story goes all around the world, as Riot is a very player-friendly company.
Do e-sports players need to force themselves to get off the table and stretch muscles during the day?
E-sports players should do physical sports as part of their daily programs. Currently, all the players of the best teams spend 1-2 hours in the gym per day. You’re fixed in front of the computer without moving much, and it takes two months to become gross, especially if you like eating. When you look at the players, however, 90 percent of them are thin. Most of the players find themselves in the e-sports community, while they live normal lives. They usually do not start video gaming to be professional e-sportsmen. When they reach a certain level in the game, they are discovered and start to get offers.
What’s the longest time you’ve heard for playing a video game?
Being an e-sportsman is a 24/7 thing. There are too many players in the virtual environment. You might be playing for 15 hours a day, but someone else is definitely playing for 16 hours. You need to play for longer hours to take part in this global competition. Nobody can play football for 20 hours a day, but some guys can play 25-26 games a day, and go on sleepless for 3-4 days. So the training level is very high. The lifestyle of an e-sportsman during the day is expected to be as follows: Waking up at around 11 am, 1-2 games after the breakfast, then 4-5 hours of team training called “scrim”, 1 hour for dinner, then the second set of team training and the day ends up at around 11:00-12:00 pm. Some players might go for a work-out during the breaks.
“The parameters of the game are not always the same, as in chess, for example. Imagine that the weight and color of the soccer ball change every two weeks. Once the goal is too small, the next week it is too big. Players need to adapt to that constantly.”
NEW FIELDS FOR INVESTMENT
Have you had a tight period like that?
Yes, I did e-sports for 6 years. I started playing professionally in 2013, and quit (or “got retired” as we call it) at the age of 24 in 2018. When players come to the age of 24-25, they feel obliged to bring order to their lives. In e-sports, you can’t see a click further. In the LoL league, kids can be part of a team at the age of 15, but they have to wait till 16 to become a professional. That’s the official policy of Riot Games. At Dota, on the other hand, kids can start professional gaming at the age of 13 with the consent of their parents. Different companies set different ages. There was an e-sports player called Sumail, for example, who had become a millionaire when he was 16! It’s all about the speed of coordination between your brain, hands and eyes.
Millions of dollars change hands for the contracts of LoL players abroad. The situation in Turkey is also fine; we are not a super-league but we are one of the first 2 regions coming after the primary 3-4 regions. The leading leagues are Korea, Europe, the USA and China. In recent years, Europe is ahead. There are serious investments in the sector and even 4 or 5 important NBA teams have entered LoL market, buying e-sports teams for themselves. Ecofox, for example, was purchased by a former basketball player called Rick Fox. There is even a league of NBA e-sports teams. That’s the beauty of LoL: You may be in a smaller league, but you can still make money as an e-sports player. Lower than the main leagues, of course!
Do an e-sports player need to be physically located in the city, where the team is located?
Sure, you’re moving to the gaming house of the teams. I lived in gaming houses for six years. Due to the face-to-face evaluation of the collective training cycles, gamers usually live in the same house. In the past, there were boot camps in internet cafes. In 2015, Riot Games made gaming houses a requirement and the teams were provided with a budget for it.
How would you introduce LoL to someone who does not know anything about it?
It is a Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) type of game. Two teams of 5 to 5 enter an arena and try to destroy the other party’s main tower. There are about 150 characters called “champions” in the game, who all have 4-5 different abilities. A professional e-sports player need to know by heart what each of these 150 champions is capable of doing and what each item in the game serves.
WHO IS YOUR CHAMPION?
Are the avatars of players selected from these champions?
Yeah! When you enter the game, the election bans are held first, where you can choose the champions you want and the champions you would like to ban, so that the other side cannot choose them. Both sides take five champions, and forbid each other from taking certain champions (both sides seeing the choices of the other side). The strategies are built around the champions selected in the end. Some champions are synergistic with each other or good as a team. There are also strong and weak champions. Riot Games balances the game every two weeks: they strengthen or weaken certain qualities of the champions. We used to say, “The game’s ‘karma’ is weak this week” for example. So an e-sports player needs to work constantly. The parameters of the game are not always the same, as in chess, for example. Imagine that the weight and color of the soccer ball change every two weeks. Once the goal is too small, the next week it is too big. Players need to adapt to that constantly.
I recently watched a live-match, and realized that a totally different language is spoken there. There was an exciting narration, while alien terms or names like Tahm Kench’s Q Damage, Rift Herald or Ocean Drake were heard frequently. How long does it take for a new gamer to master this language?
It actually depends on the person. In your 3rd or 6th month, you can play at the highest level. It all depends on your predisposition, how serious you are and how much time you devote to training. Certain terms signify certain positions in the game. For example, if 3-4 people attack the tower of the other side, it is called a “dive”. You get used to these terms in time, by doing and observing.
The game was translated into Turkish in 2013 and it was played entirely in English until then. The language of the professional e-sportsmen is still English, as there are foreign players in almost all e-sports teams. But in Turkey, matches are now presented totally in Turkish, even the names of champions’ talents. The term you heard (Tam Kench’s Q) is the name of the damage potential of a champion called Tamh Kench. When you hit your opponent with his tongue three times, he or she is paralyzed. When I hear the term, I can visualize the action in my mind.
What are some of the climax moments of a LoL match?
New targets emerge at certain moments in LoL. A crab comes out at 3:20 on the River, for example. That’s the mechanics of the game. In the 20th minute, a new creature called Baron emerges. Dragons emerge every 5 minutes, while minions emerge every 45 seconds to press the Corridor. These are all known to the audience. When that minute comes, mostly during the appearance of Baron, there would be a small confrontation and struggle between the two teams. Baron is a very big and powerful creature, whose talents can change the fate of the game. At that moment, that side of the map is stretched and the blood pressures of the players and the audience increase.
Is LoL fun to watch, even if you are not an e-sports player?
The reason for watching professional matches in e-sports is the same as football, basketball or tennis. You’re interested in that sport and there’s someone who really does it at the top level. Just like Real Madrid-Barcelona matches are watched more in football, good e-sports teams and players are followed closely too. Tickets run out within 1-2 hours after they go on sale. The Federation has already been founded and the state also started to support e-sports in Turkey.
SMART SOLUTIONS FOR THE E-SPORTS PLAYER
What are you doing nowadays?
I continue my LoL analyses on Twitch, from the perspective of an e-sports player on Digitale TV. I’m also one of the three founding partners of the Hardroom Agency. We are working as player managers and we design player-based solutions on the LoL side. We have introduced a new application called “Smatch”. Now we are at the auditing process for major European teams and receive good feedback! The application automize LoL scrims, or training sessions. To have scrims in LoL, you need to enter Skype or Discord groups to list your team, specify your availability, and wait for a good match. There is a constant “human interaction”, which is a considerable waste of time. We have adapted this into a platform, where teams could find each other on a calendar-based system easily, to receive a code and go! This way, the team coaches could save 3 hours per day. In the future, we will also have an application for player-development.
Is it boring to explain LoL to people who are absolute beginners, like me?
Actually, no. I gave an e-sports conference to 1000 top managers of a national bank once. I had to give it 10 times, as the hall’s capacity was only for 100 people. So, I had enough experience!
What are people usually curious about?
Some would like to invest in the sector, while some others are worried about their children playing games regularly. In general, the questions are: How many hours do you play per day? How do you balance games with the school? How does the role gaming in your life evolve as you grow?
What would you like to see in the future of Istanbul?
I prefer a more compact lifestyle. I should be able to find everything I need around me. It may a direct result of spending too much time on the virtual environment. I like the neighborhood of Kadıköy, as I can find everything I want in a diameter of 500 meters. I live in the Brandium residences, and there’s a mall downstairs. I am a domestic person, preferring to hang out usually at home with my gang of close friends. I like living in condominium-style gated residences, where all you need is packed together. And Istanbul seems to follow a similar direction these days.
Click here to read our comprehensive file on e-sports in Turkey: E-sports Ecosystem