A look inside the growing professional eSports industry

A look inside the growing professional eSports industry

Photo Credits: CIERA PASTUREL / AGGIE

Aggie gaming’s Overwatch captain attempts to break through and rise to the top

It wasn’t until Aggie Gaming’s Overwatch team captain started going to church that he got hooked on video games.  

“We had youth groups where all the kids would get together,” explained junior Justin Koh, Aggie Gaming’s most experienced player, on how he started playing video games.

The Atlanta native continued with his initiation story, crediting his older church group friends.

“They were all super into games, they basically preached that stuff to me rather than teaching me about Jesus and all that,” Koh recalled. “They were like ‘you should play this new video game, instead’.”

That game was Runescape, a massively multiplayer online game in which players interact with each other in an open world without a linear storyline.

“I thought that stuff was the coolest thing, I was like, ‘I don’t have to fish in real life. That’s something boring,” Koh said. “Catch a fish within three seconds [in RuneScape] and I’m done. This sh*t is like the future.”

Koh filled his free time with playing games ranging from CartoonNetwork.com games to more competitive games like StarCraft II and the widely popular League of Legends in which players compete in a ladder system to climb the ranks.

“My very first competitive game that I took seriously was StarCraft II,” Koh said. “I ended up hitting a pretty high rank with that. Played against a professional player on ladder, got completely destroyed and then gave up my hopes of a StarCraft II professional [career] at the time.”

After sticking with League of Legends for about four years, Koh remembered checking a website that explains how many hours someone spends playing League of Legends. Disgusted with the amount of time he had spent on the game, he decided to stop playing.

“I don’t even want to remember. I saw the number, I legit was like, ‘all right, I’m closing out of this’.”

The release of League of Legends and StarCraft II came at a perfect time, coinciding with the launch of Twitch.tv. This website allows players to stream online to viewers, which helped fuel an explosive rise in popularity in eSports. In 2014, Amazon took notice and acquired Twitch for $970 million.

Koh eventually found some success in first-person-shooter games, and his girlfriend’s group of friends convinced him to start playing Counter Strike. The overtly strategic nature of the game wasn’t his style. He did like the run and gun action of FPS, and so he took up Overwatch.

After putting in a significant number of hours dominating opponents in Overwatch, he got noticed by some prominent players.

“Eventually, I got reached out by a couple of people I know, they were like, ‘Hey, I’m trying out for the team. I think you’d be pretty good on the team if you came with me.”

Koh had finally found his place.

“All of the sudden, I went from the more casual side of gaming into a completely different environment of competitiveness and everyone pushing themselves to achieve a different goal than what a casual gamer would do.”

Koh didn’t stop there, he started applying to some of the more well known eSports organizations like Splyce and compLexity. In the process, Koh ran into a couple of obstacles. He wasn’t too fond of player contracts, he couldn’t say which organization his contract was from.

His other obstacle came from a small but debilitating problem: carpal tunnel syndrome, a common affliction among those in the eSports community, according to Dr. Levi Harrison, an orthopedic hand and upper extremity surgeon in Los Angeles.

Harrison told Vice that MMA fighters are his most common patients. After that, professional eSports players.

“Got tested positive for it in both of my wrists, and it was pretty much thought in my head, like, ‘It’s time to go to school. It’s time to get a degree, get a job’.”

Koh likened carpal tunnel syndrome to a torn ACL in other sports.

“Tore his ACL and just can’t come back into the scene –– I’m more of a guy like that.”

The growth of eSports continues to rise at an astonishing rate. According to Newzoo, 2018 global eSports revenues will reach $906 million, up 38 percent from 2017.

Part of this rising popularity comes from fans and their dedication to watching their favorite players. Much like the passionate following of Kobe Bryant or LeBron James, superstars build the value of eSports.

“That’s something we are trending toward in eSports,” said Chief Operating Officer and General Manager of compLexity Gaming Kyle Bautista. “The cult of personality in these mega influencers is something that’s really incredible. It’s something that organizations are really going to have to adapt to going forward. Making sure that you can align these huge star brands with your organizational brand so that both can maximize the synergy.”

In 2018, brands poured $694 million into sponsorships to capitalize on the influence of superstars.

Michael Hogman, who plays Fortnite, and Shahzeeb “ShahZaM” Khan, who plays Counter Strike: Global Offensive, are some of compLexity’s players who drive the brand forward and attract fans, according to Bautista.

It has become a priority for organizations to recruit talented players. Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys recently invested in the Texas based company as a partner, and Bautista explained how this helps compLexity attract potential talent.

“We put them in luxury apartments, we provide top level training resources, health care, gym memberships –– they’re able to eat at the Cowboys Cafeteria twice a day –– eating food from dietitians and nutritions that are helping them perform at their peak level,” Bautista said.

Despite some setbacks in a professional eSports career, Koh was able to lead Aggie Gaming to fifth place in the Overwatch Tespa Collegiate Series in Aggie Gaming’s first year as a team in the 2017-18 season. Koh cobbled together a roster and put together a team.

“It was really exciting because that whole time, we were considered the dark horse, the underdogs,” Koh noted. “That just made it even more hyped for everyone on the team.”

Written by: Bobby John — sports@theaggie.org