The life of a professional gamer

Once upon a time, some kids dreamed of becoming astronauts or firefighters when they grew up. But the generation that turned Atari, Nintendo and Sega into household names had its own ambition: to be paid to sit around and play video games. Now, as adults, some people are living that dream.

Take 24-year-old Canadian pro gamer Guillaume “Grrr” Patry. He started playing the hugely popular Warcraft in 1999. He quickly became recognized as the best player in his hometown of Beauport, Que., and then in his province. When Patry discovered Starcraft, a science fiction strategy game, he convinced his father, Rejean, to bankroll his travel to a competition, where he won US$10,000. He’d joined the world of professional gaming.

“In order to make it,” Patry said, “you have to play the right game and be willing to move where it’s being played.” At the moment, according to Patry, the only “right” games, where there’s serious money to be made, are Counter-Strike, a first-person shooter (FPS) game based on the popular Half-Life; and Starcraft: Brood War, a real-time strategy (RTS) contest — his game.

As for the place to be, South Korea, with the most developed gaming industry in the world, is it. Top professional gamers are as revered by Korean fans as stars of baseball or football are in the United States. In 2000, Patry moved to Seoul, the hub of professional competitive video gaming.

Divide and conquer

Fast-paced — at times almost frenetic — RTS games like Starcraft stress a player’s ability to keep track of dozens of events simultaneously, and to keep at least one step ahead of the opponent. Patry plays Starcraft like Kasparov plays chess.

Patry declines to disclose exactly how profitable the pro life has been, but he said he lives comfortably on what he earns in competitions. “In Korea,” he said, “the top three players clear half a million dollars a year.”

And he ought to know: he has dominated Korean Starcraft leagues for nearly three years, most of that time as the top player in a highly competitive field. At the conclusion of the four-day World Cyber Games held in Seoul in 2003, for example, Patry took home an US$18,000 purse for winning the Starcraft bronze medal.

But Patry sees his career as a pro gamer winding down. He doesn’t play as much as he used to. Back at the beginning of his gaming career, a six-hour game day wasn’t out of the ordinary. Today, he plays for only about three hours per day, and he believes dulled reflexes hamper older players like himself.

Get ready to go pro

Almost anyone can try competitive gaming from home. All you need is an adequately fast computer, a broadband connection, quick fingers and a taste for victory.

Many tournaments have regional divisions and online qualifying matches. Various amateur leagues, including the Team Warfare League and Online Gaming League, let you sample the world of competitive online gaming.

With enough talent and practice, you might make the short list for elite gaming competitions like the WCG — but even if you don’t, you’ll have fun trying.

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