Playing for your life: The highs and lows of a professional gamer
Updated 18:03, 07-Jan-2019
Laura Schmitt and Luo Shanshan
Video games, for many years in China, were branded by many parents as "digital heroin." It wasn't until 2003 that the country officially recognized video gaming as a sport and since then, e-sports have really taken off.
China is now the world leader in terms of revenue and number of players. As a spectator sport, it attracts over 125 million fans in China each year – that's the equivalent of the entire population of Japan. In November, no fewer than 40,000 spectators descended on Beijing's Olympic Stadium - The Bird's Nest - to watch the world championship final of one of the most popular computer games of our time, League of Legends.
For the country's new generation of pro-gamers, this popularity has brought considerable benefits and not only material gains. In addition to a decent income, the best players also enjoy celebrity status. Contrast this with their predecessors just a decade ago, who had to steal away from home to play in dingy internet cafes.
Someone who has experienced both the highs and the lows of life as a gamer is Sky. Back in 2005, his historic victory in the World Cyber Games put China on the global gaming map. He is considered the trailblazer who has opened up the industry in China, and who allowed Chinese parents to put the "digital heroin" stereotype to rest. And yet, just nine years after his triumph, he was forced to retire.
"The game wasn't updated after 2013," he said, explaining the brevity of his career. "I'd always dreamed of winning a third title. Canceling the game hit me hard. The goal I'd been working towards like an Olympic athlete had been taken away. If an Olympic event was suddenly discontinued, the athletes would lose their purpose. I lost my purpose in life."
Sky had excelled in a game called Warcraft. He considered switching to the new game on the block – League of Legends. However, having invested all of his teenage years in learning to control one game's commands at a staggering speed, he didn't have it in him to start all over again. But that left one major question: What next?
"I was very worried and anxious," he said. "What would I do with my life? You get all this attention as a world champion and nothing when your game is gone. One day, you realize the world has forgotten about you. It's very hard to accept since you feel you haven't done anything wrong… But no one's paying attention anymore."
Sky streams his gameplay online for people to watch. /CGTN Photo

Sky streams his gameplay online for people to watch. /CGTN Photo

Sky said his biggest regret is when his gaming career ended he knew nothing besides gaming. He has managed to stay in the industry, by founding his own company called Taidu, which sells computer hardware targeted at professional gaming, and also using live streaming to broadcast his game play to audiences online. Aside from that, he is advocating for more avenues for professional development in the pro-gamer community, so the younger generation does not have to face the same problems he did upon ending their gaming career.
"I refocused on sharing my knowledge with this new generation of pro-gamers. In 2016, China's education ministry announced that universities would be permitted to offer an e-sports major, in order to promote the healthy development of this industry. We're taking steps to promote competitive gaming in higher education. We want China's higher education institutions to offer the same opportunities to pro-gamers as they do to other athletes, so they have the opportunity to study further and reach their full potential."