I was first introduced to games by my brother when I was around 8 years old -- they were old Windows games, such as Solitaire, Hearts, Chip's Challenge, Rodent's Revenge, and Pinball. Later on, I also learned about other "popular" PC games, such as Need for Speed, Red Alert 2, Counter-Strike, and Warcraft III. Since we only had 1 PC at that time, we needed to take turns to play games, although most of the time, it was my brother playing with me watching. However, sometimes we did naughty things, such as using my mother's unused laptop, which she left at home, to play games together on Local Area Network (will be shortened to LAN later on). That was before we discovered internet cafes.
Competing Against "Real" People
One day, at that time I was around 12 years old, my brother invited me to join him playing in an internet cafe. We played some Counter-Strike games, as well as Red Alert 2 with other people there on LAN. That was the first time I actually faced "actual people" instead of Artificial Intelligence (will be shortened to AI later on), and I remember I was utterly destroyed by them. My brother blamed me for the loss, which showed how much he wanted to win at times.
Anyway, we got home and were scolded by our parents because they thought my brother introduced bad things to me, since internet cafes did not necessarily have the best reputation amongst the elders during my childhood. I didn't play in an internet cafe anymore until I was in Junior High School. Until then, I only played with my brother and my family happened to have quite a fortune, so my father could afford me a laptop and we could play together at home against AI. Probably, that was an effort to prevent me learning bad things from people out there.
The internet cafe near my Junior High School was probably the most influential thing that had happened to me back then. It was not the school, it was the internet cafe itself. Around one month after school started, some of my friends asked me to play Counter-Strike in the internet cafe. The name was Traktor.net, people called it "TW" for some reason -- probably because "internet cafe" was "warnet" in Indonesian and "TW" was an acronym for "Traktor Warnet". So, there's that. I enjoyed my friendship with 8th and 9th grade seniors. It was very unlike my seniors at my previous elementary school. We had a lot of fun. I think I was quite good when it came to games at that time, though I was nowhere near professional-level players, of course.
Some months later, I discovered Battle-Net and Indogamers Private Server when I was playing Warcraft III custom map, Defense of the Ancients (will be shortened to DotA later on). Most of my seniors already had their own accounts to play there, but I didn't because I had never played Battle-Net before. Long story short, I tried creating various account names in "Indogamers Junior" server with no luck. The names that I chose weren't available. I got desperate and I just typed "illllll" for no reason. That's right, 1 lowercase "I" and 6 lowercase "L"s. Then, boom. My account was created, magically.
Truth be told, I did not have many friends at school, because I was not really a "social" person. However, I befriended some good people through Battle-Net. We are still friends until now, although I don't really communicate with them as much as I did when we were still competing in tournaments (we will get to that in later sections). I got invited to their clan and one day we decided to meet up. It was fun... and amazing, perhaps. I did not know that internet friends could be real friends.
I was quite edgy back then when it came to winning games. I often "raged" in chat, like typing with caps lock on, calling out names, and all that. A friend told me that if I kept going like that, no one would want to play with me anymore. Yeah, I was quite infamous for that attitude. When I was doing an interview to become an operator in Indogamers (operators were volunteers who helped moderate the server), one of the questions asked to me was, "If you are currently losing in a game, then someone whispers to you to report a case, what will you do? Will you flame (mock) them?". We had a good laugh at that.
However, my edgy status did not end there. There were other things than losing that made me mad, two of them were: (1) laggy internet and (2) sudden family activities.
Back then, Facebook was quite a thing after Friendster. People started to upload photos, videos, and do other stuff on it. When someone opened a photo album, my internet speed drastically dropped. Sometimes, I got disconnected. Back then, in Warcraft III, when you got disconnected, you were done. There were no ways to join the game back. On top of that, since I was playing on a private server, people might accuse me for intentionally leaving the game, which could end in my account getting banned. This made me determined to not create a Facebook account. (Side note: I created a Facebook account in 2013 because college life forced me to.)
As for sudden family activities, I was baffled by my family's communication. There were times where my parents would ask us to go out all of a sudden. It was as if I could not control my own life, because there were always things that could interrupt my time. What is parents' relationship with their children anyway? My life was full of secrets and I should play guessing games, "Oh hey, this works now. But, I don't know whether it will work again later because I don't have the information whatsoever". To mitigate this from happening in my own family, I have implemented a family calendar which contains activities that we (I and my wife) need to do together, so we are always informed on what we are up to. This ensures that we can decide the best timings for our own me-time.
In 2012, I got into college, where I needed to move to Bandung from Jakarta. I gained control over my life -- this included waking up, eating, taking a bath, sleeping, studying, and all that. Since I was on my own, I subscribed for a personal internet connection (I didn't share with the others in my dorm). It was easier because I knew where to complain if there was a performance downgrade on my connection. I did not need to communicate with the others [who were living in the dorm], which means less friction. Yay!
It was also during my college, I started to pursue competitive gaming more seriously with my internet friends. I was not a bright student or academician at that time, so this was a huge risk. Sometimes, I felt like I was just being a passenger in my group project, because I couldn't really manage my time better. I was too fixated in becoming a good DotA 2 player. It was even worse because I decided to also take part in some organizational activities. That was probably the nail in the coffin and I had to kiss my 24 hours a day goodbye.
My team did not have that kind of luck (as in getting top 3 in a competition) during our first 1-2 years, not even in small local tournaments. Our biggest achievement during that time was probably when we beat KoaLa, a famous DotA player from the XcN times, who happened to be a stand-in of a team who faced us in the final qualifier round.
We won against his team. However, in the group stage, we didn't stand any chance against teams such as Zero Latitude.
We participated in a lot more tournaments/leagues, in particular joinDOTA's Asia League. It was one of the best experiences in doing competitive DotA 2 for me. We started from the Indonesia leagues (which was until Division 3). We climbed up, up, and away until we reached the qualifier round for Division 2. When we qualified for Division 2, I was really happy because Division 2 was where all the semi-competitive teams in Southeast Asia region gathered (not only Indonesian teams). Finally, I could represent something for my country in something I was passionate about.
However, we hit another boulder. We got stuck on Division 2 and sometimes we dropped down to Division 3, back and forth. We had some of our great moments, but it was not enough to even bring us to the qualifier for Division 1.
While we were playing on Division 2 of joinDOTA League, we won some of the local tournaments as well. It was not much, the prize for first place was usually around 1.5 million IDR or US$110. The tournaments themselves were typically held for 2-3 days during the weekend, so it was ~US$35 per day, per team, for winning first place.
That was mostly it -- we competed in bigger Indonesian tournaments, but since we were mostly students and did not dedicate 100% of our time to "train", we were clearly behind compared with other top-tier teams from Indonesia.
I have regrets over those times. I overvalued grinding and I forgot the value of watching and learning. Yes, applying what we have learned is important, but as much as putting them into practice is important, we can also get insights by watching how other players play and do their stuff. Perhaps, if I "studied" other top-tier players inside and outside Indonesia, I could have become a better player.
The year was 2016. I needed to do another internship in order to do my thesis defense because I procrastinated from working on my previous internship report. This caused my university internship supervisor to be "mad" at me and I thought there was no second chance. So, I expected another 1-2 months of suffering. Anything I would do to graduate that year.
I was so wrong when I expected my path on competitive gaming would still be the same before, during, and after the internship.
The second good thing was, I found a really good mentor during my internship. He guided me in a way so that I could pave my way to understand and catch-up to the newer world of web development. Slowly, I began comparing the "career" of front-end engineer with competitive gamer. By the end of the internship, I was offered a part-time opportunity and I took it.
This job was unlike competing in tournaments, I thought. It was chill, urgent at times, but my stress-level was not as high as when I was inside a tournament game. Also, better "salary"? Sign me up. I decided to stop doing tournaments, though sadly that also stopped my team from competing further. However, I was still playing DotA 2, in particular for Battle Cups (prior to The International event), as well as World of Warcraft for its Arena PvP.
As for now, I don't play both games anymore. I only play Hearthstone during my spare time for fun and that's it, though I still follow a bit of DotA 2 and World of Warcraft from Twitch streamers and/or tournaments out there. No matter how different my current job with what I did in the past, I will always have a soft spot for video games.
Prospects in Esports
Let's talk about prospects. For DotA 2 prize pool alone, it is quite big for a team game. In fact, The International 2019, as of July 2020, is still the tournament with the highest prize pool. Of course, there are also other games with big prize pools as well, such as Fortnite and League of Legends.
However, most of these tournaments only come yearly. You have one shot to get the big prize. If you don't win, you don't get paid (unless your team pays you as a player). If you or your team have an immense amount of talent and dedication, I think you should give it a shot. However, in esports, you also need to be lucky, just as how professional athletes in sports do.
Sure, if we take a look at some of the top football players' earnings, we will think that, "Oh, it's going to be so nice to be a football player!". But, the road to become one of them is definitely not as easy as it looks. First, you will need to be dedicated. Then, you will need to "ramp up" in local football teams, then you hope to be noticed by leagues outside of your country. If you plan to become a Premier League player, you probably would need to play in less-competitive Europe leagues first. You need to be consistent, you need to be free from injuries, which sometimes, are career-defining for a lot of football players.
Whether you are going for sports or esports, you will need to dedicate your life for it. Sometimes, it will require sacrifice. It's not easy to get the best of all worlds when you are chasing or doing your dreams.
In esports, other than winning tournaments, one can also try to stream their gameplay. Streaming is another tricky topic. Not all famous players can gather crowds to watch their gameplay. It requires social skills and consistency [to stream on schedule]. However, if you succeed in both aspects, you have a chance in building your own community who will subscribe or even donate to you for making their day.
One thing for sure, I don't think esports at the moment is as stable as real sports especially during these pandemic times. A team recently released all of their players due to the uncertainty of the DotA 2 tournaments. Also, usually Valve held a lot of DotA 2 major on-site tournaments in a year. However, due to this COVID-19 situation, there are only online tournaments and their prize pools are not as big as official Valve’s DotA 2 major tournaments.
Now, I am...
The year is 2020. Currently, I am working as a front-end engineer at Tetrate.io and I am quite happy with it. I have flexible working hours, I am getting experience working with people around the globe, I am getting good amounts of money, and again, my stress level is not as high as when I am competing in a tournament.
One day, I hope esports will become on-par with real sports. I hope families and society will adapt to this industry and accept that playing games can be a career. Now, I’m working on another dream. A dream to build a healthy family -- physically and emotionally.