FROM playing computer games together as teenagers to meeting the Prime Minister and receiving his personal endorsement, the four youngsters who make up the core of Team Kingsurf have sure come a long way.
Though it hasn’t always been a smooth ride, Kingsurf have established themselves as one of the best professional gaming teams in the country, a fact nailed home when they won a silver medal in the Warcraft DotA category at the Electric Sports World Cup (ESWC) international gaming tournament in San Jose, California, less than two months ago.
But it all started out with four computer games fans in Johor Baru who played together in cyber cafes, just like hundreds of thousands of teenagers out there.
“We were just having fun playing games together,” said Lee Vei Siang, who goes by the monicker PapaXiong.
“It’s not like it was our ambition or plan to do any of this.”
But even though they have had to struggle at times with problems ranging from their parents’ disapproval to inadequate broadband connection, things still managed to click together for Papaxiong and his friends Mar Yung Chia (XIaOmAa), Lee Wen Chek (Xiaogui), and Ng Wei Poong (Yamateh).
Back in the early days of their gaming career, the guys were getting so good at DotA (one of the most popular games these days), that the Kingsurf cyber café where they played decided to sign them up. They were assigned a manager who would register them up for competitions and they have not looked back since then.
Moving to the top
“Since last September or October, we’ve played about fifteen local competitions, and we’ve not lost a single one,” said PapaXiong.
“We’ve lost some games, but we’ve always ended up first place at the end of those competitions. The last time we’ve lost a tournament was the Asian Cyber Games in Singapore in August, where we came in third.”
And while the local professional gaming scene might not be as lucrative compared to in other countries, it was still pretty good money considering their young age.
“We’d win a couple of thousand ringgit at smaller competitions, but the bigger ones would give out several thousand more,” added PapaXiong, who is just 18 this year.
The ironic thing though, is that the one competition that they had lost in the last year was the one that bagged them the jackpot.
Although they lost to Team Zenith from Singapore at the ESWC finals, the five-man team (having added Ng Kim Jen, or Sakura, from Malacca) still ended up pocketing US$8,000 (RM28,000).
But even before the competition, it was already evident that Kingsurf were going to the next level in their gaming careers.
Having won the local ESWC competition out of 1,027 individual participants and along with it the chance to represent Malaysia at San Jose, Kingsurf were granted an audience with Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi who was kind enough to give the team his vote of confidence.
“It was really nice to get that kind of recognition,” said Yamateh, also 18.
“I thought he’d be really serious, but he was actually very warm and friendly with us.”
And since their landmark win, Team Kingsurf seem to have been getting their 15 minutes in the spotlight. With a few media interviews under their belt, some articles already out in the papers and even an appearance on 8TV’s Quickie, Kingsurf could well be on their way to being Malaysia’s first high-profile pro-gaming team.
Trouble at the top
However, being at the top of their game comes with a huge downside as well.
“We’ve already been banned from a lot of competitions,” said XIaOmAa. “Especially the smaller ones where we can win a couple of thousand ringgit.”
The team’s honest analysis of the situation is, that they are just too good for their own good.
“The other teams that go for these smaller competitions know that if we take part, we’ll win,” said Sakura matter-of-factly.
PapaXiong added: “They say we should give a chance to other Malaysian teams, because we already have a lot of experience (in competitions). I think a lot of other teams have been complaining about us taking away opportunities from them.”
Because of the ban imposed on them by many local competition organisers, they are often left struggling for funds.
“We’d really like to make this (pro-gaming) our careers, but there’s just not enough money in it now. The amount of money we earn a month depends on how many tournaments we win,” said Yamateh.
And since they’re already banned from many competitions, the team is forced to look for overseas tournaments, but that comes with its own set of problems.
“We were supposed to play in a tournament in China next month, but I think we won’t be able to go because we can’t find enough sponsors,” PapaXiong explained.
“There aren’t many sponsors in Malaysia, and we often have to look for funding from Singapore.”
It’s not just the funding that sometimes limits the development of gaming in Malaysia. According to the guys, the local broadband connection plays a significant role too.
“In terms of skills, we’ve proved at ESWC that we’re on the same level as the rest of the world. Every team was the champion in their respective countries after all,” said Sakura.
“But we could’ve been better because we’ve always had a disadvantage with our net connection – it’s lagging compared to other countries, and so we don’t get to practise with different teams online.”
Secret to success
But take nothing away from these five youngsters, as according to PapaXiong, becoming pro-gamers isn’t as easy as just playing computer games.
“There’s a big difference between playing and training,” he says. “When we first started out, we were just playing around. But now we have to be serious when we practise, because it’s important for the whole team.”
According to Yamateh, their training schedule is quite simple.
“I’m either training or sleeping. I work as a shampoo boy now because I’m training to be a hairstylist. But apart from that, as long as I’m awake, I’ll be training,” he said.
They train an average of six hours a day, or at least three hours. They work on new tactics and strategies, communication, and teamwork; and it’s all on just one game €“ DotA.
Naturally, it can be quite a chore.
“It does feel like a job sometimes,” said XIaOmAa. “Imagine having to play eight hours of the same game every day! It can get boring sometimes.
“What I do when I get bored is turn on MSN and chat with some girls,” he added cheekily.
But it’s their work ethic that makes them such a strong team, says PapaXiong.
“I’m not sure if you can call this a secret to success, but we just work as hard as we can. That’s why we weren’t surprised when we did so well at ESWC. We had put in a lot of effort, and I believe success will come naturally when you do that,” he said.
“And we’re all still pretty good friends now. We have good relationships with each other, and we make it a point to talk things out after games.”
Still, with that amount of dedication to a computer game, in a society where it is considered a worthless pastime for maladjusted youths, it was almost certain that the guys would meet some resistance from their families.
“Of course my parents were quite unhappy about it at first. But then they started to notice that I was getting somewhere with it. And you have to prove that you can manage your time as well,” said PapaXiong.
“And it’s not like they can really do anything about it any more!” XIaOmAa added jokingly.
Their family support at the moment is very important for the team, because most of the top players are usually around 18, and the lifespan of a professional gamer isn’t long.
“A lot depends on which game is popular. We only play DotA now, but unfortunately it’s not as spectator-friendly as Counter Strike. So in the future we might have to change to other games,” said Sakura.
“We might also lose a bit of sharpness after a while,” added PapaXiong.
“It’s common knowledge that those around 18 are the best, because once you get past that age your reactions and instincts will slow down.
“So, we’ll just have to make the most of it now.”