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It was a growing up moment for American football when David Beckham, the British superstar, signed with a team in Los Angeles almost 15 years ago.
Hu Shuo-Chieh could become the Beckham of American esports, the term for competitive video games as a spectator sport. My colleague, Kellen Browning, wrote about stars like Hu from Taiwan and other countries where esports is bigger than big.
Kellen spoke to me about what it’s like for these button-mashing professionals coming to America, and why the US is a second-rate country in the world’s greatest competitive video game.
Shira: I know some readers will ask: do people pay for strangers to play video games against each other? It’s a job? Explain how big it is.
Trowels: Competitive video games began decades ago with games like StarCraft, especially in Asia. Now it’s global and huge, especially for a game played on PCs called League of Legends. Almost 46 million people watched at least part of the World Cup in Shanghai, China, online last October. Three million people tried to buy tickets to see them in person.
Esports isn’t that big in the US, but it’s still popular. The company that owns the League of Legends competition has stated that it is one of the most popular professional sports leagues for people between the ages of 18 and 34. And the passion of the fans is like that of a conventional sport. People buy jerseys, professional video game players advertise, and the competition is fierce.
And Americans aren’t great at the competitive League of Legends?
No. The best teams and players are in South Korea, Taiwan and China and some in Denmark, Spain and France. US teams are knocked down in international competitions. One reason North American esports teams are recruiting overseas players is to improve the world stage.
How much can these alien stars earn?
Hu – who goes by the name SwordArt – signed a record $ 6 million deal for over two years, at least for Western esports leagues. Overall, the average salary for a starting player in North American leagues is $ 460,000. The big names can do a lot more.
These guys – and they’re almost all men – tend to burn out pretty young, especially in countries where they practice up to 18 hours a day. You might retire at the age of 25 because of the repetitive stress caused or not being able to click buttons as quickly as before.
What is it like for these young video game professionals to switch to American teams?
It can definitely be a culture shock. It helps that players from the same team train together often, usually in Los Angeles. Many teams provide translators and help with accommodation and visas. But it can definitely be a challenge for those struggling with English or learning to drive. Some players have left after a season or two because they are homesick or have made enough money to quit.
Confess, Kellen, what are your favorite games and who are your favorite esports professionals?
I enjoy playing Age of Empires, a PC game where people compete to build a historical civilization. I play a little NBA 2K. But the only esports I see are the ones I write articles about.
TIP OF THE WEEK
Better video calls cheaply
Brian X. Chen, the personal technology columnist for the New York Times, has inexpensive hacks to try whether you’re tired of looking at your blurry face or sounding like underwater on web video calls:
Many of us have ridden the Zoom battle bus. Our video quality looks grainy and our audio sounds lousy. What should I do?
One option is to order a good quality webcam and microphone. However, during the pandemic, much of the equipment for work or home school sold out and demand drove prices higher. Microphones are also an expensive glory for a job.
So here’s a cheap way to go: use what you have.
The front-facing cameras of modern smartphones and tablets are generally of far better quality than the web cameras built into most laptops. So when you’re video calling, try propping your phone or tablet against something in your house, like a lamp or a stack of books. You can slide a book under the pocket of your phone for a better angle. You can also buy an inexpensive booth.
Just use a decent headset for the sound. The earbuds that came with your phone usually have a good enough microphone. If you really want a new pair, I recommend investing in good wireless earbuds as they are versatile. When you’re not using them for video calling, they can be useful for jogging or making regular phone calls.