Over the years, Malaysia has come to be somewhat of an esports hub. Just recently, the country sent three teams to compete in the Commonwealth Esports Championships, where all three managed to secure a gold medal.
This was achieved with the help of our esports organisations, which are companies that are built around creating and training a roster of esports teams that will compete in a variety of games.
One such organisation is SEM9. With teams playing titles such as PUBG Mobile, League of Legends: Wild Rift, Call of Duty Mobile, and more, this organisation also made headlines for its esports hotel in Senai, Johor.
Reaching out to SEM9, I was given the opportunity to look into the lives and minds of Malaysian esports athletes through these three players:
- Fairul Iskandar Putra bin Muazamshah AKA Putra, SEM9 PUBG Mobile in-game leader, 18
- Pavandeep Sing AKA ConcepT, Call of Duty Mobile in-game leader, 19
- Liew Kuan Chuen AKA Sagi, League of Legends: Wilf Rift athlete, 22
Turning passion into a profession
Putra had played in a few small tournaments before eventually being scouted by Manparang, Draxx, and SEM9’s PUBG Mobile team’s ex-coach, the late Hahagus.
Sagi, too, was scouted by his current captain Ozoraveki as well as his current manager Edwardo.
ConcepT decided to pursue a professional career in esports because of a CSGO player known as S1mple.
“We joined SEM9 after we won the Malaysian Championship for Call Of Duty Mobile in 2021,” he explained. “We were scouted and approached by them.”
“Thanks to my previous organisation, Berjaya Dragons, and current organisation, SEM9, they have made esports a lucrative career that provides sustainable salaries toward my daily life with general benefits ready, similar to any other working adult in a firm,” Sagi said.
He shared that competition winnings also come as a plus, like year-end bonuses.
On the other hand, ConcepT believes esports is not that lucrative, unless you reach the top. In his opinion, it’s a great part-time job, but it should never be one’s main source of income.
“Esports is very inconsistent and unstable,” he reasoned. “If the game loses popularity, players are then forced to switch games. So, it’s not a very sustainable career.”
Putra’s answer explains the situation a bit better—to him, since esports is still not very mature in Malaysia, it really comes down to the organisation and team you’re in. Like many other industries, some companies pay well, some do not.
He shared that his salary is fairly comfortable, but what the team really guns for is the prize money. Besides that, players can also pursue streaming for some extra income.
Training the mind and the body
Like any other sport, esports athletes spend a lot of their time honing their skills and practising for matches.
“A classic team training day will be about 5 hours excluding individual training time,” Putra stated. “The training time varies quite heavily and it is not as monotonous as the usual 9-5 jobs.”
After training, Putra said that the players try to sleep early and keep themselves healthy by watching what they consume and throwing in a bit of physical exercise.
“The current schedule of our team is 11AM to 11PM,” Sagi shared. “However, it extends as we choose to play solo rank after our practise matches, also known as scrimmages, during work hours.”
According to him, the average esports player trains a minimum of 8 to 13 hours a day. In the mornings, Sagi and his team also work out at the gym facility at their new place. The consistent exercise keeps the athletes healthy and ready for long hours of practice.
For ConcepT’s team, practice is a little less intense. They practise around two and a half hours a day as a team through scrimmages.
While he didn’t mention having a regular gym routine with his team, he personally stays active by playing sports such as futsal and badminton.
Just like at any other job, their mental health is also something these esports athletes need to watch out for.
“It can be extremely toxic at the professional level as the team itself is carrying the pride of Malaysia in international games,” Sagi shared.
“Sometimes it can be saddening to see hate comments on our performance, but one can only turn that hate into motivation to prove the haters wrong.”
Cutting through the noise
In the bigger picture, esports as a career is still considered rather new. As such, it’s not a surprise that the three athletes’ parents weren’t the most supportive of their pursuits at first.
It was only after Putra won a few small online tournaments and raked in some cash that his mother realised esports could be a career as well.
Similarly, Sagi’s parents weren’t very supportive of his esports career when he joined his first semi-pro tournament in League of Legends at around age 15.
Once they saw his results (and the money), they became more confident in Sagi’s choice, and supported his esports pursuits, as long as he managed his studies well.
Parents aside, though, stereotypes about the profession are still aplenty. According to the athletes, some still think esports isn’t a real career, or take it lightly for being a non-physical sport.
Putra also believes gaming in general is still stigmatised by most in Malaysia, though the younger generation is starting to adopt it.
Perhaps that’s why ConcepT thinks that Malaysians actually have a rather positive outlook on esports. But if there’s one bias that still remains, it’s regarding esports athletes’ academic performances.
“The stereotype of gamers being less intelligent holds no value as many of my friends from gaming are students in universities pursuing their degrees, and this includes myself,” he said.
Plus, professional gaming involves studying too. According to Putra, the athletes have to work with statistics a fair bit. As he puts it, they study too, just in a different and unconventional way.
Sagi also shared that such stereotypes about gamers’ education or intelligence are an “expired way of thinking”.
“Take me as an example: I graduated from both my Diploma and Degree in International Business as a First-Class Honours Student,” Sagi said.
While this might sound like he’s boasting, Sagi just wanted to convey the fact that gamers are capable of studying and achieving goals in life—all you need is discipline.
Making it in a cutthroat industry
While it’s easy to think that a career in esports simply means getting paid for playing a game for hours on end, the reality of it is much tougher, especially if you plan on going professional.
As Putra puts it, “Similar to other sports titles, the middle ground is fairly non-existent. You have to be incredibly good and be at the top for you to see some real cash.”
He continued, “It is a little cut-throat but for players and teams at the top, esports is a very sustainable career, provided you are able to maintain your standards.”
“Although playing games for a living may seem to be a lot of current teenagers’ dreams, to compare it with a normal career, it may be also physically and mentally taxing as it revolves around making a supposedly fun game into a potentially stressful chore to do on a daily basis,” Sagi added.
If not approached correctly, Sagi believes that players might end up hating their jobs and the game. Work is work, after all.
Still, Malaysia’s esports scene is clearly a robust one. As ConcepT says, Malaysia has produced many players playing at an international level for games such as Dota 2, CSGO, and Valorant.
But in terms of competitive level, and based on recent trends, Putra thinks Malaysia’s esports industry may be reaching a stagnant state. As such, local athletes may have a hard time against other Asian teams.
“This is due to a variety of factors, a lot of it due to the heavy investments in other countries towards their players and teams,” he reasoned.
In any case, athletes like Sagi do hope that Malaysia’s esports scene matures with time to allow more opportunities for local players.
The graduate from Tunku Abdul Rahman University College also advised younger athletes to focus on studies first and balance the time spent between gaming and studying.
“Promise yourself to finish middle school and obtain an SPM certificate, and then only think about how you would want to achieve your dream as an esports athlete,” he suggested.
He reminded that being an esports athlete is not just about individual and in-game skills. It also involves athletes’ capability of communicating and socialising with others while being marketable.
“Remember to improve yourself as an overall person in life, not just focusing everything on the game,” he concluded. “When you are ready and the time comes, the opportunity will be ready for you to grasp it.”
Featured Image Credit: SEM9