The setup may seem pretty mundane… there is this table with a tube of pain-reliever ointment, a bottle of Vicks Vaporub, two chilled cans of imported soda pop of a lesser known brand, the shut windows of an upscale Andheri bungalow with posters of pop-culture hung around with least artistic flair and an opened family sized packet of chips lazing on the generously stained table, surrounded by crumbs of chips sacrificed the night before, near its open mouth!
The only piece of careful maintenance and cherished ownership could be seen on the large computer set, equipped with one of the largest screens and an obscurely shaped lit-up mouse lying on top of a rather flashy mouse-pad with Hulk printed on it!
Soon enough five ‘20-something’ men, who wake up at noon every day and eat noodles or left-over pizza for breakfast would enter this room. The band consists of the usual group of misfits – a monosyllabic Bengali who dropped out of literature from Presidency College in Kolkata, a chatty Punjabi commerce graduate, a rather cheerful mechanical engineer from Patna, a sleepy management student from Pune and a shy software engineer from the Philippines.
The room populates with an assortment of bleached hair, geek glasses, and side-burns reminiscent of classic rock musicophiles, hoodies and hipster beards! In no time do they collapse into their tall, overly expensive swivel chairs that feign the promise of ergonomics, putting on their large headphones and get ready to spend the next 10 hours of their day indulging in the purest form of male bonding activity! The kind that requires enthusiastic cussing, endless supply of unhealthy snacks, gulping pop soda and no need for eye contact or proper pants!
These boxer-clad men are cyber athletes, they charge with their mouse pointers and fire with their keyboard taps. This is a regular work day for these men who form the misunderstood minority, promising ultra-swag, being India’s IPL-style professional online gamers! Whether it is a Dota 2 tournament or the infamous Match Poker League, these men practice their art of gaming and bootcamp each day to ensure they remain in the finest shape, when it comes to strategy multiplayer games! They have an appointed team ‘mom’ who sets up their schedule for the daily matches and is also a Hollywoodish closet whiz-kid who resolves their technical problems.
This communal setup also includes spending couple of hours working out together at the nearby gym to further cement their bond. This being the only offline ritual they have reluctantly warmed up to. But here’s the deal, this dream life awards these full-time gamers / professional brainiacs a month end income that is much higher than their hardworking techie friends dotting their 10-hour workdays on the office computer screens at software MNCs.
The high-octane corporate sponsored world of online competitive gaming is nowhere near the insipidity of their Andheri-bungalow existence. These games boast their own stadiums (poker galleries) commentators and a crowd-funded or company-sponsored prize pools that easily run up to a few millions in dollars! These athletes are identified by their autographed aliases online, such as ‘That_Kid’, ‘Sirius’, ‘The Roar’, ‘NoFish’ and others.
When interviewed they sighed at the fact that many Indians still think of professional gamers or poker pros as gamblers! Their real-world rise in the world of cyber sports has taken as many hardships and struggles as any other sportster. Yes, even cyber sportsmen have had to navigate personal Dangal-like battles to get to where they are. Starting with choppy internet connection, to disapproving parents, to hiding laptops under blankets for hours late night (for gaming you pervs), the struggle has been real!
So, is it fair for them to be asked by airport security guards if there are professional cricketers or hockey champions, when they tote around cardboard cheques worth INR 5 crores back from international tournaments? Many of their fame came after nine to ten long years of intensive gaming practice, but still at family gatherings they are forced to change the subject when discussions turn towards professions!
Presently, while their moms would like them to get out of the house more often, they affirm that this is a good time to be a competitive gamer in India with more and more corporates coming into the picture and taking things mainstream. With Match IPL being aired on MTV for the first time and an upswing in live tournaments more and more people are beginning to understand the understated coolness in the minutiae of a gamer’s life!
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