How hard can the life of an esports athlete be?
After all, practice and competition revolve around you sitting on a comfortable chair playing computer games. It may even seem glamorous, seeing your name and face beamed across streams all over the world and on giant screens in arenas filled with screaming fans. And don’t forget the money — how many 22-year-olds can boast of team career earnings of over US$200,000 after just two years on the professional circuit?
But take a peek into the life of Brazilian professional Dota 2 player Matheus “KJ” Santos Jungles Diniz, and one soon realises that the life of a top esports athlete is not what it might seem.
The NoPing e-sports athlete is arguably one of the biggest names to feature at the Singapore 2021 Global Esports Games (GEG) from 18-19 December.
The last two years have been a blur for KJ. Before making a name for himself in The International (TI) — the world’s most lucrative esports tournament with a total prize pool of US$40 million — KJ had only played in small tournaments. But following the support’s impressive performances in TI qualification with his former team SG esports, KJ has risen from relative Dota 2 obscurity to become one of Brazil’s most promising esports talents.
But while the rise to Dota 2’s elite group may have been nothing short of meteoric, ensuring one stays at the top would require even harder work ahead.
An average of six to eight hours a day of training and scrimmage — at times longer when competition nears as tactics are discussed and strategies formulated — means there is no rest for the weary.
It is little wonder then that his life revolves around Dota 2.
“You wake up, you get your breakfast ready, go to the PC and like that's the whole day,” said the Sao Paulo-based gamer.
“And even on your ‘free day’, you're on your PC and talking about Dota. You’re just not screaming against other teams,” added KJ with a laugh.
KJ, who was the captain at SG esports, feels the bond he shares with his teammates, living, training and competing together, is one of the team’s strengths.
“We are just a fresh team and we are super hungry,” he said.
“Everyone here gives 100%. Like no one wants to do 80% or 50%, everyone wants to do 100. I’m pretty sure that we are the team that’s training the most. It's all mental. Because it's not like you train more, you're gonna win. It’s not like that. But if you train more and you have the right mental (toughness), you can absolutely do it.”
The month of December is especially hectic. Apart from competing in the GEG, KJ’s NoPing e-sports team will also feature in the Dota Pro Circuit (DPC). The added intensity of this period may be good news for GEG fans as it means NoPing are entering the tournament at the top of their game.
“We’re training a lot, like every day with only one day off per week,” said KJ, whose team are fresh from a 2-0 win over Hokori in the DPC.
“I actually feel like my preparation now for this DPC is harder than for TI because we are playing six games per day right now, while in TI, we played four games a day.”
KJ feels that the team’s form and preparation for the DPC make them one of the teams to look out for at the GEG.
“I'm very confident for this tournament because almost all of my team is the true team that I’m playing with, the DPC, there’s just one guy who’s not a DPC player,” said KJ who will be in Singapore alongside former SG e-sports teammate Thiago “Thiolicor” Cordeiro.
“And yeah, basically we are very confident because of that. We’ve known each other for some time, so all the adaptations and changes that we may have to make will be done in a very easy way.”
KJ’s Brazil team, which qualified for the GEG World Finals in Singapore through regional qualifiers, will be up against hosts Singapore, Great Britain and Mongolia.
But win or lose, KJ will have little time to take in the sights of Singapore. He will be on the first flight home to spend time with his family over Christmas before going back to the grind in the DPC.
“I think we’re not going to stay (in Singapore) that much,” said KJ. “We want to go see our families and then go back to play Dota because we are very out of time. We're not even going to have a vacation at the end of the year.
“That isn’t going to happen for Dota players. I can't afford not to play Dota from Christmas to New Year’s Eve. I have to be playing.”
Yet, despite the hectic life of a pro gamer, KJ would not trade the life he has now for anything else.
“It was hard at the beginning,” recalled KJ.
“You have to convince your family (that esports is a viable career) and you have to actually start making some money before you can give up your job. Like I was working at the start of my professional career, then gave up on my job.”
And he hasn’t looked back since.
Said KJ: “I'm happy. Since I’m committed to being a Dota player, I have to give 100%. I can't think of anything else. I mean, I can think, but it's not worth (it) to think. I have to just give my best now.
“And yeah, that's the life of a Dota player,” he said with a laugh.