They earn hundreds of thousands behind the monitor, after thirty they are out of the game. The popularity of e-sports is growing

Large arenas with an audience of thousands, but also millions of viewers at home in front of the screens. E-sport, i.e. electronic sport, is catching up or has already overtaken some “classic” sports in terms of viewership and winnings at tournaments. Even in the Czech Republic, it enjoys ever-increasing popularity. This is proven by this year’s finals of the Counter-Strike game championship, which was visited by thousands of people. Young players fought for a million dollar win.

Five men in bulletproof vests walk thoughtfully through the alleys, which in combination with the clay houses resemble traditional Moroccan Ksar fortifications. Each has an arsenal of weapons needed to eliminate the adversaries, which in this scenario are scarf-clad terrorists. One clumsy move in the gaming world can result in as real a disappointment as a person can feel when losing a million crowns. Or three.

At the end of November, the largest hall in Brno was illuminated by beams of red and blue LED lights, which attract the attention of visitors to the stage with a screen the size of which even a cinema hall would not be ashamed. The high stand, which some might think will never be filled, is on the edge of capacity. Lucky is the one who managed to get at least a place on the stairs. The screams and cheers of the audience combined with the inflatable cheering sticks is deafening. When you close your eyes, you have the feeling that you have accidentally wandered into Vršovice’s Eden in September.

Here, too, the audience saw young athletes in jerseys. However, instead of protectors, dozens of players put on headsets and sit down at the computer. The finals of the Czech championship in the popular Counter-Strike shooter, which has a more than twenty-year tradition in our country, is coming. This year, two domestic professional teams – Dynamo Eclot and Sampi.Tipsport – will compete for the victory, and therefore a million crowns.

The game, in which the player assumes the role of a member of an anti-terrorist unit or a terrorist and eliminates his opponents, enjoys great interest in the Czech Republic from both the players and their viewers. They largely follow the matches of domestic professionals through online streaming platforms, but also attend events where they can watch their favorites with their own eyes. This is evidenced by the crowded hall of the Brno exhibition center, which was visited by almost twenty-five thousand people.

According to last year’s data from the Czech Esport Association, almost 40 percent of the domestic population knows the term “e-sport”. 21 percent of Czechs call themselves fans. On average, enthusiasts spend around four hours a week watching e-sports.

The Czech Championship in CS:GO, as the game is called for short, took place at the exhibition grounds for the ninth time. This time, however, due to growing interest, the organizers had to move to Pavilion P, which is the largest hall here with an area of ​​over six thousand square meters. That is, only 1,140 square meters less than the Slavist playground.

“Counter-Strike has a huge advantage in that it is easy to understand. You only need to watch the action for fifteen minutes and everything is clear,” explains the interest of the public, founding member and chairman of the Czech Esports Association Lukáš Pleskot, according to whom the simple concept of the game is the reason why even twenty-five years after its release, players enjoy it.

Gaming skills are not enough. The body and psyche are trained

The best professional players we have in the Czech Republic approach their training like professional athletes. “It is not enough to train game skills. It is important to prepare physically and mentally as well,” explains Pleskot. A single match in Counter-Strike lasts about two hours, and its outcome is often decided by milliseconds.

According to Pleskot, the player must be in the best possible condition. It must not happen that poor sleep or lifestyle causes impaired concentration. “That’s why e-sports coaches try to make sure that the players are healthy, move enough and practice ideally. Psychology is also important. That’s why I dare to say that e-sports is really a sport. People often see only matches, but the preparation behind them is comparable to other sports,” he explains.

Slovakian Tomáš Bebjak, whom no one calls at the tournament other than Fino. | Photo: Michaela Prešinská

Many people think of an e-athlete as a chubby boy in headphones who plays online shooter games with his friends at night, eats fried chicken, and makes money from it. Reality is different. The myth is also refuted by the 22-year-old Slovak Tomáš Bebjak, whom no one calls anything other than Fino at the tournament.

The young man, who arrived in Brno in the white jersey of the Sampi.Tipsport team, is obviously in good shape. “E-sports is my full-time job. My normal day starts with waking up around eight and going to the gym. Around twelve I have lunch and then I start training. We usually train until six o’clock in the evening. From time to time we also shorter days,” says the player who will fight for a million crowns today.

Twenty-two-year-old coach of the Dynamo Eclot team, Pavel Vaňek, nicknamed Replay. | Photo: Michaela Prešinská

His competitors from Dynamo Eclot have a similar routine, and they are aiming for a much higher win this year. If they beat their opponent in the final tournament, they get three times more money. They have a chance to reach the Grand Slam, a winning bonus that belongs to a team that wins five out of eight tournaments over two seasons.

“We get up at nine, we have an individual routine until eleven, and then time with the team starts. In total, we have seven-hour shifts. We spend two hours on theory, then we have two training matches, a break for food and again matches. Finally, we usually recap everything and discuss what happened played out on the field,” explains the 22-year-old coach Pavel Vaněk, nicknamed Replay.

“Streamers” are the way to success

Originally, Fino wanted to become a professional soccer player, but covid got in the way. Because his father is a severe asthmatic, he avoided society so as not to endanger his health. “I used to play from time to time for fun. I started to improve during the lockdown period. I approached a couple of streamers (a person who broadcasts his game online via live broadcast – ed.) who watch the audience while playing remotely I can’t join them. It took some time. After some time, the first team noticed me,” he says. Replay had a similar path to e-sports. “I first watched streamers, eventually started playing on my own, and later entered the competition with my first team,” he describes his experience.

Foto: PLAYzone Agency

Today, according to Fin, top players can easily earn up to 50,000 euros a month. According to Pleskot, professionals in the Czech Republic and Slovakia receive a monthly salary ranging from one thousand to three thousand euros per month, i.e. up to 72 thousand. For successful matches, they receive additional rewards, according to the amount of the winnings.

Players over thirty years old are rather a rarity among e-sports players. It’s not that millennials aren’t interested in video games. Reflexes, which deteriorate with age, are to blame. “As in other sports, in Counter-Strike the player has his peak of performance. The only difference is that you get to shoot later. If a child starts playing football at six, he can easily play actively until the age of 35. But if we’re talking about video games, young kids usually start with Minecraft or Roblox first. At thirteen, they move on to Fortnite, and it’s not until they’re around fourteen or fifteen that they reach full-blooded shooters,” says Pleskot.

This is also why Fino decided to devote himself to university studies at the same time as his career in e-sports. “I chose the materials and technology faculty in Trnava, thanks to which I will have a back-up plan. I only manage to catch up with the university on weekends, it’s demanding,” says Fino. Replay also chose a conciliatory attitude. “You don’t have a career in esports forever, but you can earn enough to support yourself. Or, like me, you can go down the path of a coach,” he says.

The coach’s task is to plan the players’ schedule and prepare the training sessions and their content in advance. “I want my team to focus only on their performance and not deal with anything else. I take care of everything else,” says Replay, who has been coaching for two years.

E-sport as a university field

He didn’t need a license to become a trainer. “The organization hired me for a trade. I was a player and later I switched to the role of coach because I feel better in it. Today I already have a category C coaching license,” he explains. The trainer receives the certificate after completing an intensive three-day course, during which he listens to approximately 24 hours of lectures. The license will cost five thousand, and anyone who wants to devote himself to the training of wards in e-sports games, regardless of age, can get it.

The educational system of coaching licenses was created by the Czech Esport Association. “So far, people can only complete the course for a type C license, which is the complete basis. However, next year, those interested should also be able to obtain a type B license, which will function as a six-week course lasting one hundred and fifty hours,” says Pleskot, adding that that the goal of the association is to create an opportunity for players to study e-sports coaching at a university with the possibility of obtaining a bachelor’s degree.

E-sports teams also include fitness trainers. Among other things, they have the task of compensating for the negative effects that gaming can have on physical health. “Coaches try to prepare individuals individually so that they feel as good as possible. For some, it can be weight loss, for others, on the contrary, gaining muscle mass,” Pleskot explains, adding that most Czech professional teams also have mental coaches available who they take care of their psyche.

But what Czech e-sports lacks are female players. The fan base
89 percent of e-sports in the Czech Republic are men. Among e-sports players, there are only a handful of women. Sport is still waiting for its champions. Although the Dynamo Eclot team won every domestic tournament this year, they failed to win the most important match of the year. Sampi.Tipsport became the champions of the Czech Republic in Brno, winning a million crowns. Their opponents won 400 thousand crowns.

2023-12-07 10:21:27
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