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It was a new moment in American football when David Beckham, the British superstar, signed for 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 an audience sport. My colleague, Kellen Browning, has written about stars like Hu from Taiwan and other countries where esports are bigger than esports.
Kellen spoke to me about how these button-hunting pros come to America and why the US is a second-tier country in the world’s largest competitive video game.
Shira: I know some readers will wonder: Do people pay to watch strangers play video games together? This is a job? Explain how big this is.
Kellen: Competitive video games started decades ago with games like StarCraft, especially in Asia. Now, it’s global and broad, especially for a personal computer game called League of Legends. Nearly 46 million people watched online at least part of the world championship in Shanghai, China, last October. Three million people tried to buy tickets for the live view.
Esports aren’t as big as they are in the United States, but they’re still popular. The company that owns the League of Legends competition says it is one of the most popular professional sports tournaments for 18 to 34 year olds. And the fan’s enthusiasm is like an ordinary sport. People buy jerseys, people play video games professionally do advertisements, and the competition is fierce.
And Americans are not good at competing in League of Legends?
Are not. The best teams and players are in Korea, Taiwan and China, and some are in Denmark, Spain and France. American teams have difficulty going to international competitions. One reason North American esports teams are recruiting foreign players is to improve on the world stage.
How much can these foreign stars make?
Hu – whose name is SwordArt – signed a record-setting contract, at least for Western esports tournaments, for $ 6 million within two years. In general, the average salary for a starting player in the North American league is $ 460,000. Big names can make more than that.
These people – and most of them men – tend to be quite exhausted quite young, especially in countries where they exercise up to 18 hours a day. They can retire at 25 because they suffer from repetitive stress injuries or can’t press buttons as quickly as before.
What will happen to these young video game professionals when they move to US teams?
It could definitely be a culture shock. It helps players on the same team practice regularly together, usually in Los Angeles. Many groups offer interpreters and assistance with housing and visas. But it can certainly be a challenge for those who have difficulty with English or learning to drive. Some players leave after a season or two because they miss home or make enough money to quit their jobs.
Confess, Kellen: What is your favorite game and who is your favorite esports expert?
I love playing Age of Empires, a PC game in which people compete to build an historic civilization. I play a little NBA 2K. But the only esports I see are the ones I write for.
TIP END OF THE WEEK
Better video calls at a low price
Brian X. ChenThe New York Times personal tech curator has inexpensive tips to try if you’re bored looking at your blurred face during web video calls or sounding like you’re at Underwater:
Many of us took the Zoom bus struggle. Our video quality looked grainy and our sound sounded raw. For what?
One option is to order a high-quality webcam and microphone, but a lot of equipment for work or school from home has sold out during the pandemic and demand has pushed prices higher. Mic is also an expensive item for a task.
So here is an inexpensive remedy: Take advantage of what you have.
Front-facing cameras on modern smartphones and tablets tend to be of much better quality than web cameras built into most laptops. So for video calls, try placing your phone or tablet on something in the house, such as a lamp or a stack of books. You can tuck the book into the phone case for a better viewing angle. You can also buy a cheap stand.
For sound, just use a good headset. The earbuds that come with your phone usually have a good enough microphone. If you really want a new pair, I recommend investing in good wireless headphones as they are so versatile. When you don’t use them for video calls, they can be useful for a jog or for regular phone calls.