A whole new eGame with Team Liquid
Earlier this summer I sent my 14-year-old son down to a little town in Sweden called Jönköping. He was going to something called Dreamhack. For anyone who hasn't heard about it before it's a gigantic LAN-party held in big congress halls all around Europe. The biggest of them all is this one, in June, in Jönköping.
"Shouldn't you pack a sleeping bag?" I asked my son. My boyfriend looked at me and said: "You don't sleep at Dreamhack". My son nodded.
So he borrowed my largest suitcase and I helped him to pack his computer, screen and all the other gear and drove him to the station. Since I knew Team PokerStars Pro Bertrand "ElkY" Grospellier was going to be there I asked him to look after a blue haired boy dressed up as the Russian guy in Rounders. A few days later I got a text from ElkY with a selfie with them together.
This was the kind of event becoming more common around the world as year on year eGaming takes on an even higher profile, with professional players competing together while being watched by millions.
But what does it mean to be a full time pro in Hearthstone or League of Legends? What's the difference compared the life of a poker pro? I got the chance to find out here during EPT Barcelona, where two of the biggest names in Hearthstone were playing the EPT.
Jeffrey "SjoW" Brusi and Janne "Savjz" Mikkonen both play for Team Liquid, one of the most famous teams in eSports. It has a team for every game. Finnish Janne and Swedish Jeffrey are in their Hearthstone team, which rescruited ElkY a few weeks earlier.
In poker the professional player's income comes from tournament wins of cash games. When it comes to eSport tournament winnings are a very small part of it. Most of the money comes from sponsors and from streaming while you're playing. As a streamer you get money from businesses who advertise on your channel but also from subscribers who pay extra to get access to more material.
Team Liquid has several sponsors, PokerStars being one of them. They have backing from a smartphone giant and a nutrition company among others, with players essentially sponsored from head to toe, from the chair they sit in; to the clothes they wear, to the mouse they use.
Jeffrey "SjoW" Brusi, 29, made a name for himself playing Warcraft III and has been playing for as long as he can remember. In 2013 he started with Hearthstone and realised pretty quickly he was one of the better players and decided to do it seriously. He also started to stream while playing and in six months he was making a living from it. A year ago he started playing tournaments and recently won his first title in Hearthstone at Xfinity Invitational, and is second in his division Kinguin Pro League.
Brusi also discovered poker many years ago, appreciating the similarities with gaming in that skill and the better player eventually prevails. Sometimes he uses it to mix things up on his stream, although right now that's impossible given the permanent ban on his account.
"It was hacked a month ago and I haven't had chance to fix it yet", he said. Since he has almost 140 000 followers on Twitch he should probably get it fixed soon.
Janne "Savjz" Mikkonen, 28, has always been a gamer but caught the Hearthstone bug about three years ago. Realising few people streamed it he decided to give it a go and found he had followers, and an income, almost instantly. Then two years ago he was recruited by Team Liquid.
Just like Brusi, Mikkonen has played poker for many years, spending time in Vegas and playing a huge amount online. As an eGamer he's travelled the world in much the same was as ElkY, playing tournaments in China, Korea and in Germany prior to EPT Barcelona.
So, what does a normal day mean for someone who's a Hearthstone pro? It looks a lot like that of a full time poker player and takes a lot of hours. Mikkonen streams five or six hours per day, five to six days per week. Sometimes even more. He has 17,000 followers on Twitter and 224,000 on Twitch, many of whom pay to see him and to get access to all of his extra material, some paying years in advance.
When my son came home from Dreamhack he went straight to his room and slept for a day and a half before he could even tell me about his experience. After seeing a few pictures and videos I realised this was so much bigger than I imagined. It wasn't just a congress hall where everybody sat quietly in front of their computers playing against each other. This was an enormous festival with shows, events, celebrities and VIP-areas. It had it all.
It also had famous gamers from around the world, icons who sat there streaming in front of thousands of fans in the audience. There's no better sign of how big eGaming has become, and how they have their own "Negreanus" and "Iveys" and "Hellmuths". They have names like ElkY, SjoW, and Savjz.
Lina Olofsson blogs for PokerStars in Sweden.