Notes from a ‘real’ gamer

Orie Guo’s room is a mess. There are papers, plates and bags of half-eaten snacks scattered across his desk next to a large, high-definition computer screen. In the corner of the room, darkened by the drawn blinds, there is a pile of at least seven or eight 2-liter Dr. Pepper bottles.

It’s 11 a.m. and Orie — who is 24, graduated from UC Berkeley in 2009 and goes by the screen name “YoDa” — is already up on the message boards for League of Legends, a competitive, real-time strategy multiplayer game. As he types, he chats with friends, checks for updates to the game and prepares to play against other gamers. It’s hard to imagine that he makes enough money to support himself while sitting in sweatpants all day.

His current game of choice is Heroes of Newerth, a “multiplayer online battle arena” that pits two teams of five players against each other. It’s a game that demands quick reflexes and nimble fingers — one of the statistics the game tracks is “actions per minute,” which essentially translates to the number of mouse clicks a player makes. Anything less than 100, which is almost two clicks per second, is unacceptable.

Orie plays online games for 12 hours a day — sometimes more. Just like any other sport, practice makes perfect. The difference with online games is the 24-hour availability of other players to practice with.

I sat down with Orie, who is a friend I met through another professional poker and Magic: the Gathering player last year, to talk about professional gaming. He would admit that one of the few differences between your standard gamer and himself is that he plays for cash.

True Shields: So how did you get your start as a professional gamer?

Orie Guo: Well actually, what happened was I came out of school and got a job as a financial services representative. I didn’t really like that because they had me follow a performance rubric which I didn’t think was very well designed. They told me to talk to my friends and sell them stuff, basically, and I didn’t like it so I just quit. I also worked at the San Pablo casino for a while and played poker. While I played poker, I was approached by someone online who wanted video content for HoN and offered me $50 per video. It took me about an hour to make a video, so I figured $50 an hour was good enough.

TS: Have you ever experienced any stigma regarding pro gamers? It doesn’t seem like a profession that gets much respect.

OG: There is a little bit. Mostly, I guess people who haven’t updated their social values — like my parents — have problems with it. Most of the people I talk to and hang out with are gamers, who naturally think it’s pretty cool. I don’t have any football player friends, but if I did, I might get a different response.

TS: Where do you stand among professional Heroes of Newerth players now? What kind of money do you make doing it?

OG: I’m about as pro as it gets for HoN. Right now what I’m doing is I stream — I play a game online, and people can watch me play live from their own computers. Basically, I try to get enough people to watch my stream so that I can play advertisements before and after the games. I make enough ad money to pay for pretty much everything right now. I also give private lessons, league play videos, whatever.

TS: So what are some of your best results playing HoN?

OG: I’ve won two Southern California tournaments, a summer tournament in Arizona called Devastation and a tournament in San Francisco recently, as well as a shit-ton of online tournaments. In the biggest tournament of the year, my team (Team EZ) got third, which was pretty bad for us. In the biggest online HoN tournament ever, my team got fourth, which was good for about $750 each.

TS: You also travel to play tournaments. How far will you go to compete?

OG: I usually travel about once a month. I’ll go pretty much to the ends of the earth. I’ve been to Japan and Amsterdam, both times to play Magic: the Gathering. I’ve been to Sweden also, and I almost went to Singapore, but I ended up not going.

TS: It seems like you’re very dedicated. What’s made you stick with gaming as a profession?

OG: I get to do what I want, when I want. I have freedom that a normal job wouldn’t allow me to have, and I really enjoy playing games.

TS: Your lifestyle seems built around gaming. What’s your next move as a professional?

OG: There isn’t much beyond this, although a sweet YouTube account would be very profitable, so that’s probably next up.

TS: You’re also trying to branch out into other games, right?

OG: Poker is too much of a grind. I really like Magic, and I hope to play competitively again soon. I still play local tournaments, so if I can win one of those, maybe I’ll give it a shot. League of Legends (another online game) is huge. There are some players who stream about 4 hours a day and make $7,000 a month. One team bought a house with all the money they make streaming. If I was as good at League as I am a HoN, I would be straight ballin’.