Going Pro Against the Flow: An Interview with an eSports Athlete

The world of eSports is currently blowing up and a lot of people are enjoying the success that it has seen over the last few years.

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2sTroNK team captain and Luminosity new boy, Vytis Lasaitis, is currently in the final 24 candidates competing for a chance to represent Sweden at the Blizzcon Overwatch World Cup. (Source: Vytis)

More often than not though, there will be people who don’t really know a lot about the subject, or are too confused to ask, being unwilling to show they are not “in the know”. But this is easily remedied. We help you to learn a little bit more about one of the fastest growing industries in the world by chatting to Vytis “Mineral” Lasaitis, a professional eSports athlete who recently joined Luminosity Gaming.

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The Lithuanian-born Swede studied in the field of journalism in Sheffield, United Kingdom for a while before returning to Sweden to focus on his eSports career.

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How did you get into eSports?

I got into eSports at an early age. I’ve always had a passion for video games and been very competitive in everything I do. That naturally drew me to eSports, because it satisfies that competitive drive all the while allowing me to commit a lot of time to what essentially is a hobby. I had a little run in Team Fortress 2 and played in some top European teams in my late teens, but the scene was tiny by comparison. I ended up quitting to focus on university and only started pondering a comeback when Blizzard announced Overwatch.

Can you give us a quick rundown of what Overwatch is and how it works?

Overwatch is a First Person Shooter game with unique elements that separate the game from other titles in the genre. It’s a class-based shooter, with a large pool of unique heroes with special abilities. The game is played 6 versus 6, with players generally having designated roles (support, damage, tank) that they specialize in. The game has several different game modes, all focused on objectives which teams have to attack or defend.

Can you tell us why you chose Overwatch?

I was focusing on my journalistic career and taking some other jobs last summer, which is when I heard about Overwatch and its upcoming beta in the fall. I checked out some trailers and thought that it looked like a game I’d enjoy. It had some striking similarities to TF2, and I knew a lot of pros from that scene were planning to migrate to OW. Since I already had an established skill set for a class-based FPS game I thought I could give it a shot. I managed to get into closed beta relatively early and began grinding right there and then. 

You mention that you started grinding on the closed beta. Can you explain what grinding is?

Grinding is simply playing a lot of hours and dedicating a lot of time to something to improve.

What are the practice routines like for an eSports athlete?

We usually practice 5-6 days a week. We practice against other teams around 8 hours per day, but we spend even more time on top of that talking about the game, figuring out strategies and working on our individual skill. We only recently managed to drop all other commitments and are now doing it full time. Once we move into our practice facilities sometime in September our schedule will likely be even more firm.

Can we get some insight into your new ‘practice facility’ you’re moving into?

We’re moving into a house in North America where the players and our coach will live and practice. The organization will provide us with all the gear needed there and we’ll be able to have a more strict practice schedule as no one will have any distractions outside of the game. Since we are all leaving families and friends behind, it’s a big sacrifice, but it’s something that should help elevate our game through more efficient practice and one no one minds making in pursuit of the top.

How do you prepare for tournaments?

We ramp up our practice hours and put down even more time into scouting our opposition. There are minor events almost weekly, but for the major events, we will adopt a bootcamp mentality, which should be easier to do once we all move in together.

You discuss having a bootcamp mentality, can you go into a bit more detail about this?

Just being more focused, addressing issues head-on and treating every practice session like we would treat an official game. When everyone’s at the comfort of their home it’s easy to slip out of that and lose focus. Basically just getting the feeling of being in the office so to speak and viewing practice as what it is–work.

How do you decide strategies and plans? Is it pre-planned?

The game is based around various hero compositions, and there’s a lot of adapting on the fly based on what your opponents are playing. We do have some set compositions for different stages and maps, but you have to adjust and tweak those on a game-to-game basis.

Do you see yourself as an eSports ‘Athlete’ or something else? Why?

I think all that talk regarding whether gamers are athletes is kind of irrelevant, but the terminology has become a topic many want to discuss. Do I think eSports is a sport? Absolutely. The viewership, competition, financial backing and sold out arenas are all there. Some argue that it isn’t a sport but maintain that golf or chess are sports, so it comes down to where each individual draws the line. I think it takes an insane amount of practice to get to the point where you play in these huge tournaments, and there is immense pressure on the stage that few could handle. It’s also physically demanding, more so than people realize, even though we sit in front of computers.

Do you get any doping scandals in Overwatch as you would in traditional sports?

There have been some allegations thrown around on reddit and whatnot, singling out certain professional players for “dodgy” moments. I think people just generally enjoy witch hunts, without truly trying to understand and grasp what they are seeing, and a lot of those allegations are extremely far-fetched.

How is it managed? Do you have mods on online games? Do drug tests ever occur?

There is no drug testing. The game itself has an anti-cheat built in and players are banned all the time, albeit none in the competitive community. There are moderators in lobbies for big tournaments to enforce rules when needed, even more so at offline events, where staff stand behind you and make sure everything is clean.

You mention no drugs testing. How would you/the community feel if this was to be implemented for athletes?

It was at some point implemented in other games when apparently a lot of pros were taking Adderall. I don’t think anyone would mind, to be honest, even though I don’t necessarily think PEDs can make that big of a difference in eSports. But I’m not particularly educated on the subject.

What are your views on eSports in the Olympics? Do you think it will or should happen?

I think it’s probably a matter of time before we see it. The viewership and the interest is already there and dwarfs that of certain less popular sports. It is also feasible from the perspective that the Olympics are essentially athletes representing their country, even though all of them are signed to professional clubs on the side, which is how it works in eSports too. There are still kinks that would have to be ironed out, a federation needs to be established and so on, but sure, it would be awesome!

Do you earn a salary as well as winning tournament money?

Yes.

How do sponsorships work for teams and individuals? Do you have the same sponsors as a team?

Sponsors are attached to our organization’s brand, and we are sponsored by them by association. We are allowed to have external sponsors, but only if they are in no direct competition with the ones we already have.

Why did you decide on Luminosity Gaming? Were there other offers?

We had plenty of attractive offers on the table, with many prominent organizations inquiring about signing us. When we ascended up the rankings we quickly emerged as the best-unsigned team, so it’s only natural that many reached out with offers, since every major organization wants to dip its toes in Overwatch as early as possible. We settled on Luminosity because its offer made the most sense and our future visions aligned.

Is this a long term career choice, or just some fun whilst you’re young?

I want to do it as long as I feel like I’m pulling my weight and while the competitive drive is intact. Realistically, few individuals survive more than a couple of years in eSports, either because they burn out, lose motivation or simply aren’t good enough anymore. Since I’m approaching my mid-twenties I fully understand all those things. Who knows really? Right now I’m really enjoying myself and this is something I’ve been dreaming about doing for a long time, so I don’t see the point in putting a timeline on my career. All I know is that I’ll definitely try to continue working within eSports even when my playing days are over.

What do you like about the sport/way of life?

The flexibility of the schedule–if you ever need a day off in case something comes up that is always feasible. I enjoy the daily grind of working in a team environment, where everyone is genuinely pulling in the same direction. It requires a ton of work, but you still have some freedom to form your schedule. More than anything it’s just a joy to do something you enjoy for a living–I’ve had a lot of jobs that sapped my energy because I simply didn’t like my environment, and dropping those chains so to speak has been a relief.

It can’t all be amazing can it? What don’t you like?

The constant pressure and stress. It’s something that comes with the territory when you compete with the best in the world, so it’s not something I mind, but it can be somewhat tiring sometimes. If you have a bad game and underperform you’re constantly under the magnifying glass of critics.

What do your friends and family think of it?

Everyone’s been super supportive, especially my closest friends. Everyone else has just been super curious about how it all works, since I suppose few people know someone who has played video games for a living!

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