He is searching for potential matches on a video game server to play with. It’s a process many gamers are familiar with, but it is more than just recreation for 26-year-old Tae Soo Bang.
Bang is a professional gamer, or esports athlete, and every matchup he makes is part of his training.
Bang finds a match, and the game starts. He takes on the persona of a ‘Zerg’, a race in StarCraft II, a military science-fiction real-time strategy game.
The next few minutes are a blur. Bang cycles through different parts of the screen at breakneck speed while simultaneously hammering away at the keyboard. The game is over within 10 minutes. Bang won the matchup/practice.
Bang, who is also know by his moniker ‘True’, is well known among devout gamers in the StarCraft circuit.
He’s been a professional gamer for almost nine years, first playing in leagues in the Republic of Korea before moving to the United States in September 2015 — under a professional athlete visa.
Bang said esports has come a long way since he first started, especially since the International Olympic Committee is considering including esports events in the 2024 Olympics.
“So when I started long time ago people thought it’s very bad, but now it’s Olympics… you can play in the Olympics,” Bang said “E-gaming acceptance has improved a lot. I think it’ll be counted the same as sports in future.”
Pro gamers measure their activity by APM, or Actions per Minute. Research show esports “athletes” achieve four times more movements on the keyboard and mouse than the average gamer. And their heart rate is equal to a marathon runner. Top esports athletes can make well over a $1 million.
The 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeonchang featured an esports demonstration, and it has been included as a demonstration event at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta.
In 2022, esports will be a full-medal event at the Asian Games in Hangzhou, China.
Athletes from traditional sports were joined at the Jakarta Asian Games by the top esports competitors from six gaming platforms including StarCraft II and League of Legends.
The move to include esports in the Jakarta Games was part of the Olympic Council of Asia’s partnership with Alisports, own by Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba.
While some may balk at the idea of putting video gamers on the same platform as traditional athletes, Bang said esports demand the same level of dedication and practice.
“I practice everyday. I need good conditions,” Bang said. “If I lose, I’ll watch the replays and figure out why I lost and then practice again, it’s very hard. It involves more mental than physical.”
Professional gamers can join esports leagues across the globe, such as Overwatch League in the U.S. And GSL StarCraft league in South Korea.
Bang is currently competing under the Psistorm, a professional gaming team that also organizes events in the Washington D.C. area.
His manager KJ Garcia also thinks esports athletes do not get the credit they deserve.
“If you think about it, they practice physically with their hands and arms and fingers and eyes, all that coordination especially for a game like star craft that is ridiculously hard to play,” Garcia said. “I don’t want to demean other sports but as far as coordination and complicated muscle memory movements, this is by far a sport for sure.”
Garcia thinks it is only a matter of time before esports gains mainstream acceptance and cites the fact that certain esports tournaments are already being broadcast on ESPN in the United States.
“A lot of these guys make a ton of money compared to other jobs and It’s also a job where you have to do certain things and perform, otherwise you can get fired,” Garcia said.
“It’s just like anything else. People who criticize are just bias because it’s a game.”