For two decades, our cultural attitude towards professional gaming was best summarized by the famous Far Side cartoon: a fantasy foisted by lazy gamers on credulous parents. In recent years, though, eSports, as they’re now known, have come into their own. Major League Gaming, which hosts and broadcasts major competitions, makes more than 20 million dollars a year. In an interview with the Economist, MLG CEO Sundance DiGiovanni revealed that he considers his company a luxury brand, one that will rival the viewership of the Ultimate Fighting Championship in five years. Twitch, the streaming game broadcast service, attracts 23 million viewers a month (that’s twice as many viewers as Halo 3 sold copies, or more than half as many people as visited ESPN.com last month).
But a burgeoning sport needs breakout stars to expand its popularity, the way Tony Hawk brought skateboarding out of the half pipe and into the living room. Despite their work – and some of them practice 12 hours a day – pro gamers, to this point, have been fairly anonymous, identical cogs in sponsored teams. Here are seven eSports stars who could help pro gaming break out.
Lee Young “Flash” Ho is considered by many to be the greatest StarCraft player of all time. Nicknamed “God” and “Final Boss” (for his reliable appearances in tournament finals) by his admirers, Flash went pro at 14, four years younger than Lebron James at his NBA debut, and now makes about half a million dollars a year. A celebrity in his home country, Flash has a record 17 first place finishes at major tournaments. He’s the Michael Jordan of eSports.
Oh, and he’s also the subject of his own McKayla Maroney-style unimpressed meme.
In the world of StarCraft pro gaming, there are two categories: “Korean” and “Foreigner”. That’s how big the gulf is between the former and everyone else. Manuel “Grubby” Schenkhuizen is the best Starcraft player outside of Korea. That’s sort of like saying he’s the best basketball player outside of America, but he’s good enough that players refer to the ever-rising “Grubby line”, or the divide between the skill of the best Western players and their Korean counterparts.
The best StarCraft player in North America is, refreshingly, not a dude. 19-year-old Sharon “Scarlett” Hostyn is a Canadian transgender woman, who developed her StarCraft training regimen while attempting to beat her brother.
Switching gears now, Michael “Siglemic” Sigler might be the world’s best known speedrunner, meaning, an eAthlete who beats games as fast as possible. He can run through Super Mario 64 while collecting all 120 stars (a feat most people taking their sweet time can’t accomplish) in an astonishing 1:44:52. And unlike most speed records, we don’t have to worry that this one was assisted by BALCO.
Christian “IWillDominate” Rivera is the closest thing eSports has to a badass. An accomplished player for Team Dignitas, IWillDominate was banned from League of Legends by Riot Games last year after repeated warning due to his verbal and physical outbursts, including a headset smash at a progamer event last year.
Seanwoo “INFILTRATION” Lee is the best Street Fighter IV player in the world. On his way to winning the 2012 Evolution tournament in Las Vegas, INFILTRATION beat Daigo “The Beast” Umehara, considered the greatest fighting game player of all time. A video of their matchup:
The Ukrainian Daniil “Dendi” Ishutin is the world’s best known player of a wildly-popular Warcraft III mod called DotA (or “Defense of the Ancients”). Dendi became rich in 2011 when his team won the million-dollar purse at the International tournament in Cologne. He also might be the closest thing the eSports community has to a sex symbol.