By Natcha Durongphant

Sometimes the violence is a calculated choreography of engagement and withdrawal. Other times it’s frantic, desperate murder by any means available.

It’s 30 minutes into a match so far characterized by the latter nastier variety, and Team Toxic’s second-match quest for vengeance is being fueled by a significant gold lead they’ve built up over their opponents.

While sieging the middle inhibitor turret, Happy Fat Kid catches out the enemy’s top laner, which allows his team to follow-up on his engagement and secure another two kills. Team Toxic uses their two-man advantage to slowly take out the enemy base, turret by turret, and destroy all three of Acer Green team’s inhibitors. After an unsuccessful team push on the enemy’s withering nexus turrets, Happy Fat Kid and friends realize there’s no need to throw themselves into the meat grinder. They simply wait for their uninhibited super minions to flood all lanes and overwhelm the remaining defenses to claim victory.

 

READ: A long way to go for Thai e-sports

Happy Fat Kid is a professional competitor in the international e-sport that is League of Legends. Outside of the game, Happy Fat Kid is known as Thanat Pariwatvorn, a 21-year-old Chulalongkorn University undergraduate, who struggles to balance the rigors of college life – he’s taking six classes – with pro-gaming ambitions that demand 30 to 40 hours of practice per week.

Somewhere between the two Thanat finds the time to help his dad out by selling vegetables to his friends and classmates.

“I have to split my life into two halves,” he said. “One for gaming and another for school work. It’s pretty hard to manage.”

Thanat Pariwatvorn, also known as Happy Fat Kid (at right), does not appear especially joyful, obese or childish. Photo: MiTH Flashdive

It’s one that has seen the third-year student’s grades suffer for in the past, although he says he’s gotten better at managing his time.

That’s despite this being midterms week at Chulalongkorn, and just last night Happy Fat Kid had an important match – another face-off with Acer Green – that streamed live over YouTube. (Toxic won again.)

 

 

There aren’t legions of obscenely wealthy pro-gamers, but young contenders such as Thanat have role models such as Johnathan “Fatal1ty” Wendel, who earned about half a million dollars (THB16 million) in first-person shooters such as Quake or the South Korean Starcraft jockey Lee “Jaedong” Jae Dong, whose mastery of the Zerg swarm earned about USD400,000 (THB13 million).

In 2014 a Chinese quintet set a new record by bringing home more than USD1 million each in a tournament for DOTA2, a game similar to League of Legends.

Many players competing at the highest e-sport levels are around 18 to 22 and face the tough choice between school and a diploma or gaming and a shot at fame and success.

That’s because in order to be successful at the game, professional players have to devote hours on end into practice in order to improve at the game and maintain their skill. Since the game is always changing, players must spend a lot of time adapting to those changes.

In Thailand, where higher education is a priority to the exclusion of all else, Thanat’s parents are rather lenient in supporting his dream, even though he devotes hours of time into practice rather than study.

“My parents support me fully although they want me to prioritize schoolwork over video games,” he explained. “However, at times I find it hard to do, so especially when a big tournament or match is coming up.”

 

As with most pro matches, Happy Fat Kid of Team Toxic’s Feb. 3 face-off against Team Acer streamed live over YouTube.

 

Serious play

Released in 2009 by Riot Games, League of Legends is a MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) game where two teams of five players face off against each other. Each player controls a “champion” to achieve objectives and ultimately end the game by destroying the enemy’s base, or “Nexus.” Each champion in League of Legends has a unique set of abilities, skills and roles with advantages and weaknesses that lend for a unique play style.

Consequently, mastering the champions to win games requires a high level of strategy and lightning-fast reflexes – and a lot of time.

Happy Fat Kid’s “Jarvan IV” goes in for the kill in a recent league match.

More than 40,000 e-sports fans attended the final to see who would win the USD2.1 million purse at the 2014 League of Legends World Championship tournament, and the industry continues to grow exponentially each year.

Last year’s tournament was held in the Seoul World Cup Stadium, the same venue that hosted the World Cup in 2002.

In Thailand [[LINKY TO SIDEBAR]] the scene is still growing. For Thanat, being a professional player in the competitive League of Legends scene isn’t easy. Due to a lack of support through sponsorship arrangements and the other business infrastructure of sport, players are more likely to treat it as a secondary pursuit while they attend college.

It is difficult to fully invest in playing competitively in Thailand, he said, because the amount of money awarded in competitions does not make up for the hours of time required for practice, unlike what promising players can pick up in North America, Europe, South Korea and China.

Happy Fat Kid has won amounts from tournaments ranging from THB5,000 to 100,000 shared among his team. Photo: Thanat Pariwatvorn

 

Today, the game has servers around the world with more than 27 million active daily players. That’s like if everyone in Afghanistan suddenly chilled out to play just this one game, every day. There are other e-sport games such as DOTA2, Starcraft and various shooters, but “LoL” has a particularly loyal and dedicated community built on a strong relationship with the developers of the game.

Having played for MiTH Flashdive, previously one of the best teams in Thailand, Thanat had to deal with the expectations of having to win each and every game. MiTH Flashdive was sponsored by large IT companies like Nvidia, MSI, and BenQ and had many successful teams in other games like DOTA2 and FIFA. Apart from the minuscule payouts at tournaments and some freebies from sponsors, local teams give their players little if any compensation, whereas North American players earn a minimum salary of USD12,500 (about THB400,000) for a three-month season and can earn more depending on their performance.

 
Sometimes more SMH than LOL

It may sound like all fun and games, but being in the spotlight – on the internet no less – can make for great drama. Pro players tend to take a lot of heat for performing poorly and often go on “tilt,” a term to describe when poor performance due to unstable emotions. Things get ugly; teams argue; their synergy and success suffer.

It can make for bad feelings and sap the fun.

“There were many times where I immediately checked my team’s Facebook fan page to see what people said about me after a poor game,” Thanat said.

Comments like “X player is so much better than Y player” or “How come you guys don’t play as a team” often filled the fan page of MiTH Flashdive. Although the comments didn’t target Thanat personally, he was personally affected by the comments and was pressured to perform well on stage.

“Playing for MiTH Flashdive made me feel like I had to perform well and when I didn’t, I felt bad about myself,” he said. “I feel like I’m a perfectionist, and that’s mainly the reason why I sometimes let the criticism affect me even though I shouldn’t.”

After MiTH Flashdive disbanded, Thanat moved on to form Team Toxic. In desperate need for a new start, he changed his in-game name from Alxegor to “Happy Fat Kid,” which he said was inspired by his “troll-like” nature. Soon after he was playing with less pressure and enjoying the game more. (Ed. Note: Thanat has since retired that name and will play simply as “Xegor” in tonight’s match.)

“Starting a new team is like having a new start,” Thanat said. “People are more motivated because everyone tries to make the team work. There are no expectations from the audience for me to perform well, which takes off the pressure off me.”

As for the future – will he still be climbing tournament ladders in five years time?

Thanat said his future remains unknown, and although he’s not ruling anything out, he’s going to invest at least one more year into playing professionally and see how it goes.

“This is the last year i’m going to try playing, but I’m going to give it my all.”



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