Carving a career in eSports

MLBB was released in 2016 and players team up to take on enemies in a five vs five battle. — Photos: Moonton

After having to suffer through long working hours, Muhammad Saiful “Inferni” Aujang came to the realisation that eSports could be a more profitable career than “traditional work”.

Fresh out of secondary school with his Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) certificate, the only work he could find in 2013 was in a factory packing baked goods for RM4.50 an hour.

A gamer since secondary school and having been ranked as one of the top players in the Malaysian server’s Match Making Rating (MMR), he mulled about entering the competitive league for multiplayer online battle arena (Moba) game Dota 2.

“When I wanted to get into eSports back then, mum said I will need to get a real job first. She doesn’t like her kids just playing games,” he said, explaining that he turned to part time work to allay her concerns.

Working hard and clocking in the hours only earned him about RM1,200 a month. In comparison, his winnings from eSports tournaments raked in about RM2,000.

Though eSports may not need a diploma or degree, he said, it still demanded raw talent.

Solo players – who only play in temporary teams – can raise their profile through tournaments though it’s harder compared with being in a team, he added.

He started with Dota 2 but jumped to Mobile Legends: Bang Bang (MLBB), also a Moba but is played on a smartphone instead.

Though eSports may not need a diploma or degree, says Muhammad Saiful, it still demands raw talent.Though eSports may not need a diploma or degree, says Muhammad Saiful, it still demands raw talent.

A stint with team RED eSports in an amateur league, Muhammad Saiful said, netted him RM500 as base pay, a cut of tournament cash prizes, bonuses for performing well in big games in the form of cash and sometimes even merchandise such as branded shoes worth a few thousand ringgit.

Playing in the MLBB amateur league led him to cross paths with Tuan Azrin Izzuddin Tuan Abu Bakar who was then managing Terengganu’s team in the Malaysian Games (Sukma).

When Tuan Azrin Izzuddin got head hunted by Johor-based entrepreneur Nureddy Nursal to form an eSports team, he recruited Muhammad Saiful and his two younger brothers – Muhammad Aizat “Ijat” Aujang and Muhammad Irfan “Sepat” Aujang.

Muhammad Saiful said his family is now more open to eSports and allowed his brothers to take part as long as they could prove they had the mettle to go pro.

They joined Muhammad Nazhan “Chibii” Mohd Nor (who previously played for the Terengganu’s team) and Muhammad Haniff “Anipp” Abdul Rashid to form the team HomeBois.

HomeBois competed with 1,700 squads in the online qualifier for Mobile Legends: Bang Bang Professional League (MPL) Season 7, emerging as one of the top two teams.

Though the team made it to the playoffs, it was eliminated in the first round.

In addition to fighting other player controlled characters, players can also battle against neutral monsters on the map. — MLBBIn addition to fighting other player controlled characters, players can also battle against neutral monsters on the map. — MLBB

“Nureddy is super supportive of the players and gives them space to perform without the pressure.

“This makes them feel more like a family than employees, which is part of the reason why I’m happy to keep working with HomeBois even though I have received offers from elsewhere,” said Tuan Azrin Izzuddin.

HomeBois also has a merchandising arm to help sustain itself, he said, though it has yet to sign any sponsorship deals.

And the management doesn’t take a cut from the player’s winnings, making their jobs more sustainable.

Asked if he would go full-time now he is playing pro, Muhammad Saiful said he plans to do so next year, as qualifying for the current season guarantees the team a slot in next year’s tournament.

Muhammad Saiful, who has since graduated from college and is working as a full-time programmer, said he is considering a career as an eSports coach or analyst when he retires as an athlete.

“Things have changed a lot for players, a career in eSports is more common now,” he said.

Tuan Azrin Izzuddin pointed out that there are many alternatives to being a pro athlete, including being a play tester or tournament marshal.

He said eSports now offers better paying jobs even for those outside of the Klang Valley, as there are many bigger tournaments with better prizes across the country.

Streamers too are in luck as they can work remotely and build a fan base regardless of where they are located.

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