Sasa stresses that many stand to benefit from the industry, and older generations ought to be more open-minded and supportive
by ZAHIN ZAILANI
ESPORTS is an ever-growing industry in the Malaysian landscape.
Once considered a pointless way for children to pass the time, it has grown over the years to become one of the most sought-after careers among young people.
After all, which adolescent would not want to get rich from playing video games and amassing thousands of adoring fans?
As the esports environment expands exponentially, many can ride the wave of success. It is now widely accepted that even schools and universities are hosting esports competitions.
These competitions offer cash prizes as well as recognition for the schools, while some bigger events would offer prize pools of thousands of ringgits.
One notable esports personality is Lu Khai Bean, better known in the industry as Sasa. Born Aug 21, 1996, the 27-year-old has made strides throughout his esports career.
He is currently a gold laner for Team SMG, which stands for “Still Moving under Gunfire”, founded by singer JJ Lin.
Sasa started playing Mobile Legends: Bang Bang (MLBB) casually, as most esports players do, when he was studying in Australia in 2018.
Having built a decent reputation for himself, upon returning to Malaysia, Sasa received offers from local teams to play in the qualifiers for MLBB Professional League (MPL) Malaysia/Singapore.
This has earned him recognition by ONIC Esports Indonesia, marking the start of his professional esports career.
He mainly plays the characters (or “heroes”) of Bruno, Clint, Claude, Granger and Karrie, and has earned US$51,607 (RM241,005) over the five years of his career.
These heroes prioritise good positioning, fast reaction time, as well as being quick to get items before the enemy’s gold laner.
However, not all were immediately peachy keen. Since esports is a relatively new scene, many are sceptical about it being a full-time career path, especially parents and the older generations.
This is understandable, Sasa said, as which parent would let their child play games all day instead of using their diploma or degree to become a doctor or engineer.
“At first, my family did not support my decision to go into esports. They thought that playing games would not give me a good future.
“However, I persisted and went ahead anyway. Once I started to show results and won some tournaments, they began to understand that esports can be a good career, as well,” he told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR).
He added that even the highest-level esports players struggle with sceptical parents and that the industry needs to become more normalised and mainstream to let more skilled esports players onto the scene.
“My parents occasionally check on me and ask how I am doing with the team. When I have a match, they will watch me play at home. These days they give me the best support whether I win or lose,” said Sasa.
He acknowledged that regardless of the career, familial support is always an important element without which he would not be able to face challenges head-on.
One of the challenges for esports players is finding the push to get better.
“While many talk about how esports is not real sports because of its lack of physical elements, there are still many similarities. Sure, it may not be as physically challenging as rugby or football, but it still demands a lot.
“The stress is high when I’m pushing myself to get better day by day. When I feel burned out, I will stop and calm myself,” he said to TMR, adding that he often worries about competitions, his reputation and performance.
Sasa said striving to constantly get better can be extremely taxing and that akin to sports athletes, esports players must always be on their A-game.
While regular athletes worry about their physical speed, strength and stamina, esports players must be on top of the game, the metagame, the strengths and weaknesses of their team in and out, and how to patch or surpass them, as well as how to adapt quickly to the nerfs or buffs.
Games are also always updated, so a previous version’s character might not be as strong or viable in a new version as the metagame bends around them.
Additionally, there are training regiments. Due to the indoor nature of esports, players often spent many hours staring at the screen.
This causes incredible eye strain and possibly other health and mental problems, and the need to have a balanced work-life is important.
“Balancing is not easy, but I always make it a point to go out and spend time with my friends on my off days. I also exercise several days a week to keep a balanced lifestyle,” he said.
Sasa wakes up at around 10am every day and goes for a 30- to 60-minute exercise session.
At around 1 pm, his team begins warming up, followed by training sessions with other teams from 2pm to 7pm.
“We will usually get a one-hour break for dinner, and then continue from 8pm to 10pm.
“I keep up my skills as a player by playing Ranked mode daily. I also study different playstyles and other players,” he said.
He noted that the government also has a role in supporting the esports industry, including by changing the public perception of gamers from not contributing to the society to hard-working and motivated individuals.
As a veteran professional esports player, Sasa said the most important thing is more financial support from the government and corporations for the stakeholders in this industry to survive, and that the recent RM30 million allocation in Budget 2024 is a positive step.
“I would like to see regulators and brands get more involved, to follow and invest in the growth of esports events and teams. For example, MPL Malaysia has grown from a community tournament to a national league that is supported by big brands such as Hotlink and Mister Potato.
“The league has a huge audience now — the Season 12 grand finale was watched by 550,000 fans online, which is 13 times higher than two years ago,” he said.
Additionally, there is a need for an infrastructure to support the development and progression of talent.
Sasa said with many up-and-coming talents, there is a need for proper guidelines and education for them to understand and do well as an esports player.
Among the educational requirements for potential players, it is crucial to focus on good mental and physical health to ensure a longer lifespan in their careers.
Sasa shared the proudest moment of his five-year esports career, where he won three major tournaments in 2019 with ONIC Esports — MPL Indonesia Season 3.
“I was the first foreigner to win MPL Indonesia, Piala Presiden Esports 2019 and MLBB South-East Asia Cup 2019. I was also chosen as the Most Valuable Player (MVP) for the latter,” he said.
For the future of esports in Malaysia, Sasa wants to see more growth for the industry. He noticed that most Malaysian teams have started to upgrade themselves and take this as a serious business.
For example, many teams have built their own communities and have more fans to support them, and this was evident in the growing number of viewers for MPL Malaysia Season 12.
Overall, Sasa is hopeful for the future of esports in Malaysia as the scene is constantly growing and changing with not just Dota 2, but also other up-and-coming games such as PUBG: Battlegrounds, MLBB and Valorant.
He stressed that many stand to benefit from this industry and older generations ought to be more open-minded and supportive of prospects that involve gaming and esports.
“Development programmes can help boost Malaysia to the world stage, expand our economy and motivate the younger generation to join the scene.
“If they enjoy playing games, why not help sharpen their skills so they can earn money and represent the country on the world stage?” Sasa concluded.
- This article first appeared in The Malaysian Reserve weekly print edition