Esports building character

The Wild West Era in esports has already come to an end. Today, it is a growing but already large-scale industry, which gave rise to more than one generation of players, and esports veterans are becoming successful entrepreneurs and serious people moving forward not only games but also other aspects of life.

Most people still think that gaming is not the sort of occupation to help you grow up, become an intellectually accomplished person, and is even less likely to teach you complex skills — be it organizational or financial. However, we see lots of people in the industry — take Thresh, Hastr0, zonic, and Akke, for example — swap the mouse and the gamepad for multimillion-dollar deals and positions of influence.

That's why WePlay Esports is launching the Life EXP. project. In it, invited guests tell how esports makes teenagers into serious and responsible people who can make difficult decisions, support their families, and raise their champion trophies high. Read, share, comment, and make sure to show your parents. 

Our first Life EXP. hero is Alexandr "mds" Rubets from Nemiga together with his mother, Natalia. They share a story about the importance of family, the cost of failure, and what it's like to give up a childhood dream.

Video from Nemiga Gaming YouTube channel

Chapter One. Beginnings

I have many memories from my childhood. I lived in Pinsk, a pretty violent city. I wouldn't say my childhood was bad. It wasn't easy, but it was a childhood that my mother made good. She always helped me, giving me both emotional and financial support. I must note that it was only her: my father left us when I was about two years old. We tried to keep in touch, but keeping a conversation going was tough. My father and I can talk once every two years and avoid contacting each other again.

With my brother, Slava "fAst," we have a relationship that few people do. It's so good that it's crazy. I also have a cousin, Dima, who practically lived with us. He is a year older than Slava, and we see him as a brother. Our violent city is one of the reasons our bond is so strong — the three of us always kept together. Brothers are an important part of my life.

I spent all my childhood playing soccer; I dreamed of playing in the league. First, I played as an amateur, then qualified as a semi-pro. When I was 11, I went to Italy, where I was able to practice with local guys. Initially, I went to visit my aunt, who married an Italian, lives there, and has a son, so I have another brother, who is an Italian.

But I digress. I traveled there together with children from an orphanage. They were supposed to attend a two-week bootcamp. I played well; Cesena F.C. even suggested that I train with them. Of course, I agreed, and I spent almost the whole summer with them. Later on, I was invited to Italy again — to a training camp, but I couldn't come.

Chapter Two. A Hero in the Making

I was introduced to Counter-Strike by my older brother, whose only hobby ever was esports. When I was playing soccer, I didn't care much about video games. Sure, I knew what CS was, but it was more of a recreational activity — I would come after practice, play a game, and that would be it. And how could I make it serious if I had only one computer and an older brother? It was he who played, of course. So I didn't have much time for that.

And then, we suddenly got a second computer at home — my mother bought it for my birthday. A year later, CS:GO was released, and I switched to it. At first, I used to play public games, clan wars, non-pro tournaments — that is, I already understood what competitive Counter-Strike was like. But soccer was still front and center for me. We started an all-Belarusian team, we played for about four months, and then I was invited to the Brest Region team training camp. I realized that I was developing professionally in football, and I liked it. CS was not as exciting back then, so I sort of blew it off and started training hard.

I didn't play for about eighteen months. All this time, my brother was training. They even formed a team, which was later signed by Evolution. All the while, I was watching him succeed, and it was fascinating. I saw what the tournaments were like, the majors, the production! And it all turned out to be so exciting that I started thinking about seriously getting into esports.

It was then that I graduated from school — it was time to go to university. I didn't make the cut on the first try, so I spent a whole year at home playing Counter-Strike. At the same time, I got invited to play for the reserve team of Granit — a top-league team in Belarus. I came and I passed my probation period in a week! They offer me a contract. That's when I realize that I will have to live in another city, there will be no computer, and therefore no Counter-Strike. I said I'd think about it, and they gave me until Monday.

I was faced with a choice: esports or soccer. By now, I was watching games all the time, saw what it was growing into, and I knew this was what I wanted to do. I chose CS, giving up my childhood dream. Perhaps it was because playing Counter-Strike was much more exciting to me, even though esports victories weren't actually as significant as football ones.

The next year, I got accepted as a paying student into the Belarusian State University of Physical Culture and Sports, Faculty of Sports Directing. Roughly speaking, I was supposed to become a sports event organizer. It was easy to get a good score in Physical Education ;)

And so I came to Minsk, got an apartment together with a friend. The building was new, so we didn't have an Internet connection for a whole month. But there was a computer club nearby I went to at night on weekends. I missed Counter-Strike, so when we got an Internet connection, I started playing a lot. That was when I was first invited to join an esports organization and offered a salary that could pay my rent. I trained so much that I didn't go to university at all. My mom didn't know I was skipping classes at the time.

The first exam season came. I stopped flaking on my studies, got in touch with all my professors, passed all the tests and exams except for one — my major. It was taught by my mentor, a young girl who had just finished her master's. She said, "You were absent a lot in my classes. I'll give you a month to work it off, and you'll get a credit." I said I'd think about it... and continued my CS practice. I was too busy to study. I understood that if I was invited to join the team, I would have to go to bootcamps and training camps, and there would be no time to study. 

And that was it, I decided to drop out. I called my mother, I told her everything and explained what I wanted to do. I told her that I could pay my rent, but that I would need help with food. Mom knew that my brother did esports, that he used to bring money in. And she decided to support me.

Next summer, I was invited to join Nemiga. The CEO, Sergey Voronovich, asked me a couple of questions and told me that they would soon have to make a replacement. dERZKIY was leaving the team, so they wanted to take me on trial. The trial was supposed to last two months, but it seems to me that I passed it sooner. That's how I came to Nemiga. I always wanted to play for a Belarusian team. I have always believed and will continue to believe that I am worthy of representing my country — Belarus. I treasure being able to do it.

I didn't do bootcamps before Nemiga, but I have always wanted to go to one. And when I finally came to practice, I wouldn't leave for four months. Everyone would go home for the weekend while I stayed at the bootcamp. All I could think of was, "I'm on a bootcamp, I live in a team, I work for a cool organization, with a good salary." All I wanted to do was play. Words can't express the emotions I got from the first bootcamp – it was all so new.

After those four months, I got an apartment in Minsk. At first, I lived with my girlfriend, but it was not meant to last. I started wishing for a change of scenery, a fresh start — to switch things up so that nothing would remind me of the past. And this is the apartment I live in to this day. I'm single now, and I don't want to talk about it.

Chapter Three. Nemiga

The main thing for the team and myself is to achieve maximum results. It wasn't for the money that I started playing CS, but for the emotions and the drive you get from winning. If you watch our RMR matchups, you will see how many emotional outbursts happen. Our team often gets high on playing, and it's cool. We just believed in each other and that we were stronger than everyone else.

I have sub-goals. We are now playing in an RMR tournament, and we are currently third. And at the moment, my sub-goal is to qualify for the major. There are also two yet-to-be-announced tournaments. Winning these tournaments is also my sub-goal. As a person, I set a sub-goal for myself to learn English. I have some trouble with the language, and I want to work on it and start playing FPL and streaming. Raise my profile a little bit, so to speak.

Now, I will give you the lowdown on a pro gamer’s day-to-day. Take, for example, Monday, which is a game day. I get up, have breakfast, have a shower. I have an hour of therapy. Then I'm free for another hour. Then I play four praccs, and that's it, my working day is over. Practice takes four to five hours. Almost every time. Every day. It sounds easy, but it's just team practice, and I have to play on my own, too. Five hours a day may be enough for some, but not for me. To feel that I'm in good shape, I play for another three to five hours. For example, s1mple said in an interview that he practices for 10 hours a day. And I think most, if not all, pros do the same.

There are days when we all get together at 5 PM sharp, watch our demos for four hours, and go over our mistakes. These discussions are much more exhausting than the practice itself because they are really boring. I don't always have to see the therapist. To be honest, I still wonder whether I need a therapist at all. We don't talk about gaming moments — we only discuss our feelings. At times I think I can see that it helps, but other times it doesn't seem to be so clear. But the therapist has a key objective which she manages perfectly well — team building. We are really becoming a single mechanism

Sure, you have the weekend. On Saturday and Sunday, you are free to sit back and relax. But CS is a game that you don't even want to have a break from. Of course, there are times when you burn out, you get tired. But in general, you always want to play.

If you want to know if I regret any of my games, then yes, there was this one time. We were playing Navi, the score was 15:14 in our favor, it was the second map, and we had won the first one. I was left in a clutch against Perfecto and s1mple on Dust II. The two of them are at site A, the bomb is planted, Perfecto is on high ground, s1mple is behind the plant, behind the crates. I am coming from Site B, I climb into the gap, knock out Perfecto, jump on the crates, and see s1mple taking out a smoke grenade. There are two crates at the site — one higher and one lower. I jump on the higher one, so the smoke is one-sided for me. If I had stayed on the crate, I would have seen s1mple earlier, hit that clutch, and we would have won. But what I did was go down to the lower crate, s1mple took me out, and it was 15:15 and the third map. 

Each defeat feels different to me. There are times when you realize that you did the best you could, but your opponent was just stronger. That's okay. But there are also times when you are clearly better, but you lose. That's when your self-esteem takes a serious hit. In general, I take defeat pretty hard: it should be an experience from which you learn something, but I sometimes obsess over them so much that I start thinking, "That's it, man"…

I would go over that replay with s1mple and Perfecto again and again. I never watch demos right after games. I guess if I watch the replay after the match, I won't be able to hold back tears. But that I remember. We were fighting with our last ounce of strength, emotions were running high — we were thinking that we must beat Navi, that we were one hundred percent better. That game is still in my mind, even now.

I don't know what I have to do to take losing more lightly. That's a good question, I'll think about it. But I'm not going to give up, let alone stop playing. First of all, it's too early to think about it – I'm still a young player. Secondly, it's better to focus on the present right now and make the most out of the present.

Recently we had a matchup, and at some point, I made a highlight. My mom later told me: "Slava is home watching the game when he cries out loud ‘That's my boy!’" He's proud, he's happy for me, I can feel it. Even though he’s always saying: "You're not playing well enough! I'm better than you! Try harder! Try harder!» But it's a great motivator. I know he wants me to be the best.

Chapter Four. Love Letter

Nemiga is not just an org for me. I've been playing for it for 3.5 years, and I'm so used to everyone that I can't picture myself in any other club. It's all become so close to me that I don't even know what to call it. Family?.. It's probably a family after all. A family of 26. For as long as I've been in it, I haven't had a single conflict with the organization. I would say it means they're in a league of their own.

I got used to my teammates, to the management, to Masha, the girl who cooks for us at the bootcamp. We have an amazing relationship, we can talk about anything, these people will always help me. Sure, I talk to some people more, to others less, but we are a team overall. Before the lockdown, my team and I would sometimes hit the bars. Those who are in Minsk now — lollipop21k, boX, and myself — still can. One day, the three of us and their girlfriends went to a bar where they were showing a Navi match. We watched the game together, had some beer, talked about this and that.

By the way, boX is a very composed, very confident captain. I hold a lot of affection for him. When we removed hitMouse from his post of captain and took on boX, I was struck by how a single person can stop a team in its tracks and then tell them what they have to do. For example, there is chaos on TeamSpeak. There is too much noise. Then, boX says, "Everyone stop now!" and everyone falls silent. "Let's go out." He is perfect at callouts, it's a purely captain thing.

Besides, he played football, at an even higher level than I did. He was in the top league, playing for a serious club. And when he played for the club's reserve team, he was also the captain there. Plus, he has a military school background, which also shows. You want to listen to him, and you trust him. In general, I have a good relationship with boX. And he is the same as a person. Very responsible, a serious guy. I feel relaxed around him.

During the time that I have been playing for Nemiga, all the players have changed. Every replacement felt hard, especially my brother's. I could see it coming, but still, he was my brother, one of the main people in my life. Roman's kick was also hard. If you ask me about my favorite teammate, it will be roman. I didn't take part in any of the kicks. Okay, in one. No, not my brother's :)

Chapter Five. My Name Is mds

When I'm not playing, I mostly read books. Books are cool. Most often, I read before going to bed — it's easier for me. I can also play football. Watch a movie. I don't watch TV shows — they take up too much time. I have started thinking about self-development, so I started going to the gym. I used to go to the gym before, but lately, I couldn't find the time to keep fit and gained a bit of weight. But there is a solution to this.

The books I have read were mostly on self-development and psychology. My favorite author is Carnegie — I was very impressed by his work. I became interested in psychology in my last years at school, and if I had to choose a different major, I would most likely become a psychologist. Although there is the option of getting a degree by correspondence, and to be honest, I'm thinking about it. I would like to choose a line of studies that I will enjoy. I have a complicated relationship with films. I often watch them, but I can't single out any one. There is definitely no favorite singer for me. There is no song that would strike a chord in my heart because my mom is in my heart forever — she is my idol in life.

I like hanging out with friends best. If there is soccer on, we can make a hookah, grab some beers, lounge around, then play some FIFA on the console. This is so chill. In general, I am drawn to like-minded people. We have so much in common that I never even stopped to think about how we are different. My pals know who I am and what I do because I have long since explained everything to everyone.

I have a good friend, a mad Manchester United fan. At every game, he argues that Rashford is king, even though he knows I'm an AC Milan fan. I had been interested in the inner workings of soccer for a while, and I really like this club's culture. Since childhood, I dreamed of playing for the Red and Blacks. However, for me, Messi is king. He inspires me with his personality, his take on life, from which I even adopted some things myself. I also respect Cristiano Ronaldo — I like his dedication in training. As a player, Messi is enough to inspire me, but Cristiano is a powerhouse. His performance is amazing.

My dream is to take a holiday and go see my parents, my mom, my sister. I also have a younger sister, a sweet little thing. Well, not so little anymore... She's 13 now, but she'll always be my baby sister to me. I go see my grandparents, my other grandparents. I really don't see enough of them, and this is my idea of the best vacation, even though I did go on a tour of Europe once. This summer, I had also wanted to go to Europe, but... you know, the coronavirus happened. I liked Prague a lot, so I will definitely return there, that's for sure. It's just that the tour was like this: two days in Prague, a day in Berlin, two days in Italy. It's hard to feel a city's vibe in two days, see what it lives and breathes, visit all the sights. I want to go to Prague for a week.

When I watched what was happening in Belarus on November 9, I realized it was impossible to forget. It's hard for me to watch an ordinary person who did no harm to anyone and has not even been to the protest go by and be assaulted and beaten by five masked men with batons. This is not normal. Yes, I did live in Pinsk, but if people were beaten there, at least it was for a reason, not just like that. No one understands why these people are beaten. I don't know how it will end, but the situation is terrible.

Chapter Six. Through the Mother's Eyes

Sasha was a diligent boy who always loved sports, especially soccer. He played it from the age of 10, and the coach thought that he had potential. But I am actually a supporter of new trends and have never been opposed to children being interested in computers, CS, FIFA, and not something else. It was probably easier for me this way: they were always home with me, under my supervision, given the fact that the city was ridden with violence.

Besides being diligent, it was Sasha's sense of purpose that helped him. When he says, "Mom, I will practice," or "I will win," he always sets a goal for himself. Or to help his mother, not to have to ask her for money in the future — this is also a goal. If Sasha says something, he does as he says. He is able to realize that he has made a mistake. And when he realizes it, he tries to fix it. And in order to fix it, Sasha practices. 

Practice is the key to success. Sasha needs to strive for something, to practice, to move forward. He can't stop. One must go through it all: both losing and winning. Everyone must play. Practice. Listen to their teammates. Support each other. It's not my son who wins, it's the team who wins. I know all his teammates. I also talk to Roma, the team analyst, and his mother. She is also a wonderful woman who fully supports both gaming and her own son when he was still playing. She totally gets me.

The first thing they showed me in Counter-Strike was a game where you had to shoot chickens on Inferno. It was my first game. I understand what my sons like about it. They are my sons, and I liked this game, so I started wishing to achieve something in it, to reach a certain level. It runs in the blood.

When Sasha called and told me what it was that he wanted to do, the first thing I did was support my son. It's his choice. In our family, support is key. Although I was actually upset at first, every child must be free to choose their own profession, their own path. At first, no one understood why I was so relaxed about Sasha dropping out of university. I had to explain what esports is to my friends and acquaintances. Now I can proudly say that my son is a pro gamer. I know for a fact that some of my friends are also starting to watch Sasha's games because they have sons who follow Nemiga and who are also into gaming. It's easy for me to talk to them; they respect me. I'm a mom of two stars, after all!

Children always try to come together for my birthday — it's our favorite tradition. However, Sasha didn't come for a long time, but this year he was finally able to. The first thing my sons gave me was roses. They know that I love red roses, and they always bring me big bunches. And of course, their first question is always: "Mom, what would you like? Can you buy it yourself? How much do you need?" My children are doing well financially — there are sponsors who take care of the organization and pay a good salary. I don't come near their earnings. My sons must be able to manage their own money. They know what they're doing.

I came to see them at the bootcamp a couple of times — I was wondering about their living conditions, talked to Sergey, Nemiga CEO. I like him a lot as an organizer. He always sees where everyone is, how they are preparing for a match. And it matters to me, too. When Sasha's team goes abroad, we always stay in touch. I will always support him if he needs it. I like watching Nemiga play; I try to watch all their games. I cheer for them, I root for them, I support the whole team. Even if they lose, I don't get upset, and if they win, I'm over the moon! I support all the teams in the CIS — Navi and Russian teams included. I like watching good players in action. Sometimes I will even discuss it with Sasha or Slava. I will say, see how he played the pistol round? Good shots! But Nemiga is my all-time favorite.

I think esports will take off around here. As far as I know, it has been recognized overseas, in Germany, for example. And I believe that there is nothing wrong with it. It's just another sport. They practice, too; they persevere, too; there is an insane number of split-second decisions to be made. There are so many things they need to know, to be able to do. I want to say this to parents: if your kids choose esports, do not oppose it. They know what they are choosing, and they need support. There's nothing wrong with it. And if this sport really develops and moves forward, I would even say this is the best career choice. And even the best way of life.

It was for good reason that mds dwelled so much on his captain. It is Anton "boX" Burko who will become the next Life EXP. hero, and the stories of these two gamers are very similar. But if Alexandr decided to retire from the sport on his own, Nemiga leader's fate turned out to be much more cruel. Soon you will learn what challenges made Anton stronger, how not to give in to despair when the work of your whole life comes undone, and what the intellectual power every athlete has in them is like.

 

Translation by Yaroslava Yakovenko

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