SHANGHAI: In this file photo taken on August 20, 2019 members of team Alliance (behind glass) compete against team RNG during the International Dota 2 Championships. - AFP

first generation of professional gamers enters retirement, eSports is forced to
confront a vexed question: after years spent killing rivals in a virtual world,
what next? It is a quandary that comes far earlier than in most sports -- in
the most frenzied eSports games, players can be finished by 23 because
reactions supposedly slow after that.

Milliseconds can
be fatal in the online battlegrounds of eSports, a fast-emerging world where
the financial rewards are rocketing. There is a record prize pot of $33.7
million -- and still growing -- this week in Shanghai at The International, a
world championship where players compete in Dota 2. In Dota 2, a multiplayer
game featuring a "Phantom Lancer" and a "Chaos Knight",
players often talk about a comparatively late cut-off point of age 30.

think that at that age you're slow, you're not good enough, but I think it's a
mythical number," Jingjun "Sneyking" Wu, 24, of the Newbee team,
told AFP. Michael "Ninjaboogie" Ross, of Dota 2 rivals Mineski, hopes
to defy the age barrier. He has spent more than half his life gaming, but at
27, retirement is already looming. "Hmm, now that's the one thing I've never
really thought about," he said, when asked what he plans to do next.


According to
those with knowledge of the scene, the "What next?" question is a hot
topic among pro gamers. Coaching an eSports team or becoming a commentator or
analyst are prime among the options after hanging up their keyboards. But a few
say that after spending up to 12 hours a day practicing, and in some cases with
their eyes and wrists suffering, they are looking forward to escaping the

"Thorin" Shields, a self-styled eSports historian, said that burnout
is a major reason why gamers tend to retire so early. But he also told his
YouTube channel on a segment about retirement that teams have been too quick to
dispose of older players and experience has been undervalued. The good news for
the likes of Wu and Ross is that this seems to be changing and retirement ages
are creeping up. "Most people's peak probably was when they were 21 or
22," said Shields. "But from an objective sense, it's absolutely not
true. "The idea that in your late 20s you're just completely done... it
doesn't seem to fit with sport."

 Social skills

"Aui_2000" Ling said that growing riches in eSports -- the best
players are multi-millionaires -- are keeping gamers playing longer than ever.
The 26-year-old has earned close to $2 million, according to, and is now coach of Newbee having retired as a player
after injury. "Five or 10 years ago you retired because you wanted to
settle down and you couldn't support yourself in eSports," said the

"Now we've
clearly reached the point where you can begin to do that (support
yourself)."Sports players can play into their 40s so I don't see why you
can't in eSports." As the scene matures and money tumbles in, there will be
growing opportunities for retired gamers in the business, management and media
of eSports, said Roman Dvoryankin, general manager of

Dvoryankin wants
to employ a sporting director but there simply is not a candidate out there
because many of the first generation of gamers are still playing. He dismissed
accusations that many eSports players lack the social skills to thrive after
they stop pro gaming. "They are totally fine at communicating with other
people, just not face to face," he said. "But it's not a unique
eSports thing, it's a generational thing. People think they are just sitting at
their computers, but the fact is they are talking a lot -- but they are just
chatting (online)." - AFP