Online gaming professionals compete for rich prizes in world arenas
League of Legends stars musttrain hard as they chase rich prizes
Agence France-Presse in Paris
They train hard, have their own fans, sponsors and managers, and transfer to rival teams: Online gaming pros are not dissimilar to athletes, adopting rigour and dedication to win and cash in on their success.
Some 30 of these professionals travelled to Paris last week for this year's four-day League of Legends championships in an indoor multi-purpose arena attended by thousands of fans of the popular online battle arena game.
"The life of a professional player is fairly similar to that of a high-level athlete," said Kurtis Lau, a retired online gaming star from Hong Kong better known under the pseudonym "Toyz" in the League of Legends world.
"You have to train several hours a day and travel across the world to compete in matches."
League of Legends pits champions against each other in a fantasy world and has become hugely popular with more than 67 million people playing it every month, according to the game's developer, Riot Games.
The 2014 championships that kicked off last Thursday in Paris featured teams from North America, Europe, Southeast Asia, China and South Korea. Sunday's final saw South Korea's SK Telecom T1 K beat China's OMG.
In the sold-out arena, thousands of spectators chanted the names of favourite players before the online battles began. Each team had its own coach, who dished out last-minute advice and encouragement to players.
Backstage, some warmed up in private rooms, others ate fruit and carbs to get ready.
"You need a healthy lifestyle to be a professional player," said Nicolas Laurent, in charge of international development at the California-based Riot Games.
"In fact, there are real differences between the Asian teams that are much more serious and the Americans or Europeans. And that often comes through in terms of results."
South Korea's winning team of this year's All-Star Paris 2014 championships will take home €36,300 (HK$387,000).
"Professional players often earn hundreds of thousands of euros a year," said Laurent, pointing to prize money or sponsorship deals.
Before integrating a professional team, the best of the best are often spotted on game servers by managers looking for the next big thing.
And once on the circuit, League of Legends players sometimes transfer to the competition.
Last week, for instance, Russia's Alex Ich left his team, Gambit Gaming, to join Sweden's Ninjas in Pyjamas.
The United States has even decided to facilitate the visa process for foreign players in a bid to attract new talents to US teams.
As for retirement, it can hit early.
Toyz retired from the professional circuit when he was just 21, and has already decided what he wants to do next.
"I plan to become a team coach. That would be a natural evolution," he said.