Bedroom gamers turn professional

David Treacy David Treacy has the potential to earn a six figure salary as a pro gamer

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David Treacy is a 25-year-old who spends all day every day playing video games. His mother could not be prouder.

David is one of the top professional video gamers in the UK. He has the potential to earn in excess of $100,000 (£69,000) a year and travel the world on expenses.

But his video gaming career started as an escape from the stresses of school life.

As a severely dyslexic child, he found it hard to concentrate, and it was only in the online world, where he was revered by his peers for his gaming skills, that he found a real sense of worth.

"When people are telling you online 'wow you're really good at this game, how did you get so good?' and asking for advice, the confidence you just gain is tremendous," he said.

Becoming good enough to take on the world's top players requires determination and gaming can end up taking over a player's life.

David's elder brother Danny, also a gamer, said it is a labour of love with a gruelling routine.

"Staying up until five in the morning and then sleeping until four in the afternoon and then just playing games again from that point onwards - just hours and hours and hours," he said.

Team motivators
  • The eSportsmen is on BBC Radio 4 on Friday 4 June and 11 June at 1100 BST
  • Or listen again via the BBC iPlayer

The past 10 years have seen video gaming change globally from a solo pursuit to a much more social activity.

Players from all over the world can now come together on the internet to compete in leagues and tournaments with increasingly valuable prizes and often culminating in a live event at a stadium or conference centre.

The UK gaming scene is not yet managing to attract the range of sponsor support that allows players to earn a reasonable living while in training.

In contrast, American player Jonathan Wendel, known in gaming circles as Fatal1ty, is one of the highest earning pro-gamers in the world. He has won 12 world titles and once earned $150,000 (£103,000) in a single weekend.

In South Korea gaming is pretty much a national sport. The most popular game, Starcraft, sees the country's players earning six-figure salaries.

When the national football team made it through to the semi-finals of the World Cup in 2002, members of the top Starcraft team were called in to the dressing room to help motivate the players.

'Professional' gamers compete in the video league

The UK is still a long way from calling on gamers to motivate David Beckham during half time at an international match.

But Mike O'Dell, team manager of David's gaming collective known as Dignitas, said he remains focused on creating a sustainable business model for his international team of 88 players.

He said sponsorship is beginning to improve following the global recession.

"I see it definitely beginning to turn - this year for us especially has been crazy; we've had sponsors come along like buses for keyboards and mice, all at once," he said.

Paul Chaloner, a professional player turned commentator, believes it will not be long before professional gaming becomes more widely accepted.

"It'll take a while to persuade people that gaming is a popular sport, but I think it's a generational thing. Once we pass through another generation it will be, just the norm," he said.

Sedentary pursuit

Yet David is currently the only full-time member of team Dignitas - the rest of the team have to juggle their every day lives with the demands of their training schedules.

Gamer Kurtis Shore is an electrician who juggles work and play: "I don't know how I do it to be honest," he said, "I don't think even my team know.

Team Dignitas Most of Team Dignitas need to juggle work and gaming competitions

"I'm up at five in the morning, sometimes not coming home until seven at night, and we've still got to play three hours a night. It's very, very hard."

Adding to the pressure, professional players are often contracted to spend a certain amount of time practising for a tournament.

In the case of team Fnatic, assembled from players across the globe, the contract stipulates putting in seven hours a day for two weeks leading up to a tournament event.

Team managers ensure players take regular screen breaks and drink plenty of fluids, but the sedentary nature of video gaming still raises concerns.

Dr Dominic Micklewright is a sports psychologist at the University of Essex who normally works with high-performance cyclists.

He tested some pro-gamers to find out if they share the same traits as professional athletes.

He found the players' reaction times and mental acuity to be on a par with other sportsmen. They reacted to visual stimuli almost as fast as fighter jet pilots.

But Dr Micklewright found their actual physical fitness levels to be far below average for their age, and is concerned children may look up to players as role models.

"Younger people in their attempt to want to become a professional gamer, they're going to spend a lot of time practising on a computer," he said.

"Screen time with children has a very strong correlation with childhood obesity and risk factors with heart disease later in life," he added.

For David, the results of Dr Micklewright's tests were a spur to action.

"It's always shown that the people that have exercise have always done better in tournaments."

The eSportsmen is on BBC Radio 4 on Friday 4 June and 11 June at 1100 BST. Or listen again via the BBC iPlayer.

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