Swapping textbooks for joysticks to represent Singapore in e-sports

Teenage gamers worldwide are shunning mainstream education for a booming e-sports scene with millions of dollars in prize money on offer.

SINGAPORE: In a country focused on academic achievement, Singaporean Galvin Kang Jian Wen did something almost unthinkable – he stopped studying as a teenager to spend more time playing computer games.

After completing his secondary school education, he defied parental disapproval to pursue his dream of becoming an e-sports champion, but believes the sacrifice has paid off as he heads with his National Team to the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games.

Teenage gamers worldwide are shunning mainstream education in favour of spending hours tapping away on computers and phones, attracted by a booming e-sports scene where prizes at major tournaments reach millions of dollars.

But perhaps nowhere is the prospect of swapping textbooks for joysticks more daunting than in Singapore, which tops global education rankings and where striving for academic excellence is deeply ingrained in the national psyche.

Kang – who is his national side’s coach and competes in multiplayer battle game Dota 2 under the moniker Meracle – said his belief in his own playing skills was so great he had the courage to what most would not dare.Advertisement

“I stopped studying and went to pursue this passion of mine,” the 23-year-old told AFP at a SEA Games boot camp in Singapore, which was organised by the tournament’s e-sports partner, gaming hardware company Razer.

“Obviously (my parents) were not very happy about my decision because nobody wants their kids to stop studying.”

Few are willing to pursue a career in the fledgling e-sports scene in Singapore, which has only around 15 professional gamers.


The focus on education in Singapore means few are willing to pursue a career in the fledgeling e-sports scene – Singapore has only around 15 professional gamers.

“Singapore is very focused on study,” said the country’s e-sports association president Ng Chong Geng, recalling how when he gave a talk at a university, not a single student expressed an interest in becoming a professional player.

“Now more or less everyone graduates with some sort of degree … If you try to be an e-sports athlete you have to give up on a lot of other opportunities.”


Kang is not alone among players heading to the SEA Games, taking place in the Philippines in November and December, in having chosen to focus on gaming rather than study.

“The thing that most changed me was quitting school so I can play for the whole day, play full time,” said 17-year-old Thai Dota 2 gamer Nuengnara Teeramahanon, who quit school aged 16.

“I just did not want to study anymore, I just feel like it’s so boring.”

With some gamers dropping out of school to pursue e-sports, the lack of qualifications could be a disadvantage for players when they retire.

However, the lack of qualifications could be a disadvantage for players when they retire, which can come at a young age in e-sports. In some games, players can be finished by 23 as their reactions slow.

Players from nine countries will compete in six titles at the SEA Games – Mobile Legends, Arena of Valor, Dota 2, Starcraft II, Tekken 7 and Hearthstone.

Supporters hope the tournament could be a step towards a spot at the Olympics although that seems unlikely any time soon, with the venerable institution so far unenthusiastic about the discipline.

Players who cut short their education and made a success of e-sports say their families have, for the most part, accepted their choice – although they stress they are not encouraging other gamers to follow their lead.

Kang used to be part of a team in the United States, where his accommodation was paid for and he received a salary and prize money. He currently plays for a Thailand-based team.

“Eventually they (my parents) were convinced,” he said. “I could pay for my own food, live on my own.”

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