The Envy of all gamers

Maple Ridge secondary grad makes gaming his career.

Bite your tongues, moms and dads – it turns out your kid can make a living playing video games.

When you get up in the morning to find your teen has pulled an all-nighter on World of Warcraft, or see that your tot is a little bleary after an afternoon-wasting Minecraft binge, choose your words carefully. Because there is a kid from town who is living every teenage boy’s dream as an esports pro.

Ben deMunck, 19, lives in a gaming house in Santa Monica, and is part of the North American League of Legends Championship Series. He goes by the name LOD, and plays for team Envy.

The Maple Ridge secondary grad is a new gladiator in the online battle arena that is League of Legends. And he is making a living at it.

“You can make way more than a good living – some people are pulling in almost $1 million per year,” he said.

DeMunck remembers playing so much World of Warcraft that his parents finally made good on their threats to stop paying his monthly subscription fee.

“I pumped so many hours into that, it was insane. My parents hated that.”

The subscription cost only $20, but when you’re 12 that’s an issue.

His folks thought young Ben would finally be driven outside, but he found another solution. League of Legends was a new online game. He found it challenging, and, best of all it was free.

DeMunck explained that League was soon found to be unique in that people enjoyed not just playing, but also watching elite players competing.

“People fell in love with watching the livestream,” he said.

A game like Call of Duty is too simple to make enjoyable viewing, he explained, whereas the science fiction battle Starcraft is too confusing.

“It’s too complicated – nobody knows what the hell is going on,” he said.

But League is the right blend of game mechanics with strategy and tactics.

“Every single little move you do, it all adds up, and it matters a lot,” deMunck explained.

It’s like chess, and other games are checkers. It has become the most popular online game.

Tens and even hundreds of thousands of viewers will tune in to watch the best players compete, and they will each pay a little bit to do so. Given the online game’s global appeal and reach, significant revenues are generated.

That first year he played as a pre-teen, DeMunck saw the competitive scene developing – teenagers flown around the globe, and performing in front of packed stadiums like rock stars.

“I want it,” was his reaction.

After playing for about 10 hours a day for six years, he’s got it.

Game developer Riot has set up a North American league with 10 teams of five players.

Team Envy will take on two teams each weekend, in a best-of-three competition.

The teams are worth money, like any pro sports franchise. The Envy team owner bought his way in for $1.2 million, and that franchise is expected to be valued at close to $2 million by the end of the year. The prize pool for the world championships tournament was $2.3 million each of the past two years.

In the first season, Team Envy was tearing it up for the first four or five weeks, but then the other teams went to school on their tactics and countered them. Now they will be content to take the sixth and final playoff spot, and hope to do some damage in the playoffs.

“This is definitely the most fun I’ve ever had,” said deMunck. “It’s super difficult, but that adds to the fun.”

Everybody is competitive. When they win, he imagines it’s the same as when a pro sports team wins a game.

“It’s a feeling I can’t compare to anything else in the world.”

Virtual crowds of up to 150,000 fans watch their games, and there are commentators just as there are in sporting events.

In the real world, he lives with three Korean gamers and an American, and they practice about 10 hours per day.

“Our job is just to be good at the game,” he said.

All their expenses are covered, a chef prepares their meals, and they hit the gym five days a week.

“We don’t live unhealthy lives.”

Many players supplement their salaries by live streaming their solo games. If they can build up their number of followers – either by being entertaining or offering some new insights into the game – they can make $100,000 or even as much as $1 million per year.

DeMunck’s focus right now is more on being good for Envy, and the team having success in just his first season, or split, with his new team.

He’s loving it.

“There comes a point where it stops being a game and starts being a job,” he said. “But I wouldn’t rather be doing anything else.”

His living situation is great, and the California sunshine always brightens his mood.

“I wake up super happy every day.”

He plans a long-term career in esports, either as a coach, or even working with Riot, when his playing days are done.

“I feel like there’s longevity.”

His mom Vicki remembers the arguments.

“You spend way too much time on that computer,” is where it would start.

But his big brother’s argument finally gave her pause, as he noted that Ben was among the top 500 players in the world.

“So what?” said mom.

“Mom, there’s 20 million players.”

Now he’s more like top 200 in the world, and in 2014 League of Legends was clocking 27 million players every day.

Vicki she sees how her son made it happen.

“I’m extremely proud of him. He’s worked really hard and been really goal oriented,” she said. “There’s great opportunities for travel, and it’s expenses paid.”

“He’s realizing his dreams, and not many of us get to do that.”

DeMunck knows he’s lucky.

“But it’s important in life to have a passion, and to follow it,” he said. “It’s what makes life interesting.”