Interview: Inside Red Bull's Training Grounds For Pro Gamers

Wings for everyone.

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Complex Original

Image via Complex Original

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Red Bull may be a household name to the mainstream masses as an energy drink, but the name also holds weight within the realm of traditional sports with numerous athletes, events, and teams under their roster. The company has expanded even further by sharing their talents to the growing world of competitive gaming with their unique competitive training event, the Training Grounds.

Recently, Red Bull invited eight of the world’s best StarCraft II athletes for their launch of the Training Grounds event at one of the nation's leading universities dedicated to gaming, Full Sail University in Orlando, Florida. Students got a chance to meet their their favorite pro-gamers, and get advice on how to better their skills.

What sets Training Grounds apart from other tournaments is that its not only about the battle. It's also and exercise to educate players by putting them against more experienced opponents in a variety of match types to hone their skills. The veterans review each player’s performance and help them to improve and develop their strategies. To sweeten the deal, $10,000 was put upfor extra incentive that Jens ‘Snute’ Aasgaard took home for a sweet birthday gift.

Complex caught up with two of the featured athletes, Chris “Illusion” Lee, Ryan “State” Visbeck, and the signature face and voice of Blizzard's StarCraft II, Day[9] to get some insight on the whole experience. 

As young pro-gaming athletes, what sets you guys apart from other competitors in eSports and in StarCraft II?
Ryan ‘State’ Visbeck: It’s almost always the amount of time put in. Pro-gamers play a lot more and take it a lot more seriously than most amateurs.

In pro gaming, especially in StarCraft II, having dedication and being genuinely motivated is actually more [valuable] than having talent – because those are the people who will be learning from their mistakes and putting the time in. That is what makes you succeed.

Chris “Illusion” Lee: I think there are a lot of players who get to the pro level without going [actually] pro, so just right underneath. They don’t know about the scene so well or don’t have the drive to go forward, or may have other things they want to pursue in life. As a pro-gamer – it’s a profession, so you’ve probably dropped something in your life to become a pro-gamer. I think the main thing that separates us is that we were able to start early; we’re kind of growing with the scene. 

"Winning the event is obviously a bonus, but everyone is here to improve."

How do you guys go about training for tournaments?
State: If I’m practicing full time for a tournament, I’ll put in anywhere from 6-10 hours per day, and take maybe one or two days off per week. On those days, I’m studying bots for at least a couple of hours. It’s pretty much the same as an everyday practice, because every day you’re practicing, it’s all focused on doing well in tournaments, so there’s [certainly] not that much of a variance. 

Illusion: It depends on the tournament. If it runs over the course of a few months, you can study the players and their patterns. Thend you just kind of go and refine your play. It’s crucial that you’re well rested and eat well so that your condition—physically and mentally—is suitable.

What was the experience like with Red Bull's training and what are your thoughts on their relationship with eSports?
State: I think it’s fantastic. They have a really good StarCraft II team in Korea, Team StarTale. They’re taking a very active role in eSports and because Red Bull does everything really, really well it’s exciting.

Illusion: I personally like Red Bull events, because the staff treats you really nice, you know where you’re supposed to be, and you have an organized schedule of events. Red Bull wants to get [their name out] in the scene, but they also want to help the players. For me, the main reason I like Red Bull is that they actually care about the players.

How is Training Grounds different than other tournaments?
Illusion: There’s a reason they call it "Training Grounds", it's not just a tournament. I think Red Bull’s focus for this was to give a different perspective on the players, people get to see them while they’re practicing as well as competing.

State: This event has the best treatment of players than any event I’ve ever been to. Everyone is really friendly, hands on, and everything is clear. It’s also structured differently than other events in that, the main focus here is practice and training. Winning the event is obviously a bonus, but everyone is here to improve. We’re still practicing even after being eliminated because we’re all just [downright] motivated. It’s exciting to be here and to be able to continue to practice.

What were the most Memorable moments at Training Grounds, for you guys?
Illusion: I truly enjoyed signing autographs and getting pictures with the fans. I haven’t done many sit-down signings, where the fans come to you. I did my first one here, and I really liked it. Usually at events this big, you don’t have time to interact with the fans.

State: To me, it was certainly getting to know all the other players much better; it's been a lot of fun. 

What are your thoughts on the development of eSports and what do you envision in 5 years?State: I see eSports continuing to grow. We’ve seen games like StarCraft II, League of Legends and Dota 2 really emerge as spectator sports. For StarCraft II's World Cyber Games finals, there were like 100,000 viewers. For LoL and Dota 2,  even more. I definitely see it continuing to grow as more people are exposed to games and [video] streaming becomes a more common form of entertainment.

Illusion: I think this generation is the best generation to market eSports to. All of my friends at home are truly interested in the scene. I think in the next five years, the people that I know that actually like eSports will get more involved; try to compete and go to live events. I just don’t want it to be rushed.        

What advice would you give newcomers on being a pro-gamer?
State: First and foremost be sure to stay in school, and understand that it’s not easy. Lots of times, it isn’t very fun. I’ve learned a lot from my experiences, but it’s not an easy path. Only a very select few people actually go far enough to be able to compete regularly, and even less are able to make a living off of it. If it’s something you’re really passionate about, give it a shot but always focus on your studies, that should be your first priority.

Illusion: Don’t aspire to be something you’re not; it kind of just has to happen. That’s how it happened to me. I was playing, playing, playing, and one day this guy messaged me, "hey we’re looking for a Terran [a race of characters you play in StarCraft]". It wasn’t even like a big thing, he just asked, "do you want to try out?" I enjoyed playing the game a lot, so I said ok. From then on, it’s only grown for me. 

What was the fan reaction to Training Grounds?
Sean ‘Day[9]’ Plott: The fan reaction has been sensational. Having a weekend long tournament is helpful for a short time memory. When things are spread out, it’s like, "wait, what happened last week?” Everything gets messed up if you have 256 players playing and you’re trying to keep track of all sorts of crazy information. If you have shortness of the weekend and only eight players in two groups, it’s easier to wrap your head around and there aren't new players dropping in all the time. Also, you’re going to see them play three times. You’re not going to miss any of the games and there's a more deliberate pace for the players and observers. You see everything.

For those who were not able to watch the live stream, what match would you suggest they go back and check out online?
Sean “Day[9]” Plott: Game one of Kyeonghyun "SeleCT" Ryoo vs. Lim "NesTea" Jae Duk. it was so good! It was an hour long and I thought SeleCT was going to lose constantly. Every time you thought SeleCT was dead he would come back. Then you’d be like "oh my god, is NesTea dead?" Then NesTea would pull back. It was the epitome of a close nail-biting game.

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