ALL EYES ON THESE GAMERS

Playing Mummy to gamers

Ms Kelly Ong, team manager of Defense Of The Ancients 2 squad Alliance, carries hefty bags of gear and cooks for the lads.
Ms Kelly Ong, team manager of Defense Of The Ancients 2 squad Alliance, carries hefty bags of gear and cooks for the lads. ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

Lee Jian Xuan & Lisabel Ting talk to four Singaporeans who are flying the flag high in the world gaming arena

In the professional sporting industry, managers take care of their players, court sponsors and scout for new talent.

In the world of competitive video gaming, a manager does pretty much the same. And that is the job of Ms Kelly Ong, 26, who is the team manager of Defense Of The Ancients 2 squad Alliance, which is one of the top teams in the world.

In the video game, two five-man teams each control heroes with a variety of skills in a strategic battle to destroy the enemy base.

Sometimes, Ms Ong goes beyond the call of duty for her Swedish team. Carrying hefty bags full of gear, buying them food and water, and cooking for the lads are all in a day's job.

"My top dishes are seafood scampi pasta, beef stew and handmade meatballs," she says with a laugh. "Some of the players even call me Mum."

 

Her job - which pays her more than $60,000 a year - did not exist a decade ago.

This testifies to the scene's growth and professionalism, something which Ms Ong has been looking forward to since she was 15.

She began as many in the esports industry did: as a player. In her teens, she was an ace Counter- Strike competitor, with top three finishes in several tournaments here and in the region.

"Then, esports didn't really exist. The best you'd call it is competitive video gaming," she recalls. "Now, sponsorships are $100,000, a million dollars, but in the past, they would just give you a headset and you'd be so happy."

Despite the lack of corporate support then - at one point, she was earning less than $500 a month - she stuck to her guns.

"I love it. I love competing, the adrenaline you get whether you're on stage or not. I love that everyone was very passionate about it, even though we were poor," she says, her voice breaking with emotion.

"In video games and esports, things like race don't matter. You can sit down at a table with people from 10 different countries, with different skin colours and everyone is laughing, joking, talking. It's all just about the game."

Her own parents were confused by her choice of career at first. They both work in family businesses: her mother's family owns food and clothing stalls in Bugis, while her father's family works in framing. She has two younger siblings who are not into gaming.

Her father, Mr William Ong, 50, says: "She is very clever, she could have been a lawyer, but after she started playing games, she liked it. We were angry at first, but what to do?"

But despite his initial resistance when she left school after her Olevel examinations to focus on honing her skills, he says that he will always stand by his daughter. "I don't talk too much, but she knows that I support her all the way. To me, everything she does is right."

Ms Ong got her first international break when she was selected to commentate in a StarCraft II league in South Korea out of hundreds of applicants from around the world when she was 20.

After a two-month gig there, she returned to Singapore to look for a job in esports and was hired by the now-defunct streaming platform Own3D as a community manager, to manage interactions with the gaming community both on and offline. She lost her job when the company shut down in early 2013.

Then she pitched the idea of sponsoring Alliance, where her boyfriend Jonathan "Loda" Berg plays, to Evil Geniuses, one of the biggest North American gaming organisations. It owns highly successful teams in several games such as StarCraft II and League Of Legends.

The company took her up on the offer and hired her to manage the team officially after the G-1 Champions League tournament in Shanghai in May that year.

Now, her time is split between Singapore, Gothenburg in Sweden where Alliance is based, and San Francisco, where the Evil Geniuses headquarters are.

Her dream is to own an esports team one day and to find a job where she can do more to contribute to the esports community.

For now, though, she is just glad to be doing what she loves.

"When I was 15, I dreamt that esports will be in a stadium, that esports will be on television, that esports can be as big as sports. And now, it is."

Lisabel Ting

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 26, 2015, with the headline 'Playing Mummy to gamers'. Print Edition | Subscribe