ALL EYES ON THESE GAMERS

Winning street fighter

Fighting game player Ho Kun Xian has had multiple top three finishes in international tournaments and has a global fan following.
Fighting game player Ho Kun Xian has had multiple top three finishes in international tournaments and has a global fan following. ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

With his windswept fringe obscuring his eyebrows, hunched shoulders and unassuming manner, not much about Ho Kun Xian says superstar.

But the 24-year-old is a hero among professional gamers, garnering a global fan following for his technically brilliant executions and smart play style.

Xian - as he is known to fans - has delivered smackdowns to top fighting game players, earning him a place among the international gaming elite.

His biggest win to date is at the Evolution Championship Series in Las Vegas in 2013, where he beat top Japanese player Hajime "Tokido" Taniguchi at Super Street Fighter IV to emerge top out of more than 1,600 players from around the world. For his efforts, he picked up a tidy sum of more than US$5,600 in cash.

 

Not bad for someone who once made his living by flitting between odd jobs, from grilling chicken wings to working as a mover to bussing tables at a karaoke joint.

Xian began playing fighting games when he was seven. He says that arcades were his "childcare centre", where his taxi-driver father and cashier mother would leave him with $5 to while away the afternoon.

He has one older brother, Mr Ho An De, 28, who gives tuition at a centre and plays fighting games recreationally. Xian's girlfriend, tattoo artist Jen Tan, is also a competitive fighting game player.

"When I was young, winning was more important than anything," he says. "Because if I win, then I can get time to pass faster and I won't have to stand there and watch other people play. That was all that I was thinking - that I just want to win."

Arcades continued to be his second home until he stopped school at 16, a decision he stresses had nothing to do with gaming, but because he was not academically inclined.

He spent two years making a living by doing odd jobs before entering national service.

It was only in 2009 that he made his competitive debut at Dreamhack Winter, a gaming tournament held in Sweden.

After winning a local qualifier, the tournament's organisers flew him out to the event, where he came in second. It was also there that he got his first taste of being a professional gamer.

"I never really talked to foreigners much until I went to Dreamhack, but there everyone was always shouting and cheering, it was crazy. It's a totally different world from Singapore, which is very conservative. Here, even if something huge happens, nobody is going to shout."

Since then, Xian has had multiple top three finishes in international fighting game tournaments such as Capcom Cup 2014 and Fall Classic 2014.

At the start of last year, he cemented his status as a professional gamer by signing a sponsorship deal with Razer, a gaming peripherals and systems company.

Razer now sponsors his gaming gear as well as any tournament expenses not covered by organisers. Xian is one of two local fighting game players sponsored by the company, the other being Eng "Gackt" Ghim Kee.

Although Xian has earned his place among the top ranks of fighting game players, the journey to the top has not been easy.

"I went through a lot to become a full-time gamer, I made a lot of sacrifices. If you say you want to become a pro gamer, Singaporeans are not very supportive," he says.

"Maybe if you play Dota (Defense Of The Ancients) 2, you can convince them. You win one tournament and you can make $1 million. But for fighting games, it's not quite up there yet."

Defense Of The Ancients 2's The International tournament this year boasts a $23.5-million prize pool, which is partially crowd-funded. In comparison, Capcom's 2015 Pro Tour fighting game tournament circuit will offer $500,000 in total.

To date, Xian has amassed more than US$27,000 in winnings.

However, it is not money but his competitive streak that keeps him in the game.

"It's the competitiveness, the urge to win. Sometimes, you can't win at everything in life, but video games give you a kind of feeling - knowing that you're better at the game and that's why you win."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 26, 2015, with the headline 'Winning street fighter'. Print Edition | Subscribe