Fighting champ slugs on with his virtual battles

This story was first published in The Straits Times on July 29, 2013

WHEN 22-year-old Ho Kun Xian tells others about his job, which involves beating others up in a virtual landscape, he is used to getting blank faces and awkward silences in exchange.

'My job is not socially recognised here, compared to overseas,' he admits.

But Mr Ho is a champion in his field: professional console gamer. His speciality is fighting games. 'People have the wrong perspectives about fighting games... but they require a lot of skills,' he explains. 'You need to practise and put in hard work to become good at it. It's like chess, there are strategies involved.'

Earlier this month, he became Singapore's first winner at the world's largest tournament for video fight games, the Evolution Championship Series in Las Vegas.

For his triumph in the Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition (2012 Version) - his favourite character is the Chinese martial arts master Gen - he took home US$5,600 (S$7,000). This win at the three-day tournament, which attracted 1,600 contestants from around the world, makes him even more certain that this is the right career choice for him.

He fell in love with fighting games when he started playing atthe arcade when he was 10, finding the games 'challenging'.

He became a full-time professional gamer in 2009, although at first his parents were apprehensive about the choice. But they are supportive now, after his win.

He declines to reveal how much he earns each month, although he says it varies. 'This industry doesn't have that much support here. I basically rely on winning tournaments to make a living,' admits Mr Ho, who stopped schooling after finishing his O levels.

'But in the United States, it's more common to be a gamer and people will appreciate and admire you for doing what you like.'

Since turning pro, he has taken part in over 20 international events. He is sponsored by gaming equipment maker Mad Catz and local gaming shop Versus-City.

Mr Ho typically plays for about four hours a day - eight when in training for a tournament. He spends the rest of his time working at the Tough Cookie Gaming Cafe, which he hopes to take over one day. He also helps to train the next generation of aspiring gamers.

His advice to young people is to pursue their dream, regardless of how unconventional it may be.

'I wasn't sure how much money I was going to make or where the market is going, but this is my passion so I went for it and it's the best decision I've made,' he says.

'When you like what you are doing, you will always be happy.'

This story was first published in The Straits Times on July 29, 2013

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