Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 5 August 2020

Personal training, nutritionists and confidants: what it really takes to become a professional gamer

One of the Middle East’s top 'FIFA' players explains just how much effort goes into staying ahead of the game

Haroun Yassin, left, and Ramy Saad, right, are part of the Nasr eSports team, which reached the quarter finals of the Fifa eWorld Cup Tullio Puglia for FIFA eWorld Cup
Haroun Yassin, left, and Ramy Saad, right, are part of the Nasr eSports team, which reached the quarter finals of the Fifa eWorld Cup Tullio Puglia for FIFA eWorld Cup

When it comes to eSports, there are still questions around just how much of a “sport” it actually is. How can a competition that involves vast amounts of sitting down and staring at a screen be considered taxing? But, you’d be surprised.

Once gaming transcends from being a hobby and double jumps up to a professional level, pro gamers need to take care of themselves in the same way any traditional athlete does. Psychologists, nutritionists and physiotherapists are often behind the scenes in eSports.

To find out more, we spoke to Ramy Saad, a professional Fifa player from Egypt, currently with Dubai’s Nasr eSports. The team recently reached the quarter-­finals of the Fifa eWorld Cup and are currently ranked 8th in the world, which is no mean feat. To reach this level of competition, there’s a specialised training camp to ensure they’re playing at their best.

“Gaming involves a lot of sitting down and minimal movement,” Saad tells The National. “So we have to balance this out with exercise to make sure we’re burning calories and that the blood circulation is good.”

Although Saad trains for four to five hours per day, he says he uses the gym “three to four times per week and takes plenty of walks”, but this is just part of the training regime ahead of a big tournament.

“Nasr eSports help us prepare with personal training sessions with experts on exercise and nutrition” Saad says. Cramping is a common injury associated with eSports, as those competing are often locked in one position for hours on end, so using a PT to stay fit is just the same as a professional footballer needing to stay limber for match day.

Ramy Saad of Nasr eSports at the FIFA eClub World Cup 2020. Tullio Puglia for FIFA eWorld Cup
Ramy Saad of Nasr eSports at the FIFA eClub World Cup 2020. Tullio Puglia for FIFA eWorld Cup

Although junk food has long been associated with playing video games, Saad says this isn’t the case on the pro circuit. “We have to stick to healthy foods and away from the junk, and during tournaments, we avoid high calories altogether, as our movement is limited,” he reveals. “And although coffee can help us focus, we have to be careful of the ‘coffee crash’ that makes us weak."

One area that is often overlooked when it comes to eSports, is the mental test. Staying calm in a “friendly” game of multiplayer Mario Kart is a challenge for most casual gamers. But when there are increasingly large amounts of money at stake in the pro ranks, and only a millisecond difference in winning and losing, the pressure is absolutely huge.

It’s easy to get lost in a heated game and lose focus. But having someone I can talk tactics with, allows me to get a different perspective when I’m too involved in the game.

Ramy Saad

Saad agrees. “In tournaments, we have to stay focused and calm. It’s very easy to be disheartened if an opponent is winning. You really have to believe in yourself and stay focused.”

Even though video games are often a solo pursuit, there is a team behind eSports pro gamers that are there to keep their charges cool. Think of them as a corner man in boxing or in the UFC.

“I confide in my brother who is also my coach and manager,” Saad says. “It’s easy to get lost in a heated game and lose focus. But having someone I can talk tactics with, allows me to get a different perspective when I’m too involved in the game.”

There’s often intrigue from casual gamers about the way pros “break the game”. Like Neo in The Matrix movies, they can essentially see through the gaming facade and can pick out the patterns necessary to win. So instead of playing beautiful flowing moves in virtual football games, there are certain methods that can be repeatedly used to get players to the sweet spots that almost guarantee a goal. But Saad sees things slightly differently.

“There are players who practice and exploit new features to their advantage, however, most pro players I’ve come up against actually play Fifa how they would play football in real life.

The players who exploit playing ­patterns don’t last very long. They don’t have an understanding of football or the vision to see ­certain plays that people who watch football can.”

In the same way that David Beckham probably didn’t envision playing football forever, eSports pros tend to mix up their gaming when they’re not practising what they excel at. Saad says he can still play Fifa for fun, but tends to indulge in first-person shooter games such as Call of Duty or even mobile titles such as Clash Royale to break up the monotony.

Sponsorships with the likes of Lenovo Legion and competing for honours and huge cash pots are a tempting offer for any budding eAthlete, so it’s no wonder that those like Saad are taking their training seriously. They just need to be clear that there’s much more than just sitting and staring at a screen to make in the big leagues.

Updated: March 2, 2020 07:23 PM

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