Every sport has their Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods that takes their professional league to the next level. For eSports the man, the myth, the legend is Lee Sang-hyeok, better known by his in-game name of Faker. The high school dropout rose out of one of his hometown Seoul’s many internet cafes to become a household name in South Korea, where competitive gaming has surpassed baseball as the national pastime. Nicknamed the “Unkillable Demon King,” the League of Legends prodigy (he’s 20) is blessed with lightening fast dexterity, an unrivaled feel for the game and a killer instinct that all the great ones have, no matter what the sport. With career earnings of over $1 million, multiple MVP awards and championship titles, Faker is eSports first true global superstar.
The Bad Boy
Every sport needs a bad boy and for eSports the man you love to hate is William "Leffen" Hjelte. The Super Smash Bros fighting series champion looks like more like a K-Pop star than a champion gamer, but instead of playing the good guy hero, he relishes in the “heel” role like Kobe Bryant, taking down and talking shit to all comers as he dominates the field, all while racking up corporate sponsors like Red Bull. Volatile and cocky, he made international waves when was banned from European tournaments for bad sportsmanship. Somewhere John McEnroe is both confused and happy.
Anders Blume is the leading voice of eSports. Known as shoutcasters, they’re the men behind the curtain at video game tournaments, calling (more like shouting) the action and providing commentary. Blume, who won the Golden Joystick award for eSports icon of the year in 2015, along with his broadcast partner Auguste “Semmler” Massonat, are the John Gruden and Gus Johnson’s of their sport, known for insightful observations, bad puns and #hashtag worthy catchphrases. Blume’s, signature "Are you kidding me?" even has its own YouTube compilation.
The Blonde Bombshell
Rachel “Seltzer” Quirico is the Erin Andrews of the eSports world, and she doesn’t just talk a good (video) game, but is a former up-and-coming player who put her controller aside for a microphone. She brings passion and knowledge of video games to the masses on the reg through hosting events and live game interviews of players on her uber-popular Twitch channel.
While eSports is known for being young, progressive and racially diverse, it has curiously not been a game-changer in terms of breaking gender and sexual barriers. The gaming community has been accused of sexism (Google: Gamergate) and labeled (rightfully so) as literally a boy’s club (there are only a handful of women professional players) despite a growing female fanbase. "Remi" Creveling, nicknamed the “Thresh God,” smashed gaming’s glass ceiling, not only becoming the first female to compete professionally in League of Legends, but also the sport’s first transgender athlete. Like Jackie Robinson and Michael Sam, Reveling has dealt with harassment, but unlike the groundbreakers before her, much of it has been online behind the hidden faces of a computer screen. The stress both on-and-off the competitive stage has caused her anxiety issues, which resulted in her deleting all her social media accounts and taking a leave of absence that eSports true fans hope will end soon.
In vintage arcade terms, there’s a line of thirsty major brands putting down their quarters (millions of them) to get a shot at the hottest game in town, which is eSports. They may have to wait behind Nate Eckman, an industry vet who has been at it for years after working with gaming industry high-scorers like Machinima, Rockstar Games and Microsoft. He’s now the (bearded) face of Ultimate Media Ventures, an innovative start-up that hopes to change the gaming culture from the inside. UMV is set to debut line a of fashion-forward eSports apparel called ULT at this year’s E3 (which is basically Comic Con for gamers). They’re also launching a media lifestyle site, Fragd, that will be like the TMZ of the eSports world.
Richard Lewis is a controversial eSports journalist who has been called everything from the Bill O’Reilly to the Anderson Cooper of eSports. As a longtime competitive gaming reporter for The Daily Dot (and now Breitbart), the fiery Brit exposed a match-fixing ring from one of America’s best teams, broke news of a cheat code scandal and pulled the curtain back on the predatory relationships between team managers and young players. Known for his fiery demeanor and inflammatory statements, he’s been banned from Reddit and threw down with a pro player on a panel, gaining as many fans as haters.