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I had never heard of Clinton Loomis before Saturday, August 8. Chances are, you hadn’t either. But suddenly, the 27-year-old from Oregon, USA, was all over my Facebook and Twitter. His team had just won the largest prize money in gaming history: $6.6 million. Clinton plays Defense of the Ancients 2 (DotA) in a team of five, and they will split the money along with team management. But sometimes in sports, one player overshadows the team. “Old man DotA,” some call him. Most know him by his in-game nickname alone: Fear.
There is something special about how viewers rooted for Clinton. Rarely in sport, rarely in life do we see a hero who everyone is happy for; not just happy, but also relieved for. Think back to when Goran Ivanisevic won at Wimbledon and you’ll get an idea of the emotions of eSports watchers across the world. Since 2006, Clinton has been a fixture in the professional world of DotA, a game of five-on-five strategic melee to destroy your opponent’s base. It has been a decade long journey of highs, lows, friendships, betrayals, injuries, missed opportunities, passion, and persistence—culminating in one moment on Saturday.
That moment came at KeyArena in Seattle, in front of 17,000 people and countless others watching at home, as Clinton’s team, Evil Geniuses, won the $6.6 million championship. Just to put it into context, Yuvraj Singh was the costliest purchase at the 2015 IPL auction for $2.7 million.
This just in: eSports is serious business. And Clinton is the Rocky Balboa of DotA.
Old Man DotA
Clinton has been playing since the original DotA came out in 2003, started considering himself a professional sometime around 2005, and was signed up by a professional eSports management company in 2006.
A part of his journey was captured in a 2014 documentary film about the world of DotA, Free To Play. All the players Clinton grew up with have quit the game and moved on. He stuck with it and ended up becoming one of the oldest players around today. And he’s just 27.
In professional eSports, 25-26 years is considered the maximum age to be competitive. Players and analysts cite various reasons for that, such as slower reflexes, not being able to click as fast, and reduced hand-eye coordination, among others. None of the recognised names in professional DotA are 30 years old. In fact, the youngest member of Evil Geniuses is just 16—Sumail Hassan from Karachi, Pakistan, who now lives in the US.
But great sports stories happen when spirit triumphs over the body. Clinton might be statistically past his peak, but his innate competitive hunger drove him to excellence.
Not Your Stereotypical Geek
When he was two, Clinton’s father abandoned his family. His mother had to go back to university and study to become a lawyer, while working a part-time job and taking care of her two sons. A Sega Genesis console became the brothers’ first foray into gaming, followed by World of Warcraft on a PC.
However, the boys weren’t the gamer stereotypes often portrayed in popular culture. Video games were another outlet for their competitive spirit. The brothers loved playing sports in school, so much so that their mother eventually had to set a quota of two per boy per semester, so that she could manage their schedules. When they weren’t competing on the court, they were competing in their living room.
“As much at home with jocks and skaters as with his online friends, Clinton excelled at athletics of all types and was a frequent sight in the skateboard parks and soccer fields of Medford,” writes Evil Geniuses’ Will Partin in a mini-biography of Fear. “Above all, he was urged onwards by his competitive spirit, which drove him to push himself to his physical and psychological limits, and his commitment to staying physically fit. Both have remained essential components of his personal and professional lives.”
The Lowest Point
Eventually, however, the endless gaming got too much for Clinton’s mother. While he was playing DotA competitively and getting basic sponsors, he changed his sleep schedule to keep up with his European team-mates; with him, his dog stayed awake; and in turn, so did his mother. After years of this, his mother asked him to move out.
Clinton might have been kicked out of his house because of his gaming career, but he was determined to continue. He took a part-time job and rented a place. His landlord’s throwaway furniture served as a desk. A friend’s old CRT monitor was his new screen. A couple of thick books sat between the monitor and the desk, to bring the screen to eye level.
In a world where gamers are finicky about their keyboards, their mice, their monitors, their chair, and all the gear you can think of, Clinton stands out and plays the game, not the machine.
“Clinton is like the Rocky Balboa of DOTA,” says his best friend Tony Grenier.
Despite his passion for the game, at the end of the 2000s, it became increasingly difficult to think of it as a career option. Sponsors were fading, teams were disbanding and reforming, and things just weren’t working out. Clinton kept a low profile on the “scene” in 2010, but video game maker Valve rekindled the dream in 2011 when it announced the first edition of The International, which had a cash prize one million dollars..
The International — The World Cup of DotA
Back in 2011, no one thought The International would have such a huge reward. People were expecting a figure of around $50,000. The internet went berserk when Valve, the developer of DotA, announced the million dollar bounty. It was the largest prize pool of any gaming competition to date.
Clinton and his team finished seventh in the first edition of The International, but the prize money made eSports management companies look at DotA seriously again. They started investing in setting up professional teams, and Fear was among the most sought-after names.
In October 2011, Clinton joined Evil Geniuses, an established eSports brand with professional teams for several video games. He wanted to make a legitimate profession out of his passion. Tournaments around the year were prep for the big annual event. The International had become the World Cup of DotA.
“Deep down inside, I know that this career is going to work out for me in the end,” he said, right after losing in 2011. Four years later, he would make history.
Leader, Mentor, Coach, Friend
After joining Evil Geniuses, Clinton moved into a house in California with his new all-North-America teammates. DotA was now a job and they needed to prep accordingly. On a typical day, the team practises for over nine hours. Clinton is the unofficial leader, setting up regimens, conducting post-mortems, managing his team-mates, and so on.
His age and easy-going nature have won him fans and loyalty among his peers. A large number of international players say they owe their career to Fear. He gave some their first shot, he mentored several, and he was often just a guy they could talk to who had been there and done that.
Over the years, the Evil Geniuses squad has changed several times, but Clinton has been the one constant, and is now the face of the team.
Clinton is credited with mentoring Canadian Artour “Arteezy” Babaev, regarded as one of the best players around today. As part of team Evil Geniuses, the two expressed a lot of mutual respect. When Fear injured his hand before The International 2014, he ended up as the coach of the team.
After Evil Geniuses lost, there were several disagreements within the team, and at the end of last year, Arteezy quit, along with team member Ludwig “Zai” Wahlberg. They joined Team Secret, a super-team of sorts formed by picking the best players in different positions. The DotA community largely saw it as a backstab.
“Ultimately, I consider this a job as much as a hobby. You have to be selfish in what you do to be successful. If that means potentially breaking friendships or f****** up people to get what you want, it’s worth it. It’s a depressing reality but you got to do what you got to do,” Arteezy later said. “In 10 years, DotA is going to die. I am not going to be speaking to 90% of the friends I made in the DotA scene… It doesn’t matter to me if I hurt them or their feelings for a temporary amount of time.”
Needless to say, there was some bad blood between Arteezy and Fear, which often boiled over into snipes at each other on Twitter. After the injury, Pete “PPD” Dager was the new captain of EG, a role he continued with for 2015. But like Tendulkar in the Indian cricket dressing room, there is little doubt about who everyone looks up to. Eventually, Evil Geniuses recruited 16-year-old Sumail to replace Arteezy and Clinton mentored him.
“Fear helped me learn just to trust your teammates,” Sumail says. “He told me that good players learn from their mistakes and not get upset. Instead, they just practice hard and that’s how you become the best.”
Clinton had his team ready and his sights were set on The International 2015 with its $6.6 million prize for the winner—a winner’s share higher than that of the champion at Wimbledon or The Masters.
The Championship: USA vs. China
The 17,000-strong KeyArena in Seattle was packed. At the center stood two sound-proof booths, five computer terminals in each. The two opposing teams can see each other, but not hear each other. Flashy lights, fireworks, pre-game interviews, excitable commentators—there is little to differentiate The International from any major sporting event you have seen.
The finals of The International 2015 would be played was between the undefeated Chinese DotA Elite Community (CDEC) Gaming and Evil Geniuses (EG). China vs USA, as far as the spectators in Seattle were concerned, or for that matter, others around the world.
“I was super psyched! Fear is one of the most aggressive players and has an awesome ‘never surrender’ attitude,” says Mumbai-based DotA fan Harsh Sharma, who streamed the final live on YouTube from 11:30pm locally on Saturday to 7am the next morning. Sharma was looking forward to some local flavour too, as Evil Geniuses’ Saahil “UNiVeRsE” Arora is an American of Indian origin. “Seeing an Indian and a Pakistani winning an international tournament as an American team? Mind blown.”
It wouldn’t be easy though. CDEC had already beaten EG 2-0 in the run up to the finals, in a best-of-three match. Chinese teams have long been the dominant force in DotA. The country actually recognizes eSports as a certified sport, and market research firm EEDAR estimates that China’s gamer population is bigger than USA’s entire population.
In their path to the championship games, Evil Geniuses had vanquished two of China’s most famous DotA teams. The final would be a best of five. First to three wins the jackpot .
EG won the first game but CDEC bounced back to reclaim the second. The third game would put a team one step away from the crown. EG was on the back foot, but rallied around and played flawlessly to pull off a heist. The fourth and final game was anti-climatic.
As EG marched to victory, the crowd had already started chanting, “USA! USA! USA!” Before long, it was all over. Fireworks went off all around the arena as the triumphant Evil Geniuses got up and embraced each other.
Calmly, Clinton led his team out of their sound-proof booth, shook hands with their opponents, and went to collect their trophy. No overt displays of joy, no grandstanding. It seemed like the rest of the world was happier for Clinton than Clinton himself.
Even Arteezy couldn’t resist: “I actually smiled, old man Fear.”
“Thanks man,” Clinton replied, gracious as ever.
DotA 2 The International
DotA2: Fear – Player Profile (Liquipedia, 2015)
Free to Play (Valve / YouTube, 2014)
Dota 2 The International Grand Finals Results (SBNation, 2015)
Does EG have the current active players whose both the Youngest and Oldest of age? (Reddit, 2015)
Nothing to Fear but Fear Himself (Evil Geniuses, 2014)
A Chat With EG.Fear (DotA Cinema, 2012)
Live Transcript: Arteezy’s Thoughts on the Drama (Reddit, 2015)
The $18 million Dota 2 International 2015 marks the end of an era (Ars Technica, 2015)
TI5 Player Profiles – Sumail – EG (DotA 2 / YouTube, 2015)
Darren Rovell (Twitter, 2015)
The number of Chinese gamers surpasses the number of American citizens (GameSpot, 2014)
@Arteezy (Twitter, 2015)
DOTA2 TI (Flickr, 2015)
Korie Yang (Twitter, 2015)