10,000 Hours of Gaming

10,000 hours — that’s how long it takes for you to be good at something. Or at least that’s what they say. Well for me, that's how long I immersed myself in taking gaming rather seriously. At peak, this pursuit has placed me in the top 300 ranks within the SEA region in Dota 2, and consistently achieved the Legend rank in Hearthstone every month for years.

Not sure what compelled me to write all this down. Perhaps it's the wistful longing for my online gaming days over the past two decades. As I was writing this, I realized how integral gaming was in my life.

Anyway, let’s rewind for a bit...

A Nostalgic Throwback

The Beginning - Ragnarok Online (RO)

Ragnarok Online - Pontera City
I lost all my old RO screenshots from almost 20 years ago

My gaming journey began way back in the day with Starcraft and Diablo 2. I remember being only 12 years old when I first got into online gaming. I fell in love with this game called Ragnarok Online. But man, the official game required a point-based subscription. For my younger self, it felt like a door to an exciting world of online gaming was locked behind a paywall. I had no means to afford it.

So, I turned to one of the free private servers which I loved! I was part of one of the top guilds in the server and made cool friends along the way.

Now here's the intriguing bit, this was when I first dipped my toes into something that resembled "programming". I ran bots for farming in-game consumables and buffing up my team before entering the PvP arena. Honestly, I didn't know what I was doing back then! I was just following guides written on forums and fiddling with bits and pieces of code.

To date, this is still one of my fondest memories.

My Introduction to DotA

A couple of years later, when I hit 14, I got introduced to Defense of the Ancients (DotA) at school, a mod for the game Warcraft III. Pinpointing the exact DotA version that marked the start of my DotA journey might be tricky but my nostalgia hints at it being the time when Puck was the shiny new character.

I remember those days like yesterday. I’d finish all my homework at school, then rush home from school and straight away dive into forums to learn about skill/item build for each hero, reading tutorials and guides on every way to get better, and even playing 1 vs 5 against Insane difficulty bots.

Delving into Pro Games

Watching a DotA pro game replay
Watching a DotA pro game replay

Ever so gradually, I found myself drawn towards the pro games (anyone remembers the old MYM, SK Gaming back then?). I would spend hours breaking down every move in replays while paying attention to the meticulous detail that pros put in. It became my way of learning — pause, look, replay, and analyze every move.

Strange as it may sound, I actually enjoyed watching pro game replays as opposed to just playing the game. To me, it was more than just learning; it was the perfect mix of my love for the game and curiosity.

The Competitive Front

Eventually, I made my stride into the competitive scene amongst friends and local tournaments as a high school kid. Some games I'd triumph, others, not so much.

As I was wrapping up high school, an opportunity to play professionally came my way for around RM300/month. But, cool as it seemed to me back then, the money aspect just wasn't cutting it even as an 18-year-old. I had college on the horizon and, as much as I cherished playing DotA, I knew I was pretty decent academically.

Eventually with a scholarship in my lap, pursuing a Bachelor's degree seemed like a much more sensible option than scraping by with RM300 a month in a shared dorm room in KL.

Dota 2 - The Next Chapter

When college started, then came the sequel to my obsession — Dota 2. I landed some 'Beta Keys' and wasted no time sharing them with my friends. Being one of the first few to play Dota 2 was an exhilarating experience.

Now, as I moved out of my home, I had even more time to invest in this hobby with no restrictions. Some days, I clocked in 8-10 matches without breaking a sweat. I was the first among my gang to hit 5K MMR (Matchmaking Rating points) when ranked matches were introduced in 2013. It was quite a milestone back then.

This achievement swiftly put me on the map within the local circles.

For context, back in 2016, 5K MMR put you at >95th percentile.

The College Years

A post game scoreboard
I mainly play Pos 4/5 in the ranked game; and Pos 3 in tournaments (context about Pos)

Throughout my 5-year stint at college/university, I managed to bag a couple of local tourneys and, eventually, even hit 6K MMR on 3 Steam accounts.

One noteworthy tidbit from my college years was my foray into trading within Dota 2. There came a point when I found myself trading more than I was actually playing the game! Looking back, it was a fun and rewarding time as a broke student.

Today, all those years of trading Dota 2 items have allowed me to enjoy other Steam games without having to spend any money until today.

My Pink Burning Animus Wardog
I used to have one of those super rare Pink couriers called the 'Pink Burning Animus Wardog'

Card Games: Hearthstone

This period was also when Hearthstone piqued my interest. I got engrossed in watching Hearthstone games from 'Fight Night', but never actually thought to myself about playing the game. All I sought was the joy of commentary.

But as the fascination grew, I downloaded the game. Just like climbing the MMR ladder in Dota 2, I found myself really enjoying the challenge of reaching the Legend rank in Hearthstone.

Shudderwock Shaman deck in the October 2018 season
*Remembering all the crazy RNG moments from the Shudderwock Shaman deck in the October 2018 season*

My stint with Hearthstone reaffirmed the old saying — "it's free to play if you play it long enough". I am happy to admit that I never spent a single dime on it.

Found my old notes on Arcane Dust budget planning. I had to be meticulous to ensure I could afford to build a specific deck

Looking Back

Okay, so what were my takeaways from all these years? Well, it's difficult to pinpoint. But, one thing is undeniable — it has shaped me into the person I am today.

Focus On What I Control

As I climbed into the higher ranks of MMR in Dota 2, I started to notice that grief and toxicity, unfortunately, were present at every level and were not confined to lower ranks.

Playing in the top MMR bracket in the SEA region, my daily matches often included a mix of Tier 1 and Tier 2 pro players. To my surprise then, even pro players occasionally exhibited unsporty and immature attitudes. Realizing even they exhibited toxicity shattered my admiration and perceptions of some of the pro players I grew up watching. Nevertheless, it reiterated the fact that professionalism doesn't make one immune to bouts of frustration or anger. We’re all human after all.

Anyway, this revelation brought me to a fundamental understanding: ranting or battling against elements outside my control was not only futile but counterproductive. Instead, I learned to treat these unfortunate encounters as a personal challenge, focusing only on what was within my control.

Discipline > Motivation

Discipline became a fundamental part of my life. Post-university, I was determined to climb the MMR ladder, obliging myself to play a minimum of 2 games daily, disregarding losses as insignificant trifles.

Later, this instilled discipline naturally transitioned into my career. Just as with grinding MMR, I found myself coding extensively outside of work hours or spending countless hours learning about stuff related to software engineering and computer science.

The Cruel Reality of "Good Enough"

Rank 469 in the region
Found this old screenshot from back when I was going through calibration in one of the seasons. Immortal rank was introduced later on

In the world of Esports (perhaps by extension traditional sports), there's no room for mediocrity. The harsh truth is, you're either among the best (think in the top 16 teams worldwide) or you're not.

Unfortunately, for those themselves in tier 2 or 3 teams, life and pay were not exactly rosy. And to make ends meet, they might resort to rather dubious activities like boosting MMR or even participating in match-fixing schemes.

The Epilogue

But one day, just like that, as I finished another match, took a look around, and had what you might call an epiphany. I kid you not, my ‘competitive’ gaming story literally ended like this in around 2018.

I guess as time ticked by, I just wasn’t enjoying the game anymore. The MMR climb, the fame, the pride, the praises — they didn't seem as alluring any more, especially seeing how they didn't contribute to my real-life progress. It seemed like my life was trapped in stagnation, not going anywhere.

As much as I loved gaming, adulthood came knocking with its mundane necessities like paying bills. So, I found myself at a crossroads — do I continue on my aimless path or take charge of my future? I chose the latter.

Childhood Dream Fulfilled

After taking a break from watching pro-Dota 2 games around 2018, I have started tuning into them again. Like most adults, life can get pretty hectic. To keep myself up-to-date with the latest upcoming matches, I made a small add-on for that.

Picture taken from my seat at TI 11 - Aster vs Liquid
Picture taken from my seat at TI 11 - Aster vs Liquid

In 2022, I had the pleasure of attending The International (TI) 11 in Singapore with one of my close friends. It was an absolute dream come true. Some time ago, I remember discussing with my friends about saving up RM10,000 to travel to Seattle (as TIs were exclusively held in the US back then) to watch TI in person. To think I actually lived that dream is truly incredible.

Looking back, there's not a second I would change. I've relished every bit of my journey thus far — even the frustrations of dealing with sulking players or griefing teammates wreaking havoc in my games by feeding away couriers to the enemy.

What am I playing today?

Watcher Pressure Point Deck
One of the most memorable runs in Slay the Spire! A20 + Heart Kill with a Pressure Points deck. Had a blast during this run!

Over time, my gaming preferences gravitated towards indie games. I really enjoy playing games like Slay the Spire, FTL, and Hades.

Currently, I'm playing Risk of Rain 2 with my friends. After years of being away from online gaming, playing with them again feels particularly nostalgic.

My only regret is not taking the time to properly save all those screenshots from back in the day. Unfortunately, I didn't back them up properly and lost everything.

To wrap up, I look forward to sharing these memories with my loved ones — every high, every low. Gaming was, and will always remain, a huge part of my life. No doubt, I loved every second of it!

Shoutout to all my crazy amazing friends — thanks for the memories!

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