Never underestimate the heart of a champion, a look at Sansheng’s journey
Originally published on Fengone.com, their reporters spoke in-depth with Sansheng's mother on her son's upbringing and roots. Images taken from Fengone.com and the replays.net version of this story; title taken from the replays.net version. Combined with the earlier xiao8 profile alongside Hao's mini-autobiographical confessions, we can now say we have a good look into the players behind this year's International champions. Note: Wang Zhaohui is Sansheng's full name, Wang Shuangfeng is his mother, and Huaihua is the place in China they are from.
Gaming is considered by many to not be a proper pastime, yet 25 year-old Wang Zhaohui (ID: Sansheng) of Huaihua, Hunan, has taken gaming and become a professional player, and has won 4 million RMB along with the Dota 2 International 4 championship title. He says, he wants to take this money and buy his mom a house, and a car for his older sister. July 24, Women's Paper Daily/Phoenix Online reporters came to his home to explore the journey this world champion took to be where he is today.
Mom's first shopping spree
"Mom, I've won! Buy whatever you want, go look at houses! One-time paymen, no worries, if you go play cards and owe some money no worries, I'll help pay for you..." The morning of July 22, Wang Shuangfeng, pushing 60, received this call from her son in America, and her blood pressure rises from excitement.
Upon recounting this to the reporter later on, she couldn't hide a smile: "I was so proud and excited, I immediately went to the mall and bought some shoes and a dress, and of course bought something for my son, spending nearly 3000 RMB. This was the first time I ever spent money like this!"
Compared to her big spending this time, her home would appear much more modest. Wang Shuangfeng and her son live in an old office building, on the second floor where three rooms are carved out using metal barriers, a living room, a bedroom, and a kitchen, with the bathroom outside on the balcony. They've lived here for some twenty years.
Because her employer did poorly, she had long since been unemployed, living off a minimum social safety net each month. The husband likes to gamble, and rarely sends money home, and they've fought about it more than once. So Wang Shuangfeng could only do some small business, and raise a daughter and son that way.
"I only had Wang Zhaohui (Sansheng) when I was 33, a bit of a middle-aged birth. His older sister is 7 years his elder, in college by the time he was in middle school, so at home it was just me with him. I really tried to pamper him, whatever he wanted to do as long as I could satisfy his needs, I would do it. He is a special person in my heart, I've always felt he is different from others," she tells us. In preschool he was rated as a Huaihua City golden child, his name was Wang Shuai (handsome), it was only when he turned 16 that he changed to his current name. But even today, his mom still calls him Shuai Shuai.
In his childhood, Wang Zhaohui was exceptionally well-behaved, with good grades. He never made a fuss, never wasted anything, and didn't like to eat junk food. But he was extremely introverted, and loved sitting by himself quietly at home reading or watching television, never going out to find others to play with. When he played ball outside, sometimes even that would be solitary.
Skipping school to play games
In fifth grade, the normally well-behaved Wang Zhaohui began to get crazy about gaming, and his grades fell sharply. It happens that a colleague of Wang Shuangfeng's had opened an internet cafe near home, and because of their relation to each other, Wang Zhaohui was allowed to play for free there.
"I didn't know if allowing him to come in contact with games was right, at the time I only wanted to challenge his brains." Wang Shuangfeng explains. "At that time my work was busy, I didn't have as much time to control him, he'd come home from school, then go over to my colleague's place at night to play games."
He quickly became enamored with the games. His mother says, "Many times I'd go to the internet cafe and stand behind him, watching him tapping away at the keyboard, hands moving so quickly, but I'd stand for a long time and he'd never notice me." In junior high school, he went as far as to skip school to play games. Wang Shuangfeng found him in the internet cafe, and just as she raised her hand to hit him, he said, "Mom, don't do it yet, there are so many people watching, hit me after we go back." She was left angry and bemused at the same time. But from that time, she realized that her son was big on face, and so every time following that she would try and try to convince him to stop playing, so as to not affect his studies, but the results were poor.
In grade 8, Wang Zhaohui would play games every night until late before returning home. "At the time teachers would often call, reflecting that he was sleeping in class. I was so worried for him, asking him every day to not go to the internet cafe. He would agree quite nicely, and then go behind my back and go to the internet cafe anyway."
Wang Shuangfeng worried for her son's future: to play games like this, won't he be useless in the future? But unexpectedly, she gradually saw things more clearly: "Instead of nagging at him every day with no results, I might as well talk a bit less, avoid harming his self-respect, as long as he doesn't go out and do bad things then it's okay." At the time, internet cafes in Huaihua weren't cheap, 2 RMB per hour. For Wang Zhaohui, by this point, the money was no longer a small amount, and in order to not have her son go and do other things, Wang Shuangfeng saved in life to give him money for this. "It wasn't that I supported him playing games, but more that I was giving him 'breakfast money', and then looking the other way not saying anything."
"No matter how much he played, at least he knew to come home, every day upon hearing the door sound, I knew I could sleep well." Wang Shuangfeng says, "During that time I really couldn't hate my son, even if he didn't listen to me and played games every day, he still really cared about me. He knew that it wasn't easy for me to make money, so he'd often wait until after midnight to go play, because overnighting only cost 5 RMB, which was much cheaper than the 2 RMB per hour at times before that. He knew that every night I would wait for him to come home, he knew that if I didn't see him in the morning I would worry, so, he would often play until close to daybreak and sneak home. There's a metal gate in front of our home, and he often lost the key, so to not wake me, he would climb in, quietly... quietly. These were all things that I knew. Every morning seeing him pretending to get up out of bed, yawning, to go to school, my eyes would water up."
Others spend money at the internet cafe, he makes money
Speaking of playing games, Wang Zhaohui had made a name for himself near home. "Others have to spend money at the internet cafe, he can sometimes make some money." his mother says, "Other players at the internet cafe all understood that he was really good, and many adults would get stuck on a game and ask him to pass it for them, each time they had to pay him 20 RMB."
What really amazed Wang Shuangfeng was her son's determination and focus when he played games. Whenever he played a game, he would focus entirely, and you could often witness him playing at the internet cafe, a bowl of noodles next to him. By the time the noodles had gone cold he still hadn't eaten, just staring at the screen the entire time. Sometimes while playing he'd smoke, and the cigarette would have burned all the way to his fingers and he would have no idea. What she couldn't understand at the time was, other kids in the neighborhood would come and comfort her, "I admire Wang Zhaohui so much, he is a god. Ma'am, I believe someone as focused as he is will see success one day."
His mother tells us, "I did also believe that someone this focused would have success in whatever they do, but I still thought how great it would have been if he'd used it all on his studies."
In his first year of high school, Wang Zhaohui gave up his studies due to gaming. His reasons were very adequate: "Instead of wasting time every day pretending to care, I might as well go get a technical degree in something computer-related."
Wang Shuangfeng worried for a long time, but in the end agreed to her son enrolling in a technical academy for computers, but gave one condition: she would only support him to 18, and after that he would have to support himself.
"I've never felt that playing games is an ugly thing, and in front of my coworkers I tell them all that my son is a 'world beater'. Since it is his own choice to play games, then I should respect that. But he must be willing to go deep, if he is going to play then he should be the best, and make something of it." she explains.
Going to Chongqing to compete with blankets
"I'm finally back, and I miss home a lot, I want to see you mom, but Perfect World in Shanghai has lots of events I need to be a part of. It's going to have to wait until early August until I can come home." July 25 afternoon, Wang Zhaohui tells us after arriving back from Seattle.
It was when he was 20 years old that he began his professional journey.
In 2009, a friend from Beijing brought him to the hottest Chinese Dota club at the time, EHOME, for a trial. Even though he ultimately was not selected, the disappointed Sansheng did not give up his passion for this game. Returning to Hunan, he and some friends formed the team TM and competed semi-professionally.
"We were all a bunch of gaming hobbyists. In the day we'd all do our own things, at night from 7pm to 1am, we'd train at the Changsha TianMa internet cafe." Wang Zhaohui says, the Dota scene in China at the time was generally poor, low salaries. Their sponsor at the time gave them 1300 RMB, no meals included. Because of this, sometimes he would have to beg for help from teammates for food, all the way to the latter half of 2010 would he get 2000 RMB a month.
"Others depend on fate, in our field we live for tournaments. The best way to prove ourselves is to win tournaments and take prize money." Wang Zhaohui notes, "If you don't work hard, others are working hard, and there can only be one champion. So only by working harder than others can you get the best results."
The path of professional players is a difficult one, sometimes leaving one to feel helpless. What made Wang Zhaohui feel worst was one time in 2009. There was a tournament in Chongqing, and because there was no lodging provided there, he brought blankets from home, only able to sleep at the internet cafe. That time, his team won the tournament, each person could get 80,000 RMB, but who knew that the boss ran, and so they could only bring their blankets back home.
"Playing professionally is like college entrance exams. First you start playing from tiny internet cafe tournaments, gradually making it to semi-professional. Only when you make a name for yourself there can you enter the mainstream recognition." Wang Zhaohui says, through endless practice and hard work, he has achieved pretty decent results. Starting in 2009, he has won many titles each year, such as the PCGA in Changsha, NGF 2010 in Shanghai, IPDC in Malaysia 2011, etc. At the same time, because of outstanding talent, he has been invited by various major clubs such as CCM, iG, and TongFu, with his salary rising from his 1300 to nearly 10,000 now.
Having made some money, Wang Zhaohui is very filial. His mother tells us, "Wang Zhaohui has been sending me 1000 RMB every month since he was 21, never stopping once in 4 years. Every time he goes overseas to compete, he doesn't buy himself anything, he just buys me supplements and nutritional products."
Egg fried rice after winning, thinks of mom after getting prize money
"This time at TI4 in Seattle, because it is on foreign soil, so during matches it's tough to not be affected," Wang Zhaohui recalls the past few days, "Offline events are more challenging. It's not easy to minimize the affect the environment has on you, and during the group stages we had issues with our form, we lost many games in a row, to the point where we were almost eliminated. At the time our expectations and reality was a huge gap, and it was very tense, I couldn't even eat much each day. But in the end we adjusted in time, and played better and better until we won the whole thing."
Wang Zhaohui jokingly says to us, "The most unforgettable moment was entering the NBA KeyArena, against American powerhouse team EG, everyone present was cheering 'EG! EG! USA! USA! and even though we were seated in a soundproof booth, we could feel it. It was hard to not h ave this affect us a bit, so at the time we could only quietly say to ourselves, CHINA lo!"
"Upon receiving the Aegis, I thought of my mom and my sister, these are the two most important people in my life." Wang Zhaohui says, "This championship, after taxes, will give us each nearly 4 million RMB. I will buy a house for mom in Huaihua, and a car for my sister. The rest I will save and manage."
When we asked him whether they celebrated much the night they won the title, Wang Zhaohui teasingly replies, "Nah, after the matches I was so tired, afterwards I just had an egg fried rice and went to sleep."
Not anyone can make gaming their profession
Wang Zhaohui and his peers' success has brought excitement to many gamers. In internet cafes, it is perhaps hard to miss the occasional amateur player remarking that "If it weren't for family stopping me, I might have been an esports world champion by now too." But in reality, those who are at the internet cafe to pass time are heavens apart from esports competitosr. In Wang Zhaohui's view, playing professionally is a very 'dangerous' thing.
"Without enough interest, it is impossible to persevere," he explains to us, "Typically going to the internet cafe to pass time is a very fun thing, but if you had to do that for 10 plus hours for a couple years, you will want to puke upon seeing a computer. And every day there are set routines and arrangements, such as strategy, mechanics, and scrims with other teams, etc. Things are a mess in a club, five people in a 70 square meter apartment, sleeping at 2 or 3am, getting up at noon, scrimming against other teams in the afternoon, analyzing tactics, discussing drafts. Typically there are two BO3s in an afternoon, and because five people might have differing opinions, or because performances in training aren't up to par, there are often arguments. Usually if there's an argument then we'll follow by going to karaoke to relieve some stress, make some mental adjustments, and then come back and continue training."
Wang Zhaohui believes, esports is an industry that burns with "youth" as its fuel. A player's peak is very short, and a career is only around five years. Because "Focus and reactions both decrease as age increases, and in a game, sometimes 0.1 second can determine the result of the game."
Today, 25 year-old Wang Zhaohui, Sansheng, is considered within the range for 'retirement'. Yet, for the future, he states that he will not immediately retire, and will definitely be going to TI5. In the future he will consider transitioning towards commentary or hosting.