Editorial: School's out for Sumail
Disclaimer: The following article is an opinion piece. Though all of the events and details it draws upon are considered to be verified facts, this is an article which ultimately seeks to take an opinionated stance on those facts. Any of the speculations that follow stem merely from the personal opinion of the author.
‘Going pro’, as it is colloquially referred to, is and always has been a veering from the safe and padded road; a gamble of sorts. In light of this, there are certain questions that one must answer before making this kind of decision, and indeed one must think with respect to both the short and long term consequences. What are the chances of making it? Of finding immediate or sustained success and sustenance? At what cost?
The central consideration of a professional sports career is that of a backup plan. For reasons which are largely self-evident, the majority of athletes are young people, and when a young person is faced with the opportunity of becoming a pro, it is more often than not to come at the cost of their schooling - whether it be of the (effectively mandatory) secondary or of the (decidedly more optional) post-secondary variety. The matter-at-hand is then treated as if it were a merely question of value. For is the risk of leaving behind an assured life of security worth the possibility of attaining success in stardom? Well, that’s just it: it depends. It’s only worth it if you succeed and you can’t succeed unless you try; that is, unless you first run the risk of failure.
This all comes in light of the recent announcement that Evil Geniuses’ superstar midlaner, Sumail ‘Suma1L’ Hassan, has decided to drop out of high school and instead continue his professional Dota 2 career full-time, indefinitely. Following a short period of rumor and speculation (amidst the community of forums) regarding the fate of Sumail’s public education, the official news was confirmed by Evil Geniuses’ manager, Charlie Yang, via his personal ask.fm page.
Here it was established that Sumail would replace his public education with a go at the GED (General Educational Development) exams – with the help of a private tutor, of course. For those who don’t know, the GED takes shape in a series of tests held across four core academic subjects: mathematics, literacy, science, and social studies. Proving successful in each and every subject grants the participant a certificate that ensures their possession of an academic proficiency that is recognized as being on par with that of a traditional secondary school graduate.
Like almost all things Dota-related, the news was met with somewhat of a mixed response. There are those who speculate that Sumail’s decision was ill-advised, though it seems that – from a logistical standpoint - an even greater number are perfectly understanding of his situation.
What makes Sumail’s case particularly interesting – and unique altogether - is that he is making this decision whilst in possession of a lot of money. After turning pro in January of this year, he has won two of the largest tournaments in the history of eSports. EG’s victory at the Dota 2 Asia Championships (the third largest tournament in Dota history) garnered the team roughly $1,200,000. Of course, the second of these two begs very little preface: their recent first place finish at The International 5 earned them a whopping $6,600,000.
This makes Sumail the 6th richest eSports competitor in the world (not to mention the youngest to reach over a million dollars in winnings) holding a net sum of roughly $1,640,000 in earnings. While there are certainly countless players who have staved off the prospect of an academic career for the sake of their professional play – and even those who have given up their scholarly prospects entirely - these are players who did so before achieving the kind of success that sixteen year-old Sumail has managed to accumulate in just nine short months.
In his now infamous blog post, Jacky ‘EternaLEnVy’ Mao weighed the decision of going pro against finishing his nearly halfway finished engineering degree at the University of Toronto (of which I myself am a student, coincidentally). Valve’s self-made documentary, Free To Play, showed Benedict ‘hyhy’ Lim’s attempt to balance his desire to compete at the very first International with his post-secondary exam schedule (with which the tournament itself conflicted). From another standpoint, there are even those who placed the importance of schooling over that of pro play. In 2008 Joakim ‘Akke’ Akterhall decided to temporarily leave the Dota scene in order to complete his university degree and – having since returned to the scene – has managed to juggle his Dota schedule with his job as a computer programmer.
Each of these players was faced with a difficult dilemma, namely, trying to make a living at a young, impoverished, and largely misunderstood life of fierce competition, versus simply opting to take the beaten career path of school and a company job. This is a dilemma that Sumail does not have to face. For starters, there are far fewer uncertainties in a professional Dota career than there were a number of years ago. The game’s success is growing at a rate which is nearly exponential: there are more and more tournaments, teams, and players every year with the competition getting stiffer and the top tier more accessible and democratic. There is no shortage of money to be had in Dota - provided of course that one has what it takes to compete with the best. And if Sumail has demonstrated one thing in the last year, it’s that he is certainly among the best.
Sumail simply has no alternative options that are even worth the trouble of weighing. He has managed to achieve something that some of the most talented and successful athletes in 'real' professional sports could never hope to achieve by his age. Even if his career were to take an unexpected nosedive in the coming years - a possibility which seems wholly unlikely - he has already amassed so much in winnings that - with the right fiscal arrangements in place - he could be in a place of financial security for a long time to come. With the bulk of his capital invested properly, he wouldn’t even need to touch it on a day to day basis. He could live off the interest alone.
It is also more likely that this past year marks only the beginning for the young prodigy. With his mechanical skills at their absolute peak, playing for what seems to be on paper the strongest team in the world, it would be absurd for him to let school act as an imposition. The possibilities of his success seem virtually endless. And it is because of this that his situation is rather unique: in the course of making the decision as to whether or not he should put Dota above all, Sumail needn’t subjugate himself to the question of whether or not he has what it takes to make it. He has made it. In fact, he’d made it before the question had even seriously arisen.