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“What makes esports different from ‘normal’ gaming? In esports, it’s all about teamwork.”
Meet Ruth Lim, a 29-year-old Singapore esports coach.
The lifelong gamer started playing competitively in Dota 2 in 2013, when she was 20. Over the years, she has met and become friends with many pros in the professional Dota 2 scene.
“I can’t mention any names of any pros, but they are the real deal,” she says with a laugh.
Today, she works as a senior talent executive at esports talent management company EMERGE Esports. She also freelances as an esports coach, guiding her mentees in multiplayer online battle arena games such as Dota 2 and Mobile Legends Bang Bang.
Previously, she was a coach at social enterprise SOOS OIO (now known as COMEBACK), which uses gaming as a positive engagement tool with youths, runs intervention services for game dependency and creates workshops for parents of gamers on how to understand their children better.
Esports on the rise
The number of gamers in Singapore is expected to be 3 million people by 2026. In other words, almost 1 out of every two people will play computer games.
Not only that, players in Singapore spent $327.2m on games in 2019.
At the 31st SEA Games in Hanoi in May, our Women’s League of Legends: Wild Rift team clinched Singapore’s first silver medal in esports. And in the upcoming Asian Games in Hangzhou, China, there will be eight medal events in esports, including FIFA, PUBG and Dota 2.
Talking about Dota 2, Singapore is now playing host to The International 2022, where twenty top teams from around the world are competing for this year’s prize of more than $23m.
Bringing people together
All this talk about Dota 2 is what makes Ruth so excited.
She exclaims: “Gaming was a space that none of my friends could tell me about. In Dota, I met my now-friends and it became a place where everyone could bond!”
When she was part of SOOS OIO, she would set up offline gaming community events like TeleTrip to increase awareness about gaming addiction.
While there are many individual esports, like Street Fighter, FIFA or PUBG, Ruth specialises in coaching team esports, where she emphasises on strategy and team synergy.
During her four years in SOOS OIO, she helped mould many gamers into teammates.
Ruth helps them work with one another — to have each other’s backs, in game and in life.
Social and emotional learning through video games
After graduating in Temasek Polytechnic with a Diploma in Games & Entertainment Technology in 2012, Ruth realised how many esports players lack real-life support.
Players often forget that they are playing with real people online — who come with their own emotions, strengths and weaknesses.
Being a gamer herself helped her understand them, which is why she decided to become a full-time esports coach after graduating with honours in Computer Science from University of Glasgow – SIT.
Many of the methods she uses to guide her players can be used for anyone who plays games online.
For example, Ruth recalls how her players when under pressure would sometimes lash out at a teammate or an opponent, using insulting phrases like “noob” (a derogatory term for inexperienced players).
Such behaviour, commonly known as “bad mouthing” (BM)’ or “trash talking” is common. Sometimes, players do it simply because they want to troll, or get a reaction out of somebody.
Ruth’s way of dealing with such online toxicity is simple: She makes her mentees play together in person.
“It makes them think twice about what they say to each other,” she explains.
Another coping technique that she teaches is how to manage playing time.
Gamers nowadays can play non-stop. Some can even play mindlessly and endlessly, forgetting the time and day.
She explains her coaching philosophy: “Imagine a buffet — you eat and eat because you’re trying everything… until you vomit. What if there was someone to teach you how to manage your intake?”
It applies to more than just playing time.
There is more to gaming than just playing to win, she says, like figuring out strategies and processes. She often teaches her players to take a break away from the screen to strategise, instead of playing constantly and mindlessly.
Teamwork makes the dream work
Jonathan Pooh (his friends call him JP) and Gordon Teo Xu Sheng are two of Ruth’s former mentees.
Currently, she has six other mentees, who reached out to her on social media and at events for advice.
It was at a local gaming event a couple of years back that she met JP, 21 and Gordon, 22.
Aside from strategy sessions — hours planning tactics on a whiteboard — Ruth also makes her team cross-train in positions. For example, even though JP played a support role, he and Gordon, with the rest of the team, took turns playing different positions.
Understanding the importance of different roles helps the team bond and strategise together better.
“Training is synergy. That’s the distinction between a pro gamer and someone who just plays games,” says Ruth.
Under her guidance, the two learnt a lot as individuals and as a team. She advised them on managing time properly, especially putting their studies as a priority. She even taught them how to be punctual!
“She’s not just a coach. She cares about the personal connections between players — birthdays and personal milestones. She’s more than just a mentor, but also a good friend,” says Gordon.
Both JP and Gordon tell me that they are grateful to have a coach as part of their learning journey. With heavy hearts, the two friends explained how they did not pursue esports as a career but applaud their friends who have. Playing competitively in Dota 2 as teenagers was an unforgettable experience, they tell me.
Support from guardians
When she was at SOOS OIO, Ruth conducted webinars and workshops for parents and schools. During these sessions, SOOS OIO would invite professionals such as psychologists to clarify doubts on gaming.
Many parents, understandably so, worry over how gaming can be a negative influence in their child’s life.
Ruth, who has met many parents, believes it is ‘the lack of understanding’ that causes friction between them and their children.
During these workshops, parents and teachers get to experience what their children go through as gamers.
For example, parents often don’t realise that multiplayer online games cannot be paused or stopped immediately. Many competitive games are team-based, so a player leaving or going AFK (away from keyboard) makes them a liability to the team. These can have repercussions like getting banned temporarily from playing the game.
It’s like playing in a football game and leaving the pitch halfway through a match.
So, Ruth explains, sometimes when a parent tells a child to stop playing and they do not do it immediately, it’s not the child being defiant — they just don’t want to leave their teammates in the lurch.
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Ruth adds that gaming can be a positive influence too. Some teens use games as a way to spend time with their friends and support each other. It can be a relief from stress.
Others, like JP and Gordon, could excel enough to consider it as a career.
However, it is all about knowing your limits and knowing when to stop. And that is where a coach can help teach players and their families about gaming addiction.
“Games are supposed to be used as a tool. If you let the game control you, you lose,” says the esports coach.