Esports is growing by leaps and bounds, and new possibilities beckon in every direction. To many, a career in the gaming world would be a dream come true… But how do you turn experience into employment? We sat down for a Skype chat with one of our most successful coaches, Faraz “FKIShadow” Barmpar, to hear how he accomplished the unthinkable – and went pro as an esports coach! The story comes to us from Nikaia, a suburb in western Athens…
Start by telling us a little about yourself!
I’m not quite sure what to say… I’m a math teacher and professional coach on Gamer Sensei. My story is actually pretty unique… My father died when I was 18, so I had to drop out of college and take on being the primary earner in the house. Teaching and distributing leaflets were my full-time job, but the income wasn’t enough to support my family and myself. At 22 or 23, I really dove into the gaming scene hoping that it would lead to something better – and it did!
What are your earliest gaming memories?
My earliest memories – not just of gaming, but in general – come from when I was like 4 years old with Sega Mega Drive (aka Sega Genesis) and ATARI… I can say I was born a gamer! I loved Game Boy and played almost every game console out there before switching to PC as a teenager. My father was a gamer too… I remember playing with my two little brothers and fighting over what we would play together. And of course being competitive with them, that’s probably where that nature comes from! laughs.
How did you get started playing Hearthstone?
I started when it first came out and instantly fell in love… I used to play Magic: the Gathering and Yu-Gi-Oh!, as well as games like chess, poker, and bridge. Anything with cards and maths really, so the connection with Hearthstone was immediate… My first impression was that this game was gonna take over the world! I knew it from day one, laughs. This was the second game I had played after League of Legends that I knew was gonna be HUGE, because it had that same appeal: easy to learn, hard to master. After playing for like a week, I decided to become the best! laughs.
You worked for years as a high school mathematics teacher and tutor. How do you see the connection between maths and gaming?
Mathematicians see connections between maths and everything! laughs. In reality, Hearthstone has some basic math like most games do, but the connection is really the mathematical thought process that you use in games at the highest level… It’s all about proceeding step-by-step, using rational thinking, excluding emotions from decision-making… Math is about structure, and using structure to build something coherent!
When did you start teaching games professionally? What was that experience like?
In a way, coaching perfectly brought together my passions of gaming and teaching so it felt natural. It was May 2014 when I decided to try to go full-time. I started by creating some Facebook pages to advertise myself, then I did some streaming. For example I would cast the LCS in Greek and co-host with other well-known Greek streamers, like Devatva. But I never streamed alone; I didn’t enjoy it that much… In August 2016, I signed up to coach on Gamer Sensei and before I knew it I was working full-time! It took a lot of patience to reach that point and to climb to the top of the matching algorithm. And at first I was worried about whether I could help people without face-to-face interaction, and feared that I wouldn’t accomplish as much as I wanted. But I started to see real improvement in my students and realized that my method was working!
You’ve become one of the most successful coaches on Gamer Sensei – how does it feel to make a living from your passion?
It’s a dream come true, and an incredible reward after a long, long period of patience and hard work. It really is amazing to make a living from the things you love, and I wish that for everyone… Honestly, it doesn’t even feel like work – it feels like time just passes without realizing and then you get paid! The terrible Greek economy totally limited the things I could do for myself: I previously had to give 90% of my income to my family because I was the only earner… Now everything is different – I just got engaged after five years together with my fiancée, am renting my own place, and I’m still able to help my family. So really, Gamer Sensei has changed everything for me!
How have your family and friends reacted to your accomplishments? Anyone else (maybe your brothers) considering a career in gaming?
At the start they were worried, like any family would be – afraid that pursuing gaming as profession just wouldn’t work. But they trusted me, knew I loved it, and knew that when you really love something it’s hard to fail! One of my brothers is now coaching for League on Gamer Sensei as well (KTC) and my youngest brother is aspiring to do the same… He’s dreaming of being like us! My fiancée was always supportive, from the very start. She knew that the economy in Greece is desperately bad, so she understood I had to try something unusual. When I got my first lessons, we were so happy! laughs. Then when I started working with Gamer Sensei, I told her we could finally build the life we’re dreaming of – start doing the things we want… Being able to say that feels like such a celebration!
You’re bringing your expertise to a new place as a Sensei Community Manager: for those who want to get into coaching, where should you start?
First off, you have to achieve a high-level understanding of any game you want to coach… It honestly doesn’t matter what your rank is, but you need to deeply understand the game. After that, you need to have a critical realization: that coaching is different than playing! Let me find the right words… Playing is something you do for yourself, while coaching is something you do for someone else. You need passion and patience to be an effective coach; you need to be altruistic and want to see other players improving and growing. If you’re happy seeing a student grow, that’s the most important indication that you have the personality for this work! For example, one of the best moments of my career was when one of my students, Remo ‘Ray’ Bügler made it onto the Swiss national Hearthstone team. It’s such a good feeling to see a student surpass your ability to help them – you just can’t be jealous!
(Editor’s note: we interviewed Remo ‘Ray’ Bügler about his experience several weeks ago! You can find that article linked here!)
What’s the most important thing for coaches to get right? What’s the most common mistake you see?
These answers are kind of connected… As a coach, it’s essential to understand the mindset and skill level of each student. Failing to do this leads into the most common mistake: focusing on information that isn’t appropriate for the student’s skill level, either too complicated or too basic… Like in maths, you can’t teach algebra to someone who doesn’t even know their multiplication tables! Or if another student is learning Calculus and you’re talking about 2+2… In the first case, you have a student who doesn’t learn anything because they don’t have a solid foundation, so they feel bad about their abilities. They punish themselves, thinking it’s because they’re bad at the game! Feeling like this cuts their ambition and makes future progress way harder. In the other case, the student doesn’t learn because it’s too basic and is purely a waste of time; the student asks why they should even get coaching when it doesn’t contribute anything new!
How do you see the future of esports?
I like this question… I believe that in a few years, people will consider esports a real thing! We might even see it in the Olympics… I see esports as similar to chess or bridge; it’s just a mental sport rather than physical. Also, older generations seldom understand even the concept! As it becomes more accepted, people will realize that esports are a real career path for those who love games… I think the future looks very bright!
Thanks so much for joining us, Faraz! Congratulations to the two of you on your engagement – any final thoughts?
A big thank you to everyone in the Gamer Sensei family for taking a chance on me… To my family, for supporting me through all those years that I decided to chase my esports passion… And last (but never least) to my fiancée for being there for me at the worst times and at the best! A closing thought: always pursue your dreams! It might be cliché, but it really is better to take a shot and miss than never take the chance at all!