When it comes to StarCraft II, 26-year old Caviar “EnDerr” Acampado is one of the very best in the country to ever boot up the game. He’s won multiple tournaments around Asia including the WESG 2018, The Vengeance Cup, and the 2012 World Championship Series: Southeast Asia Nationals. Suffice it to say we’re lucky to have EnDerr representing the country in StarCraft II at the 2019 SEA Games in a few weeks time.
His Liquipedia page reads like a laundry list of achievements and accolades that any professional player would love to have under their belt. However, during my time with him at the Smart Sibol Training Facility, the 7-year veteran would show me that away from the glitz and the glamor, the pro gamer life does have its share of ups and downs.
Master of His Craft
EnDerr found love for the real-time strategy (RTS) game StarCraft as a kid in a local neighborhood internet cafe. With a smile, he recounts that back then, the game of StarCraft was very simple. He and his opponent would build an army which they’d inevitably lead to a clash while they sit back and watch the whole fight take place.
However, one fateful day he saw his older brother and his friend Mark play the game in a completely different level:
“Pinanood ko sila maglaro sa computer shop. So makikita mo nakaupo yung mga tao naglalaro sila tapos makikita mo these two individuals na sobrang tunog nung keyboard nila at nakikita mong hindi mo sila pwede guluhin.”
(“I was watching them play at the computer shop. So imagine: You can see everyone sitting down and playing then there are these two individuals with their loud keyboards and you can see that they were so focused that you couldn’t bother them.”)
This was eye-opening for EnDerr. Seeing a game he thought was so simple, then finally finding an undiscovered depth to it awoke something inside him that made him want to learn the game for real. He recounts the following with such vigor:
“For me, Four actions lang tapos na iyong game: Gagawa, Susugod, Manunuod tapos tapos na. For them, every second iba-iba iyong ginagawa. So doon ko nasabi sa sarili ko na gusto kong matutunan to. Gusto ko rin maraming pinipindot. Yun pala every unit has its own purpose.”
(“For me, the game was only four actions: Build, Attack, Watch then you’re done. For them, for every second they’re doing something different. That’s when I told myself that I wanted to learn that. I also wanted to do multiple actions. I also discovered that every unit has its own purpose”)
“First, nakita ko [yung StarCraft] at nainterest ako. Pero noon iniintindi ko siya, noong inaral ko na siya kung pano ko talaga siyang laruin at kung bakit ganun ka-focused laruin siya, that’s the time na pinaka na-inlove ako sa StarCraft.”
(“ When I first saw [Starcraft] I was interested. However, when I really understood it and when I learned how to really play it and understood why you need so much focus to play it, that’s the time the I really fell in-love with StarCraft.”)
With his turn in the Pro circuit, EnDerr followed in the footsteps of his brother-getting good at the game and eventually winning tournaments left and right. EnDerr quickly became one of the first prolific names in Philippine esports.
Then, in the summer of 2010, StarCraft II was released. The game had found 16 year-old EnDerr when he was at an all-time high for StarCraft in terms of passion, skill, and love for the game; so much so that he actually joined the first major StarCraft II tournament in the country, the MPGL StarCraft 2 LAN, without ever playing or laying hands on the game until the night before.
“That time wala akong pamibili ng [BattleNet] account. Siyempre kailangan ko din ng magandang PC kasi dati sobrang bago pa ng Starcraft II at wala ako nun. Kailangan ko din ng magandang internet connection at wala rin ako nun.”
(“That time I didn’t have money to buy [a Battlenet ] account. I also would’ve needed a good PC to play it because at the time Starcraft II was brand new and I didnt have that. You also needed a good internet connection as well and I didn’t have that too. ”)
“Pero sobrang in-love ko noon sa StarCraft. Maglalakad ako pauwi at StarCraft nasa isip ko. So kahit nanonood lang ako ng games, kahit na hindi ko siya nalalaro, nag-iisip ako na ‘Ano kaya mangyayari kung ganito ginawa niya, pano kaya pag ganito naman’. Until na-ipon siya nang na-ipon until the day before that tournament.”
(But at the time, I was so in love with StarCraft. I’d walk home and I’d be thinking about StarCraft. So even if I was just watching games, even I couldn’t play it, I was thinking ‘What would happen if they would’ve done this, or that. So all that built up until the day before that tournament. )
“The day before the tournament my friend Dexter Ancheta na nakilala ko through sa mga tournament dati ng [StarCraft] Brood War, pinagover night niya ako sa kanila. May laptop siya, May Battlenet account din siya, so pinalaro niya ako ng StarCraft II.”
“So naglaro ako ng naglaro. Hindi ako natulog hanggang mga 5am. Nagising na siya naglalaro parin ako. Tapos diretso na kami sa tournament.”
(“The day before the tournament my friend Dexter Ancheta, who I had met through past tournaments of [Starcraft] Brood War, let me sleep overnight at his place. He had a laptop, he had a Battlenet account so he let me play.” )
(“So I played and I played. I didn’t sleep until 5am. He had already woken up and I was still playing. Then we went straight to the tournament.”)
On the very next day, EnDerr took home the Championship.
Away from the game, EnDerr holds down a day job at Mineski as a Production Assistant for their various streams and platforms. He’s also currently studying game development in CIIT, a school nearby his office around Kamuning.
EnDerr just wrapped up his Thesis I, which in game development means a working prototype of his game- a mystery/puzzle solving game where you play as a medical professional trying to figure out the symptoms of his patient. The game aims to spread awareness of DKA (Diabetic Ketoacidosis) a little known but severely lethal complication that stems from diabetes. The symptoms of the disease, the over-production of harmful blood acids, remain largely undetected until it is too late.
“May time kasi na di mo alam, diabetic ka na. Nakakafeel ka ng symptoms na nanghihina ka, nauuhaw ka palagi, naiihi ka palagi. Pero you’re fine. You can still play. You can still function. Pero those signs, deadly na pala siya. So yoong game na ginagawa ko it’s to raise awareness na pag may mga ganito kang symptoms na nafefeel. Para kahit papano pwede mo maisip na pwede na siyang DKA. ”
(“There are times when people don’t know that they’re already diabetic. You feel the symptoms: You feel weak, you feel thirsty or need to urinate often but you’re fine. You can play, you can function. But those signs are already deadly. So the game I’m making is to raise awareness in case you feel these symptoms. So that you can recognize that it might be DKA”)
The goal of the game, EnDerr says, is to diagnose a patient as a nurse would. The patient would state how they were feeling and it’s the players job to recognize symptoms by consulting various in-game books and resources to provide a correct treatment of the problem.
EnDerr said his inspiration for the game was unfortunately too close to home:
“Many people are not aware of [DKA] but 2% of the population have already died from it. I myself have experienced it just this year, the brother of my girlfriend passed away because of it. That’s actually the main reason why that’s my game is about it.”
“I’m actually really excited to finish it but unfortunately I had to stop to focus on Sibol and StarCraft. It was a very hard decision for me to be honest because I’m on that level where talagang ginaganahan akong gawin na yoong game (where I’m really motivated to finish the game).”
“Pero nagkataon na nakita ko na if hindi ako titigil, for sure hindi ako mananalo sa SEA Games or hindi man lang ako mag-place. And ayaw ko rin naman iyon”
(“But as luck would have it, I saw that if I didn’t do that then I’m surely not going to win at the SEA Games or I won’t even place. And I really don’t want that to happen either.”)
I could tell that stepping away from his game really pained EnDerr so I tried to alleviate the situation by reassuring him that he only needs to tough it out for a few more weeks until the SEA Games finish up and he can go back to his project. EnDerr candidly states that it’s not quite as simple as that.
“For me kasi, ginaganahan akong gawin yoong game ko then I have to cut myself [off] then force myself na ganahan dito sa isang bagay. Then after SEA Games I have to cut myself from [Starcraft] and switch again. So that’s the hard part that I don’t think people see.”
(“For me, I’m so motivated to work on my game but then I have to cut myself [off] then force myself to be motivated in this other thing. Then after Sea Games I have to cut myself from [Starcraft] and switch again.So that’s the hard part that I don’t think people see.”)
This is how I found out that “gana” or motivation is very important to EnDerr. It dictates how hard he works, how much he learns, and how much he wants to get good at the things he loves. However, instead of putting up an optimist’s facade where motivation is found in droves, EnDerr is human enough to admit that, at least for him, passion is a finite resource. It’s a fleeting flame that either burns bright through the night or fades away with the slightest breeze.
This is once again echoed during another segment of the interview when I asked him what practice is like for him.
“When I practice, inaantay ko yoong talagang ginaganahan ako at the same time, talagang gustong gusto kong maglaro. Kasi I feel like pag ganun yung pakiramdam ko, mas marami akong natututunan and mas maganda yung mga quality ng mga games na nalalaro ko.”
(“When I practice, I wait for when I’m really motivated and at the same time I really want to play the game. I feel like if I feel that way, I learn more and I play better quality games.”)
EnDerr says that without the proper motivation to play the game, he finds that he loses to pointless reasons, he commits more mistakes and improves at the game at a lesser rate which makes everything feel unproductive to him. That’s why sometimes he puts some distance between him and StarCraft by playing other games and working out to feel like he misses the game. Then it’s off to the races once more.
Of course, this is EnDerr after all; he’s played a lot of StarCraft in his career. At this point, he’s not just doing for the sake of doing it, he’s playing to get the best results out of it, to learn, and to be better. And to get the best results, EnDerr wants to be in the best mindset before every game.
A Ghost In The Machine
In preparing for this interview, I looked up several other interviews EnDerr has done in the past. In a recent one he did with Mineski’s Gamer’s Code, he had remarked that whenever there would be a choice between his gaming career or his obligations with work and studies he’d choose the latter every time.
This statement fascinated me because this isn’t the type of thing I’d normally hear in the esports circles. So much of the talk of esports is centered around its legitimacy and viability as a business and career-of course, as the world’s fastest rising industry, this is rightfully so. However, here’s a man who’s essentially living the dream of a successful pro player choosing to exercise frugality and rationality.
I think this is best illustrated by his answer to my question “What is the most important thing to consider when turning professional?”. Now I’ve asked many interviewees, pro players, and talents variations of this question before and the answers I’ve gotten almost always run along the lines of gaining more knowledge about the game, developing a strong work ethic or dedicating time to become better at your craft.
“Kailangan may back-up ka. Huwag na huwag kang magp-pro, kung after ng pro-life, wala kang back-up plan. Not because, takot kang sumugal or matalo but because safety mo rin iyon. At the same time kapag nandoon ka na sa point at a professional level and you don’t have a back-up plan it would cause conflict and distress in terms of focus. ”
(“You have to have a back-up. Don’t ever go pro if, after the pro-life you don’t have a back-up plan. Not because you’re scared to gamble or lose but for your own safety. At the same time, when you’re at that point at the professional level and you don’t have a back-up plan, it would cause conflict and distress in terms of focus.”)
EnDerr emphasizes the value of focus here, even boldly simplifying that at the core, a pro-gamer’s job is to focus. He continues:
“Kasi ang mangyayari, instead of focusing on the game, magiisip ka ‘pano pag bukas biglang may nangyari?’ at ‘saan ako kukuha ng pera?’. Bilang pro-gamer, kelangan 100% iyon [the game] ang focus mo because that’s all you have to do: practice and get better. Iyon ang pinaka-foundation mo nun is Focus. Hindi mo yun magagawa kung may iniisip kang iba.”
(“Because what will happen is instead of focusing on the game, you’ll think about ‘what if something bad happens?’ and ‘where you’ll get money?’.” As a pro-gamer, you need 100% of your focus because that’s all you have to do: Practice and Get better. Focus is your main foundation.You won’t be able to do that if you’re thinking of other things.)
As he went on, I sensed that there was a passion in his words that was surely drawing from something deep and personal.
“For me, kung makakabalik ako, iyon ang babaguhin ko sa career ko. Because I feel like I could have reached higher. Seven years ago there weren’t any issues with finances and family and anything na kakadistract sa focus ko. I really think yung gaming career ko mas magiging angat on a global level. Kasi ngayon I can say, I can compete in Southeast Asia. Pero globally, I know in myself I can’t. It’s all because of those factors.”
(“For me, if I can go back, that’s what I’ll change in my career. Because I feel like I could have reached higher. Seven years ago there weren’t any issues with finances and family and anything to distract my focus. I really think my gaming career would be at a higher level even on a global level. Right now I can say, I can compete in Southeast Asia. But globally, I know in myself I can’t. It’s all because of those factors. ”)
EnDerr strikes me as an anomaly among his esports peers. In an age where optimism about the burgeoning new industry is at an all-time high, EnDerr is quick to state that he doesn’t want others to just blindly jump in. I found out that the heart of the matter is because he’s already jumped in blindly once before and the water was cold as ice.
In late 2011, EnDerr was at a high point in his career. He had proven himself to be an absolute force in the local StarCraft II scene and was beginning to branch out into the global stage. He was slated to compete in the Grand Finals of the World Cyber Games, widely considered the Olympics of Esports, in Korea, the holy mecca of StarCraft, against Yoan “ToD” Merlo, a French player who is a champion in his own right. The event was touted to be the EnDerr’s big coming out party to the world but as fate would have it, his Visa application was denied by the Korean embassy and he could not fly out to compete. To complicate matters, EnDerr had to bow out of another prestigious tournament, SMM 2011, because his passport was still being processed by the Korean embassy at the time.
This was a huge blow to EnDerr. He felt like he worked so hard to be good at his craft-to become a master at it and compete on the highest level. However, at this cruel and crucial juncture, it would not be up to his skills to determine if he was going to be great. He felt as though the choice had been taken out of his hands.
“I’ve tried giving full-time to this gaming career before. Then something happened, my Visa was denied even though I was winning qualifiers. So I thought, this was not the end goal. I should not tell myself that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. Because there are some things that are out of my control”
If you asked me, I wouldn’t say EnDerr is a cynic. I wouldn’t even say he’s jaded. EnDerr is just doing what all good athletes do when they hit a bump on the road: they adapt and adjust.
Food For Thought
In the present, I can see that these events have galvanized EnDerr into a much more confident and stable state. He has a stable income; he’s two semesters away from graduating with a degree and a promising future in Game Development; and he’s also able to devote more time to StarCraft between his new esports team and his Sibol obligations.
Interestingly enough, with the unique reversal of roles in EnDerr’s life- him choosing work and studies over his esports career- it’s the people around EnDerr that motivate him to play and compete in the game that he loves.
EnDerr’s boss at Mineski, Natte Frost supports his career as a pro-gamer:
“Kapag may tournament ako na paparating, kahit papaano i-lelessen niya yung pinapagawa niya sakin sa work. Tapos siya pa mismo yung magsasabi na ‘Oh wag mo muna gawin yan, mag practice ka muna”. Big factor din yun kung bakit nanalo ako sa WESG last year. ”
(“If there was a tournament coming up, he’d somehow lessen the work he would make me do. He’d even be the one to say “That’s enough of that, go practice. This was also a big factor why I won WESG last year.” )
His girlfriend Moreen is also a strong pillar of support for EnDerr offering sage advice and constant encouragement. He recounts during one instance when he missed his flight to Thailand for the Vengeance Cup tournament and he was contemplating whether or not to use all of his last money in the bank (around 180 USD) to buy a ticket in order to compete:
“She didn’t push me to gamble but to believe in myself. She told me that ‘if you believe that you can win then go for it’. That’s why I was so thankful to her for that.”
That day, EnDerr believed in himself and bought the costly ticket to Thailand. Hours later, he won the Heart of the Swarm Vengeance Cup Championship and the most prize money he’d ever taken home at the time to the tune of 2000 USD.
Through it all, it’s evident that EnDerr is at his best when people believe in him and support him. It pushes him to believe in himself and makes him capable of greatness. From learning the ways of StarCraft from his kuya, to his co-workers who support him and his loving girlfriend that believes in him more than he does, EnDerr exemplifies the phrase Lakad Matatag or to Walk Strong. For EnDerr, walking strong doesn’t mean he has to walk strong alone.
With the SEA Games drawing ever-closer and athletes such as EnDerr working hard, pushing through obstacles and fighting self-doubt to represent the country, our job a fans is simply to offer support so that they believe in their own greatness. On November 30 to December 11, don’t let them down.