Monday, 15th July 2024

Monday, 15th July 2024

Game-changer: This professional gamer turned a virtual passion into real-world success

16 May 2024

Pursuing his studies and hobby at the same time wasn’t always easy for competitive esports player Sha Mohtar. Find out how a teacher kept him keen on school and what he shared with students from his alma mater about an esports career.

Mr Sha Mohtar was just seven when he found his favourite sitting position: hunched, shoulders forward and eyes up, laser-focused on his online character on the computer screen.

His three older brothers introduced him to the world of video games. Since there was only one desktop computer in the house, they sometimes hung out after school at local area network (LAN) shops, navigating virtual worlds from Dota to Counter-Strike to Gunbound.

“My parents thought I was addicted,” recalls Mr Sha with a laugh. Now 24, he agrees they weren’t far from wrong. “I just wanted to play.”

They grew increasingly concerned about his studies and tried to stop him from playing, even turning off the Wi-Fi now and then to cut down on the boy’s screen time. But Mr Sha was stubborn; he would soon study enough just to get from one academic milestone to the next.

He knew he had the chops for competitive gaming. His reflexes were quick, his game strategies sound. When he won his first gaming tournament at age nine, he was even more determined to keep practising his moves.

Juggling act and a supportive teacher

Fast forward to today, Mr Sha is 25 and he has turned pro in esports, a multi-billion-dollar industry that is watched by millions around the world and has even reached the Olympics arena.

Mr Sha is now better known online as ZesBeeW – a moniker derived from a combination of his former clan in multiplayer online battle arena game Dota 1, a likening of his personality to a small but mighty bee, and his determination to win (hence the ‘W’).

He is one of the youngest players signed by No Use Talking, an esports organisation based in Singapore, winning several titles and trophies across different games and leagues.

Along the way, he tried to balance his studies with his gaming but was not always successful.

At secondary school, he found himself juggling his time by studying in the day and gaming into the night. Since the keyboard was like his best friend, after his N-Levels, he enrolled at ITE Central and signed up for the Nitec course in Computer and Networking.

Unfortunately, the course’s focus on networking threw him off – he thought he’d be learning something that could help him advance his passion – and he felt discouraged. But it was also there that Mr Sha met Mr Choo, his home-room teacher.

Mr Choo was curious about his esports journey, constantly asking about what games he was playing and how his tournaments went. “I felt like I could connect and talk to him,” recalls Mr Sha. The more they interacted, the more Mr Sha felt understood.

Whenever he had to leave classes early for tournaments, Mr Choo would offer words of encouragement, which he relished. “He would say, ‘Good luck and all the best, Sha. I hope one day you will represent Singapore.’ These small details mattered to me,” says Mr Sha.

“I always looked forward to his classes. He was one of the main reasons why I kept going to school.”

That motivation carried him through to the end of his Nitec course. All the course presentations he had to do along the way also helped him to overcome his fear of speaking to an audience and making public appearances. These skills turned out to be useful in the esports arena and helped him ascend in his career, he says.

Now, his favourite part of the job is meeting the fans. Whether it is by replying emails or taking pictures with them, he enjoys interacting with supporters and treasures the opportunity he has to make their day.

Proving it’s not just fun and games

Since his first tournament 15 years ago, Mr Sha has competed in several games professionally such as Battlefield 4 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.

After he moved to compete in another esport, Valorant, he joined Team SMG (Still Moving Under Gunfire) – an esports organisation founded by Singaporean singer JJ Lin – and won multiple tournaments such as the AE League: Conqueror and the AOC Masters Tournament (Singapore). Mr Sha also captained the team that won The Gym’s Singapore Invitational in 2021, playing the first-person shooter game, Valorant.

But his greatest satisfaction to date was seeing his parents come around when he received his first paycheck at 16. Before that, his parents weren’t aware of game-related careers. Even though the cheque was only for $500, it convinced them that it does pay, literally, to play online games the way sports players do sports.

At the 2023 National Day Parade, Mr Sha was featured on video in his capacity as an esports player representing Singapore. “My mother started to tear,” says Mr Sha.

His presence at the Parade signals the increasing attention on esports, with the city-state becoming a hub for gaming markets in Asia. Singapore was the first Southeast Asian country to host Dota 2’s largest tournament in 2022, before hosting the inaugural Olympic Esports Week in 2023.

Mr Sha’s plans for his e-sports career include going into coaching.

Success is…being recognised for one’s talent

As esports grows in prominence, Mr Sha is finding success doing what he loves for a living.

But his goals have started to evolve. He can see that there is a life span to his career: Esports teams often prefer to sign young talent because they are “sharper” than their older counterparts, he explains.

He plans on giving himself one final year as a player to make it to a franchise league – which usually guarantees greater exposure internationally – before moving on to coaching positions.

He has already started sharing his wisdom with the next generation. He was invited back to his alma mater at Fairfield Methodist School (Primary) to talk to the graduating students before their PSLE.

The acceptance of esports and gaming as a career demonstrates society’s broadening acceptance of what success looks like, but he wanted his young audience to still bear in mind that education is important as an enabler.

Education can open doors to more than one career, he had told them. For him, completing his Nitec training means he could, say, turn to building computers should he choose to shift away from gaming one day.

The irony of his advice is not lost on him, as he had pursued esports almost at the expense of his education. But he would like others to take less drastic measures.

His advice for those who dream of emulating his achievement? “Study hard and play hard.”