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SALTWATER PORTRAIT

Lewes teen among world’s best gamers

Ryan Walker living his dream as professional video player
Professional video gamer Ryan Walker pauses from his “work” in his Lewes “office.” At 19 years of age, he has developed into one of the top players in the world in the fighting-games genre. RON MACARTHUR PHOTO
August 8, 2017

Ryan Walker has a large poster in his “office” wall with one word on it: DREAM.

He is living out his dream even though he's only 19 years old. His “office” is a corner of his bedroom where he sits in front of three video monitors using his Play Station an average of eight hours a day perfecting his play at the popular video game, Injustice 2.

He's getting pretty good at it as one of the top-ranked players in the world on the Pro League Circuit. He's so good that he is making a living playing the game, winning $100,000 in tournament prizes over the past two years. As one of the top-ranked players, he says, he will soon be paid a weekly salary. His travel expenses to and from tournaments are paid by sponsors.

On July 15, Walker – known as Dragon – won the $25,000 top prize in the Evolution Championship Series (EVO) World Championships in Las Vegas, considered the Super Bowl of gaming. He bested Tim “Honeybee” Commandeur 3-2 in the finals before a large crowd of enthusiastic gamers.

Incidentally, Commandeur beat another Delaware player in the semifinals. Two-time EVO champion 19-year-old Dominique “SonicFox” McLean of Townsend ended up in fourth place in what video experts called a stunning upset.

Three weeks before, Walker qualified to compete at EVO by winning a tournament in Canada and a prize of $10,000. He also won the Final Road Tournament in March in Atlanta, Ga., playing Mortal Kombat XL, the last tournament for the game.

He is on the Noble ESports Injustice 2 seven-member team and featured on their website. He's also scheduled to compete on TV in September.

It's not bad for someone who only got serious about playing three years ago. He entered the Summer Jam Tournament in Philadelphia and finished in 13th place out of more than 200 players. “I thought to myself that I could be good at this,” he said from his Lewes home.

“I was not sure what to expect, but I was surprised how welcoming everyone was,” he said, adding that the top players liked to hang out with other players and play games with them.

Now, he's joined the ranks of those top players. In the world of video games, he is becoming a rock star.

Last week, he was packing to leave for a major weekend fighting-games tournament in Vienna, Austria, which was his first trip overseas. Viennality 2K17 took place in the historic Palais Eschenbach and was broadcast worldwide via in the internet. He went there as the No. 1 player in the world for the newest release of the game.

He is striving to finish in the top 16 in the world so he can qualify for the world finals this fall. Players accumulate points based on their ranking in tournaments.

Tournaments are a way of life

Tournaments have become a way of life for Walker, who said he has lost track of how many he has participated in over the past three years, but it's at least 30 all over the United States.

“You can make a living out of this, but there is no guarantee,” he said. “You need to have some natural talent, but practice is what makes the difference. It's just like sports.”

Walker says it takes great reflexes, hand-and-eye coordination and concentration to excel at video games.

He practices every day by himself offline and sometimes online against other players. He keeps notes on other players and their playing styles to help him in tournaments. “My goal is to be the best in the world,” he said.

His genre of choice is fighting games. He started out playing Mortal Kombat and then moved on to its replacement, Injustice 2. “It's like a sequel made by the same company. They change games about every two years,” he said.

Tournaments typically take place on weekends using a bracket format with winners determined by winning the best of three games. Walker said each set takes about 10-15 minutes to play. He said the top eight players usually play the second day of the tournament with the action live-streamed on the internet. Play-by-play announcers call the tournaments just like major sporting events.

Walker said it's a degree of “health” who wins the set. Each player's character has a certain amount of health bars and as on-screen fighting occurs, opponents try to diminish the health bars using different fighting moves and weapons.

Walker agrees that his life takes place in a world that most people know nothing about. “Believe me, I had not planned on this.”

Like many young people of his generation, Walker said he grew up playing video games. “I have a photo of myself with a controller in my hands at 3 years of age,” he says with a smile.

Walker was a student at Cape Henlopen High School his freshman and sophomore years but completed high school on-line with The Keystone School.

How does he respond to people who say young people spend too much time playing video games and not enough time outdoors?

“I get that sometimes,” he said. “I do get outside; I take breaks and realize it's not good to sit all day. I respond that I'm making money doing something I love.”

 

See Walker's team at: http://noble.gg/teams.

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