Spencer “Hiko” Martin is spending this weekend playing Counter-Strike: Global Offensive for a different reason. The pro gamer isn’t shooting enemies for cash prize pools or ranking. Instead, he’s raising money for Gamers for Giving at the Eastern Michigan University Convocation Center. The event aims to raise $100,000 to place GO Karts (Gamers Outreach Karts) in more children’s hospitals. More than 78,000 children in 16 hospitals across the country are currently supported by the GO Kart program, which supplies portable, medical-grade video game kiosks to hospital rooms so kids can get their minds off of being sick.
Mike “Flamesword” Chaves and Lindsay Elyse will also compete in the event, which is hosted by David “Walshy” Walsh and Scott “SirScoots” Smith. Featured tournaments include: League of Legends, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Starcraft II, Halo 5 Guardians, Call of Duty Black Ops III, Super Smash Bros and HearthStone. Over 2,000 gamers are expected to attend the eighth annual fundraiser, and the event will be livestreamed to the world via Twitch.
Martin talks about raising money for a good cause, and explains his own journey into the professional ranks of eSports, in this exclusive interview.
How did you get involved in professional eSports?
About five years ago, I was working a job in the office of a concrete company. I was putting a lot of hours into CS and always wanted to go “pro,” but was never able to. A team that had a serious sponsor contacted me and asked if I wanted to join them, and I immediately took the opportunity, which meant I had to start traveling to tournaments. I remember having to make a choice of either keeping my job and making money that way, or taking a leap of faith to see if I could make it as a professional video game player. I knew people were able to make money off of playing games and it was always my dream job—which is why I decided to chase the dream of becoming a pro. For the last six years I’ve been playing professional competitive eSports, and looking back I wouldn’t have changed anything on my path to get to where I am today.
What’s the skill difference between a pro and someone who thinks he’s good at CS:GO?
Usually when someone thinks they’re skilled at CS:GO they think they have really good aim and can kill most people that pop up in front of them. Being a professional means you’re proficient in all of the aspects of the game: aiming, timing, movement, positioning, and teamwork. CS:GO is a 5v5 team game, so just having really good individual skills doesn’t necessarily mean you’re fit to be a pro, or that you will even work well in a team environment.
I hear a lot of times that people who play a lot of matchmaking think that once they get the highest rank (Global Elite) they’re on par with the pros. This is a very wrong mentality because the mentality and environment in a matchmaking game is so much different than an actual official team 5v5 league match.
What do you attribute to the recent meteoric rise of Counter-Strike?
CS has always been somewhat popular around the world for the past 15 years. Right at the end of the [version] 1.6 era, DirecTV came into play and started their own exclusive league in CS:Source. The majority of players all switched to Source to take advantage of this opportunity, and I remember talking to a lot of the players about how much they actually hated the game. Ultimately, the DirecTV deal flopped and players were owed thousands of dollars. A lot of the players just ended up quitting and never looking back, and it hurt the CS community as a whole because most of the top talent left the game.
When CS:GO came out, there were a lot of doubts about if the game would even become popular. I think the goal was to merge both the 1.6 and Source communities into one, and initially people refused to adopt the new game. I remember going to a couple of tournaments that actually held separate brackets for both 1.6 and CS:GO, and people thought of the CS:GO players as less skilled than the 1.6 players.
Thankfully, through a series of updates and map balance changes, the majority of players did switch over to CS:GO and we’ve seen amazing growth in the last 2 years. One of the main reasons CS:GO is so popular is because it’s very spectator-friendly. You could know nothing about the game, but after you watch for a few minutes, you already understand the basics, and it is very entertaining. Add in the fact that there are already virtual “betting” sites where you could bet on your teams to win, and the ease of access of watching all games through live streaming platforms like Twitch makes the game almost the perfect spectator eSport.
Why did you decide to get involved with Gamers for Giving?
I attended Gamers for Giving last year and was really impressed by the amount of people willing to support an amazing cause. Last year, the atmosphere was amazing and something I was looking forward to doing again this year.
How are you able to use your social media following for good through a charity like this?
To be able to promote awareness and support for kids. People don’t really think about something as basic as providing entertainment for a child in a hospital, and how much good it could actually do for them. Hopefully, finding out about this event motivates people to want to help support a great cause.
What role do you see video games playing for kids in children’s hospitals?
Giving kids that are in a hospital environment something to do is such a great thing. To a child, the thought of a hospital is pretty scary and never associated with a good thing. Hopefully, allowing them to play video games while they are stuck in the hospital takes their mind off the unfortunate circumstance that they’re in, and they’re able to actually have fun.
How has Twitch and livestreaming opened up new opportunities to raise money for charities like this?
Crowdfunding and raising awareness has improved so much over the last few years because of livestreaming and Twitch. You’re able to target a wide range of audiences, educate them on the charity you’re trying to help, and ultimately motivate them to join the cause. It’s really amazing seeing big charity events get so much recognition online (think of AGDQ) and how much support they’re able to receive just from crowdfunding.
How generous are the eSports fans out there when it comes to not only charity causes, but helping pros through crowdfunded events like The International?
Historically, crowdfunded events have been bigger than any regular event. TI4 alone started at $1.6 million, and through crowdfunding, raised nearly an additional $10 million. In CS:GO, at Valve “major” tournaments, you’re able to buy team stickers or player signature stickers that you’re able to put on your guns, which helps support players. Generally, crowdfunding has always been successful and it seems eSports fans are very willing to spend their money to improve tournaments. As far as CS:GO is concerned, there hasn’t been many charity tournaments to help raise money. I’m interested to see how the CS:GO community takes to a charity event and I’m confident they will be amazing!