How a Starcraft Pro Lives Off the Game
One of the few moments you might confuse Robinson for anything but a professional athlete is during his practice. That's when Robinson sits down at his computer for up to 10 hours at a time to play his game of choice, Blizzard's video game, Starcraft.
How the Game Pays the Bills
Robinson started playing Starcraft professionally five years ago. By that time, the game, originally released in 1998, was already big in the professional circuit and considered one of the best real-time strategy games around.
Starcraft, both the original and the recently released sequel, Wings of Liberty, play like animated board games in which players look down on a battle map and click on individual men, tanks and other military units, then click on another section of the map to direct them into or out of the fight. When watching a match, the mouse cursor races across the screen in a green blur, making hundreds of commands a minute. The best players in the world commit over 200, even 300 commands or "actions-per-minute" (APM) over a match that usually takes 15 to 20 minutes to complete.
Every Starcraft fan knows South Korea produces the best players in the world, where those in the top seeds can earn over $100,000 a year. Robinson's take from Starcraft is more modest. He now plays for the team "Evil Geniuses" and does live off what he makes from playing the game. These days, however, most of that money comes from coaching.
Listening to Robinson over the phone, you can hear the coach in his voice. He speaks with confidence, without any hesitation between his words and in aphorisms like, "I've always done the best I could to be the best I could." When asked why anyone would pay him to drill them in a video game, he's still the coach, though less the poet. "People get their asses handed to them and don't enjoy it," he explains.
Day Job More a Hobby
With a few friends, Robinson formed the coaching group, GOSUCoaching and says people have paid anywhere from $30 to thousands of dollars for his instruction. Once a year, the team runs a camp out of Tuscon where, for $500 a head, nine players spend four days playing and analyzing Starcraft games alongside their coaches.
After the camp this year, Robinson headed to meet one of his more distant students -- he flew to Dubai. Robinson often travels on someone else's dime.
Despite all that, Robinson still keeps his pre-Starcraft job at the retail store GameStop, where, because of his Starcraft commitments, he sometimes only puts in three hours a week. "I guess it's my hobby now," he says. At the store he says he gets "a sense of service, a sense of helping unique to retail."
After his life with Starcraft is over, he hopes to find something similar in a classroom as an English teacher. Today though, Robinson says, "I'm doing what I love, and it pays the bills for now."