The first thing you’ll notice when Ho ‘Xian’ Kun-Xian starts to talk is how naturally he makes everyone feel comfortable. Matching faded grey jeans with his sponsored black Razer jersey and pure white sneakers to pop, Xian was back home in Singapore to spend an afternoon with mentees of the League of Legends SHINE x *SCAPE Talent Development Programme on 3 June 2018.

No matter which gaming genre you come from, being a serious Singaporean gamer and fan of esports means knowing who Xian is. Having graced mainstream newspapers like The Straits Times and The New Paper multiple times over the past few years, his presence is important to local esports players and the gaming community.

“Pro gamer is world Street Fighter champ” read The Straits Times article dated 16 July 2013. A fighting-game console competitor, Xian shot to global fame five years ago after being crowned the Street Fighter IV winner at the Evo Championships in Las Vegas. This was huge. Being an Evo Champ in the fighting world is equivalent to winning Worlds for League of Legends, or The International for DotA 2.

Yet, when asked about how he felt reaching that benchmark of success, he admitted, “Even after winning EVO, I couldn’t call myself a pro gamer.”

Despite winning the ultimate prize in 2013, Xian’s humble beginnings still keep him rooted. Years after attaining success, he still finds the motivation to press on in his career. “I didn’t have many things when I was young. For me, it’s (the) motivation… I feel that if I win, I can change my image again. I want to keep being relevant since this is my job, so motivation is key to my self belief.”

“After a few years, I realised winning is not everything. Most important is to market your brand and stay relevant in the scene with your name,” he advised further, sharing from experience.

As his career progressed, Xian had to consider wholistally what this meant beyond just playing the game. With increased popularity, sponsorship became an option. Xian explained that besides considering the amount of sponsorship available, he also did his best not to associate with brands with a negative image, and would rather work with brands that share the same goals as him.

Expressing his Razer ambassadorship proudly as ‘Razer Xian’, he elaborated about how personal branding is crucial for esports personalities in a socially-driven gaming world. “Strong social media, I believe, is very important. As a player, the best thing is results, but if you have strong social media presence you can always be a commentator.”

Beyond sponsorship and branding, streaming too, became part and parcel of his everyday life. “For streaming, I’m still learning. I’m not that a good talker, but talking to people,talking to your fans… (these are) part of the aspect of esports you have to do.”

Through all these stories about training, gaining support, learning from mistakes, he gave youths a rundown on the realities of what it truly means to build a professional esports career. “Xian’s personal stories are very relatable. Some of the stages he went through before becoming a pro is something we as gamers have experienced or are currently experiencing,” Marcus ‘Aoi’ Ting expressed. “There was a particular moment where Xian defines the line between pro and casual play, where being pro means to understand in depth. This broadened my thinking.”

After the workshop, mentees begun taking turns to photograph with Xian. Wearing the same smile he did five years ago, Xian continues to push the boundaries of esports in Singapore as an iconic inspiration to next generation of gamers, standing by the risks he took and the success he built –with the support of family, friends and community.