A band of outlandish warriors was dashing across Connor Doyle’s screen, readying a stealth attack on the enemy.
With a mouse and a keyboard, Doyle was controlling one of the characters: a mermaidlike creature who floated across an animated forest and launched colorful beams of light from her scepter.
Doyle’s teammates sat at computers around the country, all watching the same scene unfold. An armored beast with sharp pincers and the gait of a gorilla burrowed underground, then popped out to start the skirmish. A woman in armor came to the creature’s aid, casting a spell that locked two enemies in place.
Doyle’s floating mermaid joined the fray, summoning a tidal wave to help finish the bad guys.
Words flashed across the screen declaring their accomplishment — “DOUBLE KILL!” — before Doyle’s forces turned south and began attacking an armored turret that belonged to their vanquished foes.
For some, that scene may recall the fantastical battles of J.R.R. Tolkien or George R.R. Martin, if not the nightmares that accompany a 101-degree fever.
For Doyle, a 22-year-old Winthrop native who will move soon to California to play computer games for a living, it was a regular afternoon.
“That was a really nice, coordinated play,” Doyle said a couple days later, after he’d shared a video of the 30-second attack on his Twitter feed. “We blew up two of their players instantly.”
Doyle was playing League of Legends, an online game that pits players from across the country and world against each other. Each side goes to battle with a small force of magicians, marksmen, monsters and fighters, who move in real time and are viewed from above like pawns on a virtual chessboard. They cross intricate landscapes and try to destroy the enemy’s structures. Their human overlords coordinate attacks with teammates via headset.
Doyle first played League of Legends during his freshman year at Winthrop High School. It was a casual pastime then, but Doyle soon discovered he had a gift for the game. He graduated from high school in 2012 and enrolled at Colby College, hoping to make the men’s soccer team and major in mathematics and economics.
But he didn’t make the soccer team, lost focus in his studies and eventually left Colby. At the same time, he was playing more League of Legends with people across the U.S. and found himself rising in the national online rankings. At some point, he told his parents he wanted to make a go of playing the game professionally.
“That was definitely a ‘What did you just say?’ moment,” Doyle said, referring to his parents’ reaction. “It was definitely a risky move, but since then, and even at the time, I’ve done a lot of teaching (to them) about the market for (online gaming).”
Since the company Riot Games released League of Legends in 2009, it has indeed begun paying players to practice for 14 hours a day and compete in tournaments, The New York Times reported three years ago. Those tournaments now are held across the world, attracting thousands — if not millions — of fans to watch online and in stadiums.
For the last year, Doyle has been playing League of Legends with a team at Columbia College, a Missouri school that offered him a scholarship to play the “e-sport.” Sports Illustrated wrote a profile of Doyle and the college team in January.
But Doyle recently has been invited to play the game in Los Angeles, with a group that he compared to a minor league baseball team. After this school year, they will put him up in a house and pay him a salary. The team competes for an opportunity to break into the big leagues.
Doyle declined to disclose his salary but said, “It’s quite generous, more than I was ever expecting. It’s actually comparable to what an engineer would make in the first year out of college.”
Of course, some people play video games in their homes for hours every day and don’t make a cent; they just enjoy it. For Doyle, though, enjoyment is beside the point.
“I don’t play for fun,” he said. “I play to win and I play to improve, the same way a soccer player plays to win and improve. … When you tell casual gamers about it, their reaction is, ‘Oh my God, that’s so much fun,’ but the reality is it’s a lot of work, more work than almost sounds possible.”
On an average day, Doyle said he wakes at 8 a.m., eats breakfast and spends about 15 minutes doing a form of meditation that allows him to focus on his breathing. He “scrims” — or plays scrimmages — with his teammates for a couple hours. They watch videos of their scrimmages and talk strategy, before resuming play in the afternoon.
On his five-person team, Doyle said, his position is similar to that of a point guard in basketball: He stays near the outside and calls the next play. Every player controls a virtual character in the game world, and he prefers to go with the mermaid. But he also chooses other characters sometimes: a ghoulish spirit whose face glows green, a scholarly bard with a red tunic and a great white beard.
Players also have special names. Doyle’s is Artemis, after the Greek goddess of hunting. That choice partly stems from his study of mythology in the Latin program at Winthrop High School, he said. It also reflects his preference for ranged weapons such as bows and arrows.
When not playing League of Legends, Doyle tries to do offline activities such as reading or going for walks. He also finds time to stretch his arms and exercise his core muscles.
The average League of Legends playing career is just a couple years, Doyle said, “which has to do with players not taking care of themselves. There’s very little knowledge of that. That’s something that’s important to me as player: not getting injured. I know many people who suffer wrist pain regularly.”
Much as a pro soccer player would try to play the sport as long as possible, Doyle said he’ll remain in gaming for as long as he can. If his skills fade or he gets injured, he hopes to work as a coach or as a broadcaster for Riot Games.
His dream, he said, “is to never stop playing.”
Charles Eichacker — 621-5642