Gamer Goes From Arcades to Stadiums as Battles Get Bigger

by Samantha Zee

Rivals face off against one another, bouncing back and forth to stay loose. “3 … 2 … 1 … fight!” Punches get thrown. Fast kicks delivered. Combos are lethal, leaving you standing over your downed foe.

It’s another day at work for NVIDIA’s Eduardo Perez-Frangie, a Silicon Valley-based engineer, and pro gamer.

Gaming’s come a long way from Pong, Pac-Man and Tetris played in the local arcade with the loose change in your pocket. It’s gotten big. Stadium-size big—where gaming teams attack and counter-attack, watched by thousands of roaring fans. And millions of dollars are at stake.

“Street Fighter” has also evolved since its release almost 30 years ago. The latest iteration, published last year, is one of hundreds of games played by pro gamers, often in teams with attention-grabbing names.

And this is where Eduardo’s story picks up. He works on software quality assurance for our mobile business during the week. But he spends weekends as PR Balrog, a championship-level pro gamer for the Evil Geniuses team.

Eduardo’s already had a big year, notching up serial wins. He kicked off 2015 by ranking fourth in the Canada Cup Masters Series, in Calgary.

“Gaming is like education, it expands the brain,” he said. “When you compete, endurance—both mental and physical—is the most important thing. A tournament can run for 16 hours and you need to keep your focus.”

Eduardo Perez-Frangie playing as PR Balrog for the Evil Geniuses team
Eduardo Perez-Frangie playing as PR Balrog for the Evil Geniuses team

He hit Atlanta this month for Final Round 2015. Later this year, he’ll fly to South Korea for another tournament. He expects to play in up to 10 championships in 2015.

Last year, Eduardo came in first in the Northern California Regionals and ranked fifth in the Capcom Cup, competing against players worldwide. He travels as far as London and Japan to compete in tournaments, which draw live audiences in the thousands. Tens of thousands more watch pro gamers smite each other on the video streaming service Twitch.tv.

First Gaming Rivals to Beat—Your Brothers

Eduardo’s love of competition began early. Coming from a technology-loving family, he was playing against his brothers in Puerto Rico by the time he was four. He played in his first gaming tournament at 13. He keeps his edge by working out at the gym and playing a lot of basketball.

“You have to stay fit to game,” he said. “People see a gamer sitting down for hours, so I like to go to the gym every day.”

While Eduardo enjoys strategy, his strength lies in action-packed games such as Street Fighter that rely on physical agility and mental dexterity. In the games he plays, he’s part of a six-person team, where “you have to strategize to win,” he said.

While traveling to games, he’s an ambassador for the Evil Geniuses, and says he marvels at how gamers are treated like celebrities in Japan and South Korea. He’s a natural risk taker, having moved three years ago to California in the hope that he could turn his gaming skills into something more.

Like a developer at a Silicon Valley startup, he lived in a so-called gamers’ house with five others. He joined Evil Geniuses after an introduction by pro gamer pal, Justin Wong. The team pays a stipend and transportation costs. Gamers get to keep their winnings, with Eduardo taking home $7,000 after one successful tournament.

One perk of traveling to tournaments: Meeting game developers. After friendly introductions, Eduardo knows he’s looking for the flaws and weaknesses in the game so he can win.

With a father who was “a computer geek,” Eduardo had a computer very young and discovered early he “loves technology and loves to break things.” This love morphed quickly into figuring out how software works, and how it doesn’t, which paved his path to a role at NVIDIA.

“What I do now at work is testing software to find bugs, stress a device and find the faults,” he said. “And then this translates into everything that I do in gaming.”