While it might seem that Esports is relatively new, competitive gaming has been a big deal in places like Korea since the turn of the century. If we turn the clock back to 2001, we’ll find an excitable young Frenchman tearing up the StarCraft: Brood War scene.
Going by the name of ElkY, he came second at the World Cyber Games that year, fourth a year later, and in 2003 he won the Euro Cyber Games in Paris.
ElkY – real name Bertrand Grospellier – had moved to South Korea to be at the heart of the blossoming Esports action. He was the first European to do so. Despite a brief move into WarCraft III: Reign of Chaos, a new competitive game soon turned his head – the game of poker, which had promises of riches beyond his wildest dreams.
The Online Poker Boom
In 2003, a young accountant from the US, brilliantly named Chris Moneymaker, won the World Series of Poker Main Event in Las Vegas for $2.5 million. What was notable, aside from the size of the prize, was that Moneymaker had taken his place in the $10,000 entry live tournament for just a few bucks by winning a qualifier on an online poker site.
His win, captured on TV, sent the mounting interest in online poker into overdrive. At the time, most people had a vague idea about the ranking of poker hands, but that was it. One of those looking on with interest was ElkY, who was spellbound by the card game’s strategic possibilities. He felt he could exploit weaknesses in others and beat the competition.
He moved back to Europe and began playing online poker games, winning sit and goes (one table knockout tournaments) seemingly at ease. His talent – and his Esports backstory – piqued the interest of the management at PokerStars, and within a few years, he was signed up to their professional players’ roster.
With a headline sponsor, ElkY was entered into many live poker tournaments, and he found his skill online was transferable to live results. To date, he has amassed $14.6 million in tournament winnings, making him the highest-ranked French player ever, and placing him in the top 50 world money ranking list of all time.
Big Tournaments and Even Bigger Prizes
ElkY’s first decent prize money was back in 2007 at a tournament in Copenhagen, Denmark. He finished runner-up for $399,000. A few minor cashes that year were followed by a standout victory in January 2008.
The scene was the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure (PCA) in the Bahamas, where ElkY went on to win the main event for an incredible $2 million. Later that year he won the WPT Annual Festa Al Lago Classic in Las Vegas for $1.4 million, before returning to the PCA in 2009 to win the high roller event for another $433,000.
Nearly eight years of consistent high money placings followed before he won $2.2 million – his most significant single prize – at the WSOP High Roller for One Drop event, finishing second. His last big cash was the EPT Super High Roller in Prague – where he now lives – for $554,000.
Moving into Hearthstone
Even the lure of millions of dollars could not keep ElkY away from Esports forever. He had been looking longingly at the explosion in Esports’ popularity – and how the prize money and sponsorship opportunities were rising.
In 2015, alongside his poker career, he signed up to Team Liquid to play on their Hearthstone squad. He says he knew Esports would explode. “I was a pro StarCraft player in South Korea for five years. Back then, it was the only place you could be a professional gamer, and I was the first European to go there.
“I think this is only the beginning. It is just going to get bigger. It’s going to replace regular sports because – for everyone who grew up playing video games – it’s much more interesting to watch Esports.”
Similarities Between Esports and Poker
The switch between the two disciplines has been easy for ElkY. He now mixes his time between both and has also signed for the Party Poker pro team. Others have also found the quick-thinking and strategic element of poker is similar to those skills required in Esports. Being competitive is the overriding requirement because, as we all know, you can’t win computer games without a desire to win, just as you will never succeed at poker unless you are a driven player.