When Stanislav Cifka was 7 years old, he told his parents that one day he would play games for living. His parents, naturally, supported him, but becoming a professional player seemed like only a childhood dream. A few years later, he was winning tournaments in chess, poker and even card games. In 2018, he was ranked the #1 player in Hearthstone, an online card game played by 70 million people. When he speaks about his job, some people are puzzled (“Are you saying you play computer games for living?”), but many think it’s the world’s coolest job. The truth is, it is cool, but also pretty hard.
While arranging the time of the interview, Stanislav – also known by his nickname StanCifka – told me we could speak any time after lunch. I soon understood why. His body wasn’t yet used to a normal regime because a few days earlier he played a tournament that started at 7 PM and ended at 7 AM. Ultimately, we had to reschedule the interview because he needed to play Hearthstone on Twitch, a live-streaming video platform. It became clear to me that playing electronic games (e-games/e-sports), isn’t just fun, but also hard work with little routine.
Does playing e-games still feel like fun or has it turned into a regular job?
Gaming is still my greatest hobby. Obviously, there are parts I don’t like so much and sometimes I need to push myself to train more to be able to compete on the highest level, but overall, I enjoy most of it.
What’s the hardest part about gaming?
It’s a super competitive environment. You must be disciplined because no one is forcing you to play. If you become lazy, someone will replace you today, tomorrow or in a month. As an e-gamer you also cannot expect routine. You travel a lot, face new challenges all the time and do many things unrelated to gaming like talking to new partners or producing content.
How do you keep the self-discipline needed to wake up and play the whole day?
First you have to love it. If you don’t, you can’t play on a high level for long. I’ve always been very disciplined and even if I have other desires, I still force myself to play.
What’s your daily schedule like?
If there is no tournament, I wake up, turn on Twitch as early as possible and stream as long as I can. Then I turn off Twitch, learn or do sports, but sometimes I am destroyed and just relax. Before a tournament, I wake up early and try to train as hard as I can without doing anything else. The daily schedule also depends on the time zone in which the tournament will be held. If there is an important tournament starting at 10 PM, then I need to rearrange my whole schedule.
Can you estimate how many hours you play per day?
Overall, I play 8 hours a day, I stream 3 hours on Twitch and I create videos for an hour. Every minute I spend on something other than playing, there is someone else playing who can replace me. That’s why I delegate all these activities to my three colleagues who are also my friends – one helps me with setting up and preparing me for tournaments, the second transforms my thoughts into content and the third is a video-editor.
If you try to spend as little time as possible on activities other than gaming, can you afford to take vacations?
Obviously, every day you aren’t cranked up to 100 is hurting your career. The main key to success on Twitch is consistency – basically streaming every day or as often as you can. The very best streamers stream 30 days out of the month. I’m more of a player than a streamer, so I can take a break because I need to be ready for a tournament. Still, two weeks ago, I went for a week’s vacation with my girlfriend and many people sent me messages that they miss me. But most people just watch someone else and I lose them.
Do you feel pressured by streaming?
When I stream a lot, it gives me energy because I’m in contact with my audience. Sometimes I feel better after streaming than before because people on Twitch are just amazing. But obviously if I’d be streaming nonstop, I’d burn out, which happens to a lot of streamers.
Haven’t you burned out already when you spend 12 hours a day on the computer?
No. I try to keep a balance. To be honest, I don’t like spending so much time on the computer, so whenever possible I go out. I see my friends on a daily basis and live with my three friends aka colleagues in, what we call, a gaming house. So, I’m not alone.
You also have a lot of contact with your fans, don’t you?
Yes, I do, and it’s really important. They mean a lot to me. The best reward for me is when someone tells me that they like my attitude in life. What I also like is when people tell me that, after reading my article, they got better and achieved something in the game. Winning tournaments is only the third best part.
Do you realize what influence you have on people? Do you work with it?
I understand that I have a big responsibility because I’m not only sharing gaming but also my life and values. I try to put out the best out of myself when I’m playing. Most importantly, I try to be myself and not pretend. I remember how on one New Year’s Eve I realized that I was streaming at 10 PM with 6 thousand people watching me, so I just told them to go out and stopped broadcasting. I try to tell people not spend the whole day on a computer which is not smart business-wise, but I just do it anyway.
Can you tell me what type of people watch e-sports daily, even on New Year’s Eve?
I think it’s normal people who have switched from passive watching of TV to a more interactive mode of entertainment. When you are watching your favorite TV show, you can’t ask anyone if you want to know something or talk to other viewers, whereas on Twitch people talk to each other while I play. There’s a big community around Twitch and people hang out in real-life. I think it’s the medium of the future. Among young people it’s pretty common.
Do you watch any e-games?
Not that much. I like to do sports rather than watch them. But, when there is a top competition in CSGO, Dota or some other card games, I watch it. I think watching games and esports is a cool way to spend time.
I guess you don’t have much time for it because you need to play them yourself.
That’s true. As an e-gamer, I need to train a lot. I think it’s not about what you do when the cameras are turned on during the tournament, but what you do when you are at home and no one sees you. When I switched from the card game Magic: The Gathering to the online card game Hearthstone, I locked myself in my house for several months to learn the game and no one saw what I was doing. It took a whole year before anyone recognized me and I was able to win.
Why did you change your game focus when you were among the five best players?
Because I like new challenges and a new game is a step forward in life. I am actually planning to switch from Hearthstone to a new game called Artifact. The decision to leave a game you’re dominating is never easy. In the beginning of the year I was ranked number one in Hearthstone worldwide. Now, I’ll have to start from zero.
Is it not too big of a risk?
It’s a risk but it also opens new doors. I think the game is a great opportunity and the company (Valve Corporation) behind it is great – it’s a major player in the gaming industry. I’ll learn new stuff and meet new people. Of course, it could turn out that the game won’t be popular or I won’t be good at it. But this time I want to catch up from the very beginning. I’ve been playing the game for 9 months but for most people it’ll be available this November.
How long do you want to be a professional player?
It’s hard to say. I can see myself playing for a year or two more and then retiring. Artifact will be the most competitive game I’ve ever played, and I’d like to win a few majors. But it might be my last game, who knows.
What will you do when you retire at 32?
I’d like to have my own team of players and guide them. I can already see a young, talented player in our house and I’d like him to become a star. I like this industry and want to hang around within it in the future as well.
Source: The photos were used with the permission of Stanislav Cifka