Thanks to organisations like Mind Sports South Africa, gaming is on the up and up. Students can now earn provincial colours for gaming at school level, and many are flown around the world with the help of sponsors like MWEB to take part in international competitions. While this sounds like it might mean we have a growing crop of professional gamers in SA, that’s not strictly true as most don’t fill in “Professional Gamer” on their tax returns.
Not so for Robert Botha, a Johannesburg-based gamer better known by his gaming handle “PandaTank”. Botha has been playing games full time for 18 months now, and he turned pro at the start of 2013 when he approached CoolerMaster’s management with a sponsorship proposal which they accepted. Ever since then he has been travelling the globe taking part in gaming competitions on their dime and acting as a brand ambassador for the company’s CM Storm gaming gear division.
StarCraft 2 is his game, and the Protoss race his preferred weapon. The highest ranking he achieved at a tournament was 12th-best overall at the International e-Sports Federation World Championship in 2012, a pretty good result considering the stiff competition offered by the likes of seemingly-superhuman Korean players, for whom StarCraft is almost a religion.
The humble 22-year-old was kind enough to answer a few questions for us, shedding some light on his life as South Africa’s only professional gamer.
HTXT: Hi, Robert, and thanks for making the time to talk to us. Where are you from originally, and where do you live now?
RPTB: Johannesburg, and Johannesburg
HTXT: When did you first start playing games, and what was your first gaming system?
RPTB: A PC. I’ve never owned a console in my life.
HTXT: What is your favourite non-competitive game?
RPTB: I don’t really remember. Almost every game I have ever played was of a competitive nature. I guess something like Grand Theft Auto 2 or the first Max Payne.
HTXT: How did your CoolerMaster sponsorship come about?
RPTB: I approached management with a proposal and they saw potential in me; the rest is history.
HTXT: What is the biggest prize you’ve ever won through gaming?
RPTB: In terms of cash, R10 000. If you include gear and other things, perhaps more.
HTXT: Do specialised keyboards and mice really make a difference to your performance?
RPTB: Of course. The difference between winning and losing in competitive gaming at the highest levels always come down to milliseconds. You need comfortable and precise/responsive gear if you want to perform well. Now this doesn’t mean if the average Joe goes out and buys the most expensive gear it will make them a better player. But you can’t afford to have your tools fail, you want to win and you’re already playing at a very competitive level.
HTXT: What is your “actions per minute” rating in SC2?
RPTB: Around 160 at the moment I believe. Most professionals don’t pay too much attention to APM these days, since mechanics aren’t the most important factor in StarCraft anymore.
HTXT: What is your training regimen like?
RPTB: Wake up at 7, practice for 4 hours, go to gym and have lunch, practice for another 4 hours, eat supper, analyse games, go to sleep. It’s like this for 6/7 days of the week.
HTXT: What drives you to keep playing?
RPTB: The ambition to be the best at something.
HTXT: Do you still enjoy playing StarCraft 2?
RPTB: It depends. Sometimes I enjoy it, sometimes I don’t. I think the game is very poorly designed at the highest levels. But I enjoy the challenge of trying to constantly improve myself. So I just try to ignore the awful job that Blizzard did with the game design when possible.
HTXT: Can you give an example of what you consider to be a flaw in Blizzard’s StarCraft 2 design?
RPTB: Aha, really it would take me a fairly long essay to explain everything. But one example would be the design of the Protoss “Warp in” mechanic. It’s kinda fun to play with and was a unique idea, but in practicality all it does is force the Gateway units to be weaker, which makes them completely reliant on force fields to survive in the Early-mid game. Which drastically limits the strategic potential of the race and just makes everything more “turtly” in general. It also means maps have to be designed with force fields in mind and more issues stem from this.
HTXT: When you’re not gaming, what do you like to do for fun?
RPTB: I like to gym. I like to go camping and be in nature. Hang out with friends and go to parties.
HTXT: Can you list the products in your current peripheral setup?
RPTB: It’s all really solid gear.
- Mouse: CMStorm Sentinel Advance II
- Keyboard: CMStorm Trigger (Blue switches)
- Mousepad CMStorm Control-RX
- Headphones: CMStorm Pitch
HTXT: What are the specs of your gaming PC?
RPTB: My rig is nothing too fancy. I use an Intel Core i5-2500k processor, 8GB of DDR3 and an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 550 Ti.
HTXT: Where do you see yourself in five years?
RPTB: I wish I knew. I don’t have any long term plans at the moment. I’m just taking it as it comes.
HTXT: Thanks for your time, Robert, much appreciated! All the best in your future competitions…