E-sports star Myint was on the cusp of victory when the screens went dark in the Yangon cafe where he competes, costing him thousands of US dollars in missed prize money and denting his reputation.
Myanmar’s gaming scene is mushrooming, but frequent power cuts are holding players back.
“Every time a blackout happens, we curse out the electricity corporation — and it happens often,” he said.
More than 60 percent of people in Myanmar still live without reliable electricity after a political transition in 2010 that sought to pull in foreign investment after decades of junta rule.
That includes getting in on the global explosion in e-sports, a billion-dollar industry that will be a medal event in the Southeast Asian Games in November for the first time.
However, Myanmar is at risk of missing out, with power cuts, few personal computers and a dearth of resources to support travel and competition abroad.
Myint Myat Zaw, a 21-year-old player known as “Insane,” said he has lost about 40 matches due to blackouts, making it difficult to earn a slot abroad where cash prizes are now in the tens of millions of US dollars.
He plays Dota 2, which in Shanghai hosted its equivalent of the champions league last weekend, boasting a record US$34.3 million prize pool.
However, Dota 2 tournaments are rare in Myanmar, making it difficult for him to earn a living from the game, he said.
“The last three years was the hardest period of my career... I lived in a game shop and was also short on food,” he said.
For gamers, a dingy Internet cafe has long been the typical venue to battle it out with players from other countries, but that has started to change as cheap SIM cards hit the markets and smartphone use soars.
Mobile penetration stood at just 7 percent in 2012, but demand has skyrocketed and the figure now sits at more than 80 percent.
Players competing on mobiles can stay logged on when local grids go dark.
“We can play anywhere, anytime,” said Myint Myat Aung, a mobile gamer who competes on PlayerUnknown’s Battleground (PUBG) for Singapore-based team Impunity.
Last month, Impunity, with more than 400 other teams, took part in a PUBG tournament hosted by Samsung Galaxy at a Yangon mall.
Staring into smartphones, players took down their opponents with sniper rifles, the action projected onto a large screen as spectators cheered.
The prize pool for the tournament was about US$7,000, an immense sum in a nation where the average income is less than US$1,300 a year.
Impunity country manager Brian Min Sett said that the increasing value of winnings was sign of growth, as “our country doesn’t have many high-prize tournaments.”
In a nation that has produced few international athletic stars, e-sports offers players a way into a global community and a chance to make a steady salary, especially for those competing in ultra-popular mobile games.
“They can make their own living just by competing in tournaments,” said Kaung Myat San, cofounder of the HOG e-sports center in Yangon.
Myanmar’s sporting authorities lack funding, so HOG plans to send 16 athletes to represent Myanmar in the Southeast Asia Games — including Myint Myat Zaw, who was scooped up as a salaried player earlier this year.
Dota 2 and Mobile Legend — a fantasy battle game designed for smartphones with more than 3 million users in Myanmar — are to be part of the competition.
After years of struggling to eke out a living playing for people wishing to boost their scores, Myint Myat Zaw said he was “proud” to now be representing Myanmar.
“Although there is more pressure, it makes me keen to do better,” he said.
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