Power Naps and Caffeine Best Friends of New Father Bryan "Apathy" Zhelyazkov

"I’m pretty much the only dad in the whole Call of Duty League.”

As a new father, two-time Call of Duty world champion Bryan “Apathy” Zhelyazkov has found the unpredictability of undisturbed sleep to be one of his biggest challenges and adjustments.

One of the great challenges of life is finding the light when things get tough, and this period in history has been a decidedly trying one.

Although he has good reason to be on edge, Bryan “Apathy” Zhelyazkov sounds anything but when he’s reached by the Straight at home. Instead, he comes across as gracious, thoughtful, and unmistakably happy. There’s a good reason for that.

Like all of us, the Seattle Surge ESports athlete has had to make radical adjustments in the weeks and months since COVID-19 forced North Americans to embrace things like social distancing and mandatory quarantining.

Instead of travelling the world to compete live in Call of Duty League matches, Apathy has found himself playing out the season from home. And when not competing, he’s scrimmaging with teammates long-distance to keep his skills sharp.

Where his homebound life has gotten both tricky and interesting is in the fact that, at the age of 26, Apathy is also a new dad, making him something a rarity in the competitive world of ESports. Consider that the oldest player in the Call of Duty League is 27-year-old James “Clayster” Eubanks of the Dallas Empire, and that stats show that most men in America are waiting until their early 30s to have kids.

“One of my teammates was a dad—he was actually the only father in the league—but he retired about two weeks ago,” Apathy relates. “So now none of my teammates have kids, and I’m pretty much the only dad in the whole Call of Duty League.”

Sleep deprivation is something you sign on for with parenthood, and that’s presented challenges when he’s competing against his fellow Call of Duty League athletes.

“It’s been awesome, but it’s hard,” Apathy relates. “When you’re competing at the professional level, there’s a lot of hours of work that you have to put in. I don’t think a lot of the players even think about that.”

As a two-time Call of Duty world champion and former member of FazeClan and Team Envy, he knows what it takes to win. A big part of success is being prepared, which requires considerably more planning than it did pre-parenthood.

Asked for his routine before he became a dad to daughter Amelia Victoria, he reveals with a laugh that days would typically start with him sleeping in.

“I’d feel great when I woke up,” Apathy says. “Sometimes I’d do a YouTube video or stream in the morning. Because I didn’t have any responsibilities, I’d get that out of the way. Then I’d usually eat breakfast and practise with the team all day. Then I’d go to the gym, come back, and get a little more practice time in, and then spend time with the wife at night—watching movies or TV.”

Since fatherhood, life’s been considerably less predictable.

“For one, sleep is all over the place—it’s not the same as it used to be,” Apathy acknowledges. “You get fake sleep—sleep for an hour, wake up, sleep for three hours and wake up. You’re constantly waking up, and not always because the baby’s crying. Sometimes you’ll wake up because it’s time to feed her and she’s moving around. So it’s mainly waking all the time in the middle of the night while trying to sleep as much as I can and still get some rest. Obviously, I have to be at my best during the day.”

For his job with the Surge in the Call of Duty League, that means doing what he can to maximize performance.

“Power naps are my best friend—some people like them, some people don’t, and I’ve always heard mixed things about them. I think they’re amazing—getting 20 or 30 minutes randomly when I’m really tired can help me a lot. They make me feel rested for a couple of hours. I also tend to take a lot of caffeine. I try and stay at a good level of caffeine intake and not go overboard, but I do take caffeine every day to help me kind of stay awake and stay focused.”

Being at his best also means thinking about balance in a different way. Recognizing that being a supportive partner is a key part of being a parent, Apathy starts every morning by making breakfast for the family.

“I try to do at least a YouTube video before I scrim, but I’m also helping take care of the baby so we’re spending time together. Then I’ll go to scrim for five hours, take two hours off for a bath for the baby, eat dinner together, and spend quality time with my wife and daughter. Obviously, now that I’m a dad I want to be there more for both of them.”

And that’s where COVID-19 has in some ways had a silver lining. With teams, including the Surge, playing from home because of lockdown, Apathy has had time with the family he wouldn’t have had during a more conventional season.

“I haven’t thought about it much, because it’s been our lifestyle the last three months, but it’s been kind of a blessing,” he says. “Not having to travel means I’m always home. I was kind of dreading having to travel, because when I’m going places, that’s less time that I’ll be spending with my daughter. We travel pretty often—every two weeks we’re out for five or six days. So it really is a blessing that I get to be here during her early stages.

Apathy and the Seattle Surge plays next on July 17 in the CDL’s London Home Series. You can find the CDL YouTube channel here.

Mike Usinger once took the better part of two years to finish Grand Theft Auto. Over the course of his career he has written about everything from eSports to music to movies to travel.

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