The best of the best: meet Canada’s top 10 esports athletes

It takes fast reflexes, quick thinking, and genuine skill to become one of the best in the world.

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Any list of Canada’s greatest-ever sports figures has to include Wayne Gretzky, who at the time of his retirement in 1999 held 61 NHL records: 40 regular season records, 15 playoff records, and six all-star records.

And don’t forget about alpine-skiing great Nancy Greene Raine; eight-time NBA all-star (and two-time MVP) Steve Nash; or sprinter Donovan Bailey, an Olympic gold medallist who once held the title of World’s Fastest Man.

Esports athletes might never appear in such rankings or rise to household-name status. Nonetheless, it takes fast reflexes, quick thinking, and genuine skill to become one of the best in the world. The gamers on this list have those attributes in abundance—and they have the prize money to show for it, too.

1. Arteezy (Artour Babaev)

Current team
Evil Geniuses (Dota 2)

At 23 years of age, the Vancouver-based Babaev has become one of the most popular streamers in the community, with 583,000 followers on Twitch. His roles of Carry and Solo Middle in Dota 2 have become his specialty and helped him amass earnings of over $2 million during his career. A recent highlight came last year, when he and Evil Geniuses finished fifth and sixth at the International 2019. Babaev put on a real show, getting a solo rampage versus five enemies during his game against Vici Gaming.

In his own words
On making Canada his home: “The whole point was for me to go to school and make something of my life. Of course, that didn’t go as planned but it ended up pretty nicely regardless. I’m doing what I love,” Arteezy told Medium.

2. Aui_2000 (Kurtis Ling)

Current team
CR4ZY (Dota 2)

In 2018, Ling became the 20th-highest-earning esports player in the world. Dropping out of the University of British Columbia to focus on Dota 2 full-time seemed like a sketchy idea at first, but with the career he’s had, it was the right call—seeing as how he has earned US$1.8 million in prize money so far, which is more than he would make as a sociology major. After winning the International 2015, Ling was kicked off the Evil Geniuses team for unclear reasons and replaced with Artour Babaev. Ling created his own team called Digital Chaos with little success, but then rejoined Evil Geniuses for a short stint before being kicked off the team once again. After bouncing around a few teams (Speed Gaming, Cloud 9), Ling has now landed at team CR4ZY, playing Position 5 and captain.

In his own words:

“GGs to quincy crew. Outclassed us completely today. Proud of how my former players have progressed and despite the 0-3 loss proud of how we at @gocr4zy dota have improved.” (Aui_2000 on Twitter)

3. Zayt (Williams Aubin)

Current team
NRG Esports (Fortnite)

Williams “Zayt” Aubin is a 20-year-old Fortnite player from Quebec who currently streams for NRG Esports North America. Finding a lot of success in the world of Fortnite, Aubin has become a four-time World Cup qualifier, Duo FNCS winner, and ESL Katowice winner. Zayt’s total earnings so far are just over US$1 million from 39 tournaments and his Twitch audience, which currently sits at 165,000 followers, is always growing.

In his own words
On life if Fortnite hype dies down: “So after Fortnite, if there’s a new game that comes out, I can just stream and just have a big audience and keep doing what I love,” Aubin told CBC Kids.

4. Elevate (Hayden Krueger)

Current team
100 Thieves (Fortnite)

This past June, wearing a white Oxford cap and a massive grin, Elevate posted a picture of himself and his mom on Twitter along with the caption “Officially Graduated Online School”. For most kids, a next step would be filling out university applications, but no need for that. Last summer, at the age of 17, Elevate won US$2.4 milllion as a competitor in the inaugural Fortnite World Cup—not bad for a third-place finish. (Put the green-eyed money-envy cat back in the bag; he split the money with Ceice, his competition partner.) While Fortnite was Elevate’s 2019 ticket to the prestigious 100 Thieves organization, these days the grass seems greener elsewhere for the Calgary-born esports athlete. Witness this tweet on June 21: “I really want to get home and play some valorant.”

In his own words
“A traditional job gave me anxiety,” Elevate told the CBC last year. “I didn’t want to show up to my cubicle every single day and take my paycheque. I wanted to do something different with my life.”

5. EternaLEnVy (Jacky Mao)

Current team
N/A

Trying to get a definitive word on where Jacky “EternaLEnvy” Mao is at these days isn’t easy. After being banned from normal competitive matchmaking by Dota 2 last year, he eventually jumped back into bed with Cloud9. And just when it looked like he was ready to seriously pad his career earning total of over US$1 million, Cloud9 announced that it was dropping its entire Dota 2 roster this past April. Perhaps EternaLEnvy is indulging in his passion for anime, or perhaps he’s in school, which explains tweets like “I feel like it’s so hard to sleep with noise now but I could sleep through every class why.” Whatever the case may be, there’s no denying that, at the age of 28, EternaLEnvy—famous as one of Dota 2’s most colourfully controversial players—is likely faced with some hard decisions about where he goes from here.

In his own words
“People think I take high risks and shit, but I really don’t think that way about myself,” EternaLEnvy said on Reddit in 2017. “Like, if I think it’s higher risk not to buy Rapier, then I’m going to buy the Rapier. I actually prefer keeping things simple and playing the safest path to victory.”

6. NAF (Keith Markovic)

Current team
Team Liquid (Counter-Strike: Global Offensive)

For a guy whose gaming handle NAF is short for “Nutty As F*ck”, Vancouver-based Keith Markovic understands that sometimes you have to play by the rules. As a member of Team Liquid—and with a past that includes stints with Renegades, OpTic, and Luminosity—the 22-year-old has developed a reputation for walking a smart line between being disciplined and being willing to take big-payoff chances.

In his own words
From Twitter in 2018 (and proving, one supposes, that he’s anything but toxic): “Man, being toxic is so hard…I’m honestly exhausted from being so toxic.”

7. MoonMeander (David Tan)

Current team
CR4ZY (Dota 2)

Vancouver-based David “MoonMeander” Tan plays for the Croatia-based CR4ZY, but he should feel right at home since his teammates include fellow top-tier Canadians Kurtis “Aui_2000” Ling and Jonathan Bryle “Bryle” Santos De Guia. He started off as a well-ranked Heroes of Newerth player. Since switching to the generally more lucrative Dota 2, Tan and his teams have taken a solid dozen first-place tournament showings. He’s also known for dancing and doing pushups during his live streams. Screw anyone who says esports is all about sitting around and staring at a screen!

In his own words
On his expectations before this past March’s StarLadder ImbaTV Dota 2 Minor: “Right now we are looking to develop chemistry, to get some experience together,” Tan said in an interview with VPEsports. “In a sense, we just formed and it’s wrong for a team that just formed to have high expectations going into a tournament. Of course, if you do well it’s nice; if you don’t do well just don’t be sad and disappointed, because that’s not the right mentality. Honestly. I’ll be disappointed only if my teammates get sad if we get out in the last place.”

8. Twistzz (Russel van Dulken)

Current team
Team Liquid (Counter-Strike: Global Offensive)

Russel “Twistzz” van Dulken has achieved notoriety for a lot of things. A clip of the Kelowna, B.C.–born CS:GO pro shouting “Sit the fuck down!” after a particularly impressive manoeuvre last year cemented his take-no-prisoners image. And then there was the time his ex publicly outed him for alleged infidelity on Twitter—but let’s not focus on that. Twistzz is considered one of the best CS:GO players of all time, and the fact that he’s still only 20 years old means he has “future esports legend” written all over him.

In his own words
On travelling the world as a hyper-focused esports pro: “I think the most important thing about that is to not get lost around the world—like, lost in your own mind,” van Dulken said in an Epicenter interview. “You should always be focusing on the event, and focusing on doing your best. So that’s what I’ve done. Personally I’ve never really prioritized looking around in cities that I’ve never been in before, because I always want to just focus on playing in the event. And that goes for my team—we always prioritize, on off days, practicing instead of going to see famous sights.”

9. Karma (Damon Barlow)

Current team
Most recently Seattle Surge (Call of Duty); now retired

He announced his retirement just a few weeks ago, in early June, but we’re including Damon “Karma” Barlow on this list anyway, because he’s so badass. How badass? Karma is the only three-time winner of the Call of Duty Championship, capturing back-to-back titles in 2013 and 2014, and reaching the top spot again in 2017. Karma’s motto has been cited as “Hate losing more than you love winning,” which is a weird flex, but okay.

In his own words
On balancing esports and life with his daughter, Bella: “She’ll run in, open the door,” Barlow said in a video posted to the official Call of Duty YouTube channel. “She’ll be sitting there screaming, and I’m like, ‘I’m playing. You don’t understand, but right now I’m working.’ It gives me a reason to play and it gives me a reason to make the most of my time. I want to get on and I want to go to work, and I want to be done at a certain time—I feel like a lot of people who play don’t understand that. I know you guys want to play, and I know we need practice, but I need to get off and spend some time with her, and get her to bed. It’s tough sometimes.”

10. Royal2 (Mathew Fiorante)

Current team
TOX Gaming Sentinels (Halo)

Saskatchewan-born Mathew “Royal2” Fiorante has been one to watch since he first turned pro at the tender age of 14. According to his hometown newspaper, the Regina Leader-Post, Fiorante’s team is considered “the New York Yankees of professional Halo”. That presumably makes him its Babe Ruth. At any rate, Royal2 is far and away the best Halo player this country has ever produced, with almost three-dozen tournament championships to his name.

In his own words
On winning the Halo World Championships with Counter Logic: “I always thought Halo would be a thing I just did, that it would be a hobby,” Fiorante said in a Leader-Post interview. “I never thought I would be playing in a $2.5 million tournament—and also winning the tournament.”

Written with Jon Cranny and Mike Usinger.

I have done a lot of different things over the course of my life and professional career. I have interviewed Oscar and Grammy winners and written cover stories for glossy newsstand magazines. I have played guitar in a rock band on national TV and run an independent music label for which I wrote all of the PR and marketing materials. In my spare time, I sweated out a novel about a world where raccoons are kings and dragons are real.

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Recent Comments (1)

Clayton Dreger July 3, 2020 1:49 pm

These are athletes? Hahahaa.