‘MkLeo’ went from poverty to top gamer with six figures in the bank

If the expansion of esports right into a billion-dollar industry is not sufficient to persuade you that video video games are greater than only a means for teenagers to whereas away hours on finish of their rooms, then take into account the profession trajectory {of professional} gamer Leonardo “MkLeo” Lopez Perez.

Right now, the 20-year-old Mexico Metropolis native is likely one of the esports trade’s high players, broadly thought of to be the world’s best participant of “Tremendous Smash Bros. Final,” a combating recreation for the Nintendo Change the place gamers battle one another as famous gaming characters like Mario, Donkey Kong and even Pac-Man. Two years ago, Perez won the most important “Tremendous Smash Bros. Final” event ever held, on the 2019 Evolution Championship Sequence in Las Vegas, taking dwelling a prize of more than $21,000.

However, rising up, Perez’s household did not have some huge cash, he says. He lived together with his dad and mom and older brother in Naucalpan, a metropolis on the outskirts of Mexico Metropolis that’s thought of to be one of the harmful areas in that nation.

“We did not used to have something,” he says. “I keep in mind that we used to promote a number of issues simply to have cash to eat, like [once] per week.”

Taking part in video video games actually modified his life.

Now, as one of many world’s high players, Perez tells CNBC Make It that he is been capable of save roughly $500,000 from the earnings he is made throughout his gaming profession, together with six-figure profession winnings from gaming tournaments, earnings from eSports group T1 Sports activities & Leisure and by way of his roughly 140,000 followers apiece on YouTube and gaming streaming platform Twitch.

Extra not too long ago, Perez has even discovered a brand new supply of earnings as a star coach on the online game teaching platform Metafy.

Regardless of being solely 20 years previous, it is taken Perez greater than a decade to get to the purpose the place novice players can pay as much as $100 an hour to attempt studying a few of his expertise.

MkLeo’s path to the professionals

Perez has been taking part in video video games for practically so long as he can keep in mind, and he began taking part in “Smash Bros.” at simply 7. He gained his first event a 12 months later, at the age of 8, a “Smash Bros.” competitors at a Japanese anime conference in Mexico Metropolis in 2009.

“My household has all the time been the form of household that performed video games… They have been like, ‘Oh yeah, do your homework after which you can begin taking part in video games,'” Perez says. “In fact, we did not have any concept that there was one thing [there] that would make your life higher, that you may win cash from it, that it was actually a job, like in eSports.”

Perez stored getting into extra tournaments into his teenage years, getting into native competitions that did not require him to spend cash on journey, and infrequently profitable modest quantities of cash right here and there. Largely, he was profitable smaller competitions, the place the prize would solely be round $200, he says.

However, even that quantity was sufficient to assist out his household financially. He may go to his household and say, “Yo, the place do you wish to go eat? Or, what do you wish to eat?’ Or, we may even go purchase a number of issues [we needed],” Perez says.

“It was life altering, to be trustworthy.”

By 2015, when he was 14 years, Perez had develop into one among Mexico’s high players. However he catapulted himself onto the worldwide gaming scene when he gained the 2015 Smash Factor 4 event in Mexico by defeating a participant named Ramin “Mr. R” Delshad, who on the time was among the many greatest “Tremendous Smash Bros.” gamers on this planet.

Perez’s win occurred to be a focus for an American gamer named Jason “Mew2King” Zimmerman, who had additionally been in Mexico for the event. Zimmerman, who Perez calls “a legend,” has been knowledgeable gamer since 2005 and is considered one of the best “Tremendous Smash Bros.” gamers ever.

Perez says Zimmerman, now 32, advised him he ought to begin touring to the U.S. to compete in larger tournaments and he supplied to function Perez’s coach. 

Zimmerman tells CNBC Make It that when he met Perez, the then-teenaged gamer “was identified in Mexico as a proficient child who was excellent for his age, however no person at the moment realized precisely how good he would or may develop into.”

Perez has appeared to Zimmerman as a mentor since they met in Mexico, with Zimmerman particularly providing him steering in the course of the subsequent a number of years, as Perez established himself as a high gamer within the U.S. and overseas.

“I made a decision to assist him enhance and attain his dream of turning into the #1 participant on this planet, which he advised me was his dream and aim,” says Zimmerman, who often studied Perez’s matches with a view to provide tips about how he may enhance his expertise.

From there, Perez began coaching for eight hours every day to “attempt to develop into the perfect,” and he “even forgot to eat some days, as a result of I wished to get higher,” he says.

After struggling to win competitions when he first began touring to the U.S. in 2016 — “I misplaced a number of tournaments for, like, three months,” he says — Perez closed out that 12 months by pulling off an upset towards among the world’s top “Super Smash Bros.” players. He gained the 2GGT event in Las Vegas in December 2016, taking dwelling the highest prize of almost $5,500.

Over the subsequent few years, Perez continued winning major tournaments and racking up prize cash, culminating with the five-figure prize he took dwelling from the 2019 Evolution Championship Sequence.

Due to these earnings, Perez says he was capable of purchase an condominium for his household in Mexico Metropolis, the place he and his household have lived whereas quarantining for the reason that pandemic started. Whereas he likes to suppose his household’s improved life has been a “group effort” (together with his brother even serving as his “private supervisor”), Perez says there isn’t any query his gaming success “is why our lives received higher.”

Apart from shopping for the condominium for his household, Perez says he is averted any giant, splashy purchases together with his profession earnings. “I have been saving every part…” he says. “I’ve received it in my checking account, yeah, and I have never spent something.”

‘Teaching saved me’

Perez’ gaming profession was on an amazing trajectory, with six-figure profession winnings from tournaments, getting signed by T1 in February 2020 and generally creating content material and making movies the place he performed video games and supplied commentary. (Perez declined to share a full breakdown of his earnings, together with his wage from T1, with CNBC Make It.)

Then the pandemic hit.

Perez noticed his earnings from gaming tournaments dry up in 2020, as Covid-19 shut down lots of the esports trade’s largest and most profitable in-person tournaments. Perez says his event winnings plummeted to only $10,000 general in 2020, down from greater than $109,000 in 2019, in line with trade tracker EsportsEarnings.com.

Whereas some tournaments moved on-line, Perez says he principally averted them, as a result of the gameplay on-line for “Tremendous Smash Bros. Final” often lags when gamers are logging in on a number of totally different web connections internationally. (Perez calls the net gameplay “fairly trash.”)

Perez did not panic about surviving — “I have been saving my cash since I actually began touring [to tournaments],” he says.

And “I do not wish to say I’ve misplaced some huge cash as a result of, after all, I by no means competed for it,” Perez says of the previous 12 months.

“However, yeah, it was unhealthy … I did not win a number of issues that I may have gained.”

To make up for it, Perez appeared for brand spanking new income streams. Perez began turning out extra movies and streaming content material. Nevertheless it additionally it seems that instructing individuals how you can enhance their online game expertise could be a profitable side-hustle for a gamer.

Beginning in mid-February, Perez took on work as a online game coach on the net platform Metafy, the place novice players are prepared to pay as much as $100 an hour to play video video games with him.

Launched in Might 2020, Metafy has over 7,000 prospects who pay to e-book one-on-one coaching periods with skilled players. The corporate touts its coaching periods as providing gamers entry to “champion-level coaches,” with taglines just like the one which greets guests to the Metafy website: “Get coached by the gamers kicking your ass.”

Leonardo ‘MKLeo’ Lopez Perez of Echo Fox celebrates after profitable the Tremendous Smash Bros. Final grand championship throughout day three of the 2019 Evolution Championship Sequence at Mandalay Bay Resort and On line casino on August 04, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Joe Buglewicz | Getty Pictures

Perez coaches over Metafy’s digital platform for roughly 4 hours per day, six days per week. A typical coaching session may discover Perez merely answering a gamers’ questions for half-hour (a $40 cost), and even spending an hour taking part in towards them on-line whereas providing recommendation or reviewing their previous video games to supply suggestions (each choices value $100 per hour).

Perez says he sometimes brings in round $50,000 from event prize cash in a given 12 months, and he is hoping to make about that a lot from teaching this 12 months. Perez made greater than $15,000 in earnings via the top of June, Metafy confirmed.

“It will depend on how a lot I grind…” he says.

Teaching “saved me, just about,” Perez says, as a result of the power to earn money and play towards others (which counts as observe for his personal profession) allowed him to get again to his life as knowledgeable gamer after a 12 months during which he was lacking out on the fun of competitors.

“I am nonetheless younger, I am 20. So I used to be in my prime,” Perez says. “I used to be actually profitable every part earlier than the quarantine, and I used to be actually the perfect [“Super Smash Bros. Ultimate”] participant … There was no participant that would beat me persistently.”

Perez additionally plans to proceed teaching on weekdays as soon as the schedule for in-person tournaments (which usually occur on weekends, he says) turns into extra lively later this 12 months.

“It is one thing that I’ve additionally used to study,” he says.

So as to develop into the perfect, Perez says, players want “somebody that is going to let you know, or coach you, in these little errors that you simply’re doing, like actually tiny issues which are going that can assist you establish what you are doing improper [and] you develop into higher. However, grinding is de facto what makes you good.”

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