Editor: Bracken Lee-Rudolph
Robert Botha, along with his in-game alias “PandaTank”, is one of South Africa’s most prominent gamers. Currently he plays the Protoss faction for CMStorm and sponsored by CoolerMaster.
He was ranked in 5th place in 2011 by the International eSports Federation and 9th place in 2012 for his performance in the IeSF World Championships during those respective years. In addition to this, he also finished in the top 8 of the ESWC in France in 2012 and was drafted into the Yegalisk Master League this year.
Locally, he’s also somewhat of a pioneer, as he was the first gamer to receive Protea Colour for playing Starcraft 2 at a national level, and is a poster boy for eSports in South Africa due to his consistency at high levels of performance. Recently, I got a chance to ask him some questions, concerning eSports and where he thinks they are going in South Africa, as well as a little bit of his life concerning gaming is right now; below are the results of that interview.
Bracken: What was your first interaction with competitive gaming? Did you start in an online or LAN environment and with what game?
PandaTank: The first game I played competitively was Counter-Strike starting back in around 2002. Back then it was still 56k days, so not that many people played online yet, it was mostly a LAN environment.
Bracken: Did you have ambitions of going into professional gaming when you were younger?
PandaTank: Well, I guess it depends. When I first started playing being a “professional gamer” would have meant something completely different to what it does now. I always had dreams of being the best and representing my country at an international event. So in that scenario, definitely yes. Although I never knew it could be a career. Which is something that has become more viable in the eSports boom over the last 3 or so years.
Bracken: How did the name “PandaTank” originate?
PandaTank: It’s based on the Pandaren Brewmaster hero from WarCraft III/DotA 1.
Bracken: Is there a reason you chose to specialise in playing the Protoss race, or did you just gravitate towards playing a faction you were stronger with?
PandaTank: I chose Protoss because I played Protoss in StarCraft 1.
Bracken: Do you have any training regime, or do you make it a point to play constantly?
PandaTank: Yes, I have a training regime. 4 hours in the morning, a break, followed by 4 hours in the afternoon. I’m trying to start playing more in the night too.
Bracken: What games do you think will be relevant as competitive titles in the future? Will we continue to see a fair distribution of importance to titles like Starcraft and DotA, or do you think the community will gravitate primarily towards First-Person Shooters and mainstream sports titles, such as Call of Duty and FIFA?
PandaTank: No. We have already seen a clear shift away from FPS titles in the industry. I personally love certain FPS games such like CS and Quake, they are 2 of the best games that will ever be made in my opinion. But unfortunately they aren’t too spectator friendly. These days its far more important to design a game based on the spectator friendliness, even if it is potentially at a cost for the players.
Bracken: Locally, what effect do you think SASCOC classifying eSports (namely MSSA) as a category one sport will have? As in, do you think it will increase the mass appeal of gaming or encourage competitive or league-based gaming as an extramural activity at schools?
PandaTank: You would think so. Although I doubt just telling people that will change the average Joe’s opinion on the subject. We will have to wait and see. I don’t have any predictions.
Bracken: Do you think that South Africa is well equipped to deal with an increase in eSports popularity in terms of organisations hosting LAN events, such as Maingaming SA and Organised Chaos?
PandaTank: Well, as far as I know, there isn’t much of a relationship between those LAN events and eSports. OC may be hosting small tournaments at their events, although for the most part those types of events are purely for sharing files or casual gaming.
Bracken: Do you feel organisations such as MSSA played a big part in building you into the player you are today?
PandaTank: The MSSA gave me the opportunity to attend my first international tournament, which gives you a platform to prove yourself as a player. It terms of actually creating or building that “player”, up until this year it was purely my own work. Now that I am supported by CoolerMaster and CMStorm, they are a big influence on how I develop as a professional player and continue to build myself.
Bracken: Would you say LAN experience plays a big part in competitive gaming as opposed to only playing online?
PandaTank: Of course. These days it’s possible to be a successful gamer by only competing in online tournaments, since there are so many of them. Although the true test of ones skill will still always be at an offline event.
Bracken: How do you feel you rank up against your opposition in the Yegalisk Master League, other than the matches you have played already?
PandaTank: I think I’m on par or better than a few of the players, such as Goody or White-Ra. Players like Snute or Nerchio are still considerably better than me though. Especially online.
Bracken: At this point, do you still find time to play other games recreationally, or is your time taken up by other hobbies?
PandaTank: I occasionally play some DotA 2, I like what Valve has done with the game quite a lot. Although I try stay away if possible.
Bracken: If you had to play Starcraft with an Xbox or PlayStation controller and your opponent had to do the same, how do you think your match would go?
PandaTank: Very poorly. I don’t play console games.
Bracken: If you had a superpower to help you through your matches, what would you choose?
PandaTank: Perhaps super speed (for obvious reasons), or the ability to see into the future so you could always know what your opponent is doing, or going to do.
The future of our country’s gaming does look bright with eSports beginning to bloom, and I feel players like PandaTank are great ambassadors to our country and brilliant examples to our up-and-coming eSports pros. Although he can already claim to be amongst the world’s elite as a Grandmaster in Starcraft II, hopefully our eSports culture can one day claim to be one of the heavyweights in competitive gaming.