In a suburban Orlando townhouse, a point guard for the Los Angeles Lakers and a formidable pink Pokémon met for the first time. They had a lot in common.
Christopher Cantrell and Juan DeBiedma are both professional video gamers who launched their careers as University of Florida students. In esports, they’re known as KontruL and Hungrybox. KontruL (Cantrell) is part of an elite group of basketball gamers playing for actual NBA teams in the official NBA 2K League. Hungrybox (DeBiedma) plays the game Super Smash Bros. Melee for the international organization Team Liquid. Ranked as the best Melee player in the world, he’s been winning championships for more than a decade, playing as the deceptively fierce Pokémon character Jigglypuff.
A quick aside for those wondering when “professional gamer” became a job title: The World Economic Forum estimates esports will soon be a billion-dollar business, with a global audience approaching 400 million people. And for those wondering why anyone would watch someone else play video games, DeBiedma explains it this way: The crowds glued to televisions in a sports bar grew up playing traditional sports, and they can’t get enough of watching the best athletes on the planet dominate those games. Today’s kids and young adults feel much the same about video games, he says.
DeBiedma, a 2015 graduate of the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering, balanced college with a professional e-sports career and now schedules his tournaments around a full-time information-technology job. Cantrell, a journalism senior, played the inaugural season of the NBA 2K League for Orlando Magic Gaming while juggling on-campus classes in Gainesville. After being picked by Lakers Gaming in the league’s expansion draft, he’s taking online classes so he can train and play with the rest of the team in L.A. and New York City, where the league’s games are held.
Cantrell and DeBiedma met up at DeBiedma’s place in February, right before Cantrell left for L.A., to trade stories, compare experiences and play Super Smash Bros. as DeBiedma’s three cats, Sushi, Beans and Nugget, patrolled the room. The two talked about how to handle haters (just like traditional athletes, elite gamers are targets for social media trolls) and how their time at UF helped them develop the dedication and time management that helps them excel. They talked about their families’ reactions to their unconventional career choice and how they keep improving as gamers.
The veteran’s No. 1 piece of advice to the ascending star? “Never be too prideful to ask for help.”
Hear their thoughts on the future of their games on the UF YouTube channel.