Kevin “QXC” Riley Explains Why He Put A Career On Hold To Play StarCraft II

American StarCraft II pro gamer Kevin Riley admits he could be making a lot more money with his Computer Science college degree, but he’s committed to eSports.

Kevin “QXC” Riley is one of the top U.S. StarCraft II players. A member of compLexity Gaming, the Terran player is known for his unorthodox play and experimentation in virtual combat. Riley is committed to eSports. He graduated in 2012 from Harvey Mudd with a degree in Computer Science. Rather than joining the work force as a potential video game designer, he’s competing against the top pro gamers in the world in tournaments around the globe. Riley talks about his career and explains the secret to his success in this exclusive interview.

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What do you think selling out the Staples Center in an hour means for legitimizing eSports?

This is helping prove to others that eSports can be popular and far-reaching and monetized in a way similar to other more conventional sports. While in the past this has not been true, it appears that the previous lack of popularity may have been due more to a smaller interest base rather than an issue with the medium itself. A game that appeals and is available to as many people as possible is critical to achieving the far reaching success that other sports enjoy.

What advice would you give to aspiring pro gamers who think they’re good at StarCraft II?

Take it slow. One of the easiest mistakes to make is to forget about the rest of your life to squeeze out those extra results. While sacrifices must be made, balance is more important to maintaining a healthy life style that will allow for consistent peak performances.

What’s the biggest misconception about pro gamers?

That pro gamers are antisocial slobs who live in their parents basement. People have a misconception that pro gamers fit the old stereotype of gamers which by and large doesn’t really make sense at all anymore. Make no mistake, pro gamers are some of the most competitive people you will meet. Just because it’s a computer game doesn’t mean we don’t take it incredibly seriously and with a great deal of heart.

What similarities do you see between cyber athletes and real athletes?

Both have an incredible competitive drive. We hate to lose and love to win. Sometimes we play for the fans, often we play for ourselves. We compete to show the world our strength.

What does it take to be a pro gamer today?

Perseverance and balance. A pro gamer must not give up, but they must also balance their life to optimize their practice and find the improvements necessary post results.

What’s the secret to your success in StarCraft II? 

I never give up and I consistently seek to improve my game, as well as the way in which I approach the game in terms of food, exercise, sleep, stress and more.

What are your thoughts on the fan feuds that seem to occur out there between League of Legends and StarCraft II?

Many see league of legends as edging StarCraft out of competitive eSports bit by bit and so this naturally causes tension. The coexistence isn’t something really established in a scene so new and many people have a particularly strong affinity to one game or another. When people’s interest seems threatened, there’s bound to be some degree of clashing.

How did you get involved in eSports?

I’ve always enjoyed playing computer games since I was young. I played Command & Conquer Red Alert with friends as a kid and moved from game to game since then. I played StarCraft Brood War for some time but didn’t really stick with it until I got into college. In my second semester about five years ago I decided to try and take the game more seriously while studying. From there I saw a great deal of improvement and pushed to where I am today.

How have you seen opportunities for new gamers in eSports evolve since you began as a pro?

The scale of everything has increased greatly. There are many more tournaments all across the world with a much larger prize pool. Stream numbers consistently increased for a long time allowing certain players to make a living that way. 

What have you sacrificed to get to where you are today?

Friends, money, time. I’ve spent a long time alone in front of the computer grinding games away. A lot of my relationships suffered because of it. As a recent computer science graduate I also could’ve pursued a much more lucrative job. Except at the top, there isn’t much money to be made in this profession. 

What’s your life as a pro gamer like?

I work my own hours and compete when events present themselves. I do a lot of self management and practice. I play almost every day for several hours working to improve my builds and such. In my free time I pursue other activities such as Ultimate, rock climbing and jiujitsu. I don’t do any of these much but they are an effective break and help keep me healthy. 

What do you want to do after you retire from eSports?

Perhaps a game designer or entertainer (Stream/YouTube). I haven’t really thought that far.

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John Gaudiosi
John Gaudiosi has been covering the video game business for over 20 years for outlets like The Washington Post, Reuters, Fortune, AOL and CNN. He's EIC of video game site