Esport career as a 10-year-old? – An interview with CSGO talent KungFU_AJ
Who is the 10-year-old that veterans of the German scene like tabseN and k1to are following? We spoke to KungFU_AJ himself in an exclusive interview.
AJ is just ten years old and aspires to become a pro in esports. Together with his father Andreas he began his gaming career with titles like Minecraft and Fortnite. Their Twitch channel has already amassed more than 10,000 followers. After viewers have always asked him to try Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, AJ finally discovered his immense potential to go pro eventually.
We talked to them both regarding his potential esport career, streaming and youth protection.
You just finished school and jumped directly into our interview afterwards. How does it feel to be such a young esport aspirant and how do you deal with the increased attention on yourself?
AJ: Initially we had very few viewers in our Twitch streams, but over time we got more and more follower and viewers. It was relatively simple to ease into it.
Are AJ’s esport plans not in direct conflict with his school life?
Andreas: Regardless of what kind of hobby you pursue, if you are intensively committed to it, other acitivities can move out of focus. But AJ has kept up without any issues and gotten straight As on his mid-term reports. In comparison to traditional sports, esports is quite flexible.
How do your classmates react to your esport plans? Are they also playing CS:GO or other games?
AJ: Most of them don’t really know what I am actually doing. I know from some, that they are playing Call of Duty or Among Us, but I am not so sure about CS:GO.
Andreas: We also have to mention, that we moved recently for job-related reasons and so we are still trying to settle in. Until now we have not have many interactions with the other children or parents. At least we have not gotten any gaming invitations from them yet.
You have reached level 10 in Faceit. Quite a feat that only few players can reach. How did you improve this fast?
AJ: Initially I only played the in-game matchmaking together with my father. But eventually we moved to Faceit to mainly play Community Matches. Eventually I learned all the important CS:GO things such as grenade line-ups, positioning and tactics. So I started playing Faceit’s ladder with ELO and improved over time.
Andreas: Another important factor is that AJ does not just queue up to play. He does not need to make the same mistakes again and again to improve. The coach from his team “NinjaZ” teached him a lot of things, so he does not have to learn the basics on his own.
— AJ #Werbung (@KungFu_AJ) January 6, 2020
AJ is not even 16 years old yet. How does that work with CS:GO and youth protection?
Andreas: Quite often we get viewers that say, that the game is only allowed for 16-year-olds. But that is not quite correct. From a legal perspective you can only buy the game once you are 16, but it does not limit you from playing it before.
In the end it is up to the parents to determine what their child can or cannot play. I have thought a long while about it, but in the end children around the world start playing video games, that are out of their age range. Usually they just hide it from their parents and do so without supervision. Instead of that I can accompany AJ in his hobby and support him all the way.
Just like in traditional sports it is not uncommon, that players start their esport career very young. The difference is that only in few cases they have their parents to support them in esport. But especially in that age children should not have to go through all the positive and negative aspects of games like Counter-Strike alone.
Even without watching the stream many players recognize your age due to your voice. How do other players in your match react to that?
AJ: There are quite a few that think it is cool, while others cannot quite comprehend it.
Andreas: It does not really fit but I think you can call it something akin to discrimation against his age. There are always some players that refuse to listen to younger players.
As an example AJ might suggest a strategy but it then gets ignored. It happens occassionally but isn’t really a big problem. As we usually play with friends and our community those situation only occur rarely as most of them know AJ.
In a different (German) interview with 16-year old pro Can “Kyuubii” Kamber we talked about how his team and the Esports Player Foundation have made it easier for him to not only go pro but also finish his secondary-school education at the same time. Would an elite boarding school also be an option for you?
AJ: When Kyuubii moved into the boarding school, we obviously also thought about it. But we would still need to wait a couple of years for that as you can only apply for it once you are 16. But I would like to do so.
Established German players like tabseN, k1to and Kyuubii are following you on Twitter. How did that happen?
AJ: I was at a signing session in Berlin together with my dad and we met them there. Then they eventually watched our stream. Kyuubii then also found us on Twitter and we have played together with him a couple of times.
(Image Credits: Instagram @kungfu_aj)
You founded your own team, NinjaZ. Why did you not join an academy team if you already know some players from BIG?
Andreas: Most leagues and academy teams in Germany have an age restriction of 16 years. So we started asking young players from our community if they are interested to participate in a casting for our own team. That is how NinjaZ were created.
We are currently playing in the ESEA League as you can play up to a certain level there without age restrictions. We even managed to promote from ESEA Open to Intermediate. Teams like the BIG Academy roster are also playing in the (German) 99DMG league, which also sets a minimum age at 16.
Have child welfare services from the government ever tried dissuading you from esports?
Andreas: Last year we came into contact with the youth welfare service. They came over and we talked about AJ and esport. Mainly about his maturity in dealing with online games and his performance in school. To summarize it, they were convinced by AJ, wished us best of luck for the future and left.
Where do you see yourselves in five years?
AJ: I hope that, if I continue to do my best, I can join an academy team or a larger organisation to play competitively. I also hope that I could qualify for special programs to foster talent similar to Kyuubii.
Andreas: My biggest goal is to make sure that AJ enjoys what he is doing and has fun. Currently that is Counter-Strike and that is why I want to offer him the best framework to do so. Streaming is also just a side project to show others that supporting and promoting talent in esport is possible. We are gladly setting an example for others to follow. As long as AJ has fun I have fulfilled my goal.
Speaking of streaming, what actually happens to the money you earn on Twitch?
Andreas: As we also wrote in our stream description, we are not doing it to earn money. I earn well enough in my job. We pay taxes on everything that we earn in terms of donations or subs and then I put the money into an account for AJ that he can use later to get a driver’s license or something similar.
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Image Credits: Twitter @KungFU_AJ