PORTLAND, Ore. – Edgar "RCTID_Thiago" Guerrero used to occupy a world within barriers, the state for anybody leveling up in college. The deeper he studied the world of psychology, though, the farther his future drifted from something relatable. From a classical perspective, formal psychology may be a young discipline, but the quest for knowledge, and the divide expertise creates, is one of our classic pursuits.
Two years ago, Guerrero opted out of the classic and into a most modern of silos, one that still requires bridging gaps with so many people he encounters. Making his living at the edge of a Sony PlayStation 4 controller as the Portland Timbers’ representative in Major League Soccer’s eMLS league, the McMinneville, Oregon, native often finds himself trying to transcend his latest barriers, explaining how, exactly, a different expertise has shifted his professional goals.
“Everybody knows about gaming in some form,” he explains, “whether it’s when you’re at home. Even board games.” He thinks, on its most basic levels, what he does is “pretty close” to that.
“There are some board games that are actually on the [gaming] systems,” like the PS4 he prefers, or the similarly popular Microsoft Xbox One. “[People] get the part about playing games, but the competitive side? It’s hard to grasp how someone can be so much better at a game than anybody else.”
That inability to grasp is Guerrero’s new silo. Whereas he used to travel among those whose psychological terms formed their lexicon, now, the terms feel deceivingly accessible. Guerrero is competing in a format of EA SPORTS’ FIFA game franchise called FIFA Ultimate Team, or FUT. Against representatives from Major League Soccer’s other teams, he battles in various tournaments across the country, traveling to play in the competition MLS created two years ago. In preparation, his FUT time is defined by things like jumbo rare players packs, in-form cards, and weekend leagues; where the difference between green, yellow and red dictates whether your team has chemistry or it doesn’t.
The terms aren’t complicated. They’re just meaningless in normal conversation. While they’re part of a language that’s become secondhand among those devoted to one of the most popular sports games in the world, they may feed into broken reality, one that sits between Guerrero’s professional and non-professional world. What he does is just a game, many people imply with their questions. And because it’s just a game, it can’t be a profession. It can’t be a job. It can’t be something that’s so serious, so detailed, that it can usurp easy words for a world of expertise.
“There are some people that don’t understand how [playing FIFA is], in any way, shape or form, a job,” Guerrero concedes, before describing those who, on a daily basis, make playing video games into an entertainment product.
“Streamers,” those who make their gaming into live, online, video experiences, “are basically personalities. It’s like having your own TV show, and you run everything. Same with gaming. You’re putting hours and hours into a sport. It’s basically a sport, to master the skillset. It’s not just you’re holding a controller and playing. You’re paying attention to something some people don’t even notice.”
Many still balk at the comparison, but illustrations are easy for Guerrero. He’s been asked these questions so often. His most basic example asks you to consider a standout athlete in high school. He doesn’t name the sport. Pick whichever one is most accessible for you, his omission implies.
“They make [their sport] look amazing,” he says, “and you think, ‘oh, how can they get better?’ But then you put them on a Division 1 college team, and they look completely average.” The analogy’s simplicity is telling. It shouldn’t be so hard for so many to accept that, just because somebody makes a task look easy, there aren’t many levels to climb, and at some point in that climb, you’ll have something that meets a huge demand. Even if people don’t understand why.
“At some point, everything that was something for entertainment,” he says, “you don’t see it as a job when it’s just starting out.”
Guerrero has an air that makes you envy the gaming world. He is casual and reserved by nature, staying so while explaining one of his professional life’s greatest tensions over half an hour in the Providence Park press box. In his line of work, there’s no need to be otherwise. Comfortable in jeans, black long-sleeved shirt and a baseball hat that rests high on his head, Guerrero is his own version of the gamer’s aesthetic, one that allows you to write your own definition within an evolving world. A well-groomed beard, just long enough to extend from his jawline, is his element of flash. The rest reflects a natural, soft-spoken thoughtfulness, his words paralleling a subtle empathy that defines his personality.
“There are some people who are genuinely interested,” in what he does, he reminds. “They will listen and they won’t interrupt when I’m saying something. They’ll try to get an idea for what it is gamers do. They’re the easiest to explain it to. Every if they don’t get it, they’ll be like, ‘OK.’”
If they dig deep enough, though, they get explanations like this one, detailing the work he has to put in each year when EA SPORTS releases a new version of FIFA.
“It is a lot of hours,” he says, describing a process that leaves FIFA diehards emoting on social media, complaining how aspects like defending, passing, shooting can change from the version they learned and, in the slightly tweaked game, the one they now have to remaster to stay competitive.
“I want to say the first week, I’m asleep four hours of everyday, and that’s it. And the rest is doing whatever else I need to do outside the game, and then playing. It’s a lot of practice and a lot of trying to understand the little things … It’s the little, subtle changes in the game that are going to make you a different player.”
Even on this level, Guerrero has found ways to get outside his silo – ways to connect with people who speak in different languages. Often, that still means speaking in sports.
“Every year there is a different type of shot that will go in,” he says, of FIFA. “I have certain spots I get to. Just like [Portland Trail Blazers’ guard Damian] Lillard has certain spots where he knows that’s his money shot. It’s the same thing for people who play FIFA. You have a spot where you know if you get to that spot and you have the space, that’s going in 99 percent of the time.”
Over the last two years, people closest to him have begun understanding his world. Before joining the Timbers, when his commitment to his Pro Leagues, 11-on-11 FIFA team would require him to be by his home console at specific times, he’d get incredulous questions from those close to him. “It’s so hard [for them] to think, ‘oh, he has to get on the PlayStation at 6:30 because he has a game to play,’” he empathizes. People thought he was “addicted to playing,” he felt.
But the first time he came to Portland to meet with the Timbers about eMLS, his father came along. He couldn’t believe playing Playstation had earned him a meeting with the Timbers. When they returned home, Guerrero heard his father telling a brother as much. It was the beginning of his family’s realization of where the 6:30 sacrifices could lead.
“Before that, my parents thought I had a problem.,” he admits. “‘Oh, where is he? Oh, he’s playing up stairs. He’s still playing?’ It’s like 6:30, 7:00, and I’ve been playing for like two, three hours, but because it’s when they’re home, to them, it was a big chunk.
“It was really hard to explain to them that I was doing this for a reason. It could become a job. You could get money out of this.”
And he still sees examples of where, across the gaming world, incredulity keeps people from understanding how far the sport has come. He still sees people doubting how you can make a living off of being so good.
“That’s a big thing, and not even just for me,” he says. “For anybody who does video games. The guy who [was selected] number one in the [NBA]2K draft the first year,” – the FIFA equivalent, but in the NBA world – “he was on [ESPN’s television show] The Jump, and [former NBA star] Tracy McGrady was like, ‘you get $200,000 to play video games?’ He was shocked, but [players] made millions playing basketball. You can’t really compare the two.”
That’s the big parallel Guerrero tries to draw. It’s the best way to open the silo, something that taps into the analogy he used before. At some point, there were people incredulous that you could make money playing baseball, football or basketball. The idea of amateurism leveraged that notion. Going back further, the concept of profiting off of writing, painting, or other forms of art wasn’t initially accepted. Money was for labor, exchanges of goods. Those skills fell outside that time’s vision. As Guerrero said, “everything that was something for entertainment, you don’t see it as a job when it’s just starting out.”
“That doesn’t upset me,” he says, “but it is a little bit irritating at times. It almost seems like they’re doing it on purpose … You can tell that they ask me different questions than they would somebody else.
“It can be awkward at times. Especially when there are a lot of other people around, I don’t know what to say.”
In time, he won’t have to explain himself. History tells us as much. The generations that preceded his will either understand or, with time, become outnumbered. As broadcasts of various games on cable television show, and as paycheckers for gamers who play Dota, Fortnite, League of Legends, Rocket League, among others verify, questions about the reality of professional gaming are quickly losing relevance.
For now, though, Guerrero gets to explain his silo – the place he’s earned with his earned expertise. Ready for his third season in eMLS, he gets to thrive in a new world, while trying to build bridges with old ones.