One of Singapore's top gamers even took iPads into the shower

Mention the name Jorge Yao in certain circles and it is likely to invoke some awe.

The US gamer was at one point (in 2013) ranked No. 1 for about six months in the extremely popular Clash Of Clans game for mobile devices.

It is no ordinary title.

Clash Of Clans, or CoC as it is better known, has millions of active players around the world and grosses millions of dollars a day from gamers who pay for in-game currency to boost their strongholds and battles.

It grossed US$1.8 billion (S$2.3 billion) in 2014. Gamers join clans and battle each other's strongholds.

Mr Yao became a minor celebrity in the wake of that feat.

YouTube videos of his battles became wildly popular and he gained tens of thousands of Twitter followers and Facebook likes.

In an e-mail interview from London, where he lives, the 27-year-old, whose real name is George Yao, told The New Paper on Sunday that it was an "exhilarating" experience to get to the top.

"I worked pretty hard to get to the top spot and was maintaining a regular day job in finance at the time as well," he says.


"After getting there, it became almost an obsession for me to maintain that level of gameplay.

"There were always more records to go after, whether it was getting my clan (North 44) to the top of the rankings or getting to 4K trophies first.

"I remember waking up early in the morning to game, going to work and gaming on coffee breaks, and going home to game well into the evening - it was a daily routine even on the weekends for the entire six months."

He took up the game after moving to San Francisco as a way of killing time, but it soon became much, much more.

He admits to spending roughly $500 a week or so on the game.

"Compared to other players, though, I thought I was pretty efficient with gemming and virtual currency usage.

"Other top players I knew spent much more than that - some two to three times that amount even."

According to a New York Times (NYT) article, a clanmate of Mr Yao's from Turkey began buying the gems for him to keep playing at the top level of the game.

He was also coaching several other top-ranked players at the same time and the article notes that he received three iPads from another clanmate in the United Arab Emirates.

He would juggle several accounts at the same time.

Ruefully, he says: "I was taking iPads into the shower with me at one point."

Eventually, he quit. He had lost control of the experience, he told NYT.

But the story has a silver lining.

While he was at the top of the game, he started consulting for a number of fledgling game developers, from a design perspective.

Eventually, one of them, SpaceApe, asked him to join them full-time.

When asked whether his experience has coloured his view of gaming, he says that he personally does not think gaming is bad at all.

"On paper, a finance industry job is fairly respectable, but I quickly discovered it was not for me. I was really interested in gaming, games design and even the business part of the gaming industry," he said.

"Maintaining the top position for so long, I was able to experience all different facets of the industry and turn it into something really productive and rewarding."

Now SpaceApe has just launched its new game Rival Kingdoms globally and it looks like it will give Clash Of Clans a run for its money.

Mr Yao says that in its first week, Rival Kingdoms was the No. 1 downloaded strategy game on the Apple iOS platform in six countries, including the US, and gained one million players in the first week.

In Singapore, it ranked among the top four grossing applications over the May 9 weekend.

On being famous, he says: "I think I still get recognition because I managed to rise above the records and the gameplay and become part of the industry itself."

To obsessed gamers, he has this to say: "While my particular journey was pretty unique, I definitely think someone who has the same level of drive and passion for gaming can make it on the development side.

"In fact, we're hiring!"

This article was first published on May 17, 2015.
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