Teenage athletes such as America's Simone Biles and Katie Ledecky may be racking up the gold medals at the Rio Olympics, but one young competitor might have them beat in the winnings department. Zhang "Y`Innocence" Yiping is the 18-year-old captain of the Chinese gaming team Wings Gaming, which just won an unprecedented $9.1 million in the biggest esports tournament of all time.
Seattle's KeyArena played host to the $20 million tournament, which was called The International 6 and featured the competitive video game Dota 2 by Valve. Sixteen elite teams from all over the world took the stage in the main event over six days in front of tens of thousands of fans, with hundreds of thousands watching from home. In the end, the finals came down to two teams: America-based Digital Chaos and the upstart five-man Chinese squad. After a heated and exciting series, Wings Gaming triumphed 3-1. It had run through the double-elimination bracket without dropping a match.
"When we play, we don't think too much," said Y`Innocence at the press conference following his team's victory. "If we have problems in-game, we talk about it afterwards and work it out so we can return to the next game and play."
A few months ago, Wings Gaming were a ragtag bunch of up-and-comers who wore drab T-shirts as official uniforms. Now, after taking the competitive gaming world by storm in the past six months, Wings are dressed in trim blue and white jerseys with their birdlike insignia across the chest. The change befits the winners of one of the biggest prize purses in sports history.
In addition to its 18-year-old captain, Wings is brimming with young talent. Chu "Shadow" Zeyu is 19, Zhang "Faith_bian" Ruida is 18, Li "iceiceice" Peng is 20 and the "old man" of the team, Zhou "bLink Yang, is only 24 years old. The win nets each of them about $1.8 million.
Brooklyn Nets player Jeremy Lin was in attendance at the event as a fan and Dota 2 player himself. When asked to explain the appeal, he said, "It's like going to the NBA Finals and watching it. Any basketball fan would want to do that, so for me, I love coming here and experiencing it. It's not any different than traditional sports. When we come here and we watch these players playing in front of us, they're doing things we can't do, which is really the big draw ... I have no idea how big it's going to get, but I do know this is only the beginning."