North America’s esports presence looms large on the global stage, but the industry’s distant cousin in Peru may be the true, American esports scene.
P*** madre! — Profanity briefly stings the ears of passersby, disturbing the tranquility of a well-lit esports facility in Atlanta. Flavorful responses ring out within the facility, all in Spanish, as the team commits to a risky dive behind tower to wipe out their opponents. Fabrizio ‘Netroid’ Palacios sits in a row with his teammates and quietly assembles his team in route of the next objective, muttering a humble plea to his support player to “get the f***over here” and not get distracted. Sanguine Esports, a professional Smite team composed of various members from South America, are practicing for their qualifying series for the Smite World Championships, which will make them the first South American team attending to not be mostly comprised of Brazilian players. Sanguine’s presence in the series is an achievement considering that esports in South America does not get much attention. More importantly, the team’s roster boasts two players from Peru, a country infamous for its unpleasant player base across a variety of popular esports titles.
Peru’s love of esports is genuine and unashamed, which can be seen as cringey to those of us residing in the states when you look at how national burger chain Bembo’s included professional Dota 2 player Freddy ‘SmAsH’ Siňa in their advertising, or how state newscasters incorrectly said Fortnite emotes were actually power-boosting moves. This love stems from how common LAN centers, or “cabinas” as they’re locally known, are within the metropolitan areas of Lima and Cusco. Personal computers and high-speed internet access are still seen as a relatively rare luxury for many young people in Peru, and this was definitely the case once Peruvian telecom companies were able to provide broadband internet access to consumers. In a case study prepared for the ITU World Telecommunication Policy Forum by Arturo Briceno, the combined percentage of ownership of personal computers between medium and low-income households in Peru was a mere 13% in 2000.
Many Peruvians did not see the need or desire to invest in an expensive computer to communicate with their families internationally when they could simply go to a nearby cabina, pay 5 soles (roughly $1.50 USD) and use the computers to send emails or call loved ones. Eventually, cabina owners realized how popular the computers were with Limeño youth and began to install popular games to drive up sales. Cabina culture began to form as these LAN centers proliferated and gave customers a space to form social connections, using video games as the bridge for these relationships and communities, and the inherently competitive nature of multiplayer games has led to the enthusiasm and stigma that the Peruvian esports scene is known for.
In Dota 2, Peruvian players are considered the scourge of any game happening in the US East server region. Several posts discuss Peruvians players, and how their inability to play outclasses those in Russia or the Philippines (regions that also have strong LAN culture). Peru’s apparent lack of skill originates from its LAN culture and that many players seek to get their money’s worth by squeezing as many games as possible within their allotted time. However, with the astronomical growth of prize pools in esports in recent years, Peruvians have shifted their expectations to echo their privileged counterparts in North America. This change in mentality has led to Peruvian teams and players competing at the global level, such as Sanguine’s participation in the Smite World Championships, or Team Infamous winning around 858,000 dollars at last year’s International for Dota 2.
The level of achievement that Peruvian esports players experienced last year is significant, as it’s a direct result of its LAN culture and its enthusiasm for the games they play. Many Peruvian players started out as scrimmage partners for established North American players. Enzo ‘Timado’ Gianoli’s career began in inhouse leagues frequented by Dota pros looking to practice before big events. Many pundits in the North American scene still lament Timado’s residence in Peru, remarking that his mechanical skill and reaction time is hindered by the IP infrastructure of his country and the bad habits learned from his compatriots. But this change in mentality and the results achieved by Peruvian players has galvanized the Peruvian market to create more initiatives to bring the country to the international scene. In an interview with El Comercio Peru, Juan Diego Garcia, a country manager for la Liga de Videojuegos Profesional, stated that Peruvian players could “100% live off of esports [winnings].” Consultant firms such as APDEV offer services to help standardize Peruvian esports events and teams to enable them to operate at international standards. The Peruvian government plans to increase its budget so that regional internet can be maintained more easily and users can reliably access high-speed internet. All of these changes to Peruvian infrastructure and the digital consumer market are a boon to Peru’s burgeoning esports scene, but the scene has to offer its respects to the cabina culture that has been instrumental to its rise.
While esports as an industry is a relatively recent development in North America, Peru can trace it all the way back to the first cabinas that opened in the early 2000s. The North American scene may attribute its origin to the dank basements of its enthusiasts, but it is only in Peru where one can see the history of esports on every street corner.