Alex Ringe is lanky, knobby, and rather pale; spending up to 30 straight hours in front of a computer screen hasn’t done a whole lot for his tan. The 22-year-old UCSB political science major is one of an elite handful of professional gamers, and for the last several years Ringe—known as Sodah in the fantasy realm of World of Warcraft (WoW)—has been wowing fans around the world with his serious skills.
Like most of the professional players of World of Warcraft, for a long time Ringe abandoned things like partying and physical exercise. Why? Because prizes as large as $75,000 are awarded in WoW “arena tournaments,” in which three-person teams are pitted against each other in a fight to the digital death.
Through a combination of natural talent, almost superhuman commitment and dedication, and what Ringe calls “good luck,” he made it into those international tournaments in his late teens and started winning big. Add to that sponsorships, video making, and a few other hush-hush WoW moneymaking opportunities, and Ringe said he’s almost able to make a living just playing the game.
But right now, Ringe is recounting not the money, or the fame, or the sheer pleasure of gaming, but rather all the sacrifices he’s made. The game has an addictive quality—back in the heyday of what he calls his “youth,” he played for more than a day straight—and Ringe used to experience severe sleep deprivation from playing late at night.
Until last year, he didn’t get out much. “I didn’t do anything but games and class. One hundred percent, that’s all I did,” he said. Every Superman has his Clark Kent side, and when he wasn’t gaming Ringe got involved in politics and computers and stayed away from the partying, drinking, socializing, job- and relationship-having part of life. WoW, he said, fulfilled all of his social needs—which is saying something considering that he is in his third year of living in Isla Vista, the party capital of the Central Coast. His parents “actually really wanted me to be more social,” said Ringe. “They wanted me to start partying!”
Ringe has changed his habits significantly in the last year to live a more normal lifestyle. That normalcy, though, still includes the tournaments he regularly competes in around the world with the rest of his three-person team (the other two members live in L.A. and Canada) in addition to his typical three hours a day of WoW time. And even though it’s become such a big part of his life, Ringe sees his gaming career as limited. He said he probably only has a few years left at this high-intensity level before he’ll drop back.
Although he looks reminiscent of Twilight’s vampire Edward Cullen, Ringe laughs when asked about the nerdiness of his high-paying side job. “Nerdy is becoming cooler so it’s just not that big of a deal,” he said, smiling.