Santanu Basu with his gaming rig at his Howrah home before leaving for South Korea. Picture by Bishwarup Dutta
The nimble footwork of Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Frank Lampard and Neymar has been controlled for a decade by the agile fingers of a 26-year-old Calcuttan. Come Saturday, the bigwigs of world football will put their best foot forward for India.
Santanu Basu, an avid gamer from Mandirtala, Howrah, has earned an opportunity to convert his hobby into a medal for the country when he dons the India colours in the e-sports category at the fourth edition of the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games in Incheon, South Korea. A specialist in football on consoles and computers, he will be gaming for gold against participants from 43 countries in the FIFA 13 category.
He is the lone member from Bengal in the 35-strong Indian contingent. The other sports the country is participating in are kabaddi, chess, billiards and bowling.
A patient of acute pancreatitis since he was seven years old, Santanu had spent much of his school life confined to his room, playing 8-bit video games like Super Mario and Contra. At 16, a cousin introduced him to computer games. “I would jump over the wall around our house, go to my cousin’s, play from 1am to 7am and rush back home before my parents woke up,” says Santanu of his Class XI-XII routine.
The turning point came in 2007, when he ran away from home and hopped on to the unreserved compartment of a train with Rs 100 in his pocket and a joystick in his backpack to participate in the national finals of the World Cyber Games in Mumbai. Six days later, he flew home with the winner’s trophy and a job offer from a gaming company.
“I knew nothing of Mumbai and spent the first three nights on the footpath outside the venue but managed to edge out 350 others to win the FIFA tournament,” says Santanu, who was a BTech student then.
He could not go to Paris to compete in the world finals as he did not have a passport. Two years later, he won the India finals again in Chennai and got a passport just in time to go to China for the finals, where he stood fifth in a field of 77 countries.
“For a boy who had never stepped out of Calcutta to be travelling the world and that too to play computer games is a dream I’m yet to wake up from,” says Santanu.
Kim Leung, a gamer from Singapore who had won the Singapore finals of the World Cyber Games in 2011, says Santanu’s unflinching devotion to gaming is what sets him apart from his competitors. “I have rarely seen a gamer so passionate. I would not be surprised if he went on to win a medal at the Asian games,” says Leung.
Santanu, who has won over 50 local competitions in the past six years and holds a Limca record for playing without a break for 24 hours, regrets the fact that gaming in Calcutta is still viewed as a schoolboy’s hobby rather than a serious sport. Talented gamers in the city, spanning genres like first-person shooter, strategy or sports, give up on the sport because of lack of support and infrastructure.
“For years, I had to practise in a cyber café in Kasba while Mumbai has an arena with a network of 300 computers devoted to gaming tournaments,” says Santanu.
In Calcutta, finding a sponsor sometimes turns out to be more difficult than beating Barcelona in “World Class Mode” in the FIFA games.
Santanu, who currently writes for a technology magazine in Singapore, had formed a five-member team in 2009 where he grooms younger members and competes in tournaments across the country. He hopes to meet his idol, Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho, some day and take tips on the best strategy to remain unbeaten.
For the Asian games, Santanu’s plan is simple and befitting of a Calcutta football fanatic. “Play with Brazil and win.”