Ludwig “Zai” Wåhlberg isn’t even 20-years-old and he’s already won over $1.1 million in esports prize money. In an exhibition match on Friday against recently formed Onyx, the Evil Geniuses player decided to transform into a tree and try to mess with his opponents just for the hell of it.
Monkey King is the latest character to be added to Valve’s popular competitive strategy game. The Dota 2 character can, among other things, change his appearance using an ability called “Mischief.” That’s what Zai did early in the second King of the Hill best-of-five series when he found himself behind enemy lines with a chance to snipe the enemy team’s courier.
Players in Dota 2 rely in part on upgrading items to get more powerful, and the courier is one way to transport them around the map. “Sniping” it can cause the opposing team a world of headaches, effectively shutting down their supply chain for a few minutes before a new one can respawn. It’s the kind of play that’s hard to resist. Beyond the material advantage it bestows, it also doubles as a sort of “fuck you” to the other side.
So Zai got in position to do just that. Unfortunately, his timing was entirely off, striking too early and giving the courier a chance to escape beneath the safety of a nearby tower before he could finish the job. That would have been a signal for the young Swede to bail but instead he doubled-down, using Monkey King’s tree leaping prowess to compound his error and die within the first minute of the match.
King of the Kill is a show match, not a true competitive event, and Zai was giving the crowd exactly the kind of excitement they wanted. Sponsored by Betway, an online gambling company, the point of the King of the Hill event is to get people to lighten their pockets by placing bet on some of the best teams in competitive Dota 2. Onyx is a new team stacked with experienced talent who won the North America regional qualifiers for Valve’s Kiev Major, a tournament that boasts a total prize pool of $3 million.
Zai’s Evil Geniuses, who have yet to be unseated from Betway’s gambling series, are veterans of the English-speaking continent and fan favorites, with several millions in prize winnings between them. The $4,000 prize for the show match’s winning team, a respectable purse for most average fighting game events like those in Street Fighter V or Smash Bros., is hardly worth mentioning in this context, as evidenced by Zai’s failed showboating (while Evil Geniuses won the series 3-0, Zai finished that match with a record of 8 kills, 4 assists, and a whopping 20 deaths).
You can watch the entire Betway Arena three game series here.