How esports helped a snooker player go pro

An Asian snooker player wearing a smart black shirt and waistcoat with a velvety red back leans over the green baize of a snooker table. He's concentrating hard as he holds a cue in one hand and a rest with his other. A yellow, brown and green ball can be seen on the table.
Image caption,Ishpreet Singh Chadha swapped first-person shooters for top-level snooker

By Luke Wolstenholme

BBC Asian Network

Going from the the top of the esports world to the elite tier of pro snooker might not seem like the easiest career move.

But Ishpreet Singh Chadha isn’t afraid to challenge himself.

The 27-year-old from India had always wanted to be a top snooker player. But a leg injury in 2017 left him unable to compete.

So he turned back to his other great love – video games.

He started playing Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, a massively popular team-based first-person shooter.

“I got really good,” Ishpreet tells BBC Asian Network. “I was the best player in my country for two years.”

He signed a contract with Entity eSports – which describes itself as India’s number one competitive gaming organisation.

Counter-Strike is regularly played in worldwide competitions that attract large audiences, and it gave Ishpreet a taste of what it’s like to play in front of spectators.

“We had at least 400 to 500 people watching us live,” he says. “Thousands on the internet as well, a lot of screaming and hype when you’re playing.

“The adrenaline… it was totally different. I loved it.”

A young Asian man with a bushy beard, glasses holds a large golden trophy. He's wearing a patka - a religious head covering worn by Sikh men. It sits tight on the head and has a topknot that sits on the crown of the skull. The trophy has elaborate handles on either side and blue and white ribbons dangling off them. The man's smiling, and wears a red t-shirt with a white tiger face design on it. The picture is cut in half diagonally, and underneath the face of a male is visible.
Image caption,Ishpreet won trophies with his esports team – and got a taste of live competitions in the process

But when Covid struck and his contract with Entity ended, Ishpreet went back to snooker again.

He thought the pandemic would have interrupted practice for many players, and saw a chance to build up his own skills.

“I thought everybody would be on a similar level again because nobody touched a cue,” he says.

“So I thought that was my chance to get better than them, work harder than before.”

It paid off.

Ishpreet won the Indian national championships last year and is playing in the European Masters – the first main event of the season – in Germany this week.

It’s the biggest tournament he’s played in so far and says his experience of gaming played a big part.

“I can handle pressure much better,” he says.

“When we played Counter-Strike, we used to play for the team first, and then for yourself.

“You can’t let four other people down. You also play in front of big crowds, so I think I can handle pressure a little bit better and my temperament has improved too.

“Gaming helped me a lot in life.”

A smartly dressed young Asian man stands with his arm around a woman - his mum - in front of a background with the faces of famous snooker players on it. He wears a black shirt and waistcoat - the waistcoat has the orange, white and green Indian flag embroidered on the left breast. His mum's long hair is tied back, and she's wearing a leopard print top. They're both smiling, and the young man's free hand cradles a glass, diamond-shaped award of some sort.
Image caption,Ishpreet says his mum Bobby is the most important person in his life

After his success back home, Ishpreet decided to move to the UK – a country he’d never visited – to join the pro snooker tour this year.

He’s based in Sheffield – home of World Championships venue The Crucible – and is one of only two Indian players on the circuit.

And he says living in the sport’s spiritual home has boosted his game.

“People actually respect snooker in the UK,” he says. “It’s not considered a proper sport in India, like cricket is. Not many people actually know what snooker is.”

And it’s allowed him to experience a different kind of pressure.

“I’m leaving myself with no choice but to play snooker,” he says.

“Not having a backup is something people should try at least once in their life. When your back’s against the wall it’s a time where you can learn so much about yourself.”

Ishpreet might be good at adapting to new challenges and dealing with new pressures, but he does admit there’s another secret to his success – his mum Bobby.

He says she’s the most important person in his life.

“My mum’s a single parent,” he says.

“Since I was 10, it was only me and her. She’s never forced me to do anything, but always said whatever you do, you should do it with full passion and give it your best shot.”

The two are so close that she’s moved to the UK with him.

“She sacrificed a lot for me to be here,” http://kolechai.com says Ishpreet.

“We’ve gone through a lot so nothing can shake my mind at the moment because I’m in a very happy place right now.

“You know, with this opportunity, I’ll either win or I’ll learn. There’s no losing.”

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