A leap of faith is what it takes to put yourself on the map sometimes and in the world of e-sports where countries like South Korea, the USA, Thailand, and Japan have been dominating, it may not come easy for a ‘nobody from nowhere’ to rise to an unbeatable rank.
These countries dominate the fighting game industry not only because their players have taken the leap of faith but also because they have proven themselves to be valuable enough to invest in the industry and in them. However, many small countries still do not invest in e-sports because it’s merely a form of entertainment hence discouraged or not considered valuable or significant enough to invest in. Amidst all of the challenges came a small-town boy from Pakistan named Arslan ‘Ash’ Siddique, with passion running in his veins for what most consider ‘just a game’, Tekken, and with 4 years passed by, he is now viewed as one of the best players to ever be hailed as champion of the whole scenario.
Like many teenage boys, Arslan Ash had a huge inclination towards e-sports (specifically fighting games) and used to go to a local gaming zone (referred to as ‘dabbu’ in Pakistan) in his area to play Tekken. Dabbu consists of a football table and arcade gaming with the bare minimum, not as well-equipped as most gaming zones around the world. With limited resources, Arslan set on a journey to compete in inter-town and then inter-city tournaments for Tekken, ultimately winning them all and proving to be a very good player. Considering the fighting game scene in Pakistan, many may have stopped there but not Ash, he dreamt big and so he went to Dubai for his first international tournament and won it too. However, the respect he and his skill deserved wasn’t given to him, being considered a ‘nobody from nowhere’ was not this guy’s motive. So, he found a sponsor and went to Japan for the world’s biggest fighting game tournament, EVO.
Coming from a third world with limited resources, Ash found a sponsor in his circle to go to EVO Japan in 2019, and as all fans now know it, the rest is history. But this is a history lesson for all newcomers and amateurs out there who may not know much about the Tekken champion, Ash.
Anyway, the sponsorship was easy for Ash, but the visa and travel were not. Travelling to Japan on a Pakistani passport through a connecting flight is not as smooth as it sounds, which is exactly what happened with Ash. His initial flight did not pan out, so he got another one which he was not allowed to board as he did not have a visa for South Korea (connecting flight to his final destination) then after pleading with the airport officials; the solution was a direct flight to Tokyo from the transit country. Although it was a solution, it cost Ash his time and motivation, he reached the venue sleepless and hungry just when his pools were about to begin. Ash used all his might that day to make sure he put himself and his country on the map of e-sports and it was the day when Pakistan dominated, all thanks to Ash.
Back then, the countries that majorly dominated the fighting game industry were South Korea, Japan, the USA, Thailand, and multiple European countries, but the guy who dominated everyone in Tekken at the time was Bae Jae-min, commonly known as ‘Knee’. But because Ash was a ‘nobody from nowhere’, his matches were not even being streamed, but as time passed by in the tournament, people started to take notice of him, and his matches started getting the limelight. This was the first time someone from Pakistan was on such a big platform in the fighting game industry and on this first time, Ash used his sleeplessness and hunger of the past 2 days to put his feelings in check instead of letting him down. He did not just win EVO Japan in 2019, later that year Ash also won EVO in Vegas; becoming the only player to win both championships in the same year, and that too in the first go and proving himself to be unbeatable.
For Arslan Ash, it may just be a journey but for the country Pakistan, it was a revolution in the e-sports industry. He was just a small-town boy from a country that didn’t have any international representation in e-sports, but he persevered and showed the world that the fighting game scenario in Pakistan is filled with hidden talent. Many people from Pakistan have spent thousands of hours on different fighting games like Tekken, Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Call Of Duty, Counter-Strike and more but they skew away from it due to it not being a career their families would want them to pursue or it being a form of entertainment only for them. Ash brought a paradigm shift and created a pathway for so many people like him from Pakistan. He did not just stop at winning tournaments; he even began to build his portfolio by introducing his friends such as Atif Butt in the fighting game industry whom he claimed to be a better Tekken player than him. Ash did all of this and ultimately proved that Pakistan produces some of the best fighting game players in the world.
Arslan Ash once said, “Every day needs to be a learning experience if you want to be the best” and that’s what he lives by to this day as well. Ash later started a boot camp called ‘Ashes Gaming’ to recruit, sponsor people, and build an e-sports team from Pakistan. This is the first-ever platform in the country for e-sports and all because of a small-town boy who had the fire in him to persevere and pull through. Ash is the first Red Bull athlete from Pakistan and the first to be nominated in the Esports Awards in 2023. With all this, Ash has awakened an industry in his home country and might even make a gaming team that will represent Pakistan on different international e-sports platforms.
With the amount of talent, Arslan Ash’s contribution to changing how Pakistanis view e-sports now looks to one day put them in all sectors of the gaming industry and in the highest bracket of e-sports.