Balancing a professional life and an esports career at the same time is never really an easy thing to achieve.
However, for LevelZero Esports’ Abhiroop “LionHeart” Verma, it’s all part of the daily grind that comes to him as easily as Ganondorf’s hardest-to-execute combos.
In an exclusive conversation with Sportskeeda Esports’ Abhishek Mallick, India’s best Smash Bros. Ultimate pro, opened up about his struggles and what inspired him to reach the very top of the Smash food chain in the region.
Here is an excerpt of the conversation.
Q. Abhiroop, can we kick things off by having you tell our readers a bit about yourself? What’s life like outside the Super Smash Bros. Ultimate server?
Abhiroop: I am a Computer Engineer. Right now, I am pursuing my MBA. I also have a job, so life is quite normal and busy outside of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and I use it as my escape.
Q. Are there any other career options you are looking into apart from focusing all of your time and energy on being an esports athlete?
Abhiroop: I am quite interested in Business, Graphic Designing, and Digital Marketing in general. That’s definitely a career option I am looking into.
Q. Growing up in Bhopal, can you talk us through some of the fondest memories you have had with video games? What was the first game you ever played, and which title made you realize that esports is something you want to seek a career in?
Abhiroop: My fondest gaming memory is having a GameBoy Advance, which was gifted to me by my maternal uncle when I was eight years old. I would always come home from school and without even eating anything, the first thing I used to do was play on it for an hour. That was the gaming time allowed by my mother for a day.
The first game I ever played was Pokemon FireRed. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is definitely the title that made me realize that esports is a career option.
Q. What’s the atmosphere like back at home? Are your parents supportive of your career choice?
Abhiroop: The atmosphere back at home is quite conducive to whatever I choose to do. Yes, my parents are okay with any career choice I make as long as it makes me happy.
Q. You are undoubtedly one of, if not the best Super Smash Bros. player in the nation. What about the game attracted you to the extent that you are willing to invest so much time and sweat in it?
Abhiroop: The first and foremost thing is that the game is incredibly fun to play and has so many different Nintendo characters, all coming together in this amazing & fluid fighting game.
The game is very dynamic, and you do not have to memorize any combos like other fighting games. You can go with the flow and create your own creative combos while playing.
This allows for very exciting plays in unexpected situations and forces players to think of a variety of options depending on the situation.
Q. Apart from Smash Bros., are there any other 2D or 3D fighters that you really enjoy?
Abhiroop: Kirby Fighters 2 is another fighting game I enjoy. It’s also made by Nintendo. That game has very good online functionality, and it’s also fun and relaxing to play.
Q. Your IGN is “LionHeart,” is there a special anecdote behind using that name?
Abhiroop: Lionheart is the epithet of a Fire Emblem game character that I liked, and it sounded very cool and unique to me, so I chose to go with it as my IGN.
Q. You are known for playing Ganondorf, who is the antagonist from The Legend of Zelda series. He is often criticized for boasting terrible mobility even though he possesses one of the best damage output in the game. Is there a reason why you choose him as your primary character of choice?
Abhiroop: Ganondorf is my favorite Smash Bros. character. It’s true that he has terrible mobility but his biggest strength is how he can take lives in two-to-three hits if I read my opponent correctly and predict their movements preemptively.
That is very exciting to me because people do not expect such a bad character to do well. I also play other characters like Bowser & Pokemon Trainer, but Ganondorf will always be my favorite character.
Q. Which Super Smash Bros. Ultimate character do you find the hardest to play against?
Abhiroop:. I think Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is more dependent on Player v Player matchups rather than character v character matchups. That’s the beauty of Smash Ultimate, that almost all characters are viable to play. Still, I find Pikachu to be the hardest matchup for all of the characters that I play.
Q. What has been the hardest matchup so far in your professional career?
Abhiroop: The hardest matchup in my career was against Zaki’s "Ike," an Australian player. I got to learn many things by playing that very hard matchup since he could abuse Ganondorf’s weaknesses more consistently than any other player I had played against before.
This is also what led me to explore characters other than Ganondorf, like Bowser and Pokemon Trainer, who are objectively better characters in terms of the tier list.
Q. What have been some of your fondest esports memories so far?
Abhiroop: My fondest esports memory was to represent India in the South East Asia Major (SEAM2019) in 2019 that took place in Singapore.
Another fond memory was winning ILG Cup Season 3 in 2020 in a dominant fashion and also winning two qualifiers that were part of its circuit before finally winning the Finale without losing a single set in the entire circuit.
Q. You and Rohit "Botman" Adapa seem to have this rivalry going on. Can you shed some light on the special relationship that you two share?
Abhiroop: Rohit is one of the best smash players in India, and we almost always meet in Grand Finals of most tournaments. Rohit was the first person I spoke to as I entered my first tournament venue.
I had no idea that the first person I spoke to would be my toughest rival and would push me to my limits.
Our relationship as friends and as rivals has always been to push each other to evolve slowly as a person and as players. I really admire his passion for this game and it really inspires me. He is a very hard-working person and a very talented artist as well.
Q. What are your thoughts on the current Indian FGC scene? How far do you see it developing in the next couple of years?
Abhiroop: The scene is still in its growing phase, and there is just so much potential in the Indian FGC. There are so many upcoming players that are working hard to improve every single day. The future for FGC looks very bright and I hope that our Indian scene becomes a very big and dominant scene internationally.
Q. Riot Games is well on its way to making its own League of Legends-based 2D fighting game. Is that something you are personally looking forward to?
Abhiroop: Yes, I will definitely give it a try. I am looking forward to seeing how it implements its mechanics in a fighting game setting and how it will play out.
Q. Any words of wisdom you can share with up-and-coming fighting games esports athletes who are trying to make a name for themselves in the scene?
Abhiroop: My advice would be to keep practicing and have patience even when you lose. Defeat can teach you a great deal and you just cannot get better until you lose to someone (players) better than you.
That gives you the motivation to improve and win against that player(s). Use that energy productively to improve and gradually become better everyday as a human being and as a player