18-Year-Old StarCraft Champion Riccardo “Reynor” Romiti on Continuing an Esports Legacy – The Esports Observer

18-Year-Old StarCraft Champion Riccardo “Reynor” Romiti on Continuing an Esports Legacy – The Esports Observer

While gaming continues to grow as part of the cultural zeitgeist, there are still many aspiring esports pros struggling with the generational divide that separates them from their parents. Those who grew up before the age of smartphones and online streaming often struggle with the notion that dedicating oneself to improving at a video game can offer any value. Esports is filled with stories of kids who had to battle or abandon their families in order to pursue their dreams.

That is not this story.

Riccardo “Reynor” Romiti grew up in a household that embraced gaming. He grew up watching his father play video games. Where many parents would have blanched at the very notion of their young child playing a game like Diablo II, Romiti recalls fondly the time he spent as a youth slaughtering the agents of Hell alongside his dad.

His younger days were spent playing the games his father had acquired, but at age eight it was time for Romiti to select a game of his own to play. As a holiday gift, he was taken to the store to select a game, and in that moment one of the only players outside of South Korea to ever win a major StarCraft II tournament was born.

The future champion came to StarCraft II almost by chance. Rather than recalling a fondness for strategy games, or the space fantasy universe, Romiti remembers that the box itself stood out among the other options. He liked the design of the packaging, and so chose it to be his present.

The young prodigy wasted no time immersing himself in the game. By age 12, Romiti had reached the rank of Grandmaster – the highest in-game ranking a player can achieve. 

Romiti had dabbled in other games, but none had dug their hooks into him like this one. “There was something different in StarCraft,” he told The Esports Observer, “I can’t really explain it. Maybe it was because everyone kept telling me I was too young to play the game, this is one of the hardest games out there.”

At that point, he determined he would try to “make something of this,” and by 14 he had made his mark on the professional StarCraft world, reaching the Top 8 at DreamHack Valencia. With this impressive result, he was ready to pursue the path to becoming a professional player.

While many professional esports competitors are in their teens, StarCraft is a game with a longer legacy than most active titles today. Its top competitors are mostly veterans in their 20s, and the very top of the game is composed almost entirely of South Korean players. At 14, Romiti entered a world where he was not only often one of the youngest in the room, but encountered many people from a wholly different culture and language.

Where many might have been intimidated to enter this new world, Romiti remembers this time with a shrug. His talent had made these people his peers. “I made friends with 20-year-olds, 30-year-olds, Koreans, it didn’t matter. We were all just friends and competing against each other. That said, Romiti did express an appreciation for the recent rise of another young StarCraft competitor, Team Liquid’s Clément “Clem” Desplanches, which has given him a younger peer to talk to.

At 16, Romiti had a particularly strong run in a tournament that caught the eye of energy drink company Red Bull. The brand sponsors a wide range of esports competitors across a variety of games, and wanted to add the young rising star of StarCraft to its stable. 

Representatives from Red Bull Italy traveled to Romiti’s home and met with him and his father, still there by his side, to negotiate the deal. He was now a sponsored player – a pro in every sense of the word. Continuing on in his success, he would eventually also draw the attention of Italian esports organization Qlash, becoming a member of an official esports team.

Romiti recognizes that being a professional means more than just winning. While the majority of his time is still spent practicing and preparing for the next tournament, he begrudgingly recognizes the importance of growing his personal brand through social media.

“I always had the thought that if people want to know me it was because I was winning, not because I was posting good pictures, but I had to change that. It’s not really my style to be an influencer, just posting pictures and stories on [Instagram] every day. But…you have to do it, really, it’s not an option.”

Throughout his journey, Romiti’s parents have remained supportive, but much of the responsibility of managing his career falls on his own shoulders. “My parents are very good, but they don’t know English very well, so when it comes to English conversations I kind of have to handle it myself, but with Italian stuff they’re always there to help.”

This year, Romiti made history by becoming the first player outside of Korea to win the Intel Extreme Masters Katowice – one of the largest annual StarCraft tournaments. Anyone familiar with esports will understand the dominance that South Korea holds over most games its players choose to take seriously, but StarCraft is special even among those titles. The game has been overwhelmingly dominated by South Korea since its inception. Even in 2021, so long after the game’s release, a tournament held in Europe had six Korean players in the Top 8, with only Romiti and his young friend Clem there to challenge the status quo.

Romiti can’t help but smile as he recalls the feeling of his historic win, standing atop players who were his inspiration back when he was just a 12-year-old Grandmaster. 

“It’s so sick, honestly. I started when I was eight and was watching Twitch streams…I saw all the old school guys winning and was like ‘man I want to be there.’ And eventually, I got there, it’s a dream come true.”

Romiti isn’t planning to stop playing StarCraft any time soon. He felt that perhaps the top Korean players may have underestimated the young European. Perhaps they will be better prepared to face him in the future, so he cannot get complacent. Whatever the future of his competitive career holds, Romiti intends to remain part of the esports industry.

“I would like to play in StarCraft as long as I can, and when I can’t anymore I would like to stay in esports. There’s so many things you can do. You can be a caster, a host, you can be a streamer — anything you want. There’s so many paths you can take in this world, it would be so dumb to leave esports. It’s an amazing world and I would like to stay in it.”

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