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Master of His Virtual Domain - The King of Clash

Master of His Virtual Domain NYTimes com


There was a price, however, for being the world’s premier Clasher. Part of it was measurable. To stay on top, Mr. Yao was spending at least $250 a week on the gems. By the time he had dominated the leader board for three months, he told me, he had sunk as much as $3,000 into Clash and was running out of money. He feared that he couldn’t keep up with wealthier rivals and threatened to quit.

A clanmate in Turkey, the 38-year-old son of a business magnate who plays under the name Kemal, took pity on Mr. Yao and offered to become his sponsor, buying his gems. In return, Mr. Yao kept Kemal’s account active for him when Kemal was traveling and couldn’t play. But while that stopped Mr. Yao’s financial slide, it could not arrest a deeper erosion that his clanmates couldn’t see, the gradual way in which the game was swallowing Mr. Yao’s nonvirtual existence.

To grasp the extent of Mr. Yao’s immersion in the game, you have to understand a little more about the strategy of Clash. In order to keep your trophy count high, a premier player has to avoid being attacked by other top contenders. You can do this either by staying constantly online or by the protection of a “shield” that usually lasts for 12 hours. You automatically get a shield when an attacker destroys 40 percent of your village or your town hall.

On weekends, Mr. Yao could inoculate himself against attacks by staying online. This meant ordering in meals, when he ate at all, and taking the iPad with him into the bathroom. But come Monday, he needed a shield so he could go to work. So he would rise before dawn and spend hours trying to get the game’s server to pit him against another elite player in his clan, who could then attack his village just enough to trigger a shield, which — assuming he had timed everything right — would last just long enough to get him through the workday without being attacked.

“After a while, it felt more like a job than anything else,” Mr. Yao told me. “It really took the fun out of the game.”

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