Chicagoan Solomon Smith spent quarantine becoming a pro gamer

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Just two years after he decided to become a professional gamer, Solomon Smith IV made it to the world stage: the 2022 “Call of Duty” Mobile World Championship.

In June 2020, when everyone was tuning into Zoom sessions as the pandemic gained traction, Smith was picking up his mobile device and getting serious about becoming a professional gamer.

“I did a semester at Chicago State University after graduating high school, but I didn’t have so much motivating me toward school at the time,” he said. “I really wanted to focus on gaming for a while.”

Smith has since competed in a plethora of tournaments. On Dec. 18, his team, Luminosity Gaming, took second place at the world championship in Raleigh, North Carolina, winning prize money totaling $280,000. After he puts some of his winnings in savings, Smith is looking to buy his first car, but he still needs to get his driver’s license.

For Smith, aka Solo, “Call of Duty” always drew his interest, even in his childhood years.

“I grew up watching other ‘Call of Duty’ games being played by other streamers and YouTubers and when I had the opportunity and found the mobile game was coming out, I was like, I’ll give it a shot,” said the 19-year-old Humboldt Park resident. “I definitely liked watching it growing up, and it made a lasting impression, so I was inclined to play it. I think a lot of people have been playing the game a lot longer than me because I didn’t take the game as seriously as some until later on. But I consider myself a pretty good player relative to how much time I played.”

Smith, the son of artist, poet and organizer Leslé Honoré and the brother of artist Sage Smith, started playing video games with his uncle around the age of 9, according to his mom. (His favorite game is “Lego Star Wars”.

Smith’s playing prowess with the first-person shooter game in the 2021 world competition amazed others. Former fellow competitor Carlos Butalid, aka Image, recalls that Smith’s skill was so impressive, he recruited Smith when he was forming the five-member, Toronto-based Luminosity team.

“Solomon’s team beat us in the North American regional stage and what was quite impressive was Solomon was the key factor to their team winning,” said Butalid, Luminosity’s head coach. “It shocked us because we were a super team … and we got taken down by a team that only had one superstar and that superstar was not even known. He absolutely came out guns blazing and smoked us.”

Solomon Smith IV puts on his headphones before gaming.

For someone who wasn’t doing much gaming before the pandemic, Smith’s aggressive style of playing has given him a bit of notoriety. Although he’s not getting stopped on the street for autographs, the Luminosity name is already recognizable after one year of competition.

“The amount of time I play the game is daily, but it fluctuates per day,” Smith said. “Sometimes you’re playing a really stupid long session — 10 hours — and other days it’s four hours, which is the average.”

Smith estimates he has put in 200 days of practice and training since he picked up his phone or iPad to play “Call of Duty: Mobile” professionally. Now, he’s a salaried employee being paid once a month.

Smith plans on doing more content creation and broadening his streaming reach beyond what he does on the Trovo video game streaming platform. He’s working on getting instructional videos up on his YouTube channel and focusing on bringing home a championship victory before eventually heading back to college to get his bachelor’s. He’s not sure if his college career and gaming will intersect, but at the moment he’s focused on winning first place in the world championships. If it takes a few more years for college to enter the picture, then so be it.

“Our jobs as parents is to help our kids find their path, not ours,” Honoré said. “We parents might not know gaming, but we know life. And that wisdom will always have a place to help them, but they won’t be able to access it if we can’t find a way to respect their passions too.”

Smith was the sole Black person competing among 16 teams in the 2022 international championship. But given the easy accessibility of the game — the full game can be played without paying any money — he knows other Black players are trying to compete on this scale.

Solomon Smith IV, 19, has his hair combed by his sister Sage Smith before gaming on Dec. 22, 2022.

“As far as playing the game and getting good at it, anybody can do it,” Smith said. “I feel like video games is not a thing that is really pushed too strongly in the Black community. … Competitively, I don’t think it’s the biggest thing being looked at and as an option … to make money. It’s a pretty risky option.”

Smith’s advice to those wanting to enter the professional gaming world? Play as much as you physically can and try to be better each day than you were yesterday. That’s something Smith lives and breathes.

“It’s definitely a naturally progressive thing, so your efforts do pay off,” he said. “If you lock in, play a lot and try your best to become better, there definitely will be dividends.”

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