- Diego Palma, aka Arkhram, is a 17-year-old professional gamer based in Sacramento, California.
- Since going pro in 2019, he’s won more than $646,000 from Fortnite competitions.
- He says he can spend up to 10 hours each day reviewing old games and practicing with fellow pro players.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
I was 4 years old when my papá first introduced me to my two loves, soccer and gaming.
When I wasn’t running around on the soccer field, I’d sit on his lap for hours at a time, playing World of Warcraft and completing quests together.
By the time I turned five, at bedtime, he’d read me horror fiction stories by H.P. Lovecraft that took place in a fictional Massachusetts town known as Arkham, which became the inspiration behind my screen name.
As I grew up, I kept playing soccer, eventually reaching the varsity level. During my sophomore year of high school in 2017, I tore my meniscus while playing and had to have surgery. The doctors said I couldn’t play for at least a year.
While recovering from my injury, I started getting into gaming.
I wanted a PC like the gamers so I wound up taking a part-time job as a soccer referee at little kids’ matches on weekends. When I saved up enough money, I bought computer parts and built my own PC with the help of my stepfather, Chris.
That summer, Fortnite was released and I started playing it a lot. My goal initially was to just play better than all of my friends – until I heard about the 2018 Fortnite Royale tournament at the Oakland Esports Arena.
I told my parents I didn’t only want to compete, but I planned to win.
At first, my papá was hesitant, but eventually he agreed to take me. According to him, he figured he’d shell out the $10 entry fee and I’d get eliminated quickly and we could leave.
Instead, I ended up coming in second place for North America in the open competition. But since I was only 13 and at the time, you needed to be 14 years old to qualify, I couldn’t progress any further. I ended up taking home $500 worth of prizes – but more importantly, one of the organizers told my father I was playing at such a high level I could probably go pro.
That year I started playing in a league where thousands of other players all competed through playing scrims, where it took months trying my best to work my way up the ranks to eventually make it into the pro discord.
In 2019, at the age of 14 when I became eligible to play professionally, I signed with 100 Thieves, a California-based pro-gaming organization which is still kind of surreal to me. Being part of the 100 Thieves team means representing the organization in any branding events they have, like a photoshoot or promotional video. I also have to stream a certain number of hours every month.
Shortly after going pro, I had my first big career win when I took home fifth place in the Fortnite World Cup, July 17, 2019. It was an amazing experience because we played inside a huge stadium with a massive crowd. My partner at the time, Brendan Falconer, and I won a combined $900,000.
Since going pro two years ago, I’ve won over $646,000 competing.
I’ve also earned additional money through my corporate sponsorships. People often ask what I do with all my winnings but besides upgrading my PC from time to time, I don’t really spend any of it. I’m not flashy and I don’t need much. I want to ensure I plan for my future. My papá created a custodial brokerage account to invest my money in the market and I also have a financial planner for a retirement plan.
Before winning the World Cup my identity was largely hidden since school was already out for the summer when I signed with 100 Thieves. Things were different when I started a new school in the fall. Suddenly because of my World Cup win, everyone knew who I was and the attention was overwhelming. I couldn’t even go to the bathroom without a bunch of kids following me in to ask me questions. I was stressed and miserable.
I told my parents I wanted to transition to an online school, I even said I’d pay for it with my earnings. My papá and my stepmom along with my three siblings understood how badly I wanted to go remote because they saw firsthand how unhappy I was.
At first, my mamita resisted the idea because she was concerned about how it might affect my future chances in college and higher education. It was a difficult time for my family because I had to take a stand and advocate for myself. Finally, after many discussions, it all worked out, and together we decided online school would be the best alternative for me and it has been. I’m glad because my family is the most important thing in the world to me.
Attending online school has given me a lot more flexibility in terms of my assignments and my schedule so I can continue to pursue gaming and still graduate high school this year.
Being an esports gamer is like playing any other sport in that a lot of discipline is required.
I take practice very seriously and average about 10 hours playing Fortnite daily.
The game saves everything, so it’s similar to when pro athletes watch the tape to see their performance and review their mistakes. A lot of what we do doesn’t come naturally. We have to prepare, train, analyze, and develop strategies and when you play on a team like I do, you have to collaborate.
I play in a trio for 100 Thieves along with fellow players Rehx and Epik Whale. I’m the captain of the team. No one ever officially made me the captain, it just sort of happened because I’m a very strategic thinker and a planner so I often guide the team into the best spot. I’m pretty calm, which is important when you are directing people and strategizing together.
The pandemic has stopped all live events, which I do miss. I got to fly to places like New York City and Sweden to compete and that was a lot of fun.
When I’m not doing homework or practicing for a competition, I relax by watching horror movies, kicking around the soccer ball, and playing other video games like Escape from Tarkoff, because at the end of the day, I’m still a teenager.
My advice to anyone looking to get into pro-gaming is to start with the basics.
Practice aiming and perfecting mechanics. Also, take the time to watch videos of pros playing for strategies. My brother Pablo is 16 and wants to go pro like me. The biggest tip I give him is to always make sure to review his old games so he can learn from his mistakes. That’s the most important thing you can do if you want to improve.
As for future plans, my parents want me to continue my education at some point after I graduate high school but for right now, my focus is on being the best player I can be and winning more tournaments.