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Quinindé: A canton of Ecuador in the Esmeraldas Province, located in the coastal region not far from Ecuador’s breathtaking mountains and jungles. For many, this city is a dream vacation spot. For natives, it’s a place of constant adaptability and survival, filled with college students, families and hard workers chasing their dreams and trying to make a living. For 21-year-old Carlos “CarlosTD” Delgado, Quinindé is where he began pursuing his esports dreams with the support of loving family and friends. Despite a crippling condition and financial strain, the Free Fire player is on the path to being one of the most exceptional pros in the game.

“I am 21 years old and I am from Quinindé, proudly Ecuadorian!” CarlosTD exclaimed.

Like many Ecuadorians, his pride stems from the vibrant everyday life in the South American country. Regardless of poverty, natives appreciate Ecuador’s resources, exotic animals, food, nature, and architecture. Still, the poverty rate for Quinindé, in particular, is 42% according to the World Bank Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene Poverty Diagnostic Initiative. Due to low income for many families, those who play video games to escape everyday duties, such as school work or chores, often use outdated PC’s, phones and consoles. CarlosTD wasn’t much different growing up.

Free to compete

CarlosTD in Singapore. | Provided by CarlosTD

As a college student, CarlosTD spent time at home while studying Agricultural Engineering at the Technical University of Manabí for a better future. The brightly-colored buildings on campus offered a strong 10-semester program for him, and as a student in one of Ecuador’s top universities, his studies looked promising. Quinindé’s agriculture is also a large part of its economic development, so there was a good chance for him to earn a living in that field.

Aside from studying, CarlosTD also had some free time to dedicate to his hobbies. But soon enough, CarlosTD began his esports career without even meaning to.

“I knew about Free Fire when I started college,” he said. “I remember how I still didn’t have access to a PC to play Dota 2 at that time, so I chose to find some other game to entertain myself.”

He put his hopes of playing Dota 2 on hold, but he happened to stumble upon a more accessible game in the meantime: Garena Free Fire. He recalled he had no friends to play with, though, so he gave up on the game for a while until he reconnected with high school friends who also happened to play.

“When I began playing, I remember that I started with an old Samsung Galaxy S5 Mini phone,” CarlosTD said, “I did not have access to any device other than my phone. These were difficult times for me, but I really wanted to keep playing because all my friends told me I had a lot of potential to be a good player.”

Free Fire’s accessibility to all kinds of people with varying backgrounds is a large part of why the game is so successful today. Similar to PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds: Mobile (PUBG:Mobile), the game allows anyone with a smartphone to experience its graphics, missions and battles without needing to use a computer. But unlike PUBG:Mobile, Free Fire doesn’t require the use of a high end phone in order to translate its visuals properly.

It’s general graphics model is designed to meet the specifications of low-end smartphones, allowing anyone, especially those in economically impacted countries, to play the game. All a player needs is decent WiFi connection and the “ganas” to get better at the game. CarlosTD took advantage of both and began taking the game seriously.

“I have always been a person dedicated to the vocation,” CarlosTD said. “Once I realized that there was the possibility of growth, I made an effort every day practicing even more than 8 hours a day.”

The help of his family and friends

CarlosTD and his mother
CarlosTD, as a child, with his mother. | Provided by CarlosTD

Having access to a phone was only half the battle in training to be a pro player, though. CarlosTD also attributed his success to the support of his friends and family.

“My Mama Lucia, my Brother Joao and my Cousins, David and Cristhian supported me unconditionally from the bottom,” CarlosTD said. “My Mother, in what little she had at that time, supported me to buy better devices to play off of.”

Although CarlosTD’s family struggled financially, they made sure he chased his dreams. His friends practiced with him at night while his mother pushed him toward success during the day. Little did they know he would become one of the most-recognized pro players in Ecuador.

Yet for his mother, Lucia Hoyos, her main concern was keeping him grounded and dedicated to his studies. She said she wanted a solid future for her son and made sure he made the right choices when it came to his education. Before becoming a pro, getting him to focus on his studies instead of the game was a “battle,” but overtime, Hoyos came to acknowledge his skills, leading her to feel very proud of his achievements.

“For me, it has not been very difficult to keep him concentrated on his studies,” she said. “My son and I have always had very good communication, which I think has helped a lot in that he is clear about what he wants in his life and what is best for him. The good thing is that he consults with me for everything, and I guide him so that together we can make the best decisions.”

CarlosTD isn’t the only member of his family with esports aspirations, though. His older brother, Joao Delgado, said he shares the same dreams. Seeing his brother succeed has only made him proud.

“I really admire his tenacity and commitment that he has shown in each one of the national and international tournaments, as well as his dedication as a pro player in Free Fire,” Joao Delgado said. “He has an immense pride that represents his country. Us, as a family, have been supporting him in every second of his history as a player.”

The rise and fall

Carlos TD (second from the left) and the rest of Team Tze, while he was a temporary stand-in. | Photo provided by CarlosTD

Over time, CarlosTD eventually moved out of his childhood home and could afford both better WiFi connection and phones, allowing him a chance to compete in small tournaments. That eventually grew into opportunities to participate in major tournaments.

In 2019, he competed in and won first place at his first major competition, the Free Fire League Latinoamerica Norte, only to constantly earn top placements at subsequent majors. In 2020, he began playing for Arctic Gaming México and then moved on to Ignis Gaming. Currently, he’s part of the active roster of Ignis Gaming, though he had recently participated in the Free Fire World Series 2021 Singapore alongside Team Aze as a temporary stand-in.

Everything seemed perfect for CarlosTD. While he wasn’t earning much, he could help financially support his family back home. His stream began kicking off and his fanbase grew. The trophies stacked one on top of the other, and it seemed he had made it. He said he was grateful to experience this feeling of accomplishment in esports, something he never imagined would have happened so soon.

But just when CarlosTD reached the highest point of his career so far, the unexpected struck.

On February 20, CarlosTD let his Instagram followers know he was not feeling well. He woke up one morning with intense pain in his wrist and hands and wasn’t sure of the the cause. That week, he went to the doctor to see what was wrong, and they suggested Carpal Tunnel Syndrome as the source of his pain. A good amount of rest should have helped the symptoms, CarlosTD said his doctors told him, so he did just that.

“I know I’ll get better,” he assured his fans. “For now, I won’t play until Wednesday, but I’ll come back stronger than ever.”

Unfortunately, CarlostTD said the condition continued, and the trophy-winning player endured some of the worst pains he’s ever had. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome suddenly took over his life, and his performance went downhill from there. CarlosTD said it was a scary time for him, as he wasn’t sure what was going to happen next, or how to even recover.

“When I was diagnosed with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, it was something that left me unmotivated,” he said. “I was at my best level in the League, then my performance dropped 70% due to pain.”

Due to his disability, CarlosTD couldn’t play at his best in the recent Free Fire World Series Finals. Thinking this situation was only temporary, CarlosTD said he figured he’d get better in time for future competitions. But soon enough, he started to experience painful new symptoms. Unable to get the pain to stop, he went to a specialist to get a second opinion.

After an examination, he was also diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis in his hands, which CarlosTD said his doctors suspect caused his Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in the first place. Symptoms of the chronic disease include inflammation, stiffness and acute joint pain that makes it difficult to use the affected hand. Treatment is suggested, but it’s a disease that can not be reversed — only managed with medication and therapy. For CarlosTD, he said he experienced all of the pain that came with the illness and more, making playing comfortably on a mobile phone close to impossible.

“From there, everything has been a nightmare,” he said. “The pains have been horrible and there are still nights when I feel like I can’t take it anymore. Tears win me over because It feels very unfair that I put so much effort and dedication into gaming, and all of that hard work goes away.”

Pushing past the pain

Regardless of the immense pain, CarlosTD said he is still dedicated to his career and won’t let this take over his dreams. Instead, he said he uses it as motivation to look forward to the future.

“I am hopeful that I will be able to achieve remission of the symptoms,” CarlosTD said. “I still keep my head up, and right now I’m much better with the disease and in a state of mind waiting for my return to training so I can be the same as I always was.”

Regardless of these struggles, he continues to keep a smile on his face while continuing to entertain his 24,500 YouTube subscribers. Not long after the diagnosis, CarlosTD uploaded a video where he explained his situation to his fans, stating he’s considering practicing solo until he gets better.

He also gave advice to his viewers, stating to not make the same mistakes as him. He shared that this situation was in part due to him “exploiting” his health when it came to playing professionally. In fact, CarlosTD said he cares so much about his fans that they’re one of the major reason he keeps going.

“My fans have been a fundamental piece in my growth,” CarlosTD said. “I have fans who, from the beginning, were there and still are today. Many of them are now close friends of mine. I always do my best so that they feel proud of me.”

His family is also firmly in his corner, according to Hoyos.

“It’s been very difficult [as a mother] finding out about his arthritis since he lived alone and had no one to take care of him,” Hoyos said. “So, we told him to live with us again, temporarily, so that he can have a proper diet and have proper control and care. Every day I ask God to heal him.”

As a player coming from an underprivileged background, CarlosTD proved that anyone can make it to the top with the right support. Without letting his illness get the best of him, he learned to pivot around the struggle in order to continue playing Free Fire professionally. And even though he still has a way to go on the road to recover, he can say with a smile that he’s reached milestones.

“Today I feel comfortable being where I am,” CarlosTD said. “I came from the bottom in a low profile without doing anything less to anyone. With a lot of effort and dedication, I can say that I made it.”