Alaric Choo and Ian Ang are the co-founders of Secretlab, a company that makes desk chairs designed for gamers. The image they present of themselves – charismatic, driven – is what you'd expect of any young start-up entrepreneurs. This isn’t their first career, however: both are both former StarCraft 2 pros.
“It was Starcraft 2 that I ended up playing semi-professionally for about a year,” says Choo. “I then had to take a step back to helm a leadership-come-management position for the team that I had founded – sourcing sponsorships for my players who were performing at a much higher level and needed the support.”
While Choo dropped out of pro-level play to manage his organisation, Ang played at the top level in SEA for quite a while. He won a few region specific competitions, such as the Go4SC2 Cup, and picked up wins over some big names in the region. While he never quite reached the top levels of play, he was a known name on the SEA scene. Unfortunately he had to stop playing for a variety of reasons, but there’s one that sticks out from the rest.
“Back in 2010, I bought an ‘executive’ 400-dollar chair because I was having wrist and back problems, but it didn’t help and I ultimately quit Starcraft because they were getting worse,” says Ang. “I used it for about three years before chucking it aside and imported a gaming chair from a [now] competitor brand. When the hydraulics failed to work, I faced so much trouble to just get that replacement part as I was constantly being thrown between the importer, the overseas distributor and the HQ.”
But it wasn’t just Ang who experienced health issues because of a poor chair and computer set-up. His co-founder also had similar problem, showing that this wasn’t just a one off issue, but a much more widespread concern.
“As I started to ramp up preparation for tournaments I would spend a minimum of five to six hours daily just getting game in after game,” says Choo. “Very early on I started exhibiting early signs of carpal tunnel syndrome; aching and pain in the wrist as well as a numbness in the fingers. My chair at the time wasn’t cheap, it was about a 300-dollar ergonomic chair but even then it was unable to offer adequate back and wrist support. Tournaments back then were often held in pretty cramped conditions without adequate table space and on pretty bad chairs that had no armrests at all.”
It may seem like a bit of a strange transition to make – from pro gamer to chair manufacturer – but it actually makes a lot of sense. There's obviously an abundance of hardware manufacturers out there, so getting a PC, keyboard and mouse set-up that allows you to play at the highest level isn’t all that difficult, but when it comes to a good chair the options are few and far between and the problem was even worse in SEA.
“I realised that I could not find a chair that I was satisfied with, one that was aesthetically pleasing, comfortable to sit on for long hours, not outrageously priced and had a local warranty,” says Ang.
“I shared the frustration with Alaric, and that was when we decided to address the Singapore market’s inadequacy – by researching, designing and creating their own line of gaming chairs. We felt well-placed to address the market. We were both competitive gamers and, having spent long hours in front of the computer, we know just how painful it is to game without a chair that provides proper back support.”
Once the pair decided they would solve this issue themselves it wasn’t long before they were creating some of the best quality gaming chairs in the SEA region. Now Secret Lab offers multiple lines of chairs, from more affordable options like the Omega that provide the basics everyone should have in their chair (multiple tilt angles, rests, leather) to more luxury models like the US$490 Titan designed for taller players, and with features you didn’t even know you wanted until you tried them (hello velour head pillow).
“When you're sitting down for more than eight hours a day, you want a chair that offers comfort and body support,” says Ang. “As a gamer, you want to have maximum efficiency and get the best value out of your purchase. You’re also a seasoned problem-solver and you know you just need to quickly speak to someone who has authority in order to get your part replaced promptly when there’s a defect. We bring them to you at a competitive pricing by cutting out all the distributor and retailer expenses.”
This, in combination with the 24-hour support they offer, has proven to be very successful for the pair. While the company was initially designed to combat the lack of a good chair manufacturer in SEA, they have now expanded across the world, with Secret Lab chairs now available in most regions, including Europe and the United States. Now people from all over the world can enjoy the chairs that two former StarCraft pros designed to help alleviate their own issues. They're also working with current pro players to help design the perfect chairs for them.
“When we started out we already had an existing network of pro gamers and gaming personalities from whom we frequently received feedback,” says Choo. “From a product development perspective we are constantly getting feedback, not just from pros but from all customers, and constantly improving our product line-ups.”
Back when these two were playing professionally the options weren’t there and their health suffered because of it. Instead of just moving on, these two decided to solve the problem both for themselves and others – now there's no reason why a poor-quality chair should be a factor in pro player health.