How to Break Through as a Professional Gamer
Some Tips on What You Can Do to Further Your Esports Career
Could I be a professional gamer? Could you?
It’s a question you may not have asked yourself recently, or ever before. You may have never before considered what kind of preparation it takes to become a professional gamer, or what that’s like day to day. You may never have thought about just how seriously a professional gamer takes her craft. You may never have wondered how much a professional gamer gets paid.
You would not be alone.
Making a living playing video games is a relatively new phenomenon, although the history of competitive gaming stretches back into the 1970s, the earliest days of video games. These early competitions were typically tournaments, a far cry from the landscape of professional gaming today. Today, professional gaming, sometimes referred to as eSports, is a global market, and competitions can reward winners multiple millions of dollars.
So, what does it take to live the life of a professional gamer? What is that life like? What comes before a multi-million dollar payout?
Let’s find out.
As the old saying goes, if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. This feels particularly applicable to the world of sports. From childhood, people play sports for recreation with dreams of becoming professionals. That pool is narrowed down as people get older, and only a select few are capable enough to turn their recreation into a career. In the midst of this process, dedication, practice, and natural ability help to weed out people who can’t hang with the best of the best. And the best of the best become professionals.
Professional gaming is almost the same as any other sport.
Dedication? Most professional gamers have played levels of various games countless times until they can run through them flawlessly.
Practice? Professional gamers will practice their craft for 6-8 hours each day to maintain their abilities.
Natural ability? Reflexes, reflexes, reflexes. Gaming is fast paced, and competitive gaming means competing against the people who can react with the best decisions most quickly. To hang with that competition, quick reflexes are a necessity.
However, the process for breaking into professional gaming isn’t quite so linear as with a normal sport. There is not currently a process of childhood recreational leagues, high school teams, college scholarships and draft like for other sports. Professional gaming is more about adaptation. Games are constantly being tweaked, and the way a certain game is played can change overnight or over a period of years.
Once a person has decided they have an innate skill for games, and she decides to dedicate her life to improving those skills, she is probably ready to start making money playing video games.
The next step is to get noticed.
Professional gaming is a freelance occupation. One way to make a living playing video games is to win tournaments--but you can’t win multi-million dollar prizes until you’ve built up to that.
Gamers make most of their money through sponsorships. To gain sponsors, gamers have to attract their attention. The way to do this is relatively straightforward--do something noteworthy. Winning tournaments, consistently jumping to the top of leaderboards, and gathering a following through a streaming platform are all ways to catch the attention of a team or sponsors. Acquiring sponsors, or joining a team (typically with a corporate sponsor), are ways to take one’s gaming up to the tier of professional.
Professional gaming is a sport of players, working together and competing
Enough said? No?
A lot of people play video games. The prevalence of people who play, and play seriously, is and has been growing for years. This isn’t a surprise--technology is improving, and video games are getting better all the time. Also, as the eSports industry grows in size and popularity, it is not solely attracting spectators.
Most professional gamers now devote enough time to their craft that its essentially a full time job. In many ways, professional gamers are in a better position now than they’ve ever been. Salaries for eSports players have been rising, and some players even earn health benefits. Many earn money on the side, through their non-corporate sponsors and their streams.
But success in the industry is often limited, mostly by time.
Most professional gamers are in their early 20s, and that is not an accident. The importance of reflexes, mentioned earlier, is one indicator of why that is. Video games are about speed and reaction, and as with any other sport, the game only gets faster at the professional level. The history of success for different age groups is demonstrable--players between the ages of 21 and 25 have earned more in prize money than all other age groups combined.
Most players struggle to find success in the industry as the age. By their mid-20s, most professional gamers are considered “old.”
One way for gamers to “beat the clock,” so to speak, is by surviving away from competition, primarily through streams. But of the small, small portion of people who are able to make it as professional gamers, an even smaller portion can do this. Streaming for a living requires a combination of top level skill and the personality of an entertainer. Making a living this way can be extremely rewarding, but for a select few people who have the right combination of traits to make that happen.
This question is as much about what happens to a gamer after they stop playing as it is about where the industry will progress to next.
The most common thing for a player to do once they’re playing days are over? Leave the sport. Professional gaming is very much a career without an exit strategy. The skills are essentially limited to the industry, and the experience gained can only take you as far as you can create ways to make money from it. There are a few jobs still within the industry--analysts and commentators are mostly comprised of former gamers who know the details of the games well. The industry also requires people to organize and produce events. There are opportunities, but they are limited.
As for the industry itself? Expansion.
More and more players, a greater diversity in the games played, and an expanding global market mean that eSports could very well be the fastest growing sport in the world for years to come.
Gaming competitions are increasingly more frequent, popular, and rewarding
The question that started it all. If I could, I would be in the midst of my prime earning years at the moment, so I would need to start training quickly, and find a way to earn a living as I built up my brand until I could make a living in the industry. So...it would be difficult.
Now, could you be a professional gamer?
You now know the criteria, and the standards for the industry. If that sounds like you, I’d say pick up a controller and find out.
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