Getting paid to play video games might not fit traditional notions of a career, but there’s a lot more to being a professional esports gamer than meets the eye. With the industry on the brink of becoming an international phenomenon, what does it mean to be a professional esports player?
Esports brought in over $900 million in revenue in 2018, and it is set to grow exponentially this year – with some figures predicting it will become a billion-dollar industry during 2019. The industry is seeing backing from high profile figures, often from the world of traditional sports, but also from tech industry investors such as the entrepreneur Tej Kohli. Esports team Vitality, based in France, recently received a €20 million investment from Mr Kohli’s investment arm Rewired GG, and they’re far from alone – increasingly, it is the talent at the heart of esports, the players themselves, who are being feted for their unique set of skills.
As esports becomes a more lucrative industry, the stakes are increasing and there is more demand for esports pro-gamers. While the majority of gamers will start off in amateur or grassroots tournaments, the very best now have options to successfully monetise their talents, due to the growing professionalisation of the industry.
Currently, only a small number of esports players are able to reach this level – the industry is still growing, and is extremely competitive. Similarly, the training regimes and stress of tournaments are physically and mentally demanding. It is often a short-lived career, even compared to most traditional sports. The Professional Footballer’s Association lists the average age of retirement for a football player as 35 – most professional esports players have retired by their early-mid 20s, with some experiencing ‘player burnout’.
This is because pro-gamers will often work up to 14 hours a day, six days a week, according to insiders. Being able to play at an international standard requires a dedicated practice and training program, plus an in-depth, exhaustive knowledge of the games being played. On top of this, the profession still carries the risk of physical injury and damage as well – most notably carpal tunnel syndrome, and repetitive strain injuries.
Some teams have hired psychologists to assist with preventing burnout, as well as nutritionists and other healthcare professionals to help keep the players in the best physical and mental condition.
It’s a profession for only the most dedicated, passionate gamers – but the rewards are considerable. In 2018, the highest earning individual player, Jesse Vainikka, made $2,290,631.60, while the highest earning team, Team Liquid, made $24,448,847. In South Korea, considered by many observers to be the spiritual home of esports, players are rumoured to be earning significantly more that the star players of the country’s national football team. The allure is understandable – despite the mental and physical stress, the world of professional esports can offer huge financial incentives and the chance to travel the world at a young age, all while pursuing your favourite pastime.
What the future holds for professional esports players will now depend upon the direction of travel within the industry itself. Spiralling revenues and growing professionalisation will continue to make stars of players, but new technologies are also making it easier for amateur players to monetise tournaments at the grassroots level. With new avenues opening up, a career in esports may soon be as common a dream for young people as competing at the Olympics, or lifting the World Cup.