How to become a professional gamer: the truth behind the success

lee "faker" sang-hyeok

When people come to me and say, “I want to become a pro gamer and make money just by playing video games” my first thought is “Do you know what really means to become a professional gamer?”

Being one of the elite players who earn millions of dollars playing around the world sounds like paradise: no effort, no stress, just video games and fun. But is it really? Truthfully, no. Let me explain why trying to get into the esports industry can be torture.

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What it takes to get into esports

When talking about professional gamers, we’re looking at a small number of people who have managed to get noticed in the competitive gaming industry. As a matter of fact, compared to traditional sports, making a career in esports can be exhausting: aspiring pros risk going down in flames, trying to rise up among the millions of players who compete online trying to prove that their skills are superior.

You’d better be fast to become a pro gamer

If becoming a professional gamer isn’t easy, winning an esports tournament is even harder. When starting to get into competitions, pros need to focus exclusively on one title. Usually players have to train between six and twelve hours a day. It is necessary to study strategies and tactics for a single title and a single game role in order to excel in the shortest possible time, mostly because the life cycle of a video game is much shorter than any traditional sport.
Think about it: football was officialised in 1863, and since then it has been one of the main sports in many countries, but esports are quite different. League of Legends has been at the top for more than 10 years, but this doesn’t mean that another more engaging title won’t replace it in a heartbeat.

Becoming a professional gamer at an early age

One thing that’s certain is that if you want to make it like a pro one of the best ways is to enter the competitive world from an early age: becoming a pro is possible even at 10 years old (this is the case especially with Fortnite, which sees very famous young players from all over the world, like Joseph “33 Gosu” Deen, who joined Team 33 at just 8 years old), although in most tournaments the minimum age required for play and competition is 17.
It’s critical to get in on the current games as quickly as possible, before they’re replaced by new, more popular titles.This rapid turnover is one of the reasons why many players try to reach the top and make as much money as possible in a short amount of time.

How to become a professional gamer at a young age: Joseph "33 Gosu” Deen has made it, becoming one of the youngest Fortnite pro player ever
How to become a professional gamer at a young age: Joseph “33 Gosu” Deen has made it, becoming one of the youngest Fortnite pro player ever

Pro gamer salary: how much do they make?

The esports industry has been seeing exponential growth in recent years, and thus an increase in the salaries of the gamers; therefore, professionals tend to prefer fixed-term contracts usually lasting one year, and sometimes even “opportunistic” contracts. An example of the high end of pro gamer salaries is League of Legends, a MOBA for which a player in Europe earns about $ 80,000 a year. In North America in 2017, salaries were around $105,000, and then they reached about $ 320,000 during 2019.
Tournament cash prizes are the major source of player income, according to Zach Cabading’s article “What are the Average Esports Earnings for Top Competitors?” where he explains:
“For 2019, the median eSports earnings is $673. This is based on 3,433 tournaments with 19,567 participants. It doesn’t seem like a big number, but the mean eSports earnings for 2019 is much larger: $8,885.75. The numbers reveal that the top players in eSports earn much more than the rest.”

Streaming and Twitch: the happy place for professional gamers

In professional gaming, one way many players try to protect themselves over time, chasing some sort of stability in earnings, is with streaming. Through platforms and social media such as Twitch and YouTube it is possible to have a more or less regular income, and streaming provides the chance to build an alternative to an uncertain job: streaming can constitute up to 30% of the income of a pro player, compared to 25% from cash prizes. The actual salary resulting from competitions, on the other hand, is the 50% of their income.
Many players, such as Dallas Fuel team member “A_Seagull”, have stopped playing in competitive tournaments to focus solely on streaming. Decisions like these can also be dictated by the overly stressful training rhythms that hide behind an esports champion: the routine of a professional includes many hours of training, physical and breathing exercises, yoga, exercises to train the reflexes and/or specific exercises for esports player.
Mikkel Hjuler, an expert in sports physical therapy, has led some esports teams in training, entrusting them with exercises that involved exercising the muscles of the hands.
In any case, some of the most famous streamers, such as Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, a Fortnite player, manage to earn around $500,000 a month; obviously these are rare figures, since on average a player with about 2 thousand subscribers on their Twitch channel manages to bring home about 60,000 dollars a year, a valid alternative to competitions if we consider that an Overwatch pro-player earns “only” $50,000.

The famous streamer Tyler "Ninja" Blevins ha received has been recognized by Epic with a customized skin
The famous streamer Tyler “Ninja” Blevins has been recognized by Epic with a customized skin

Pro gamers have no power

It is important to underline that decision-making and bargaining power is completely in the hands of the teams and not the individual gamer. The latter remain a disadvantaged category and far too numerous, especially since there is a surplus of players trying to become pros.
An example of this imbalance has happened with Turner “Tfue” Tenney. In 2019, he opened a dispute against his team, the FaZe Clan, claiming that he was deprived of some commercial opportunities, he hadn’t received his salary on some occasions, and the team’s position that 80% of his earnings belonged to the team, with a split of profits between FaZe and Tfue of 80/20.
This story should give you an idea of the almost non-existent bargaining power of the players (at least in some cases). It’s also led to a greater number of professionals who have claimed employee status, thus receiving greater legal protection (minimum required salaries, vacation days, and so on).

Who is the highest paid esports player?

One of the most famous League of Legends players is Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok, member and co-owner of SK Telecom T1. The South Korean is one of the highest paid professional player in the world of esports, with a net worth of around $4 million in 2019; he has won over $1.2 million in 54 tournaments, and a big part of his earnings are from sponsorships. He is followed by 3.2 million people on Twitch, although only four hundred are subscribed to his channel. Even though “Faker” is one of the most famous players, he’s not the highest paid one.

Faker reveals why he re-signed with SK Telecom and why he feels pressure to perform - Dexerto
Lee “Faker” sang-hyeok

Here are the seven richest pro gamers:

  1. Johan “N0tail” Sundstein, a danish player who earned $6,974,817.80 from 127 tournaments.
  2. Jesse “JerAx” Vainikka, a Valorant player from Finland. He started with DOTA 2 and today he has earned $6,000,411.96 from 24 tournaments
  3. Anathan “ana” Pham, a player from Australia with more than 6 million dollars earned in prize money
  4. Sébastien “Ceb” Debs, a French player who’s earned 5,564,712.41 dollars from 61 tournaments since he got into the competitive scene
  5. Topias “Topson” Taavitsainen, a Finnish player. He has earned $5,481,317.57From 29 Tournaments
  6. Kuro “KuroKy” Takhasomi a “German player, formerly a DotA: Allstars Kuroky has been playing Dota 2 competitively for a very long time. Throughout his career he has consistently improved, and his earnings have increased almost every year as well. In 2017, his childhood dream finally came true, and he won The International 7, or TI7. Now, with all of his accomplishments and his skillset, many see him as a top 5 Dota player of all time” (esportsearning.com)
  7. Amer “Miracle-” Al-Barkawi, a Dota 2 Player, who’s earned almost 5 million dollars during his career.

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