So far in our introduction to eSports series, we’ve taken a look at casters, hosts, tournament admins and streamers. Today, we’re bringing it back with a closer look at the very heart of eSports: the pro-gamers themselves.
So what is a pro-gamer? Technically, a pro-gamer is anyone who earns money playing video games, whether you win an online cup for £20 or an offline championship for $100,000… although just as you’d probably not call yourself a pro builder for putting up a few shelves for the grandpa down the road, you probably wouldn’t call yourself a pro gamer for winning £20 in a single event.
So at the lowest level, you have semi-professional gamers. These guys and girls compete fairly seriously at their game of choice, and earn prize money from time to time based on their results.
If you’d like to become a pro-gamer, this is where you’ll start out. There are plenty of online cups and a few offline open events you can join to test your mettle, at LAN parties and gaming shows. If you show consistently good results, you might be invited to join a pro-gaming team.
Competing in LAN party tournaments is a nice way to test your mettle and potentially attract attention from sponsors or teams (source: Jeni May Photography, Mutiplay)
For games with rankings (like in-game leagues or divisions) it’s possible to compete in casual tournaments where you’ll just be facing those at your own skill level. This is a nice taste of competitive play, without requiring hundreds of hours of practice.
Next up we have what I’ll call sponsored pro-gamers. These people have managed to join a professional team or attract a personal sponsor in order to finance their pro-gaming ambitions, but still work or attend school most of the time. The advantage to being sponsored is that you can afford to attend more events and spend more time practicing.
For example, it’s quite common for a sponsor or team to pay for you to travel to an offline tournament and compete there. Equipment sponsors may also be involved, who can provide pro-gaming gear such as keyboards, mice, controllers and headsets, in order to give you the best chance to play well. Of course, pro-gamers with sponsorships or teams have to represent their backers at the events that they attend, and fulfill media obligations like appearing in commercials, endorsing products and wearing branded apparel… but this isn’t so bad!
Becoming a successful pro-gamer requires good food and careful brand management (source: William Judd, aceresport.com)
The highest (and smallest) tier of pro-gamers are full-time professionals. These pro-gamers are fortunate enough to join a team which will pay for them to practice their game of choice full-time, often 8 or more hours a day. That sounds like a lot, but it’s similar to the amount of time that other professional athletes spend on their careers.
Some full-time pros play and practice from home, but many will move to a ‘team house’ to practice with their teammates and potentially coaches or managers as well. This setup promotes better, more regimented practice than is typically possibly while practicing from home. It is so effective that teams that don’t live together will ‘boot camp’ instead, coming together a few weeks before an important competition to raise their skill levels in a focused environment.
The highest tier pro-gamers are sometimes paid a salary in addition to having their living expenses and travel costs paid for, but this is still limited to a small percentage of active pro-gamers, who have proven to be the best in the world. It’s possible to reach this level – but it takes time, skill and luck.
Zest and Flash, two full-time StarCraft II pro-gamers who practice together in the KT Rolster team house placed first and second at this tournament, earning them thousands of dollars (source: Helena Kristiansson, ESL)
So if you’d like to become a pro-gamer… which game should you choose? Well, firstly it should be a game you really enjoy playing and you’re passionate about. If you don’t really love a game, you’ll find it difficult to maintain motivation long enough to make it as a pro-gamer. Another consideration is more tactical – you should choose a game with a relatively large competitive scene. This means many active players and many tournaments, backed by active developers and a passionate community.
So what games have the biggest eSports scenes? Let’s break it down by genre. For strategy games, StarCraft II is the current favourite (and my own game of choice). The MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) space is designed around eSports, and as such there are a few great options that range from casual to hardcore: Heroes of the Storm, League of Legends and Dota 2. Shooters are another competitive space, with titles like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and the latest Call of Duty among the front-runners; World of Tanks and Quake Live fit here too. Sports games are also quite popular, particularly the FIFA series. Finally, there’s a small but dedicated racing scene on titles like Trackmania. Regardless of your genre of choice, there’s usually at least one game that supports a competitive scene.
TrackMania pros compete at the ESWC 2014 tournament in France (source: Gabriel Guibert, aceresport.com)
So if you want to live that pro-gamer lifestyle, traveling to tournaments around the world… get started! Pick a game that you’re passionate about and do well in, and start entering any tournaments you can. Seek teams and mentors, read up on your strategy, and practice as much as you can.
The fans – one excellent reason to become a pro-gamer (source: ESL)
If you put in the hours and you’re good enough, you can start winning tournaments and earning some prize money. Even if you don’t make it to the big leagues, there’s still a lot of fun to be had as a pro-gamer.