How to make money playing video games: Tips on becoming a professional eSports player
Being paid to play video games may seem like a pipedream but, thanks to the rise of eSports, this dream is a reality for an increasing number of men and women.
At the start of September, Overwatch player Jay “sinatraa” Won joined the ranks of Overwatch League players in a record signing that will see him earning $100,000 more than the League minimum. The deal made sinatraa the highest-paid player in eSports – and he’s just 17-years-old.
From pro esports players through to streamers and artists, here are just a few ways you can go about following in sinatraa’s footsteps.
The worldwide popularity of eSports means talented young players can command huge salaries and sponsorship deals if they dominate the game on the international circuits.
Sujoy Roy, widely acknowledged as the world’s first pro gamer, explained how that change came about at a recent Ukie eSports event: “I’ve always played games, I’ve always been competitive. I was at university with a very fast internet connection, so I made good use of that, and eventually from that became the first pro gamer. All of us pro-gamers [have] that aspect of wanting to prove ourselves, it’s just that the infrastructure has grown around us.”
Players such as KuroKY, Miracle and UNiVeRsE have won around $3 million apiece in tournament winnings alone, but with the rise of eSports as an industry, many players are now getting guaranteed salaries to play on pro teams, like sinatraa. And, because it’s such a personality-driven industry, eSports stars, like pro athletes, often become the draw for fans.
Daniel Chung, co-founder of team MnM, explained that the balance of power has shifted to the players, who can now approach teams with their salary expectations: “Generally, players tend to approach us and we’ll measure up the benefits and cons and whether we can provide the support that they’re looking for. Say if someone says ‘I want x amount of this and x amount of that’, if we definitely can’t support it then we don’t [make the offer].”
That also has the benefit of allowing the team managers to handle the money, freeing the pros the time to practice.
Team Dignitas’ James “Bakery” Baker, one of the top-earning UK eSports players, notes that while that might seem an attractive proposition to basement kings who think they can take on the world, there’s a lot more to being a pro gamer than quick thumbs: “I think the important thing to realise is that it’s very very hard to have the right skill set to become a pro gamer. In terms of what I do every day I need to have really good time management skills to be able to properly improve myself [and] also my team. I need to have a lot of dedication to be able to commit so much of my life to practising.”
Consequently most pro eSports players practise for at least 10 hours per day.
And, while there might be a lot of money flowing into the industry, it follows that a commensurate amount of talent is required to earn a living that way. Nor is there a particularly long shelf-life for talent – perhaps even more so than pro athletics, eSports stars’ reactions tend to degrade early, forcing them into coaching, management or other roles within the industry.
Happily there are other ways to earn a living from playing video games that don’t require the world’s fastest reactions. At the Ukie event, Michael O’Dell, Team Dignitas’ captain, explains
“Everything really changed when Twitch.tv came along, it meant that even more people could watch us play, so Sujoy and I were playing in early 2000s we had 20 to 200 people watching us if we were lucky. Now these guys have millions watching them. The ability for fans to watch us play changed everything.”
Twitch allows gamers to build up a following of subscribers or casual viewers who can donate, and in a number of cases, that income allows them to focus on growing their channel full-time. Recent efforts like Twitch’s affiliate program seeks to bolster that income further still.
Additionally, gamers on other platforms have done the same. While PewDiePie and Markiplier are among the most well-known ‘Let’s Players’, with net worth in the millions of dollars each, other channels have grown to sustainability, too. (It should be worth noting that PewDiePie has also faced fierce criticism over racist remarks and how he declared some of his sponsorship deals.)
The Super Best Friends Play channel, for instance, has grown from publishing a few videos a week to a large-scale business that encompasses paid-for videos for other channels; a sponsored podcast; a Twitch stream and merchandise, allowing the creators to focus on it full-time.
And in many cases, playing games has led players to work in an official capacity with the games’ creators. The developers of Sonic Mania were initially coders whose fan games got them noticed by Sega, and one of the earliest high-profile fans of Dark Souls, EpicNameBro, was contracted by Future Press to help create the official guide to its sequel.
All these examples demonstrate that it is absolutely possible to make money playing games, and that gamers genuinely can make a living doing what they love. But there’s another relevant saying, too, and it’s that ‘nothing good comes easy’.
While it is possible to make a living playing games, it will probably be hard work, whether you’re trying to be the best Street Fighter player in the world or building a community on Twitch.