Professional Gaming: An Idealistic but Unrealistic Dream


Frank Ka-Ho Wong- China Briefing

When we were little kids, many of us had dreams to play sports, create art, or perform our favorite hobby professionally when we got older. However, as we grew up most of us realized that these aspirations were unrealistic. In the most cutthroat professions, only the best and most talented people have a genuine chance of making it big time, and getting paid for doing what they love. One hobby that hasn’t been traditionally associated with these activities is gaming. For most of us, it is difficult to wrap our minds around the fact that playing video games, something we assume only children do, can actually be a legitimate career. However, with society’s increasing desire and dependence on entertainment and various medias, we must re-adjust our opinions about gaming.


Unless you have been living under a rock for the last few years, you have probably been introduced to eSports. For those of you who don’t know, eSports, otherwise known as electronic sports, take the form of online, multiplayer video game competitions. One such eSport, Fortnite, has dominated mainstream media for the last year. Similar to traditional sports, these competitions are attractive career opportunities for professional gamers, content producers on Youtube, and other platforms because of their hefty cash rewards. Playing video games for a living may sound like a dream to many, but there is a dark side to this industry that most people are unaware of.


According to Goldman Sachs, “eSports like Fortnite will be as popular as the NFL, as video gaming moves into the mainstream with a projected 300 million viewers by 2022”. Because of this kind of viewership, eSports has the potential to become a massive industry.  This potential is reflected through its huge increase in venture capital investment. Since 2012, there has been $3.3 billion venture capital investment in related startups. This year alone, $1.4 billion has been invested in the industry, a 90 percent increase from 2017. NRG Esports, a successful eSports organization, has received investments from Jennifer Lopez, Michael Strahan, Alex Rodriguez, and Marshawn Lynch, to name just a few.


Another factor contributing to the rise of eSports is its increased infrastructure. One initial problem for eSports was that compared to traditional sports, competitive play was far less profitable for players and investors. However, beginning in 2017, video game developers began to create monetized competitive leagues. These leagues have worked to close the financial gap between eSports competitions and traditional sporting competitions. A few examples of these leagues are the North American and EU League of Legends leagues created by Riot Games in 2017 and the Overwatch League Blizzard launched in 2018 (League of Legends and Overwatch are two of the most popular eSports). To further fuel this growth, developers are building eSports theaters and arenas that can host professional competitions.


Due to the rise in popularity of eSports, the potential earnings for gamers playing on professional teams has increased. In 2017, the average eSports salary was $60,000, but this stat depends on the game. Professional League of Legends players, for example, are making between $800,000 and a million dollars annually. Other careers in eSports that don’t involve playing also have respectable incomes. Last year, coaches had an average salary of $70,000-80,000, journalists had an average salary of $30,000, and sales and marketing specialists made approximately $90,000.


However, for gamers who already have a large following and fanbase, playing for a competitive team may not be the ideal move. For these types of gamers, producing content on Twitch and Youtube is often far more profitable. Twitch is a free streaming platform similar to Youtube, but also includes options for paid subscriptions to your favorite streamers. Youtube’s gifting system allows viewers to donate to their favorite content producers. These platforms are attractive for gamers because the most relevant gamers have nearly 50,000 views weekly, and with these views come sponsorships. The most popular Twitch streamer as of late, Ninja, is making $560,000 a month on Twitch, excluding any sponsorships and competitive earnings. Other successful Twitch streamers include Shroud, who makes over $100,000 per month (from subscriptions, sponsorships, ads, etc.) and DrDisRespect, who pulls in between $200,000-500,000 a month in total.


As appealing as it sounds for many young people to become millionaires from gaming, there are multiple downsides of the industry that most people are unaware of:


  1. Streamers are full-time entertainers. In order to gain viewers and money, streamers often are on camera for over eight hours without any breaks. This can result in changes to their sleep schedule, diet, and brain functionality. Gamers have almost no time to exercise, and drugs are incredibly common in professional gaming culture.
  2. Competitive gaming is an international industry, and players have to travel the globe to compete in tournaments. Finding time to travel is challenging for these gamers, who also have to practice at least twelve hours daily.
  3. Professional gamers and streamers have no vacation days. If streamers take even a few days off annually to relax, they will likely have lost many of their fans when they return.
  4. To appeal to people living in different countries with different time zones, streamers have to broadcast late at night and early in the morning.
  5. Gamers can easily be injured and receive injuries and sickness because of inactivity and handling controllers/keyboards all day. If surgery is required, then Gamers may lose dexterity in their fingers and resulting in the end of a career.


In recent years, media and publicity have caused people to adjust their perceptions of gaming. What has once been considered a “childish” and “immature” hobby is now a legitimate career opportunity, and top-tier gamers live luxurious lifestyles. However, it is important to remember that professional gaming is a risky profession and shares many of the same dangers as other professional sports.