What It Takes To Become A Professional Gamer
In 2020, the projected valuation of the global esports industry surpassed $1.1 billion a growth of 15.7% from 2019 – according to newzoo, making esports one of the fasting growing industries in the world.
There has never been a better time for aspiring esports players to try their hand turning their hobby into a reality - but is it really as easy as it sounds?
Started from the bottom now we’re here
The meteoric rise to the LCS can’t be seen better than with the story of 100 Thieves support player Philippe “Poome” Lavoie-Giguere. Poome only began playing League of Legends (LoL) with friends back in 2017, and in three short years found himself going from unranked to LCS. This is possibly due to the ranked system in LoL, which allows players to grind through the ranks and establish themselves quickly against pro players in the Challenger rank, which is usually when pro teams start to take notice of up and coming players. Players are then invited to scouting grounds and potentially drafted and picked up to play on academy rosters. From there, players have to perform well in academy to be given the chance of competing for an LCS spot.
Similarly to Poome, another player that made the insanely quick leap from relative obscurity to esports superstardom is FaZe Clan Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) player Helvijs “broky” Saukants. Broky found his way to the highest level playing as a stand-in, mainly for mixed nationality European teams, but made a name for himself in third-party ranked games on FPL, where high ranked players are invited to play alongside the pros to prove their worth.
This clearly worked for broky, as he went from basically an unknown player outside of FPL to playing alongside legends of the game such as Marcelo “Coldzera” David, formerly the number one player in the game – according to HLTV. Broky has now been able to prove his skills at the highest level, competing in tournaments with prize pools of millions of dollars, earning a reported six-figure salary alongside the prize money and living what many would consider a dream life, a monumental rise from just your normal everyday teenager to esports superstar.
Grinding through the lower tiers
However, the journey to the top is not always as quick for many players, and unless you possess an insane amount of skill that teams are willing to gamble on, it is likely that you will have to grind through the lower levels of the esports scene, playing in amateur or semi-professional tournaments and leagues in the hopes of getting noticed. This can be a gruelling path to take for players as the schedule is usually more full, with teams needing to play in every tournament possible to make ends meet. This is seen particularly in CS:GO, where teams often spend more time competing throughout the year than not, travelling across the world trying to get their small piece of the pie. A good example of a player that has experienced this lifestyle often having to rebuild rosters from scratch is Swedish veteran Mikail “Maikelele” Bill.
The former Ninjas in Pyjamas AWPer has tasted success at the highest level, however, since being released by FaZe Clan, the roster he helped form, he has found himself bouncing from team to team trying to build his way back up to the top. Although, as is the nature of competitive gaming, once a player gets stuck in the tier two teams and continues to age; their perceived value to teams rapidly declines.
This is a problem with many esports games, especially in LoL, where a 2018 report from ESPN suggested the average age for an LCS player is just over 21 years old - compared to the average age of traditional sports stars which is closer to 27 for the NBA and NFL. This means that whilst it may be more attainable to reach the LCS. the length of the career is nowhere near as long. Just as soon as you think you’ve made it to the top, it can all come crashing down with players often being replaced by the hottest free agents on the market.
Although, with average salaries in the LCS being reported to be $410,000 – according to dotesports, many people may see it as a risk well worth taking being able to play on the main stage in front of all the fans, with the chance of hopefully one day picking up the Summoner's Cup and the glory that comes with it.
Skills don’t always pay the bills
One thing that many players can struggle with when becoming a professional esports player is having the right attitude and personality to reach the highest levels of competition. This has proven to be a problem across a majority of games as a lot of esports are team games, and having poor synergy can result in many team problems that raw skill alone can’t fix. In a Red Bull interview, former Origen ADC Elias “Upset” Lipp was quoted as saying “I would like to say behave professionally in solo queue, be nice to people, and try to build relations.”
Poor attitudes have caused players issues in multiple esports games titles. An example of one player who has had to conform his attitude to suit a team environment more was Oleksandr “S1mple” Kostyliev. The player who is now widely regarded as the best CS:GO player of all time once found himself being dropped by lower-tier teams in the CIS region due to reported attitude issues, former FlipSid3 Tactics player Yegor “Markeloff” Markelovs said at the time of his release that “I feel really awesome that he left” and that “he was yelling and arguing.” This shows that individual skill alone isn’t enough to keep a player on a team, as the greatest player in the game’s history, who at the time had an outstanding 1.20 HLTV rating individually, still wasn’t enough to keep him on the team.
Another example of a player in a different game that has struggled with apparent attitude problems throughout his career is Call of Duty player Christopher “Parasite” Duarte. He rose to prominence during the early days of Call of Duty esports, particularly during Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 in which he won multiple tournaments including the $400,000 prize for winning the world championship during the season on Fariko Impact. However, ever since his glory days, his career has been somewhat tarnished due to his perceived problems that he brings to the teams he plays on. Over the years, there have been multiple tweets directed towards Parasite from people in the Call of Duty community suggesting his toxicity may be the cause of his team’s failures.
In Call of Duty esports currently, the main way people make it into the CDL is through the Challengers series in which amateur teams compete to try and impress franchises with the hopes of being picked up. Last season, Parasite managed to win multiple Challenger series titles, however, due to his apparent reputation throughout the scene, it looks unlikely that he will get his chance in the league due to factors other than purely skill.
Nothing lasts forever
Although it may seem like a dream life to many people (being paid to play your favourite game in front of millions of people), the harsh reality is that for some it can end up being just like any other job. As well as this, more recently with the huge influx in tournaments and players being forced to play basically every day for “up to 14 hours a day” according to Team Liquid jungler Lucas “Santorin” Tao Kilmer Larsen in a Washington Post article. Inevitably this can cause burnout for players trying to constantly compete to the best of their abilities for 12-14 hours a day is near impossible to sustain, especially in games like CS:GO when you factor in the constant travel requirements alongside the practice.
This has started to become more of an issue recently, and really came into the limelight when former Team Vitality in-game leader Alex “ALEX” McMeekin stepped down from the active roster due to the “intense travelling schedule”, as he described it.
As well as this, two-fifths of the greatest CS:GO team of all time, Astralis, are taking a break from competitive gaming due to burnout. Andreas “Xyp9x” Hojsleth announced in an official statement that he had been feeling “burnout/stress symptoms chasing me for many months.”
This goes to show that even if you reach the pinnacle of your game, the stress from having to always be at the top of your game with the fear of being criticised by thousands of passionate fans for every mistake you make can clearly take a toll on your mental health.
In a recent interview with GGRecon, Team Endpoint CEO Adam Jessop described the harsh realities of player burnout and how for the organisations it’s an important factor for teams to manage, saying that their players “have a say on how they find the format and whether it is too demanding or not.” This comment was made regarding rosters Endpoint has in multiple games such as Rocket League and CS:GO, which just goes to show that player stress and burnout is not just specific to one game, and players need to make sure they are vocal on how much responsibility they can handle.
With all that being said, becoming an esports player is definitely no guarantee, and aspiring pros should take into account that unfortunately no matter how much you play, not everybody has the chance to live out the dream of competing for millions on the biggest stages in esports. For some people, no matter how good they are or how dedicated they can be to the game, they just never get the lucky break that they need to show off their skills to the right people. However, that is just the risk you take trying to be the best, and if you’re willing to make all the necessary sacrifices, maybe esports could be the career for you.
Images via Riot | Activision | FaZe Clan | Astralis