Playing video games for a living seems like a pretty sweet deal, but there's a lot more to it than rolling out of bed at the crack of noon to do battle with racist teenagers using the power of the Internet. We talked to professional StarCraft II players Jesse "RuFF" Hall and Brandon "puCK" Qual, and they told us about the stranger side of pro-gaming.
6 It's About Much More Than Gaming
Pro-gaming is not only very competitive (there are countless teenagers trying to break into it so they don't have to get a real job, just like writing Internet comedy) but very top heavy. The winning team of 2014's biggest Dota 2 tournament walked away with a cool $5 million, but fewer than 300 pro-gamers have banked more than $100,000 in tournament winnings. As Jesse explains, a lot of players make money through streaming their play live.
"A lot of fans think we make a lot. But really, the pro-gamers don't make that much. Tournaments are where you can make a lot of money, but if you see a pro-gamer streaming almost all the time that usually means they're not making much. E-sports isn't as big as a lot of people think it is when it comes to that aspect."
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Just because you can Zerg rush your nephew, it doesn't mean you're ready for the big time.
Both Jesse and Brandon stream on Twitch, where money comes from fans that like their style. You need a balance of talent and personality -- fans come home after a day's work looking to unwind by watching some gaming, but if you don't offer something unique compared to the thousands of other young white guys doing the exact same thing, then they're going to look elsewhere.
"[Viewers will] thank you for streaming, or they'll pay you to try a strategy," explains Jesse. "A lot [of money] comes from subscriptions and players who are really interested in you, who want to throw money at you and say they love the entertainment you provide. I tell myself it's similar to a street performer who's got the hat on the ground."
Except pedestrians don't have the option to switch between 5,000
other people doing covers of "Wonderwall."
You're essentially marketing yourself like a less morally offensive Kardashian.
"I've seen people who have T-shirts, they do giveaways. I think some of the most famous streamers are the ones who sit back and give away most of the stuff the sponsors give them. There are a lot of ways to market; it's just about being creative."
You also need good timing, as the popularity of games can wax and wane. If you can get in on the ground floor of a hot new game, you'll be in a much stronger position than someone who's just now trying to become the next big Counter-Strike streamer. Then you just have to hope that everyone doesn't quickly lose interest in the game you've mastered.
"It can be hard for anyone who's new and trying to get in. A lot of people who end up getting famous, they get famous when a new game comes out and immediately capitalize on it."
"All right, I just need to start streaming and wait for the inevitable gritty reboot."
It wouldn't hurt to hone your contract negotiation skills, either. Pretty much every pro-gamer plays on a team that handles tournament scheduling, sponsorship, and all the other nitty-gritty business details. Jesse and Brandon agreed that you can get a good contract if you're willing to talk, but you can get screwed if you just listen to promises of glory and sign blindly. Basically, you're committing to a lot more than you think when you register your Dem0nB0ner_69 account on Battle.net with the hope of striking it rich.
5 The Average Pro-Gaming Career Is Crazy Short
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One of the biggest criticisms of professional sports is that athletes aren't prepared for the real world that abruptly confronts them when they retire in their 30s. But gamers make athletes look like wizened ancients practicing arcane arts. While athletes are hitting their peak in their mid-20s, pro-gamers are already looking to retire because they can't keep up with the reflexes or lifestyle of younger players. At 29, Jesse is considered over-the-hill.
"Technically, for my age, I should have retired already. A lot of pro players will retire probably around 25 and start actually living a normal life. Players that are a lot older kind of think outside the box; they make new strategies because younger players mechanically are so much faster. But the thing is, they always catch on. Older players get dethroned by younger players, because they take the stuff they do and then do it better."
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Here's a player from the Senior Major League Gaming circuit.
The good news is that, unlike sports, you don't have to be born with the right body type in the right part of the world to succeed. Jesse thinks anyone can become a pro-gamer if they start early and work hard, and while Brandon thinks some blessing from nature is required, he agrees it still comes down to effort.
"Both of those things come into play. Like swimming, you have to have a certain body type. You might have too big of hands. Your fingers might just bump too many buttons accidentally. Everything needs to be perfect, and the hard work needs to be tremendous."
"No homework or dinner until you've given me 10 no-scopes, boy."
So players shoot for big money and then an early retirement, although we can't discount the Rocky-like possibility of grizzled veterans getting called back for one last match to save their kid or something. Brandon explains the typical lightning-fast career path.
"It makes sense for people to start younger. You get really good, you give it a couple of years, and if you're still doing well you keep going, but the moment you start to lose it's time to start thinking about a new path. It's a sport that you can only do at a relatively young age. You start making less money the older you get."
You literally get too old for this shit.