Be Aware: Can professional gaming be a legitimate career path?

Updated on May 4, 2015

Boxer "the Emperor"

Boxer poses.
Boxer poses. | Source

What is the potential income of a professional gamer?

NOTE: Each player's earnings mostly differ from the popularity of the game he/she plays. This article is mainly focused on portraying the gaming scenes of Starcraft and League of Legends.

Lim "Boxer" Yo Hwan was and is an iconic figure in the Starcraft gaming scene, being renowned as the best Starcraft: Brood War player in its history. His annual income exceeded a butt-whoopin' 300,000 US dollars! That's equivalent to the median salary of plastic surgeons in the United States!

Unfortunately, all good eventually came to an end for Boxer "the Emperor" after the release of Starcraft: Brood War's sequel, Starcraft II. Unable to match his performance with the previous, Boxer retired as a professional gamer, and is now a professional poker player.

It has been a decade since Boxer's reign. The Starcraft gaming scene is still active, and many players have managed to come close to the Emperor's podium. Starcraft II Players such as: Chris "HuK" Loranger, Jang "MC" Min Chul, Ilyes "Stephano" Satouri, Jeong "Mvp" Jong Hyeon, are currently active in the professional scene and generate an annual income exceeding $100,000 with addition to their $200,000 in tournament winnings (exception - HuK, who has $89,000 in tournament winnings) (Update: Stephano retired on August, 2013, although Meltdown, a e-sports bar franchise, picked him up for their Starcraft II team).

As of 2012, Starcraft has been dominating the e-Sports podium for over a decade. However, a game developed in 2009 by Riot Games, League of Legends, have overtaken the spotlight. With an unbelievable average of 200000 viewers on its LCS games streamed on twitch.tv, League of Legends is exponentially increasing in popularity. These are some of the statistics of what some League of Legends players are earning.

  • NOTE: Each of the top 8 teams in a LCS rankings receive $175,000 to be split between managers and players with minimum of $25,000 each person.
  • TSM Reginald: Owner/Captain/Founder of Team Solo Mid team and SoloMid.net website, estimated to have an annual income of $200,000.
  • CLG HotShotGG: Counter Logic Gaming team's owner/player, his estimated annual income is over $140,000.
  • TSM TheOddOne: TSM's player, estimated annual income of over $80,000.
  • TSM Dyrus: TSM's player, estimated annual income of over $100,000.

Most of the famous LoL players' incomes are from streaming their game-plays, and less from tournament prizes. Famous League of Legends players average around 10,000 ~ 15,000 views, making LoL the most viewed game on Twitch.

Similar earnings like above can also be found in games such as: the Call of Duty series, Halo series, Dota 2 (currently the most prized game), Quake series, Counter-Strike (formerly very huge scene), and Painkiller.



The International 2014
The International 2014 | Source

The International 2014

Update: August 26, 2014

From July 8th ~ 21st, 2014, Dota 2 held The International 2014 (TI4), which is the most prestigious and largest Dota 2 tournament a team can play in. Not only did the tournament feature the best of the best teams, it also held the biggest prize pool in the history of gaming tournaments. The mostly crowd-funded $10,930,698 (initial prize pool was $1,600,000) was distributed to the top 14 teams (out of 16) (Source: TeamLiquid Wiki).

Because of this sole ground-breaking tournament, the top 8 earners in E-sports suddenly became Dota 2 players. Stats are as follows:

  1. Zhihao "Hao" Chen, Dota 2: $1,101,493,39
  2. Wang "Banana" Jiao, Dota 2: $1,099,360.84
  3. Zhaohui "SanSheng" Wang, Dota 2: $1,097,550.35
  4. Ning "xiao8" Zhang, Dota 2: $1,089,438.88
  5. Pan "Mu" Zhang, Dota 2: $1,086,087.13
  6. Danil "Dendi" Ishutin, Dota 2: $569,495.84
  7. Oleksandr "XBOCT" Dashkevych, Dota 2: $567,191.75
  8. Clement "Puppey" Ivanov, Dota 2: $564,360.15

These players have received most of their earnings from the TI4 tournament itself. This means that Dota 2 now has the potential to be the game that will produce more and more of top-earning players. However, it still does not mean that the game is a guaranteed successful occupation. The International tournaments are extremely difficult to win, having to defeat several top teams consecutively to take the trophy. Becoming a professional Dota 2 gamer can be considered a very high risk/reward.

TheHandsomeNerds - Nerdy merchandise for sale!

Former starcraft player Artosis and Tasteless created a website selling merchandise such as this.
Former starcraft player Artosis and Tasteless created a website selling merchandise such as this. | Source

"Questions" that determine an income of a player:

"Questions" that determine an income of a player:

  • How good is he/she? Better skills = better chance of winning tournaments + better team contracts.
  • Does he/she stream? How often? The more viewers a person has when he/she streams, the higher the income is from various ad revenues. Twitch.tv is an example of a website that hosts streams. For people who doesn't know what it is - check it out!
  • Does he/she have a Youtube channel? Other than streaming, having a Youtube channel to post highlights and montages may be involved in a player's income, through Youtube's partnership feature.
  • Does he/she have positions other than being a player of a team? Ex. HotShotGG and Reginald are owners/founders of their current teams.
  • Does he/she have merchandise to sell? Some famous gamers have their own designed shirts,posters, or etc. for anyone to purchase.

Schedule of a Typical Pro Gamer

Liquid' TLO, a Starcraft II player, shares his timetable.
Liquid' TLO, a Starcraft II player, shares his timetable. | Source

Pros and the Cons of being a Professional Gamer

Pros:

  • Making money by playing video games? What can be better than that?
  • Fun, Fun, Fun
  • Chance to meet great people who enjoy the things that you enjoy.
  • A great supportive community.
  • Great chance to earn some money as a teenager who is a full-time student, playing games as a hobby, and is very proficient in it.
  • Free merchandise from sponsors (if the team/player is sponsored).
  • Fame (at least in the gaming community).
  • Provided hospitality (if the player is living in a team house).
  • Great traveling opportunities.

One of the best Call of Duty player, Mason Cobb speaks:

Oh yeah, I remember when I told everyone that I wanted to be the number one player in the world and how they all laughed. But then I came into school one day with my MLG contract, and they were all just like, "What the heck?!" When you're 16-years old and you have sponsors coming at you, that changes everything. Next thing you know I'm meeting 50 Cent and Soulja Boy and my face is on billboards and in stores on various packaging. It all helps legitimize what I've been after the last six years.

Cons:

  • Very time consuming to become a skillful gamer.
  • A person who has past his/her peak physical and mental performances will be at huge disadvantage against other gamers who haven't.
  • In order to achieve an annual income of six figures, one most likely will have to be a very skilled full-time professional gamer with frequent streaming schedule.
  • Just like how some people aren't good at sports, some people just aren't good at games.
  • There are no long-term benefits. No retirement plans, etc.
  • Might not be considered a serious occupation by others.
  • Everyone has their haters.
  • One has to know that most professional gamers spend 8+ hours a day practicing the game.
  • Not everyone becomes a player like Boxer.
  • Constant game balance + new content changes


One of the best Call of Duty player, Mike Rufail, speaks:

Training is a lot harder than people think. Usually, about a week or two before a tournament, everyone hunkers down and is up all night. You play online with your teammates, and you'll scrimmage against other pro teams to prepare. We also have a more formal way of training called LANning. A LAN is a local area network, so to LAN, you're playing against other professional gamers who are right there next to you so you can practice what it will be like in a live-event setting. That's probably the biggest thing people don't realize, just how much time we put in. The first thing everyone wants to know when I meet them, though, is how much money I make. [laughs] They're way more interested in that than my training schedule.

Both quotes are from here: http://espn.go.com/espn/thelife/videogames/blog/_/name/thegamer/id/7420111

To clear up......

A career as a professional gamer is very unstable. As already stated in the Cons section, a gaming career does not provide any retirement plans. Importantly, there's also a peak to one's mental and physical capabilities, which is around 30 years old. Once past the peak, it would be extremely difficult to keep up with the young competitors.

However, if you have a deep passion and love for gaming, who knows, you might become a greater player than the pros listed above. Success is never guaranteed, just like any other professions in the world.

There's a couple videos below to provide you with the exciting environment of the gaming festivals and tournaments.

Penny Arcade eXpo (PAX) festivals are HUGE premier all-around gaming festival that attracts tens of thousands of visitors each session (estimated 70,000 attendances). These festivals are famous for their very wide and various exhibition halls, where over a hundred games are being demonstrated and teased by their developers. Must visit place.

Dreamhack festivals are the largest LAN computer gaming festivals that one can possibly attend. Anyone can bring their computer and register a spot in the LAN grounds and play with one another. It hosts major game tournaments of such including Call of Duty, Starcraft, and League of Legends (and many more). The scene is yet to diminish, but rather growing rapidly. This festivals are also non-gamer friendly, as they provide Digital Arts competition, live concerts, expos, and many more! If you are a gamer, you must attend one of Dreamhack festivals at least one time in your life.

Starcraft II's atmosphere

PAX East, a huge gamer's festival

Dreamhack: the most visited gamer's festival!

Questions & Answers

    Comments

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      • profile image

        I WANNA BE A PRO 

        19 months ago

        How do I become a professional gamer like I read the article I just wanna know where do you go to have a chance at becoming a pro gamer I WANNA KNOW?!?!

      • profile image

        Bluewaters 

        2 years ago

        Are you a pro gamer or just someone who gives out opinions?

        Can i use this for a school project?

        Thank you

      • Seanspage profile imageAUTHOR

        Sean H 

        4 years ago from USA

        @SimilarSam there's some games that require more practice to get better in. For example, the skill ceiling of LoL is much lower than Starcraft II. Anyway, it's all about having fun though, you know?

      • SimilarSam profile image

        Sam 

        4 years ago from Australia

        Seeing the rise of League of Legends has really brought this to the attention of a lot of people. If only I was good enough at it (or another eSports game!)

      • profile image

        Johnk129 

        4 years ago

        Hey there! I realize this is somewhat offtopic but I had to ask. agckceadgeed

      • profile image

        Bk 

        4 years ago

        Nice article!

      • Seanspage profile imageAUTHOR

        Sean H 

        4 years ago from USA

        Article has been revised!

      • Seanspage profile imageAUTHOR

        Sean H 

        4 years ago from USA

        @RasalGhul

        Yessir, I will work on my grammar. Thank you for the feedback

      • profile image

        RasalGhul 

        4 years ago

        Oh god the grammar is so bad. You make a decent point for esports but please work on your English composition.

      • Seanspage profile imageAUTHOR

        Sean H 

        5 years ago from USA

        Thank you very much rudresh and longtimemother! Your comments keep me motivated to write more hubs.

      • LongTimeMother profile image

        LongTimeMother 

        5 years ago from Australia

        Hi Sean. Nice hub. I particularly like the quote from Mason Cobb. If games like these had been invented when I was at school, I would have loved to try making a career from gaming. :)

        Voted up +.

      • Rudresh Agaskar profile image

        Rudresh Agaskar 

        5 years ago from Mumbai, India

        Good Job brother !

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