The global video gaming market includes PC gaming, mobile gaming, and console gaming and represents a $115.8 billion industry as of 2018. The video gaming sector includes not just the development, marketing and monetization of video games but also the production, distribution, and consumption of content generated by or derived from video games. What does it actually mean to be a Professional Gamer, and what does it take to earn that title? In this article, we are taking an in-depth look at this booming niche to learn how to become a professional gamer.
The term "eSports" has been used to reference any live, interactive, multi-player gaming environment since the earliest days of video gaming. However, over the past decade, interactive competitions have grown steadily larger, become more competitive, and made far more lucrative. Today, eSports is a global juggernaut commanding $905.6 million globally in 2018, drawing in huge investments from the industry's major brands.
At the center of the eSports phenomenon is the Professional Gamer, and with winner-take-all prize pools reaching into the multi-millions, it isn't hard to see why this has become a top career goal for many young gamers in recent years.
Who Is A Professional Gamer?
To understand how to become a professional gamer, it is imperative to understand what a professional gamer is. As with most entertainment genres, the professional gaming industry uses professional gamers in a number of different roles, all of which are vital to creating the high-energy, adrenaline-fueled gaming competitions that are capable of sustaining a devoted fan base willing to follow their favorite players and teams from one side of the globe to the other. Check out the roles below to get an idea of the scope of careers employing Professional Gamers around the world.
Another important role in understanding how to become a professional gamer is Shout Casters, who are employed to keep the audience entertained and fully engaged at all times. They achieve this by describing the gameplay to the audience using wit, comedy, and drama to draw in the audience members by making sure their experience is exciting and memorable.
Most shout casters are Professional Gamers who have aged-out of the competition circuit. These gamers are able to leverage their in-depth knowledge about the game into a new professional role by coupling their insight with an ability to ad lib engaging, witty play-by-play commentary to interact with the audience.
Analysts perform a role very similar to Shout Casters and require roughly the same skill set. However, Analysts generally go beyond the play-by-play commentary of Shout Casters. They analyze the individual gamer's tactics, speculate on the strategy each player employs, and breaks down key matches and game-changing events to give the audience a glimpse of the action from an insiders perspective.
Analysts are generally Professional Gamers who have aged-out of the competition circuit and, like Shout Casters, they have found a niche role that extends the longevity of Professional Gaming beyond the lucrative but fleeting competition years. For those looking for an involved role, it is worth looking into this one to understand how to become a professional gamer. It serves as a major stepping stone and a fallback role for competitors.
Coaches are Analysts who are tasked with breaking down player technique, strategy, and performance for the players themselves, and as a learning tool for the entire team. Coaches are Professional Gamers who earned the respect of the gaming community and developed a solid reputation during their active competition years. As they age-out of active competition gaming, they are able to leverage their demonstrable skill and their knowledge of what it takes to win on the competitive circuit into a coaching career for one of the many professional gaming teams already in existence or by starting their own team.
In the role of Coach, these Pro Gamers will use their considerable knowledge and experience to analyse each team member's strengths and weaknesses before crafting a training regime to address individual player weak points and developing a team strategy that utilizes the unique strengths of each player to the utmost advantage to propel the team toward winning tournaments. The Coach will need leadership skills that extend beyond the world of gaming, as eSports players require strong physical and mental conditioning to remain competitive much the same as any other competitive sports player.
Live Streaming Gamer
Besides learning how to become a professional gamer, live streaming is a solid method of gaining recognition to sell one's talent. This role is accessible to anyone with the ability to attract and keep the attention of a large group of followers by live streaming their video game playing on platforms dedicated to the genre such as Twitch, Steam, Facebook Live, and YouTube.
Live streaming does not require the extreme level of skilled gameplay and expert knowledge that competitive gaming does. A merely average player can gather audiences numbering in the thousands who are drawn to the player's witty banter, unique playing style, or personal back-and-forth interactions with the audience. Many gamers have managed to earn reliable six-figure incomes as Professional Live Streaming Gamers.
Professional Live Streaming Gamers invest a great deal of time and effort into cultivating a loyal audience by releasing fresh content frequently and engaging with their audience at every opportunity. The most successful Live Streaming Gamers are also great entertainers who know what their audience wants to see and know how to deliver the content that delights their community each and every time.
The Live Streaming Gamer's income is generated through lucrative brand sponsorships. Top gaming related brands seek out and pay the most popular Live Streamers handsomely to feature and advertise their products on their streams.
Gaming Event Organizer
An important facet to learn in how to become a professional gamer is to understand how events are organized and how to capitalize on them, whether they are local competitions or internationally renowned events.
Professional Gamers who have aged-out or retired from the competitive circuit are often highly sought after by the sponsors of those competitions and other eSports events to assist in planning and executing events that deliver the excitement and spectacle that the gaming community expects. Sponsors know that the best person to direct operations for an eSports competition or event is an eSports Profesional Gamer who knows first-hand what works and what does not.
eSports events are big entertainment capable of drawing large crowds and generating a wealth of publicity for the sponsors. Sponsors are more than willing to pay for an experienced Professional Gamer with the management and communication skills required to put together an unforgettable buzz-worthy event.
Game Development Consultant
Professional Gamers are often employed off the competition circuit as consultants by the studios and developers who create video games. The role of Game Development Consultant can include everything from testing new games prior to release, crafting a marketing strategy, to acting as brand ambassadors.
The expertise and insider knowledge that Professional Gamers provide is invaluable to non-endemic game development studios seeking to integrate into the highly competitive world of video gaming. The insight and endorsement of a Professional Gamer can make the difference between a studio's ultimate success or failure in the industry.
How To Become A Professional Gamer
So, now that we know that there are plenty of opportunities available that will allow talented gamers to parley their skill into a genuine career, let's dig into how to become a professional gamer. There is no formal education requirement or expensive certification process for a career in competitive gaming, however, the dedication required to attain the rank of Professional Gamer is often on a par with that required to complete the educational requirements mandated to earn the rank of a professional in other career fields.
To best determine the true level of effort required to achieve Professional Gamer status we looked to published interviews and informal Q & A transcripts featuring current and former eSports Professional Gamers discussing how to become a professional gamer in detail. We have summarized the habits, traits, and dedication extolled by almost every Professional Gamer in all the discussions we reviewed. As anticipated, we quickly discerned a pattern of the same core behaviors, and choices working to propel each aspiring gamer to Professional status.
The Right Game And The Right Competition
There has to be a fairly strong drive to best an opponent right from the start or it is unlikely that the dedication will be sustainable for the long hours and seemingly endless repetitions of each aspect of game-play focused on just one game that is required to reach the first rung of professional level game-play.
Successful Professional Gamers all relayed similar stories of their early gaming years involving a particular game and a particular opponent that triggered their competitive need to do whatever was required to best their opponent. The dedication each of the professional gamers report applying to the task of vanquishing their nemesis within their chosen game borders on what some might justifiably call obsession. Dedication or obsession, no matter what label one applies it is a common thread at the start of every Professional Gamer's story.
We have provided a couple of examples below that best illustrate the necessity of being a little obsessed when it comes to learning how to become a Professional Gamer
Darryl "Snake Eyez" Lewis (Street Fighter Professional Gamer):
"Snake Eyez" became dedicated to learning advanced Street Fighter gaming techniques in an effort to best his older brother's friend and end his own 100% losing streak. He spent hours practicing techniques on Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix against live online opponents in his bid to finally best his early nemesis.
Ryan Towey (Halo 2 Professional Gamer/Coach):
Ryan Towey became dedicated to besting his opponents after pitting himself against the industry's top talents right from the very start. Ryan Towey admits he was not much of a gamer until being urged by a friend to buy an Xbox in early 2004 so he could play the newly released game, Halo 2.
Halo 2 was one of the earliest franchises to offer a robust online infrastructure which quickly led newbie player Towey, to first "Team Hardcore" which featured tournament match style play against live opponents and from there into Halo 2's clan systems where groups of players could link up to form larger competitive clans. By sheer luck, the clan Towey joined was home to professional gamers Cameron "Victory X" Thorlakson and Kyle "Elamite" Elam. These early competitions with the industry's top players compelled the newbie player to dedicate long hours to match their skill.
Enter Tournament Matches
Once a gamer's skill has been developed and honed through the rigors of facing down a seemingly invincible opponent, they inevitably passed into the trial by fire stage of the process by registering and competing in organized tournament matches. Many players who had excelled in online and interpersonal match-ups walked into their first tournament wholly unprepared for the experience and unaware of the players whose gameplay was already multiple skill levels beyond their own.
We rejoin the players and their stories as they pass into the tournament match-up stage in this guide of how to become a Professional Gamer.
Darryl "Snake Eyez" Lewis (Street Fighter-Professional Gamer):
Darryl "Snake Eyez" Lewis reported being completely unaware of the size and scope of the talent pool that made up the greater fighting game community until he attended his first Evolution Championship Series Tournament (more commonly called EVO) in 2009. The new competition levels rekindled his need to prevail, and he began to work his way up through tournament matches gaining contacts further up the chain in the fighting gamer community as he progressed. By the time he attended his second EVO tournament in 2010, he was able to walk away victorious after winning the Street Fighter HD Remix top prize.
Ryan Towey (Halo 2-Professional Gamer):
By 2009, Ryan Towey had also discovered tournament play and was hooked, almost to the detriment of his many other formal obligations including his own fledgling gaming instruction company offering lessons taught by professional gamers to newbie gamers, employment at a large gaming development studio also selling professional instruction to new players, and completion of his college degree program.
Towey reports that despite the arguably more important commitments of career and education his sole focus was the tournaments, and his only motivation was earning just enough to facilitate competing in one tournament after another. After graduating college, Towey joined the tournament scene first as a team player on a couple of lucrative professional teams before finding his niche as a full-time Halo 2 coach.
Find The Winning Team
Like most competitive sports, the top talent will inevitably be scooped up to play for one of the industry's top professional teams. Sponsors and professional gaming outfits will seek out the most talented players to try to woo them into signing a contract to play for their brand or team. The excitement and feeling of accomplishment at this stage can set the stage for the Professional Gamers future so it is vital to tread very carefully once you have made it this far. All contracts are not created equal and this is the one stage where the ball is literally in your court.
Darryl "Snake Eyez" Lewis (Street Fighter Professional Gamer):
After many years spent developing his Street Fighter gaming techniques through tournament competition, Lewis had made a name for himself on the professional scene and had already fielded and rejected several offers for sponsorship after determining that the teams or sponsors didn't fit his personality or goals. Eventually, his perseverance paid off and after several meetings with Red Bull executives, he found his match signing on as a Professional Gamer for team Red Bull.
Mind Your Manners
Making it to the top level as a Professional Gamer in no way guarantees that you will stay at the top. To ensure longevity, develop an early habit of clean and controversy-free social media posting now and never waiver from it. Sponsors are interested in the advertising revenue that popular players generate for their brand through endorsements.
Negativity and controversy do not generate the type of attention that sponsors want the public to associate with their brand name. Even the most highly skilled player is worth very little if they are not marketable due to a contrarian nature. Contracts do not generally express the exact framework
Equipment Required For Going Pro
Professional Gamers all started out as hobby gamers playing on their personal computer or home gaming console so technically there is no equipment to purchase. That being said, if you are in the market for a new home system and you are aiming for being a Professional Gamer somewhere down the line it certainly doesn't hurt to choose one of the home player platforms that gets a lot of developer attention.
Developers develop games for the platforms that work best for their content first and adapt where possible to accommodate the other platforms later. This, of course, means the newest and best gaming titles show up for the top platforms and selection dwindles considerably
Personal Computer (PC)
Besides understanding the fundamentals, a major factor in how to become a professional gamer is to acquire the necessary hardware and build a platform to practice one's talent. For Professional Gamers, the PC still reigns supreme for its open platform and endless customization potential. The PC can be designed and quickly redesigned, or expanded to meet the specifications whatever the developers dream up. This makes the PC the Professional Gamer favorite now and for the foreseeable future.
It should be noted that there are different levels of PC and the Professional Gamers are not using your standard college dorm room desktop for this task.
The Gaming PC is a different breed which generally boasts a much larger tower shell that is capable of accommodating increased cooling fan capacity and in many cases, some variety of water cooled tower surrounding a video graphics card with its own cooling fan and CPU. Even the majority of console Professional Gamers utilize a PC to facilitate various forms of promoting their talent, through avenues such as live streaming, video production, and other content promotions.
Gaming consoles are a distant second to the gaming PC because of the limitations and proprietary framework built into them by the individual manufacturers. The graphics and game-play are generally high quality (when first unboxed) however the console units have become notorious for their fragile constitutions and are just not designed to sustain the long hours of play that plays a major role in how to become a professional gamer.
That being said, a gaming console is the next best option if a gaming tower PC is out of the question.
If buying a console, there are favorites here too. For instance, Sony's PlayStation 4 remains the developer and player favorite despite Sony repeatedly taking the prize for the platform "least likely to play well with others". Right on Sony's heels is The Nintendo Switch Hybrid console, which generated enough developer buzz that it nearly knocked the veteran Sony Playstation from its lofty perch.
Nintendo scored major points for having a higher percentage of developers interested in developing content for Switch in 2019 with approximately 45% expressing interest compared to only 38% expressing interest in developing new content for the Sony PlayStation 4. The Switch was still too new to garner any concrete developer numbers yet so Sony was able to hang on to the top spot for 2018 with 31% of developers reporting current projects on the table for Sony compared to only 18% underway for the Switch platform.
Considering the potential of professional gaming on mobile devices is important in realizing how to become a professional gamer. While developers are showing a lot of interest in designing an increasing amount of first string content for the smart device market, this has little crossover applicability to the eSports professional gaming realm at this time. However, this industry is slowly expanding with major companies like Razer developing mobile gaming smartphones and sponsoring major tournaments for mobile ports of popular PC games.
Now is the prime time to learn how to become a professional gamer. The eSports industry is showing no signs of slowing its stratospheric climb any time soon. This, of course, translates to ever-increasing revenue shares for the players who provide the entertainment and the fan base that the eSports genre depends on.
The exact salary amounts earned by individual eSports players is highly subjective. Factors such as what country the eSports player is based in, what country the eSports team or sponsors are based in, the popularity and influence of the individual player, the skill or potential of the player, and the contractual terms the player was able to negotiate can all play a significant role in determining the total contract fee that the player will earn. Combinations of these factors are the reason that there is such wide pay discrepancy from one player to the next and it is not uncommon for team members to have different earnings for the same competition.
The earnings sampling provided below offers insight into the income range one could expect to earn as a Professional Gamer signed to an eSports team and participating in the industry's most popular tournaments. The possible earnings may be substantially higher or substantially lower if a different Professional Gamer career path is chosen.
There is still ample opportunity within the eSports gaming industry to combine roles or earnings platforms thus maximizing your potential earnings. It is imperative that you make sure that any additional roles or platforms do not present a conflict of interest and you are not spreading yourself too thin to honor any existing contracted performance obligations. Securing your value is an important step in learning how to become a professional gamer.
Top Individual Gamer Earnings
The top ten eSports earners in terms of an overall lifetime total earnings as of 2019 included just one player from North America, Peter Dagar, who is currently the 10th highest earning eSports player with total lifetime earnings of approximately $2.9 million at the close of 2019. eSportswas developed and rose to popularity in China a number of years ago and has only recently spread into Eastern Europe and finally North America.
For this reason, the top ten-lifetime earner's list is still dominated by players hailing from China and Europe but it is expected that we should begin to see more North American players cracking the top ten list in coming years. The number one position is held by a player hailing from Germany who has accrued a lifetime total earnings of $4.14 million playing DoTA.
Generating concrete earnings figures or speculating on earnings potential in the United States is extremely difficult to impossible due to the extreme secrecy surrounding player compensation with most final contract earnings totals being held close to the vest in accordance with the strict non-disclosure clauses that are an insidious part of many the United States based business contracts.
Additionally, factors such as the popularity of the player's chosen game, the number and variety of platforms that the player makes their content available through, the popularity of the individual player, and the number of followers that a player's content regularly generates all play a huge part in determining the earnings potential of any individual player as discussed above.
We do know that the bulk of the money earned by U.S. based Professional Gamers is generated primarily through paid sponsorships and advertising revenue attached to the players live stream content or divided into equitable shares among the members of a sponsored eSports team as payment for participation in a pre-arranged number of tournaments including any marketing or promotional appearances that may be requested alongside the competition gaming activity itself.
The top tournament prize pool in 2017 was generated by the League of Legends gaming platform which featured a total prize pool of over $20 million dollars but it is still unclear precisely how that money gets divided and passed down to the individual team members on the winning team.
Top Team Earnings
The top eSports Professional Gaming teams provide their team members with a base salary for each tournament that is intended to cover food, toiletries, airfare, and accommodations for each athlete. The only concrete figure we were able to obtain was found on a contract provided by professional eSports organization, Riot, stating that each individual team member that participates in the League of Legends Championship Series receives a guaranteed minimum payment of $12,500 for the 28-match season.
This is an absolute minimum base payment. This means that all players are guaranteed to receive this amount of compensation regardless of the team's ultimate ranking in the individual matches or the tournament as a whole. This base amount does not include any income generated through the usual channels of brand sponsorships, advertising, and prize pool winnings. Once these totals are factored in the earnings potential for most Professional Gamers is likely quite a bit higher than the base salary provided here.
The top three lifetime earnings generated by Professional Gamer eSports Teams as of 2018 were:
- Team Liquid with a total team lifetime earnings to date of $18.23 million
- EvilGeniuses with lifetime team total earnings to date of $16.7 million
- Newbee with a lifetime total earnings of $12.14 million
Top Live Streaming Earnings
For live streaming Professional Gamers, the top live streaming revenue generators for 2018 were Twitch with 60% of the viewers, and YouTube trailing a distant second place with 22% of the unique viewers.
Data on the top-earning Professional Gamers for the live streaming circuit was not so readily available as earnings on this platform are much more loosely structured and more apt to vary widely. The live streaming platforms do not provide any compensation directly to the Professional Gamers so there is no database of past payment information to reference.
We did find one recently written piece that did include reports of impressive earnings generated through the live streaming platform and we have provided these details below. It should be noted though that with only one known earnings report there is not enough concrete data to estimate what the average Professional Gamer could reasonably expect to earn on the live streaming platform on a regular basis.
If the following reported earnings are any indication though, it certainly appears to have plenty of earnings potential. Widely reported as the top YouTube personality, PewDiePie, who has a reported 57 million followers on his live streaming video game channel alone, is on record as having earned a record $7.4 million dollars in live streaming revenue in 2015.
There certainly appears to be no limit to the earnings potential that is possible right now for the eSports Professional Gamers. There is every reason to assume that this will probably be the case for years to come as well.
The earnings are not solely dependent on gaming skill, but provide plenty of room for a healthy income to be generated by personality and popularity through the production of entertaining content that is geared towards the gaming live streaming communities as well. With the broad range of examples and options, we have provided here, you can simply mix and match those that work best for you and get started. Now that you know how to become a Professional Gamer, there is nothing left to do but go forth and claim your riches!