Twenty years ago, few people could have imagined a future as a professional gamer. During the early 2000s, the concept of gaming was still evolving. And, to be fair, thousands of young professionals were finding their place at tech companies from Tencent to Ubisoft to Rockstar. Then, with added attention directed at the gaming industry came a proliferation of new jobs.
Many of these involved toiling behind the scenes to create great games. Writers pen believable dialogue while audio engineers craft a wholly immersive sound space. Others might take a different role, like crafting hardware to create a new handheld device or penning advertising deals for major developers.
Today, these jobs remain in high demand—and offer former gamers a chance to turn their passion into a fully-fledged profession. But there’s been a new hot seat in the gaming industry: pro gamers or, as some like to call them, eSports athletes.
Rather than work behind the scenes to create games and help bring them to market, these professionals make their name battling it out playing the world’s most popular eSports titles.
Many are making solid salaries, gaining notoriety and fame, and even penning multi-year contracts much like a traditional athlete would. So, is this a viable option for gamers in universities? And how can they focus on this goal over the coming years?
The ‘Gamer Pro’
A professional gamer can make a career in one of two ways. A chattier and more independent gamer might choose to build a following on Twitch or YouTube, while a more hardcore gamer who enjoys endless hours of playing might prefer to compete on an eSports team. In this article, we’ll focus on the latter and how they can build their skills.
eSports athletes closely resemble another gaming aficionado: the poker pro. After gaining an understanding of terms and hand rankings, memorizing variations of the rules, and building out a repertoire of strategies, poker players can start to compete meaningfully online. As they develop their skills, they’ll compete in virtual tournaments with the hopes of qualifying for larger events like the WSOP or EPT.
From there, they’ll target specific tournaments and events that suit their interests. As they build experience and earn more, they’ll make their way onto a global leaderboard. This isn’t too different from eSports gamers. Like poker pros, low-ranking gamers might only make $40,000 a year versus a top-tier pro who rakes in more than $300,000—and their journey to the top will be determined by their level of personal discipline and mental strength.
The Gamer Trajectory
As mentioned above, a gamers’ trajectory depends on how much they’re able to push themselves. Much like a poker pro, it’s this dedication and drive to perfection that will set them apart.
So, how does a gamer who starts to get really good flip that expertise into an actual career? Unlike poker pros, there aren’t online qualifiers to push them to the top. Once again, eSports are moving back into a traditional sports territory.
That’s because gamers who show promise must be recruited by an eSports team or organization. One of the best ways to get noticed is by competing on Discord, which gamers use to chat and communicate. Other times, gamers might enter tournaments or even camps (which act like combines) in the hopes of attracting the attention of a recruiter.
A Balanced Education
As many gamers are aware, colleges and universities in North America are launching their own eSports teams, departments, and programs. That’s because gaming is now on par with athletics, which means the NCAA and similar organizations are starting to create eSports leagues.
This, in turn, means that gamers hoping to ‘go pro’ don’t necessarily need to forego higher education to build their skills. So, gamers today can earn degrees in related programs that will help them launch and support their eSports careers. Just like a hopeful pro athlete might, eSports gamers can target degrees related to entertainment, technology, and business.