A 16-year-old from Pennsylvania hit headlines around the world by seizing the $3 million first prize at the Fortnite World Cup this summer. Kyle “Bugha” Giesdorf spent six hours per day training for the tournament and he was handsomely rewarded for his endeavours.
The story shone a light on a growing trend that has seen dozens of gamers become multimillionaire superstars thanks to their prowess at titles like Dota 2, Fortnite, League of Legends and CS:GO. It sounds like a dream job, but it takes a lot of hard, determination and skill to reach that level. This is how several gamers have become rich and famous:
Practice Makes Perfect
Bugha’s six-hour Fortnite routine helped him soar to victory at the Fortnite World Cup, and that is the minimum you should be aiming for. Team Liquid is the world’s most successful esports franchise and its players train for eight hours per day. Pro gamers in South Korea, home to many of the world’s best League of Legends and StarCraft players, have been known to train for 12 to 15 hours per day.
Many casual gamers enjoy a range of different titles. They might spend an hour playing Grand Theft Auto, half an hour on Call of Duty and then play a bit of Minecraft. Or they might play Gears 5 for a month and then switch to Doom Eternal.
Pro gamers have no such luxury. You have to pick a game you enjoy and stick to it religiously. Find the genre you prefer (most esports are multiplayer online battle arena, first-person shooter, real-time strategy, battle royale, sport or fighting games) and then identify a lucrative esport within it.
Dota 2, Fortnite, CS:GO and LoL are the highest paying games at the moment, although the likes of Overwatch are growing rapidly. These games all have an extremely high skill ceiling and it takes a massive amount of time to master them.
Once you have identified a game that you enjoy, you have a natural flair for and that pays well, you have to practice for a good eight hours per day before you can think about going pro.
You don’t have to be the best in the world at a particular game in order to play it for a living. You just have to build up a substantial online following on the strength of the content you publish and the general magnetism of your personality.
Ninja is by no means the best Fortnite player in the world – he did not even qualify for the World Cup – but he is the richest. That is because he built up more than 20 million subscribers to his YouTube channel and became the most popular streamer on Twitch.
EA paid the American streamer $1 million simply to play Apex Legends when it was released earlier this year. He just had to release videos of himself playing the game. Fans lapped it up and Apex became the fastest growing game of the year.
Microsoft then paid Ninja more than $50 million to abandon Twitch and stream exclusively on Mixer. It knew the fans would follow him, as his streams are so compelling and his personal brand is so strong. There are many more streamers like Ninja that are making a fortune by publishing gaming-related content.
Finding a Team
Most successful esports stars are part of high-profile teams that compete across multiple games. Team Liquid, Cloud9, Team SoloMid, OG, Fnatic and FaZe Clan are just some of the big franchises that have enjoyed phenomenal success at multiple titles in recent years. If you check out the latest from Unikrn, you will see these names among the favourites for many competitions.
Traditional sports teams are all investing in these esports franchises, along with actors, rappers, singers and other celebrities, because they recognise the potential of the pro gaming scene.
It is a competitive world and these teams are always scouring the world for new talent, while there are many smaller organisations bidding to make a name for themselves. Plenty of them also have academy teams for young hopefuls to join too, so there are lots of opportunities to join a team and bid for glory.
Mirroring Pro Athletes
The lives of the finest esports stars mirror those of pro athletes in many different ways. They attend high-spec training camps like Team Liquid’s news 8,000 sq. ft. Alienware training facility in Los Angeles, which includes scrimmage rooms, gym equipment, coaches, nutritionists et al, or the $13 million facility that TSM is building out.
They meet with sports psychologists to discuss their wellbeing and plan for success. They meet with agents and player unions to thrash out better terms. They meet fans, sign autographs and pose for selfies. They get wheeled out at corporate events hosted by big companies than sponsor them or their teams.
They are idolised by millions, so their actions are heavily scrutinised. They revel in joy and adulation when successful, and they can be subjected to brutal trolling if they fail. In many ways they are identical to pro athletes, and the money being pumped into the esports scene will only increase in the years ahead, so the gap between the top football, basketball and tennis players and the top video gamers will continue to shrink.
You might think that you run little risk of injury by sitting in a chair and playing video games all day. Think again. Playing with a mouse and keyboard or a controller for upwards of eight hours per day wreaks havoc with your joints.
Many esports stars suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome, a wrist injury that can be totally debilitating. Tennis elbow could soon be rebranded mouse elbow due to its prevalence among esports players.
Pro gamers also frequently suffer from back pain. They are increasingly being given the best chairs, mice, keyboards and support for their joints, but it is not always possible to negate all the effects of playing video games for several hours per day at a high level.
Many of the best players work hard to stay physically fit, as this helps, and they try to build up strong wrists. Increasingly they eschew energy drinks and junk food in favour of nutritious, balanced diets and plenty of water.
They also need to stand extremely alert, agile and mentally strong, making quick decisions and solving problems under pressure, while displaying great dexterity, so it requires a lot of time, effort and skill to play video games for a living.