Esports job spotlight: Pro gamer

Professional esports athletes – or pro gamers – are players at the top of their field. But what does it take to become a pro? We ask several pros and former pros, including Martin ‘Rekkles’ Larsson, Ryan Hart and James ‘Bakery’ Baker.

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The role of a pro gamer

Pro gamers are usually signed to a particular team and will compete in different tournaments for prize money.
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They often start off in amateur or grassroots tournaments – or reach the higher rankings within a particular game – before catching the attention of bigger teams. Pro gamers are among the best in the world and have truly mastered their respective game(s). Because of this, it’s important to be aware that, much like professional footballers or other athletes, only a small percentage will make it to this elite level.
There are many esports games out there, from shooters to strategy titles, sports games, fighting games and many more, all with their own setups, ecosystems and leagues. Different games require different skills – a pro League of Legends player may not always make a great CSGO player for example, and vice versa.
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As esports has evolved, so have the duties of the players. They are now influencers as well as professional athletes – esports is the intersection between sports and entertainment and many eyes are on the pro gamers as they are the stars of the show. 
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Players will need to get along with their teammates, work with the manager, coaches and analysts, and may be required to fly all over the world to take part in competitions. They may also need to take part in sponsor or partner initiatives, journalist interviews and fan meet and greets, while upholding a professional manner and meeting other requirements as outlined in their contracts.
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How to become a pro gamer: Rekkles’ top 3 tips

Fnatic’s professional League of Legends ADC player, Martin ‘Rekkles’ Larsson, says that being competitively natured with a lot of focus is key. Here are his top three tips:

1. I think climbing the ladder shouldn’t be a goal, it should be something that just happens with the other goals. Playing the game a lot and putting 110% into every game is the first thing of ever becoming something.

2. I would say the second thing is to be really open minded. I would even say that playing one champion or a few set of champions is the way to go, which kind of goes against being open minded. But even when you’re playing a certain champion you can’t tell yourself you’re doing the best you can possibly do, you need to always look outside of the box and try to find new ways of playing the game. I think that’s how you grow the fastest, even though you might only be playing a few champions.

3. As for the third thing, I would say something that always struck my mind at least, is patience. It can be used in your favour inside the game, because there are many moments where it’s really tense, like if four people died on each team and it’s one on one. If you don’t have that patience, you’re going to lose that last duel which you wouldn’t have otherwise. This can also apply outside of the game. It’s going to take you time to get somewhere. Even for myself, I played League of Legends for almost two years before I really started improving. I’m sure if I didn’t have this patience, I would’ve given up earlier or I would’ve allowed myself to not give 110%.


What can players expect to earn?

Wages vary, but the world’s top pros can potentially earn hundreds of thousands of pounds per annum taking into consideration their wage, sponsorship deals and prize winnings.

The world’s greatest players have earnt more than $1 million in winnings to date.

It also depends on the popularity and tier of the esports game too. Tier-1 esports may give the world’s best players the chance to earn hundreds of thousands of pounds per year, while tier-2 esports or below might see that drop to £100,000 or below. Then underneath that, wages may drop to £20,000 to £80,000 or so. 

Amateur-level players may not receive a set wage or even a contract, instead they will usually take a share of the prize pool from any tournaments they participate in. Playing at a lower level can also give them valuable experience and contacts that could help develop their career.


What are the hours like?

Players are required to put in many hours in order to reach – and stay at – the top level.

It’s not unusual for players to put in 10+ hours of practice in a single day. At the same time, with a young retirement age (anything from the mid to late twenties), it’s important for the player to look after themselves, stay fit and healthy, and avoid burnout.

Rekkles, speaking to the British Esports Association in 2016, said: “Having downtime is really important, because it’s pretty much the only thing that gives you perspective on how you’re doing and how you are in life.

“For example, when I meet up with family and friends, they often give me these opinions that aren’t maybe expertise level, but they still can give me very basic life advice that I can use to my favour in many situations I face on a daily basis.

“I think in the beginning of my career, I didn’t value this at all. I just thought if I played 16 hours every day for a whole year, I’d be the best player. But I think these days that’s one of the worst things you can do. Obviously you should play as much as you can, but you shouldn’t block out other things due to it.

“These days I play as much as I can, but if we’re having dinner in 20 minutes, I won’t play an extra game and not have dinner with my teammates, because eating dinner with my teammates is going to help more than playing an extra game.”

James ‘Bakery’ Baker, added, in 2020: “Players aren’t required to put in as many hours as they have been in the past – 8 hour days are the average, with some scenes requiring as low as 1-2 hours while others can exceed 10 hours if you include individual practice.”

 

Further reading:

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Interviews: Ryan Hart and James Baker offer their advice