Thursday, May 22, 2014

Going Pro Is A Job

Even ABC News is slipping on their integrity as reporters. A story that was filed this morning for Good Morning America goes into the "lucrative world" of eSports and video game competitions. The premise is that you too can make a hundred thousand dollar yearly sallery just by playing video games! Heck, even one kid and his father have a Call of Duty pay-per-view type system and now, he has a college fund that will carry him through.

Sounds easy, right?

What ABC News does not cover is, well, everything else that's involved in eSports. Such as why people enjoy going to the venues, the lure of gaming, and the difficulty of playing said games. Yes. It is difficult to be in eSports and to be on a team, just like any physical sport activity out there. There is a very common misconception that playing video games is easy. Being on a team to play games all day is easy. It's not. Don't believe me? Try it. You are under constant stress and pressure to perform at your best, less you lose a sponsor and a paycheck. You can't make a mistake, or it may cost your team a chance to enter the finals. You have to practice for hours on end, no breaks, even to eat, sleep, or use the restroom. There is a persistent nagging that won't allow you to slip.

It's the same level of stress that we see with a number of professional sports athletes. You want to be on top. You don't want to fail, particularly when you are a part of the team. One wrong move, misstep, one bullet from a digital gun not fired, can change the outcome of a game.

First, getting into MLG (Major League Gaming) is a challenge all of it's own. Tens of thousands of people around the world consider themselves professional gamers, but only a few hundred are actually sponsored by the group for international competitions. Many pro gamers pay their own way, or have to market themselves to outside sponsors in order to get a foothold into the business. And yes, it's a business whenever money is involved. Marketing yourself to companies is equally as taxing as playing the game. You have to prove to these people to spend money on you, and in turn they can make money by you showcasing their brand, whether it be soft drinks, gaming gear, or a mouse pad. "I only play with Logitech" can have a big impact on sales if you are the top Starcraft II player in the world.

So let's assume you are a good enough gamer to be a pro. Your game is Super Smash Bros Melee. Why only one game? Well if you're one of the best, you have to focus on that one game. Not because of tournament schedules overlapping (which tends to happen quite a bit) but your attention can only hold so much. If you split it between multiple titles, you're more likely to slip up. It's a human thing. Michael Jordan for example, fantastic basketball player. Not the best at baseball or golf, but he tried a few times. And in doing so, he slipped a little on the bball court. When he solely focuses on one game, he's fantastic. When he was ONLY a golfer, great work! When he was ONLY a baseball player, great. But all three at once? Nope. It's an all or nothing deal. So you get your one game and that's it. Be the best at it.

You've paid your way through to a few local tournaments and managed to scrounge up the funds for a national event. You've made it into the finals. This is your big break, right? Well no. Now you have to hob-nob with all of the businesses and convince them to sponsor you. Try to make them see that hey, you're just a regular guy like them, but you are awesome at playing this one video game. Even the MLG has strict requirements before it accepts newcomers. And in today's tech world, you should already have a website, Twitter, FaceBook, and Twitch account along with business cards. Anytime you are not gaming or practicing at that national tournament, you need to get your name out to every person that you pass. Let them know that you exist, otherwise why would anyone want to sponser you? Because even if you do with the national Smash Bros tourny, no one knows who you are if you do push yourself to the businesses.

So you go home, keep gaming, and stick to the local circuit. Maybe it earns you a nod from a local gaming store. But those who make it will tell you that half of their day is spent practicing their game. The other half is trying to stay on top of the business. Because when you become known, when people want to watch you and are willing to pay to watch you, you have to always be on and ready. There is no down time. You are always working.

Being a pro gamer is not easy. It requires constant work and vigilance. Fun? Maybe. But there are some days, and this I'm positive of, where the gamers want to be normal. Even that father/son Call of Duty team mentioned in the ABC story have had to work hard to get his college fund rolling. They are constantly out there promoting themselves through the internet and at local gaming events. There is no time to rest and enjoy the game as it was. Now, it's a business.

I always found it interesting how athletes are paid so much for their work when they throw a ball around a few days out of the year. But it's more then that. Those few days can be make or break situations for an entire team, and can determine that athlete's future with the club they have joined. The rest of the year focuses on practicing to be better. They don't experience life in the way the rest of us do, and that's where the larger paycheck comes into play. They are being paid to be the best, and to makeup for the loss "real world" time they would have with families and friends. eSports is no different.

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