Get paid to play video games? Yes, please!
As spectator interest grows in the eSports arena, so do players’ paychecks.
If your parents told you that playing video games was a waste of time and money, start planning your “I told you so” speech right now, because professional video gaming is on the rise.
Competitive gaming, also known as eSports, is taking its place alongside traditional athletic events, and many anticipate it becoming the most popular spectator sport of the 21st century. More than 70 million people regularly stream eSports tournaments every year.
Championships are happening all across the globe. For example, last month, Israel hosted its first national video game championship. Called GameIn Pro, it drew a crowd of nearly 10,000 gamers and fans to the coastal Mediterranean city of Tel Aviv for two days of on-screen punches, sword slashes, magic potions and epic brawls.
Guy Chelouche, who helped organize the event, said the live championship was the grand finale to a longer online competition, taking place in the several weeks leading up to the event. “The event itself had semifinals and finals for each of the 10 games we showcased,” he said.
Chelouche – a product advisor for Overwolf, an Israeli-based video game company – said GameIn Pro was just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the world of competitive gaming. Competitive events have long been part of the video gaming culture, he said, but in the past “it was seen more as a hobby and not a lot of people came to see it.”
But times have changed – and quickly. South Korea was where competitive gaming as a spectator sport really took off, Chelouche explained. “When 'Starcraft' really went big, Korea started making really huge competitions, even giving out scholarships, to the top 'Starcraft' players – they’re superstars.”
Growing spectator interest in eSports is taking the competitive gaming industry to new levels. Emulating traditional spectator sports like football, baseball or soccer, eSports competitions are now broadcast for people to watch. And they typically include an analyst desk, a series of hosts who discuss the games, players and strategies, as well as ‘shoutcasters’ who offer play-by-play commentary, which boosts the level of excitement.
“The ecosystem is completely the same as watching an NFL game,” said Chelouche.
“You get very invested into the game and with the players. You want to cheer them on. And can easily sit at home in front of the television watch a game of 'League of Legends' or 'Dota 2,' drink beer and eat Doritos, and just have a nice, competitive match to watch – very much the same as any person who watches soccer.”
In fact, the NBA recently announced the formation of their own eSports league. The NBA 2K eLeague is scheduled to debut in 2018 complete with a virtual recruiting process and draft. Each NBA franchise can select five gamers to represent their team.
But being a professional video game player isn't easy; it takes a lot of work. In addition to natural talent, professional gamers spend around 12 hours each day in gameplay to hone their skills and maintain a high-ranking position. To even get noticed by scouters, a gamer must be within the top 200 players in the world for their game of choice, said Chelouche. Then there’s evaluating team dynamics, in-game skill sets and more that come into play.
“It's pretty damn hard,” he said. “It's possibly one of the hardest feats to achieve as a player. You need to have a lot of time on your hands and also be extremely good.”
But once you make the cut, there’s money to be had. Salaries for professional eSports athletes can vary widely based on skill, player reputation and social following, but can reach upwards of $70,000 – and that doesn’t include income from streaming and prize winnings.
The 2016 International Dota 2 competition has had the highest prize pool payout in eSports history, with the first place team bringing home more than $9 million in winnings. That's a fact that will fit nicely into any "I told you so" speech to the parents.
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