People of all ages, but mostly teenagers and men under the age of 30, have been able to create real businesses surrounding their video game handles. With names like Ninja, KuroKy and UNiVeRsE, these players have earned millions of dollars from prize money in esports as well as royalties through streaming games and providing commentary on same.
Because of their age and industry, they often face unique challenges as they prepare to build their respective brands and businesses, and it would be wrong to discount what they have collectively created as anything less than smaller sized enterprises.
Yesterday, I was a witness to the newly created H1Z1 Pro League, which is a new 10 week competition that includes 75 gamers representing a total of 15 teams who will battle it out over the course of the schedule in Las Vegas while earning roughly $50,000 per player guaranteed, plus benefits. The league is based on the battle royale style H1Z1, which is a lesser played game than Fortnite and PUBG but similar in many respects, with a last-man-standing type of game play.
While spectating, I observed the following hurdles that these gamers face despite finally being able to earn livings from their passion.
1. Their skills are not easily transferable.
First of all, should they wish to exit the world of gaming altogether, then they will find difficulty in using their experience as gamers to qualify them for roles in other businesses. While they will certainly be able to show their proclivity to work as part of a team, since players are organized into organizations like Cloud9, Echo Fox, Counter Logic Gaming and Luminosity (as some of the largest names), they are doing so in an effort to win a video game, which hirers may not see as being very transferable.
But there is even an issue with transferable skills within the esports industry itself. If the H1Z1 Pro League doesn't last more than 10 weeks and is not renewed for a second season, then these gamers who have spent countless hours practicing and perfecting their skill for the particular game played will be required to learn a brand new game in the same genre or otherwise. Even in the battle royale genre, H1Z1 is very different than Fortnite, and the skills are not interchangeable.
2. Say goodbye to friends and family.
A common critique and concern for a lot of gamers, and especially those who trend younger and are based outside the U.S., is that they are required to leave their friends and family during training and then for the 10 week period of actual game play. For many, this is their first time leaving home, which more traditionally occurs once a teenager leaves for college. Some of these players are foregoing college altogether or at least delaying it to follow their passion, but the distance from home is difficult to deal with.
3. So long to social life.
This somewhat relates to the prior point. Players become completely consumed with becoming the best in the game they're playing and meshing with their teammates who they don't select, but instead are brought together by respective team managers. Either the players get along with their teammates or they don't, but they have little choice in the process. And whatever relationships they had prior to partaking in a competition are at least temporarily placed on hold.
4. A secure job is a thing of the past.
I heard many gamers discuss how their parents were not on board with them dedicating their professional lives to gaming, but that it got a bit easier when leagues came around promising real salaries. Even so, some still struggle with the idea that they have no job security.
One player recognized that he gave up his 9-to-5 job to travel to Las Vegas and participate in the H1Z1 Pro League and said, "who in their right mind, at least in this day-and-age, gives up a job to play video games?" His action answers his own question. These "kids" are certainly taking risks, as many do when they take a non-traditional route to becoming a professional in services outside of being a doctor, lawyer or accountant. It may pay off if esports continues to grow and it may not, especially if a player isn't at the top of his trade. But it will undoubtedly be an interesting industry to watch for the foreseeable future.