Monday, March 10, 2014

The life of pro gamers is hard?

Sorry about no update yesterday. I was really sick with food poisoning, and so I wasn't as keen on doing a full-length thought process. I have been thinking about this topic for a few days now though, so I figured it was good to go into it even if I am still a bit under the weather.

There is a lot of discussion on the Internets about the difficult life of pro gamers. I would like to explain the truth of such things, because there's definite truth about it. There is also myth too, and we should bust some of that. The reality of it is that their life is actually pretty hard, but they don't work as hard as people think. So there's a sort of dual element there.

Pro gamers tend to "work" less than anyone making the same salary. I'm not actually sure how much they are salaried for (it probably varies) but my guess is that they make somewhere in the high five figures up to 150k/year. I have no actual evidence to support that, though. Some (especially outside the US) make additional money from sponsorships or streaming. In the gaming world though most sponsorships actually go towards paying team salaries and expenses. It's definitely a bit different than the real sports world where athletes get most of their own sponsorship money and the team has its own methods of income. We'll come back to real sports and e-sports comparisons in a bit. The short of it is that real athletes have much easier lives, though.

Back on topic, pro gamers typically do somewhere between 6 and 10 hours a day of scrims, coaching, and scheduled practice. This is for days they don't compete; obviously some time gets diverted to competing. Most teams say they do 8 hours of scrims a day, but this is basically a lie. I don't want to say this is necessarily bad though. Playing 8 hours straight with no coaching or analysis is pretty bad and having some alternate form of practice such as 1v1s or solo queue is also helpful.

Even if they wanted to set up 8 hours of scrims, there would be dead time between games unless two teams just decided to play with each other all day. I'm fairly certain that's not the case. It's likely that most teams play a number of sets with another team (taking a few hours), then there's a coaching period, then probably a break or lunch, then another group of games, then coaching and analysis of those, then some cooldown practice before the end of the workday. Depending on how long or short the games go, this could run longer or shorter, so 6-10 hours is probably a better guideline anyway.

As far as I know, players have 0-1 days off from this schedule per week. I am 100% certain that they do not get regular weekends, though they might have light practice days where they scrim less and solo queue more. This means that in general, they're working about 56 hours a week, which is not too bad if they're making nearly six figures with no expenses. I'd be surprised if they got paid less than $80k/year so overall their work time is pretty good for their pay (again, partly due to living in a gaming house).

The work they do is, as I mentioned above, not especially strenuous. It's even less continuous than a typical desk job and has more flexible breaks. Right now, pro gamer organizations are really bad about letting the players do what they want, so if they want to take a 30 minute break during a coaching or solo queue session, they don't really get held accountable. I think that there is some peer pressure things in place though so I'm not sure huge unscheduled breaks like that actually happen in practice.

A lot of their workday is also taken up by coaching and replay analysis. This is so important to improving performance so I absolutely see why it's done. However, it is a lot less real work than a typical desk job. It's a lot of work for the coach, of course. The players just have to listen and communicate, so while it requires their brains to be dialed-in, it doesn't require a lot of super active effort.

So we could say that pro gamers don't work as hard, especialy considering good salaries and free living for 56 hours a week. Most jobs like that are pretty cush, like we're talking low level medical profession jobs or high level office/desk jobs or low level legal administrative jobs. But that's not the whole story.

Pro gamer jobs suck. I mean they really, really suck. Their lives are unbelievably stressful. This is not like pro sports where just making it into the job ensures that you are set for life. In e-sports you have to be the best, and being the 7th best LoL team in your region is not good enough. This means that they practice hard. Their jobs are not jobs like those of normal people.

As a normal person, you can be merely OK at your job. Once you have the job, you don't need to be the best at it. You simply meet the job requirements. If a pro gamer job was like a real job, all you'd need to do is meet the "Diamond 1 support and good enough to make an interview" requirement, and then you'd be set. Your job could fire you if you were incompetent but chances are you're not. You might not be the best support in the world. You probably aren't even in the top 50, but that's OK.

Being a pro gamer is nothing like that. If you're not in the top 20 supports in your region, you have probably 0% chance of keeping your job. This is doubly true of solo lanes. If you don't synergize well with your team, you're out even if you're in the top 10. This is (I think) what happened with Chaox, for instance, and it's definitely what happened with Dan Dinh.

Teams like Cloud 9 are super lucky that they're all friends AND all super good. In particular, having two world-class solo laners plus a world-class jungler is insane. The fact that their bottom lane is among the best in their region is completely crazy. What makes all of that actually crazy is the fact that they are all friends and all work well together. Teams like Curse are having to continuously hunt for players to fill roles, and there's no guarantee that everything will gel. If your team manages to actually stick together and keep winning enough that you keep sponsors paying, it's nothing short of a miracle in the esports world.

Pro gamers do not get paid enough for their poor job security. You can be hired and fired within a few months. What does a pro gamer do after spending their life, their free time, all on a video game? Almost nothing in the real world! Their only hope is to stream or produce other content people want, and hopefully things work out. Take a look at guys like Elementz, who are basically treated as laughingstocks in the pro gamer world simply because they didn't perform in the top .000001%. I feel really bad about guys like that because they put so much effort and energy into gaming, and are seeing very little for it. It also makes me worry about guys like ZionSpartan who dropped the option of going to school to be a pro gamer. I really hope those younger kids are saving their money because their time is so limited.

In the NFL, pro players are signed on for years, and in order to get out of those contracts, teams have to pay their way out of the contract. In those years, players are paid very generous sums of money. Two years of playing in the NFL or NBA or NHL or MLB is enough to set a person for life. With good investments and good life choices, a person can easily go from a kid out of college to wealthy entrepreneur in just a couple years. There's no such option for e-sports pros. They don't make enough to retire in a couple years, and on top of that they are also not guaranteed the same level of job security.

What this really means is that consumers that support e-sports really need to invest more in it. Watch e-sports streams with ads on. Subscribe to channels you like and donate to teams or players that you like. Buy from e-sports sponsors, especially online where you can say "I heard about your products from the GSL ads" (one of my friends actually did that when he bought G-Skill RAM) and so on. The more money that gets dumped into e-sports, the more likely companies will see it as a legitimate investment. Players pour their lives into being the best at what they do, and we can do a lot better for them than a five figure salary.

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