Largely hidden from the public eye, a rapidly growing community of fans is cropping up surrounding competitive gaming, or eSports, and the players behind them. In the U.S., events held by organizations such as Major League Gaming (MLG) can attract between 1.5 and 2 million unique viewers over a single weekend. In South Korea (where Starcraft has been declared the National Sport), 120,000 people gathered live in a stadium to watch the 2005 Starcraft championship game—40K more than attended the Super Bowl that same year.
Because of the rising interest in eSports, top gamers have been able to secure salaries, sponsorships, teams, and huge tournament prizes. Over the past 19 months, top Starcraft 2 player Jeong “Mvp” Jong Hyeon has earned $303,120 in prize money alone. During his prime, Lim “Boxer” Yo-Hwan was paid an annual salary exceeding $300,000 (excluding prize money and endorsements).
Salaries and tournaments aside, many professional gamers choose to supplement their income by streaming and coaching. The best players (or most entertaining) can instantly draw thousands of viewers to their stream, generating ad revenue through partnerships with companies like TwitchTV. As of March 2011, Steven “Destiny” Bonnell reported making $3,500/month in ad revenue, and another $1,500 in coaching. The current average hourly rate for a Starcraft 2 player coaching session from gosucoaching.com is $83.80, depending on the coach.
While there’s no denying that a lot of cash is flowing through the eSports machine, the sobering truth of the matter is that it’s not easy to break into the scene. Without recognition, you can forget about streaming revenue. Even a top ranking player will have difficulty setting up coaching sessions if no one knows his name. To get noticed, you need to compete, and you need to win. And winning isn’t easy. Many professional players live in team houses where they eat, drink, and breathe the game. Hundreds of amateur players will enter open pools in hopes of making their mark, but few will succeed.
Take Dutch player Ferry “Darkomicron” van de Pol for example. Ferry is 18 years old, fresh out of high school, and a high ranking Starcraft 2 player in the Europe region. Ferry, like others before him, is taking a gap year to pursue his gaming career full-time. But without a real job, money has become an issue. Traveling to major tournaments and booking hotels is expensive. He’d like to apply to a training house in Poland, but that’s another 600 euros a month he doesn’t have. In a recent interview he was asked what he would do if things don’t work out. He reluctantly concedes that his backup plan is to study, but that he isn’t ready to think about that just yet.
Darkomicron isn’t the only one to set his studies aside to pursue a career in eSports. Many players put their schooling aside or dropout completely in order to focus on their game. 22-year-old Swedish player Jonathan “Jinro” Walsh says he doesn’t regret his decision to drop out of school at the age of 16 (see clip below for more on Jinro and other players).
But is abandoning school for sports the right decision? Maybe you should ask Kwame Brown, who in 2001 made history as the 1st number one NBA draft pick to be selected straight out of high school. With a three-year $11.9 million contract, the decision was probably pretty safe. So is eSports really that different? In my estimation, it’s a lot riskier. Just like professional athletes, pro gamers’ careers don’t last forever. Unlike professional athletes, who can retire with a healthy sum of money to invest into a fresh start in life, it’s not a sure bet that many pro gamers will share that same luxury, or even have money left in savings.
So what if you’re not ready to give up your education to completely dedicate yourself to a career in eSports, but you’re a good enough player that you don’t want to have to take another job just to support yourself through school? You might be in luck. This week at E3, TwitchTV announced a new partnership with Alienware and Steelseries to provide $50,000 in scholarships to be divided among five outstanding student gamers.
According to Emmet Shear, CEO of TwitchTV:
We’ve seen the competitive gaming landscape explode over the last year, as marked by our site’s traffic, as well as the sharp increase in the number of pro tournaments, sponsor interest and number of players who are able to support themselves by streaming their games. The scholarship concept was inspired by our desire to give something back to the community…
Frank Azor, General Manager of Alienware explains that the goal of the scholarship program “is to encourage the top players to pursue higher education while continuing to compete at the highest levels of gaming. We’ve got a pretty competitive community out there and we are looking forward to providing an opportunity to foster that same passion for education.”
The scholarship committee, consisting of industry experts, will judge applicants based on their current GPA, in-game ranking, and tournament history. Applicants will also be required to submit an essay and video arguing why they deserve the funding, and why gaming is important to them. Applications are due by July 15, 2012 and winners will be announced on August 15.
So will $10,000 be enough to help players “compete at the highest levels of gaming” while still advancing their education? Who do you think will benefit most from the money? Discuss below.
Further reading on balancing school and going pro:
- TeamLiquid Forum: [Q] Is this a realistic goal? (Becoming a progamer)
- TeamLiquid Forum: [Q] Young pro-gamers and school.
- League of Legends Forum: Making money streaming your games
- IGN: How to Make Money Playing Starcraft II
- Team Dignitas Blog: Interview with semi-pro SC2 player, Darkomicron
- New York Times: Virtual Leagues Fold, Forcing Gamers to Find Actual Jobs
About the author
Mike is a Diamond-level Starcraft 2 player, eSports enthusiast, blogger, redditor, designer, husband, and father. Outside of DegreeSearch, Mike keeps a Zerg strategy journal at Zergology.