PROFESSIONAL COMPETITIVE GAMING
So, you're not looking to pussyfoot around the edges of gaming for a living
... you wanna be a card-carrying, certified Professional Gamer! Thrilling audiences with your exploits, taking home tournament prizes, etc. and so on.
The good news -- it's possible. The bad news -- it's statistically very unlikely to work out for you unless you're a savant at a particular game. And that game happens to be one of the latest and hottest multiplayer-fests. And you're willing to basically devote your life to playing that game, because your competition consists of equally good savants who are doing just that.
Esports vs. Other Things
Professional gaming is basically a small cluster of people making pretty nice money, and then a whole lot of hopefuls and wanna-bes trying to subsist on scraps before their dream gets completely snuffed out. So it's a lot like any other professional sport, really. But if you remain undeterred ...
Please note that we kind of jam esports together indistinctly with other forms of competitive gaming on this page. That's because the page is singly concerned with the money-making aspect of things; the average esports athlete is probably in it for more than just money, but high-level esports is also where the most money is.
How Do Pro Gamers Get Paid?
Here are the main methods by which you'll be looking to make your nut as a pro gamer:
- Winning tournaments or competitions
- Creating your own YouTube channel / Twitch stream (and monetizing it with some sort of advertising like Google AdSense)
- Transitioning to being a commentator (if you get famous)
You certainly notice a common theme here ... these moneymaking methods require you to be really, really, really good. You might be able to do a YouTube or Twitch channel as a lesser light, but you're going to have to spice it up with humor. Or titty
. Something like that.
What Games Is It Feasible To Go Pro At?
The two main themes here are recent and popular, at least if you want the most regular action and biggest paydays. You need popular and recent games that not only have a lot of people playing them, but more importantly, a lot of people willing to watch other people play them. That boils down to a few primary genres: first-person shooters, sports, real-time strategy, MOBA, Pokemon, "card battle" games, and fighting games.
As with the computer programming world, every few years or so you're basically going to have to update your skill set (moving on to a new game / new iteration of your favorite game) to stay relevant. Most professional gamers get in on the ground floor with one particular game, stick with it for a few years until it dies out (or they get burnt out), and are either out of the field entirely or transitioned to commentating or some other peripheral job by the time they hit 30.
There's some exceptions to this that are more friendly to people who want to play stuff that's more obscure, less popular or just doesn't require the reflexes and manual dexterity of a Mt. Dew'd-up 16 year old. We'll get to those a little bit later though. For now, if you want the big money and big glory, these are the titles to be looking at:
* NBA 2K
* Gears Of War
* World of Tanks
* Street Fighter
* Super Smash Bros.
* Guilty Gear
* Mortal Kombat
* Pokken Tournament
* Marvel vs Capcom
* Forza Motorsport
To be honest, you know what the best way to identify the current biggest esports is? Look at the ones that the big sportsbooks / betting sites are taking action on. If a game is big enough to draw significant enough betting action to be profitable to a sportsbook, it's among the biggest in the world.
How Do You Get Started As A Professional Gamer?
There are a few different paths you can take, and things vary depending on your game of choice, but here are the main methods:
Win an Open
An "open" may have some qualifying conditions and/or a cap of people that can participate, but generally just about anyone can register to play -- you don't already have to be an established professional gamer to get into them. Winning an open (or placing highly enough) may net you a spot in an invitation-only competition for professionals. Opens are conducted both online and IRL.
Dominate Leaderboards And Get Scouted
Even though relatively few people succeed at it at a level to make a career out of it, eSports is becoming pretty big business and some of the major tours actively have scouts out looking for new talent they can promote. Among these are Major League Gaming
and Intel Extreme Masters
. There are also professional "teams" that scout around on their own looking for new members to recruit, some examples in this area are Fnatic
. Major teams are often not limited to just one game or one group of people, they'll field multiple groups for each game to cover different competitions.
Form Or Apply To A Team
Of course, you don't have to sit around waiting for a team or league to scout you. You can apply to existing teams, or link up with other promising players online to form a team and enter open online competitions. Many of the heavyweight teams got their start as just a few buddies teaming up playing in local in-person competitions and any online opens they could get into.
Where Can You Find Competitions?
Check the websites of the major pro tours / circuits for current listings. These include:
- Major League Gaming
- Intel Extreme Masters and ESL
- Evolution Championship Series
(EVO) (fighting games)
(Super Smash Bros. and Pokemon)
- Capcom Pro Tour
(Capcom fighting games)
- Call Of Duty World League
(Call of Duty games)
- Halo Championship Series
- League of Legends World Championship
- SMITE World Championships
- UMG Gaming
(Call of Duty games)
- Tournament Seeker
- Reddit eSports
What Kind Of Gear Do You Need?
You'll definitely need some more durable-than-usual gear to train on, and also usually some control devices that have features above and beyond the stock gamepad that comes packed in with consoles.
Exactly what you'll need depends on the game and platform you're playing on, but generally speaking these are all going to be good investments for each of the genres listed:
FPS / RTS / MOBA:
- Arcade Fighting Stick Niche Competitive Gaming
If all this esports stuff sounds like too much for you, there are a few little out-of-the-way areas of competitive gaming you can check out. Less action, lower prize pools, but also far less demanding / cutthroat.
Classic Arcade Games
Yep, there's still a competitive scene for old-school single-player arcade games, going all the way back to Frogger and Donkey Kong. Unfortunately, it seems to wane by the year. Major competitions like the Classic Arcade Gaming Invitational
and the International Classic Video Game Tournament
have seen their final installments in recent years.
One big one that still seems to be active for the moment is the Retro World Series
. California Extreme
also seems to be going. If you live near one of the big retro arcades, like Funspot in New Hampshire or Galloping Ghost in Chicago, you're probably best off checking in with them here and there to see what sort of smaller locals-focused competitions they're putting on.
Online Board and Card Games
There are a wide variety of venues online through which you can play various card and board games for prizes, often with free entry.
has periodic tournaments for staples like chess and checkers as well as a handful of card games like cribbage and gin rummy.
is a site that does both board and card games and seems to have periodic prizes of some sort.
- The BoardGameGeek Wiki
has a nice list of these types of sites, though it isn't filtered by those that offer prizes.
If all else fails? Just try Googling for competitions and tournaments for your game of choice to see if anything local is popping off anytime soon, or maybe even something online. For example, Tecmo Super Bowl contests
with small prize pools are not unheard of as that game has proven to be enduringly popular.