Esports on the Rise: How to Make a Living in the Pro Gaming Industry
by Sandra Chen
Sandra is currently a Content & Business Development Intern at Vocatio. She also works as a business strategist and competitive coach for several teams and organizations in the gaming industry. As an industry attendee at this year’s E3 Expo in Los Angeles, she wanted to share some insight on the competitive video gaming scene and how students can pursue a career in the space.
Video games, once associated with stereotypes of awkward, antisocial teenagers, have gradually moved into the entertainment and media spotlight in recent years. In some countries such as Korea and China, professional video gamers are major celebrities, and now in the US the most talented players are starting to achieve fame as well. Major professional gaming events attract as many fans as the most popular of traditional sports events–the Intel Extreme Masters tournament recently hit 46 million unique viewers worldwide in one event, more than any NBA Finals game ever. Competitive gaming, a.k.a. “esports,” is garnering the attention of many big-name investors, who are pouring billions of dollars into the budding industry. Everyone from corporate investors (such as executive board members from Paramount) to traditional sports franchises (Philadelphia 76ers, Miami Heat) and former sports stars (Shaquille O’Neal, Magic Johnson, Alex Rodriguez) have gotten in on the action.
What this means is that video games aren’t just a hobby anymore. As the esports industry booms, the career opportunities within it grow just as rapidly, and most of them are not involved with game development at all. The need for non-technical talent is huge. Consumer brands, game publishers, leagues, and professional teams are all trying to figure out where the industry is going and how to capitalize on it, and are finding a need for individuals in marketing, strategy, management, business, digital media, law, and even mental and physical health. Because esports is such a raw, young industry, there’s a shortage of experienced, seasoned professionals in the space. That leaves ample room for new talent to join in and start accumulating experience- there are plenty of doors to open, it’s just a matter of knowing where to look. So how can students get their foot in the door?
Getting Your Feet Wet
While more organizations are starting to offer student internships, they are still few and far between–and difficult to score unless you are well networked in the esports community and already have some experience under your belt. The good news is that the industry is so new, everyone is still trying to get a good feel for what needs to be done and how to do accomplish those goals. That means there’s always a unique way for you to apply your strongest skills–now all you have to do is hone and apply them. When companies hire in esports, they want to see candidates that show passion and have taken initiative, so your best bet is to be proactive in your own esports ventures!
The easiest place to start is at your own school: many schools already have student esports organizations in place, plenty of which compete in college leagues. Some even operate under their university’s official varsity sports programs. In the past 3 years, 40 schools in the US have begun offering scholarships for competitive gamers, totaling over $4 million. Volunteer as an officer for your esports club, or–better yet–if your school doesn’t have one, start your own! Many student founders in collegiate esports move on to opportunities at companies like Blizzard, Riot, and professional teams because bringing a community together shows great leadership and initiative.
Entrepreneurship is Always an Option
There are plenty of opportunities outside of school to start getting involved as well. With venture capital investors beginning to recognize the massive potential of the industry, some students have been pursuing esports work in the form of their own startups, since there are so many imminent problems to be solved and spaces to be filled. Examples include Esports Squared, a startup that develops collegiate scholarship programs and matches coaching talent with teams that need them, and Ward Esports, who develop an app that helps fans find local esports events. Organizing and running local gaming gatherings or competitions is another fantastic way to make an impact in the scene. There are even university students who do their undergraduate research or graduate theses on video games. Working on your own esports-related projects, no matter how small, is a great way to demonstrate your passion for the industry and greatly increase your chances of landing your full-time dream esports job.
Getting Your Hands Dirty
While all of these avenues provide valuable experience for your career in esports, there’s one key aspect you can’t forget about: networking. Like in any other industry, especially in entertainment, your network is going to be one of the most important tools in your career. Take some time to get involved in the community by reaching out to other professionals or aspiring professionals in esports, attending events such as tournaments or conventions, and meeting new people. Start conversations with them about why esports matters to you and what you hope to accomplish. Write an analysis on a problem you see within the industry and share it on the internet. The newest, biggest investors have much more money to offer than knowledge of the community, so more than anything, they need people who understand the space–that’s where you come in. The more you put yourself out there, the more opportunities will become available to you!
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