June 2nd, 11:21pm America/New_York

Pro-gamers lack an appreciation of money

Taylor "Hydrolis" Linden on Fri, 12/21/2012 9:18PM

This is an opinion article, and is the sole opinion of the author. It does not necessarily reflect the official stance of ESEA or its subsidiaries.

Something that has always been fascinating to me is the amount of money professional gamers can win in such a short amount of time. Yes, I realize it is extremely hard to be a champion and win tournaments (although these days, you don’t have to come first to take home significant cash). It takes a lot of desire, discipline, and dedication (see what I did there?), but the fact still remains, there is a lot of money to win in professional gaming, and there’s plenty of opportunities to win it.

What is and has been up for grabs:

ESFIWorld.com just recently put out an article saying that just under $540,000 was awarded in the month of November for SC2 tournaments alone. Putting aside the topic of oversaturation in eSports (as it would be impossible for players to actually attend every single tournament and have a chance at all of that money), that’s a crap ton of a money. Not only is it a lot of money, those prize pools were also distributed among solo-competitors (not split across a team). League of Legends, another dominant eSports title, handed out over $279,000 in major events in the month of November and the upcoming title Counter-Strike: Global Offensive has been awarding tens of thousands to top competitors (mostly NiP) in recent times as well.
Moscow Five

This is not something new either. Fatal1ty won $150,000 for taking first in the CPL NYC World Tour Finals in 2005 for Painkiller, two DotA2 teams have won $1,000,000 each by claiming the top spot at ‘The International 2011/2012’ tournaments ($200k per player), Blizzard’s Battle.net World Championship (BWC) just gave out $100,000 for winning their SC2 tournament, and the first place prize for the League of Legends Season 2 World Championship was also $1 million dollars. This is by no stretch of the imagination an exhaustive list, as there have been hundreds of huge pay outs for players and teams across the years in a variety of different games, but the cash prizes from these events illustrate my point. Since very early on in eSports competitions, pro-gamers have been competing for life-changing amounts of money, and those who succeed, seem to do it without displaying any sort of appreciation for how much cold hard cash they’ve just won. I could be wrong, as I’m not a pro-gamer, but I’ve followed this scene religiously since 2005 and that is the impression I’ve gotten.

Let me also say that I am not writing this article to preach. My point is not to tell everyone that they should ‘understand the value of a dollar.’ I’m a 23 year old graduate student who has only lived on his own for the past few years. I get paid to go to school (which has been the case since I started undergrad when I was 17 due to scholarships), and I have only worked a few summer jobs to pass the time. I’ve never slaved away at a minimum wage job trying to get by, I’m not trying to support a family by working two jobs 60 hours/week – I’m just a young eSports fan, like most of you. Then again, I don’t come from a wealthy family or anything either, so maybe that is why this particular issue is one that stands out to me.

Gamers just want to win:

You always hear competitive gamers say (and I’ve heard this numerous times over the past 7 years, from players in a variety of games): ‘I don’t do it for the money. I do it for the title, for the trophy. I just want to win; I want to be the best.’ This begs the question, are these pro-gamers being honest? Do they actually not care about the $5k, $10… or $100k they could potentially take home if they win a few games at a tournament? I’m really not sure. I would argue that they don’t care about the money all that much, because if they did – they probably wouldn’t be the champions that they are.

So much money, so little time:

Plain and simple: players are taking home checks after a two day eSports tournament that would take a ‘normal person’ working a full-time job (40 hours/week, 48 weeks/year) years upon years to make. Obviously the exact dollar figures come down to how much you’re making per hour, and how many weeks of vacation you’re taking, but generally speaking, you need to make about $50/hour working full time, taking about 4 weeks off per year, to make $100,000/year. For those who are not aware, $50/hour is a lot of money. You need an education and a very good job to be pulling in that kind of cash. A very small percentage of North-Americans make that kind of money, and if they do, it takes them 48 weeks at 8 hours per day to do it.
BWC $100k Check

Now, take someone who has went to college/university for years, acquired debt, battled for a job, moved up within a company, worked the 9-5 grind for years upon years – let’s just call that the ‘typical person.’ If you were to tell them: ‘I’ll give you the opportunity to win in two days what you have to work 2 years full-time for. All you have to do is play a video game for 8 hours a day (let’s be honest, most pro-gamers don’t even do that), you get to live in an all-expense paid team house (not all pro-players get this opportunity, but many do), you get paid a salary, you get flown around the world, you get to experience pseudo-celebrity status, and you’ll get numerous opportunities to make this money since there are numerous tournaments per year.’ How do you think they would respond?

They would likely say that it sounds like a dream job, because it is, and most pro-gamers acknowledge that. But they would also say: ‘Wow, that’s a ton of pressure, that’s such a unique and privileged opportunity – I wonder if I could perform my absolute best with so much money on the line. Winning a single tournament could change the course of my life, my families’ lives, forever.’ This train of thought brings me to the point of this article:

Do you think someone with ‘life experience,’ with an appreciation with how much time and energy it actually takes to make that money a ‘traditional 9-5 way,’ would approach a pro-tournament the same way as a young naïve gamer? I would say: not a chance. If you’re in the semi-finals of a tournament, and you’re back in your hotel room the night before the finals thinking ‘Wow… I can win more money in the next 24 hours than I would make in my regular job for the next thousand+ days… all I have to do is win a few more matches’ – you’re going to freak out, you will.

I feel like having a solid appreciation of money would be crippling for a professional gamer. If a player were to sit down in the booth, during a finals match, thinking to him/herself: ‘It would take me a university degree, a great job, hundreds of days, and thousands of hours to make this money the traditional way’ – they wouldn’t be able to move their hands, they wouldn’t be able to think. It would be paralyzing, it would be too much. The only logical reason I can fathom for why some pro-gamers don’t crumble under this ‘reality’ is because they’re not aware of it. Maybe that’s why 15-16 year olds are winning SC2 tournaments left and right these days, maybe that’s why we rarely find pro-gamers older than mid-20’s. I’m not really sure – but I would be curious to see how the members of Taipei Assassins (the LoL team that won $1mil or $200k each in S2) would respond to the question: ‘How does it feel to make more money in a few days than most people in the world make in years’? My guess is that they really haven’t thought about it, no pro-gamers really have, and that is one of the reasons why they succeed.

Closing remarks:

I’ll leave you with this: I remember attending the NASL S3 Grand Finals (a SC2 event in Toronto, Canada) and walking out of the venue at the end of day one (it was a two day event). Stephano, one of the best players in the world,
Team NoA
undefeated in the tournament at that point, and he was sitting alone, on a bench, in the dark, in front of the venue. He was a heavy favourite to win the whole thing, and with $30,000 up for grabs for first place the next day, I suspected he would be nervous & anxious for the task that awaited him. Yet, when I stood there looking at him, he was just a young kid, in a country completely foreign to him, without a care in the world. Stephano has won over $200,000 in under 2 years since he started competing in SC2. Do you think he understands how much money that really is? For those who didn’t watch that tournament, the next day Stephano took first place winning significantly more money than someone working a minimum wage full-time job (40 hours a week, $10/hour) for an entire year would.

Not bad for two days work, not bad.

About the author:

I’ll take this opportunity to (re)introduce myself to the ESEA community. I am Hydrolis, an eSports journalist from Canada whom has been involved in the scene since 2005. I started off writing for CheckSix Gaming in 2005, and moved along to X3O in 2008 and SK in 2010. Since then I have not been actively publishing content – but I’ve been following eSports from afar (admittedly, mostly SC2). I am a CS 1.6 ‘guy’ at heart, it is what got me into competitive gaming, and most of my previous work focused on that game.

ESEANews has brought me on board to put out a couple editorials a month on a variety of eSports-related topics. They will be heavily opinion-based, and will revolve around my personal experiences in this scene over the past 7+ years. I hope what I put out stimulates discussion, gets you thinking, and informs some of you.

You can check out two articles I recently published below:

1) eSports history lesson: pro-gamers/teams of the past, former eSports titles, SC2/LoL (Dec 10, 2012)

2) The rapid change of spectatorship & social media in eSports (Dec 13, 2012)

Looking forward to the discussions that ensue and getting back in touch with the ESEA community!

(Images courtesy of League of Legends & CatchGamer)
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