In other words, video games (and other types of games) were once clumped under the umbrella of entertainment and/or recreation. The idea of creating a living from games was mostly tied to developing, marketing, and programming titles—not competing.
However, even from the earliest days of arcade gaming, some players wanted to stake their claim as the greatest in the world. Today, these early competitions have survived and evolved into fully fledged eSports leagues that are on par with traditional sports. More than ever before, players are able to carve out a living from their skills by competing.
In other words, what starts as a hobby could flip into a career—but only for those who are dedicated, focused, and savvy. Let’s explore the world of professional gaming, starting with two fields that are often overlooked.
Poker has been around for close to two hundred years and is popular on a global scale. For the most part, players today learn the rules of poker online, where they also start competing with other beginners. In fact, just like many other pro gamers on this list, poker players will cut their teeth in online tournaments. They’ll do so with the hopes of qualifying for an in-person event hosted by the European Poker Tour (EPT) or World Series of Poker (WSOP).
Though almost anyone can join in and start competing with the hopes of advancing, only the crème of the crop will turn a cash game into the start of a professional career. It takes a lot of skill and studying to become the best of the best.
Though not nearly as vast as the scale of global professional poker, collectible and trading card games (CCGs or TCGs) are also must grander than many think. In fact, Magic: The Gathering contests also predate modern eSports leagues. Today, CCGs have diversified greatly, including titles like Yu-Gi-Oh! and even digital CCGs like Hearthstone.
Like poker, these games place a heavy emphasis on mental gymnastics and analytical thinking. Professional CCG players tend to compete for smaller prize pools in regional competitions and might take home around $5,000 for larger tournaments.
Before eSports leagues took off, gaming was being boosted by hugely popular Twitch streamers. These include names like Ninja and xQc, which regularly stream for millions of live viewers. While this might not seem like a traditional way to make money for gaming, as it places the emphasis on entertainment rather than winning, it’s still a viable career for professional gamers.
Though these gamers aren’t quite as competitive as eSports players on world-class rosters, they have the tough job of trying to do their best in games while also engaging with followers, entertaining views, and interacting with gamers that they’re playing against. In other words, it’s a lot to juggle—and it takes a lot of professional skills to keep audiences coming back. For this reason, streamers are the highest-paid players in the modern gaming industry. Successful streamers can rake in thousands a month from sponsorship deals.
eSports Competitors (PC, Console, & Mobile)
Though eSports have been around for a short period of time, the industry has evolved quickly. Many have pointed to the early investment and participation from athletes as a reason; as pro sports stars funneled their money into the industry, they also helped steer gaming infrastructure. This means that many elements of pro eSports closely mirror pro sports.
Gamers who show an early interest in certain titles might decide to target gaming as a career. This means they’ll pore time and resources into developing their skills just like a young athlete would. From there, they’ll seek to be recruited by a college program that might train them for the ‘big leagues’ or they might look to join an eSports roster as soon as possible. Others might instead head to training academies to refine their skills—or even Twitch to help them gain attention.
Once they’ve proven their skills, they’ll join a professional team and brand. At that time, their career will be the subject of contractual obligations, sponsorships, and international travel as they compete at a global level—just like a traditional sports star. Most pros make around $60,000 a year, while top players might make up to $190,000 a year.