Many people make it to professional status in esports by winning a tournament, a one-off prize payment that kick starts their career. However, just as an estate agent can’t just sell one house, pros have a lot of pressure to keep winning so they can keep eating. If you work hard enough to make it to the big time, the key to staying there is to diversify.
This article will be focused on the business of being a pro player and how to remain sustainable, it follows on from “So you want to be an Esports Pro?” so you should check that out too.
Let’s take a step back. What does day to day life look like for a pro esports-er? Mostly, it’s playing games. Practice is key to any competitor’s performance and you just have to put the time in. Theorycrafting is also a big part of a player’s success and if you are a Hearthstone fan, you’ll have seen the mountains of Un’Goro preview videos and streams from people like Brian “Brian Kibler” Kibler and Jeffrey “Trump” Shih to Keaton “Chakki” Gill and Brian “Th3Rat” Courtade. These players get ahead of their competition by putting the time in to really analyse and compare the cards that are upcoming.
It’s not all about playing games though. To stay successful you have to create opportunities outside of the tournament space, so a lot of players will be putting time into content creation or streaming. YouTube and Twitch are great ways to bulk out your prize winnings with a little regular income, and it builds your personal brand as a player. A little known fact is that large tournaments often offer appearance fees to well-known players. This is to encourage the players to participate in the tournament and bring their viewership and fan-base to the tournament. The better known you are, the higher the appearance fee you can negotiate.
Communicating with other players is also important and is a big part of what keeps players at the top of their game. It’s extremely difficult to remain in a vacuum and continue to win tournaments. You have to interact with people, get a handle on what people are trying, who is running what strategies. To stick with Hearthstone, a great example is when Disguised Toast used Sacrificial Pact on Sjow’s Jaraxxus during the One Nation of Gamers tournament. Toast had been playing this deck on stream so Sjow could have known that had he seen or heard about it. Now, we’re not knocking Sjow here—because Sacrificial Pact is a crazy card to run—but it’s a really good example of just how much game winning information is out there in this world of YouTube and Twitch.
How do you prioritise all of this? That depends on you and what you want. Do you want to keep winning tournaments? Then practise and research are your number one priorities. Do you enjoy streaming or making YouTube content? If so, building your viewership by making yourself visible to the public and being consistent with a content schedule is essential. Outside of that, generating other opportunities such as getting involved with affiliate programs or sponsored content should be high up on the list. If you can minimise the financial need to win tournaments, odds are your mentality—and therefore your tournament play—will be much better.
We mentioned diversification already and it should be something that anyone running a business—being a professional player is running a business where you are the product—thinks about. You don’t want to be reliant on one revenue stream, it’s stressful and can push you to make bad long-term decisions in order to protect short-term income. Spreading your income over a variety of things is very important. A lot of pro players get signed to teams which lowers their personal need for diversification because the team should already be doing that through sponsorships and partnerships.
The key really is to think of yourself as a business that has you as the product. If you want to sell something to someone what do you do? You advertise. In the same way, the players who are successful outside of just winning tournaments are the ones who are tweeting how they are performing in a tournament, building hype around themselves through social media, getting involved in community events, going to the headline events on the esports calendar, and simply creating space for opportunity to find them. How often have you heard someone say “this is all because of that one moment where I locked myself out of my car at BlizzCon and had to walk two miles back to my hotel so I bumped into Jeff and we ended up having a beer before he introduced me to Frank from…” Probably not all that often because that’s quite specific but I’m sure you get the picture.
So you want to stay an esports pro? The key is diversify, network, market yourself, and be ready to try something different to stay ahead of the game.