‘It’s not as awesome as people imagine’: Esports players say ‘dream job’ is more than fun and games


Professional Gamer Jake Lyon, of the Overwatch League’s Houston Outlaws, stands out of doors Overwatch Area at Blizzcon, the place was once commentating on suits and interacting with lovers. (Noah Smith for The Washington Publish)

Lucas Tao Kilmer Larsen, 21, recollects fantasizing about how superior his lifestyles could be if he may just grow to be a certified online game participant.

“That’s going to be a dream process and I’m going to experience my lifestyles so a lot more,” Larsen recollects considering when he was once a 15 year-old youngster rising up in Denmark.

The truth, he has discovered, is rather other.

As esports proceed their march towards mainstream acceptance, online game publishers, groups and gamers all in finding themselves studying at the fly and navigating new, and in lots of circumstances surprising, demanding situations that had been as soon as reserved for best tier conventional sports activities athletes and celebrities.

In recent interviews, Larsen and other pro gamers shared what it is like to be on the front lines of this mushrooming industry, revealing an ever-evolving world of long hours, league-mandated obligations and few mechanisms for esports athletes to push back against the standardized expectations.

“It’s definitely my dream job. But over time, it’s become more and more a of a job. … It isn’t as fun as anymore, I see it more of a job now,” said Larsen, better known on the League of Legends circuit as “Santorin.” He says he logs up to 14 hours of gameplay per day, and only sees his friends “once a year, for 5-8 hours.”

Though while they noted that their early visions of this new-age career path are very different from the reality, they all said they embraced many elements of their current way of life.

“It’s not as awesome as people imagine,” he said, before adding that he has had a chance to travel the globe and attain his goal becoming one of the best players in the world — and being recognized as such by fans, which he described as “pretty awesome.”

These kinds of conflicts are emblematic of the current moment in esports. Adoring fans come with concerns about security and problematic access to players. Rich contracts come with onerous hours and a pressure to maximize personal branding. Feature roles in slick commercials and magazine features come with the risk of losing focus, and losing a job in a world where the average playing career spans just a couple years, less than an average NFL running back.


Team Liquid’s League of Legends LCS team eats breakfast at the team’s new facility in Santa Monica, Calif. (Noah Smith for The Washington Post)

The grind of pro gaming

For pro players, almost all of whom grew up before a viable career path as a gamer seemed possible, striking the right balance between work and life can be tricky. Larsen’s 14-hour days are more or less standard among his peers and represent one of the longest work weeks for any job in the United States, according to the American Community Survey PUMS data set.

League of Legends Championship Series (LCS) players like Larsen routinely practice for more than 12 hours per day, usually with one day off per week. Players also have ancillary obligations, such as being available to sponsors and the media as well as a contractually-stipulated number of hours they must stream their gameplay online. This figure varies, but a person with knowledge player scheduling from Team Liquid, a top esports organization, said their team requires about 30 hours per month.

“I just thought I’d get to play video games for a living pretty much,” said Jason “WildTurtle” Tran, Larsen’s teammate on FlyQuest. “I didn’t really know how much effort and time you actually have to put in to compete at the highest level.

“A lot of the general public thinks that pro players are just having fun, making money, and playing video games and it’s very easy, but I don’t think that’s the case at all.”

The rewards for top players are substantial, however. Average salaries for LCS players are now in the mid-low six figures and Overwatch players earn a reported average bordering the six figure mark. That is in addition to any earned prize money, with pools ranging into the tens of millions for some competitions.

“We are trying to compete at the highest level, so we are going to be putting in our time and research to get better at our craft,” said Tran.

Playing to the crowd, for better and worse

For pro gamers, there is an added obligation beyond competition, owing to the grass roots nature of competitive gaming culture. After pro matches, fans expect to be able to directly interact with their favorite players, much as they do online.

“A really big part of an LCS match is the interaction with the fans,” said Vincent “Biofrost” Wang, 22, a player on Counter Logic Gaming’s LCS squad.

While most of those interactions are positive for both players and fans, sometimes it can get uncomfortable. In a bizarre incident earlier this year, at least two LCS players claimed a fan twisted their nipples all the way through a league-sanctioned post-match meetup.

Some other participant at the Houston Outlaws of the Overwatch League, reported receiving death threats online, one thing a feminine esports commentator stated she receives on a “daily basis.”

In discussions with The Publish, gamers additionally discussed undesirable consideration on-line.

“On-line it will get just a little bizarre,” stated Jake Lyon, any other participant within the Overwatch League (OWL). He stated a minority of lovers, who skew more youthful, will also be overzealous of their interactions and really feel as though they “are pals or one thing extra.” Some feminine lovers have requested him out on dates — an enjoy commonplace to many gamers in LCS and OWL.

Legal professional and participant agent Ryan Morrison, founder and CEO of Advanced Ability Company, stated his purchasers have confronted a large number of “extremely terrifying scenarios” together with demise threats and “excessive romantic issues” from stalkers on-line.

Kyle Souder, an assistant trainer for Overwatch’s Paris staff, stated gamers are incentivized to be as out there as imaginable, be it on-line, at fan meets, or in movies, because it is helping construct their manufacturers — which is able to live much longer than their careers as gamers. The accessibility at reside occasions has raised questions of gamers’ protection, then again, in particular after a capturing at a Madden NFL event in Jacksonville this previous summer time.

“Not anything has came about but, however I believe find it irresistible may just,” stated Souder, in connection with The Overwatch League’s reside suits. “When gamers are strolling onstage, not anything is preventing someone from leaping on those gamers or touching them by any means. … The clock is ticking down. It’s going to occur ultimately.”

Chris Hopper, Head of North American Esports at Insurrection Video games, which runs LCS, stated referring to reside occasions that the “very first thing that we’re at all times going to believe is the bodily protection of all concerned.”

Hopper stated that lovers have a “belief of proximity” and “higher level of kinship” to professional gamers that isn’t held in different primary sports activities and items a novel problem of accommodating lovers whilst protecting gamers protected.

“It’s indisputably a decent line to stroll,” stated Hopper, who famous steel detection, safety cameras, and a devoted safety staff as one of the most tactics the LCS controls its occasions. The Overwatch League declined to remark for this newsletter.

In spite of attainable fears and one of the most cited uneasy interactions, gamers stated the entire fan enjoy, particularly in individual, is certain. Many believe it a spotlight in their professional standing, particularly since so few of them expected receiving the type of consideration reserved for standard professional athletes and celebrities.

“Every so often I am getting known and it’s at all times in reality cool to me,” stated Wang.


Participants of the title-winning London Spitfire stand on degree on the Overwatch League’s inaugural championship. (David ‘Dee’ Delgado for The Washington Publish)

Little leverage for trade

With regard to protection, mandated availability and different exertions problems, gamers in esports don’t have the good thing about a union, like their friends in different best American sports activities leagues. Professional gamers of the sport Counter-Strike: World Offensive (CS:GO) have a nonprofit gamers’ affiliation and League of Legends has an affiliation for its gamers as neatly, which was once funded by means of the sport’s developer — and league proprietor — Insurrection. Those don’t, then again, qualify as unions and the gamers’ employers don’t have to interact with the ones our bodies, as an alternative enticing immediately with gamers on a person stage. In spite of the equivalent names, the gamers associations in primary sports activities, such because the NBPA, NFLPA, NHLPA, and MLBPA are exertions unions and take part in collective bargaining with their respective leagues.

In line with Morrison, many gamers don’t have illustration in any respect.

“We do our best possible,” stated Morrison with regards to caps at the selection of days gamers should be to be had, hours they have got to apply and circulate on Twitch in addition to get admission to to nutritionists, running shoes, and trip reimbursements. “The ‘glad professional way of life’ we all know and love from conventional sports activities? Esports isn’t with regards to that but as a common rule.”

Players have little leverage to push back against any demands made by teams and software publishers, which run many of the esports leagues. Playing careers are often brief, and start at a relatively young age. In a 2016 interview, George “HotshotGG” Georgallidis, owner of Counter Logic Gaming team, said the average career length for a pro is “a year to two years.” The average player age for League of Legends LCS is just over 21, compared to 29.2 for MLB and 26.6 for the NFL, according to ESPN.

Further adding to player stress is the knowledge that many of them are highly replaceable. A poor tournament result can lead to a terminated contract, or even an entire roster being released, as two LCS teams did after 2017. Another team replaced all but one player.

Beyond their personal labor concerns, these factors also make it difficult for players to push for security enhancements. Still, players expressed general contentment with their current work situations, acknowledging that this, being a pro esports player, is the first job they have held.

Pointing out the “nice” accommodations when they travel, food and facilities, Wang said he feels like his current team “really cares” about its players.

“It’s a nice job,” he said with a laugh, but got serious when discussing his hopes regarding what teams will offer their players in the future.

“Maybe just providing what traditional companies provide like retirement plans. … A lot of pro players are worried about what they’re going to do after being a pro,” said Wang.

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