Esports: a professional ambition

Is it possible to make a living from esports? According to some figures, the answer is yes. The sector now generates revenues comparable to the global tennis market1. The gamer profession, recognized in France by law since 2016 (“loi pour une république numérique”), is developing and structuring. Candidates are therefore more and more numerous, but only a few of them will reach top levels. Becoming a pro gamer is an arduous journey, which often depends on a solitary approach at first.

Passionate... and self-taught!

To emerge, players must first and foremost rely on themselves. If some of them benefit from the support of their close circle of friends - their first circle of supporters, they often have to train on their own, by specializing in a particular game and playing several hours a day. It's not enough to be talented, you have to make it known, by multiplying matches, developing your contacts, building your visibility. And by participating in tournaments. At this stage, some can earn up to 500 euros per month, depending on their victories. Not enough to live on, of course. So, most of them continue their studies, or keep their job in parallel, hoping to emerge and be scouted.

Frédéric Sialelli is a coach at GamersOrigin, a French club that brings together several teams. He coaches one of the teams involved in League of Legends. Known in the business as Glopo, he emphasizes that this stage, where players build themselves, is very selective: “You have to play a lot... It's not necessarily an easy time.” But things are changing: “The French circuit is currently being structured to facilitate the transition to professionalization.” On League of Legends, the “Open Tour France” championship, open to amateur or semi-professional players, allows players to stand out. Participating in try-outs with different teams is also a possibility. With the hope of eventually signing a contract with a club or a sponsor.
Frédéric Sialelli alias Glopo

Frédéric Sialelli alias Glopo

 

Required qualities: discipline and concentration

As in other high-level sports, game quality and "solo" rankings in competition are not everything. To join a professional club, you also need to be mentally fit and “coachable”, Glopo warns: “It means living together, working together, listening to criticism, receiving it, and knowing how to deal with it too.” He adds that “the human factor is the most important” because most of the competitions are played in teams.

Being a pro gamer also means a true work discipline, at the rate of five days a week, for five to eight hours a day. During competitive periods, the teams play an average of two matches per week. The rest of the time, they train on their own or during work sessions with other teams called “scrims”. The coach then examines the points to be worked on individually and collectively. Defining a strategy before a match, or leading a concerted offensive at the right time, are some of the aspects worked on in order to build a coherent, efficient and united squad.

Finally, it is important to keep concentration and reflex capacities intact, which are essential for gamers. As for any sportsman, taking care of one’s diet and sleep, not neglecting physical activity or a social life are essential to stay in the game. To keep “a healthy mind in a healthy body”, some clubs have recruited chefs, sports trainers and osteopaths. This type of supervision, already at work at GamersOrigin, is put forward by more and more clubs in France and in Europe, concerned about the health and development of their players. In the end, pushed by the craze and the sector’s professionalization, the level of the competitors does not cease to progress.

Lightning careers?

Whatever the game, careers at the top level are rather short: between the ages of 25 and 30, players are already considering a change, and gradually abandoning competition. Without necessarily leaving the world of gaming: other jobs are available in the esport sector, such as coach or commentator, within the structures organizing the competitions, or directly with the game publishers.

The status of pro gamers varies according to national legislation. In France, pro gamers – estimated at 189 people in 2019– will often work under the status of auto-entrepreneur, on a "freelance" contract or on a classic fixed-term contract. The specific contract created for esports in 2016 is indeed perceived by the profession as too restrictive and not adapted to the sector, especially in terms of social contributions and management of working time3.

As for the players' income, it depends on four sources: sponsorship from which they benefit; the salary paid by their team if they are under contract; the “cash prizes” linked to the tournaments they play in; and the income from streaming their games on communication platforms such as Twitch or YouTube. The amounts involved strongly depend on the competitive scene (format, structure, media coverage) and the level at which they play. It is therefore difficult to put a figure on it. Newspaper Le Parisien Etudiants puts forward the figure of €2,000 gross per month for a beginner in France, an amount that masks the irregularity and disparity of income between players. The website esportsearnings.com gives more details and announces, based on 13,704 active players worldwide in 2021, a median income of US$733 (approx. €627) and an average of US$5,270 (approx. €4,500)– all disciplines and levels combined. In plain language, it means that some very high-level players will earn a lot of money while most will have much more modest incomes. A reality that reminds once again of other more established sports, such as tennis or football.

Still, top players’ astronomic earnings arouse vocations. At the Dota2 International Tournament in 2019, Denmark's N0tail – who is now the wealthiest player of all time with a total income of $6.89 million – walked away with $3.12 million in his pocket as the captain of his team. This is the highest cash prize known to date. On the French side, “Ceb” or Sebastien Debs, still on Dota2, won a total of $5.57 million (4.76 million euros) at only 29 years old5.

On the women's side - surprisingly for such a young sport where old habits seem to have taken hold – cash prizes are much lower. The wealthiest female player would be the Canadian Sasha Hostyn, alias Scarlett, who performs on the game StarCraft II: at 26 years old, she has won US$200,000 during her career. This lack of gender equality has been pointed out by the association Women in Games France who would like to make it change. A challenge more difficult than a game of League of Legends?

GamersOrigin, a French reference club

GamersOrigin is a French professional esport club founded by Guillaume Merlini in 2014. It develops and recruits its first professional players on games like Overwatch or League of Legends. The results on the French scene are quickly there.

In 2018, Societe Generale becomes one of GamersOrigin's main sponsors. The following year, the club raises 3 million euros to develop: new training rooms in the centre of Paris, reinforcement of the coaching staff, recruitment of players and development on new games.

They are currently 7th in the LFL 2021 rankings, the "first division" of the French championship on the game League of Legends.

 

[1] According to the Global Esports Market Report 2020 by Newzoo, an analyst of the video game world

[2] Source: Analysis of the market and prospects for the esport sector, French Directorate General for Enterprise, June 2021

[3] Idem

[4] In statistics, the median is the value that divides a set of items into two equal groups. There are as many people in the group above this value as below it. The mean is the quotient of the sum of several values by their number. The result is therefore the figure furthest from the two extremes, regardless of the distribution within the group studied. (source: Le Robert dictionary)

[5] Source: esportsearnings.com

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