Until fairly recently, the concept of a “professional gamer” was a fantasy. The two words used to be antonyms – but times have changed. Professional gaming is now a viable way to earn a living.
So, how much do professional gamers make? Professional gamers can make anywhere from a few thousand to several million dollars per year. The amount of money they make depends on several factors:
- The game they play
- Their level of skill
- Whether they stream or not
- The number of major tournaments they win
- The number of sponsors they have
Back when I was competing in Counter-Strike 1.5 (that’s right kids, that was pre-steam) competitive gaming was done “for the love of the game”. Only those who won first consistently were able to reap the benefits. Most competitive gamers were lucky if their expenses and travel were covered from their winnings.
To learn more about how to make money as a professional gamer, read on.
How do you make money from gaming?
There are several sources of cash input to the professional gaming industry:
The most common form of income for professional gamers is prize money.
Competitions around the world can have prize pots in the hundreds of thousands of USD, and the biggest tournaments have prizes in the millions of dollars. This prize will be split amongst all the members of the team when playing team events.
As with physical sports, sponsorship is a big business.
In the world of esports, sponsorships usually come from computer equipment manufacturers, energy drink producers, and gaming furniture makers. The monetary value of a sponsorship can range from a few thousand dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars for the top teams.
Many professional gamers stream their gameplay online. With a large subscription base and consistent, high-quality gameplay, you have the potential to earn tens of thousands of dollars per month.
Professional teams usually employ their players. Salaries typically range between $1,000 and $5,000 per month. As with professional physical sports, the most skilled players will earn the most money.
For more ways gamers make money check out my post How Do Esports Teams Make Money? (click to open in a new tab).
What is a professional gamer?
A professional gamer is someone who earns a living from playing video games competitively. Playing video games competitively often means the gamer competes in “esports”.
Competitions make gaming a competitive sport. As with any other sport, this competitiveness leads to monetization in the form of sponsorship, tournaments with prize money, and betting.
With this injection of cash, the opportunity now exists for individuals to get paid for playing video games.
In case the idea of using the term sport in relation to gaming bothers you,I wrote a whole post related to this called Should Professional Gaming be Considered a Sport, where I break down some of the sports research done on esports (you may be surprised by the physical and mental demands placed on professional gamers).
But personally, to avoid a seemingly endless debate, I like to just say “esports are esports”.
What are the most popular games for professional gamers to play?
The most popular games to play are those with the largest prize funds.
Here are some of the best games for professional gamers to earn a living from:
Here’s a great 2019 recap for some of the best esports plays of the year:
How do you become a professional gamer?
The route to becoming a professional gamer is slightly different from many other jobs. There are no applications in the traditional sense – you just need to be amazing at a popular game and hope a professional team picks you up.
Before attempting to become a professional, you first need to hone your skills in one particular game. You need to become a real expert – I’m talking thousands of hours play at a bare minimum. Any less than this, and you won’t stand a chance of competing against players with more skill and experience.
While you’re developing your technical playing skills, you should also start networking with other gamers. This is necessary because you need to join a team to enter high-level tournaments and competitions. And if you want to find that team and get an invite, you’ll need to impress the wider community and get your name out there.
The most straightforward way to build a network is to make friends inside the game. Make an effort to communicate and become someone people want to play with.
Running a YouTube channel with videos and live streams of your games is another common way to build a following and become known in the gaming world.
You can be the best player in the world – but if you don’t put yourself out there, you’ll likely remain undiscovered.
Here at Cyber Athletiks I focus on what gamers can improve upon outside of gaming in order to improve inside of gaming. For an example of this focus, check out one of my ‘How To’ posts: How to Become a Pro CS:GO Player.
How many hours does a professional gamer work?
Professional gaming is not a 9 to 5 job.
If you want to reach the skill level required to become a professional gamer, the game has to become your greatest passion in life.
It’s not uncommon for some of the top professional gamers to spend between 12 and 18 hours a day playing games. Weekends are also likely to be filled with gaming or attending tournaments.
I do, however, thinking esports have a long way to go to improve their training philosophy. More traditional sports understand that “more does not equal better”. In fact, more often means burnout. There should only be on way to train, the optimal way. Until gamers start prioritizing other factors in their training like recovery and injury prevention they’ll likely continue burning out in a short amount of time.
What are the disadvantages of becoming a professional gamer?
To become a professional gamer, you will have to sacrifice significant amounts of time to perfect your craft. This can have a serious impact on your social life and lead to you spending a substantial time indoors.
If you pursue professional gaming, you must not slip into bad habits. It’s imperative that you still go out with friends and family, exercise, and spend time outdoors.
Professional gamers also have limited job security. The income from professional gaming can be intermittent and irregular – so don’t overspend your earnings. Make sure you save up for the quiet times.
Professional gamers are also prone to several health issues.
A repetitive strain injury in the hand or wrist is a common ailment for those hitting the mouse or controller for many hours a day. I discuss this issue at greater length in my post Pro Gaming Injuries – What Gamers Need to Know.
Also, professional gamers often eat fast takeout food to save time cooking. They also usually don’t get as much exercise as non-gamers. Both of these habits can lead to weight-related health issues.
In my post How To Become A Pro Gamer – What No One Ever Tells You I discuss the darker realities of both being and trying to be a professional gamer.
For a great inside look at the trials and tribulations of being a pro gamer, check out “Free to Play“, a documentary that follows three Dota 2 players: “Fear”, “hyhy” and “Dendi”.
If you take up professional gaming, make sure you find the time to socialize, eat healthily, and exercise. Proper financial planning is an important skill too. Don’t forget to check out my post on the Top 10 Negative Effects of Esports and Gaming (don’t worry, I link to the top 10 benefits of gaming and esports in it as well).
How old do you have to be to become a professional gamer?
While children are naturally talented at gaming, becoming a professional is not always easy for them.
Many states have laws that limit or prevent work by minors under 18. Competitions and tournaments will often set minimum ages, and the top teams usually have a minimum age limit.
Becoming a professional gamer at a young age also has several adverse effects, particularly in the areas of social skill development and physical health.
I always recommend that gamers continue advancing in other areas of their life while trying to become a professional. It’s not impossible to do both, and many professional athletes in traditional sports are able to excel in other areas of their life at the same time. Here’s some great tips from two former professional gamers:
BIOFROST – MOBA
Here’s a great real-life example that can be found in the story of Vincent “Biofrost” Wang. Biofrost was a rookie support player that made his debut on TSM and went on to place first at the LCS and competed at worlds in 2016.
While Biofrost was climbing the ranks he continued with University, completing two years before dropping out to become a professional gamer. He remained social and saw value in sustaining the friendships he had. Biofrost juggled multiple responsibilities while still climbing the ranks of LoL and breaking into the professional scene.
This allowed Biofrost to be so much more than a “one trick pony”. He effectively juggled multiple responsibilities with social skills, academic skills and more. He had the ability to focus on one thing, stop, then focus on another thing and achieve success in multiple areas.
Who do you think is more attractive to an organization, team, sponsor, or college? The person who’s always lived with their parents and spends sixteen hours a day practicing, or the person who has been able to achieve success both inside and outside of esports?
FATAL1TY – FPS
Nowadays, you don’t see players switching between games very often. Some streamers like Shroud have been successful, but they’re typically the exception.
Some of you may not be aware of one of the greatest esports athletes of all time, Fatal1ty. Fatal1ty was a professional gamer before professional gaming was “cool”. He turned pro in 1999 at the age of 18.
Fatal1ty won several world championships and won or placed extremely well in many more tournaments. Here’s a list of some of the games Fatal1ty competed in:
- Quake 2
- Quake 3
- Aliens versus Predator 2
- Return to Castle Wolfenstein
- Call of Duty 2
- Counter-Strike: Source
- Unreal Tournament 2003
- Doom 3
- Quake 4
- Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
For a more in-depth look at Fatl1ty’s legacy, check out the ‘Thorin’s Thoughts’ video below on him. You can also check the MTV’S True Life on Fatal1ty by clicking here. It gives a good look into how serious Fatal1ty takes his training and the professional side of gaming.
Is professional gaming a long-term career?
Professional gaming is a relatively new field of employment. The first generation of professional gamers is still going strong.
However, esports is likely to follow regular physical sports in terms of employment profiles. Younger players with faster reflexes will slowly edge the old hands out. Therefore, you should plan from an early stage for when your professional gaming career approaches its end.
What’s great about the esports industry, especially if you have experience as a competitive gamer, is that there are lots of opportunities outside of just competing. Some of the other options are:
- Social media manager
- Event manager
- Sales and marketing specialist
- Organization owner
Heck, you could even start an esports bar!
Should I become a professional gamer?
Pursuing professional gaming is a high-risk, high-reward career choice.
Only those at the very top of their game will be successful in turning their hobby into a serious career. If you do make it, though, the rewards can be significant. But success is relative. Many gamers make a decent living doing what they love, they’re just not out flashing around fancy cars and watches.
Basic pay for a professional will range from $1000-$5000 per month. That amount will increase with prize money, sponsorships, and streaming income that can run into the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Before taking the leap, talk to some professional gamers. They will happily share their experiences with you, and you can decide whether the lifestyle is worth the investment of time.
If you do pursue a career in professional gaming, try not to let it take over your existence. You need to make time for family, friends, outside hobbies, and other vital aspects of your life. My favourites example of a gamer who has been able to do this is CS:GO’s pashabiceps from team Virtus.Pro: