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.
And sometimes professional gamers can earn a really good living.
So, how much do professional gamers make? On average, professional gamers earn between $1,000 and $5,000 per month, or, between $12,000 and $60,000 per year.
A professional gamers salary will depend on several factors, such as:
- 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 by their winnings. To learn more about how to make money as a professional gamer, read on.
How do professional gamers earn money and a salary?
There are several sources of revenue for professional gamers that all count towards their salary.
Just for reference, professional gamers at the very top are earning extremely high salaries, here’s a breakdown from esportsearnings.com of the top 5 highest earning professional gamers:
|Gamer Tag||Player Name||Total Earnings|
|1. N0tail||Johan Sundstein||$6,964,322.80|
|2. JerAx||Jesse Vainikka||$6,470,548.78|
|3. ana||Anathan Pham||$6,000,411.96|
|4. Ceb||Sébastien Debs||$5,554,297.41|
|5. Topson||Topias Taavitsainen||$5,470,902.57|
Let’s take a closer look at what makes up a gamers salary exactly.
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.
Here’s a list of the ten largest prize pools in esports from esportsearnings.com:
|Tournament Name||Prize Pool||Game||Teams||Players|
|The International 2019||$34,330,069.00||Dota 2||18||90|
|The International 2018||$25,532,177.00||Dota 2||18||90|
|The International 2017||$24,687,919.00||Dota 2||18||90|
|The International 2016||$20,770,460.00||Dota 2||16||80|
|The International 2015||$18,429,613.05||Dota 2||16||80|
|Fortnite World Cup Finals 2019 – Solo||$15,287,500.00||Fornite||n/a||100|
|Fortnite World Cup Finals 2019 – Duo||$15,100,000.00||Fornite||50||100|
|The International 2014||$10,931,103.00||Dota 2||14||70|
|LoL 2018 World Championship||$6,450,000.00||LoL||24||131|
|LoL 2016 World Championship||$5,070,000.00||LoL||16||86|
As you can see, Dota2 continues to have the largest prize pool in esports history with their world’s tournament growing every year to over $30,000,000 dollars.
Keep in mind, prize pools are spread out, so it’s not the case that the first place team gets that entire chunk of money, they just get the largest percentage.
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.
When gamers are playing at their peak performance, there’s a lot of interest from outside sponsors, media and fans. If they win a major or a big tournament, they can expect an increase from streaming donations, a quick commercial offer with a sponsor or just a lump sum from their organization.
Depending on context and the player, bonuses can be in the tens of thousands of dollars.
For more ways gamers make money check out my post How Do Esports Teams Make Money?.
What other careers are available in esports?
Currently, the odds of being a pro gamer on an esports team are pretty small. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try, especially if you’re already showing talent, but it’s not a bad idea to consider other options in case a great opportunity comes your way, such as:
Social media manager
While this may seem like a trivial skill or profession, it’s becoming a very sought after skill in a lot of industries, esports included. A lot of organizations don’t have the time or even the experience to grow and manage their social media presence.
And if you’re a fan of esports, you’re probably aware of how important an online presence is for a team and for the players.
The ability for a team and for players to interact with fans and sponsors online is paramount to financial success, and if you have any experience with managing or growing a social media following, then you have skills that could help esports organizations or companies.
Events are another crucial aspect to the esports business and industry. Some esports titles, like CS:GO, seem to have events happening almost weekly (too many if you ask me!).
Either way, esports events are a way to bring together professional teams, organizations, media presence, sponsors and fans under one roof. While an online presence is important, nothing beats in-person networking and word of mouth.
Events also allow the opportunity for organizations, teams and players to sell their merch, which is often a big source of revenue.
So if you’ve ever put together an event or feel you may be interested in it, this is a highly sought-after skill in esports. It’s a good idea to start small to get a feel for it, like hosting a local high school’s first tournament.
Many professional athletes in traditional sports have agents, whether it’s NBA or PGA, an agent is almost always present in the professional sports scene. So with esports growing so fast, it only makes sense for professional gamers to have on as well.
I would also argue that agents are even more important for esports athletes since esports is still in its infancy stage. There is so much risk with liability, lawsuits and bad practices that players are often at risk of being taken advantage of or taken for granted by their organization.
An esports agent will represent the play and help them with the more administrative tasks, live understanding contracts, networking and making new connections, and getting more experience in the field.
This will require in-depth knowledge of esports and the industry as a whole, but if you’ve been deep into esports for a while, you likely have a lot of experience that can help new up and coming players.
You may not be able to quickly build up an entire company that can then sponsor an esports team or create an esports organization of its own, but sponsors require employees, and if you’ve got esports knowledge and experience, all the better.
This could relate to some of the other jobs, but it can also mean attending the tournaments and live events to interact with fans and promote the sponsor’s product or service.
Host & Caster
If you’re an extrovert or like being the front and centre, then hosting an event or tournament is a sought after school. There are of course less opportunities, but new ones to present themselves from time to time.
There’s also many more opportunities for smaller scale events or the more amateur side of esports.
Additionally, casting a game is a very unique skill. It will require an in depth knowledge of the esports title and some quick wit, but as esports grows, so will the need for casters and commentators.
Esports teams will always need and require a coach. As teams begin competing regularly, there is a lot more to manage than just the games.
A good esports coach works beyond skills at gaming and helps keep morale in the team up and makes sure players have what they need to perform at their best.
With so many ups and downs in gaming, managing an esports team is difficult, but a sought after position. For a great example I recommend checking out FPSCoach.com, where Ron “Rambo” Kim has taken his esports coaching expertise online.
As esports grows, so will the media coverage surrounding it. Whether it’s video format, written format or spoken format, covering the world and industry of esports is a booming career path.
One of my favourite esports journalists is Thooorin due to his extensive knowledge with the history of esports.
While the amount of positions for esports referee’s is small, it’s also a very niched down part of esports. Ensuring games are played fairly is a massive responsibility that requires a unique set of skills.
Esports has a negative side, and the referee’s help keeps that side in check. Starting out small is probably ideal for this path, so if your school has anything to do with esports tournaments, see if you can apply for a referee spot.
And if you consider yourself entrepreneurial, you can even start an esports bar!
How do you become a professional gamer and earn a salary?
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 of 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.
How many hours do professional gamers 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 one 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.
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 discussing the dark side of esports I talk about 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.
Frequently Asked Questions
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:
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, the ones we discussed above. But to recap, some of the other options for working in esports are:
- Social media manager
- Event manager
- Sales and marketing specialist
- Organization owner
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:
What Are the Highest Paying Esports Games ?
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:
- How to get started in competitive gaming
- Are esports real sports?
- How many gamers are there in the entire world?