In 2016, the video game industry hit $91 billion in worldwide revenue. And though free-to-play titles and mobile games did most of the driving, esports raked in $892 million that same year. Although esports is a blip in the overall financial size of the industry, its continued growth means that big publishers like Activision, Electronic Arts and Riot Games are paying more attention.
If you've dreamed of playing video games for a living, becoming a pro gamer could be your golden ticket. Here's what it takes to make millions off your hobby.
Stream on Twitch
You don't need to be on the world-famous team SK Telecom T1 to make money gaming. Being a pro gamer can be as simple as playing games and streaming live on video platforms like Twitch. There, fans can interact with you as you play. Of course, it helps if you're actually good at the game, and can talk strategy and character builds.
A report on gaming video content by SuperData found that, in 2015, more than 486 million people were streaming or watching gaming content. And content creators are not just being watched — they're making money. Gaming video content is worth about $3.8 billion worldwide, with advertising revenue and corporate sponsorships raking in $2.9 billion in the U.S. alone.
Viewers show their support with their wallets, too. In the U.S., live stream viewers donate an average of $4.64 per month to their favorite streamers, while 44 percent of viewers spend an average of $21 per month on paid content.
On Twitch, streamers with a few thousand followers and five-figure views earn an average of $3,000 to $5,000 per month playing 40 hours per week — and that's just off subscriptions. On top of that, ad revenue averages about $250 for every 100 subscribers.
Content creators, whether retired pros or just big personalities, earn a collective $890 million via paid subscriptions and donations through sites like Patreon.
Become a Professional Gamer
Of course, if you think you've got the chops to become a pro gamer on the international scene, that's another way to make money gaming.
Internationally popular esports favorites include "League of Legends," "Counter-Strike: Global Offensive" and "Dota 2." Choose a title you love and start practicing. You'll need to put in hundreds or thousands of hours into the game before you'll be skilled enough to enter local tournaments. Reach out to local gaming communities online and start with smaller tournaments. "League of Legends," for example, hosts a uLoL Campus Series for collegiate teams in the U.S. and Canada.
Your endgame, at least with most titles, is to catch the eye of recruiters and other pro gamers, with whom you'll form a pro team.
Like most other careers, you'll face some upfront costs. A high-end gaming PC, for example, can easily cost you well over $1,000. And don't forget the monthly cost of high-speed internet. A proper desk setup can also cost you a lot of money but save you from the negative health effects of gaming all day, like carpal tunnel, which can end your career in a snap.
Don't expect to make much money in the beginning. Once you're on a professional esports team, though, you'll start to make decent wages.
Some higher-profile leagues have begun instituting salaries to supplement tournament winnings. For instance, The League of Legends Championship Series institutes a minimum annual salary of $25,000 per player. Team SoloMid's "CS:GO" team reportedly earned $3,000 per month in 2015. If that doesn't sound like much, don't forget about added earnings for high performance and sponsorships.
Compete in Pro Gaming Events
When you're just starting out as a pro gamer, you'll make a little bit of money off tournaments. Non-pro game battles hosted by Major League Gaming reward about $200 to $700 to the top players. In the big leagues, turnout, visibility and popularity vary widely, which means payouts for pro gaming tournaments do, too.
On the current scene, it's not uncommon for individual winnings to hit six figures. Sebastian "Ostkaka" Engwell took home $100,000 after winning the Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft World Championship in 2015. Kim "sOs" Yoo Jin pocketed the same amount after winning the Starcraft II World Championship Series that same year.
Some of the biggest competitions — like The International 2016 championship tournament for "Dota 2" — offer prize pools of more than $20 million. That means a championship team can split millions of dollars in winnings between five players and possibly a coach. And while the lowest-ranking teams won't make millions off the tournament, they can still easily take home more than $100,000 in consolation prizes.
At the top of the industry, there's a handful of pro gamers that are legit millionaires. At least 10 gamers worldwide have earned more than $10 million each off gaming alone. In terms of yearly earnings, gamers like Saahil Arora can earn well over $1.5 million off tournaments. Arora alone earned $1.96 million in 2015.
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Pick Up Endorsement Deals
If you're racking up costs gaming but haven't quite gone pro, there's another way to make money: sponsorships.
Sponsorships are an important money-maker in the gaming scene. Like athletic sponsorships, you can land endorsements in one of two ways. You either reach out to your favorite brands to express interest and provide proof that you have high visibility in the gaming community — such as on Twitch — or you get approached by a sponsor.
In either case, you'll most commonly be given gear to use in public competitions, like a new gaming mouse or Bluetooth headset, though you might also have your expenses paid to attend gaming events or competitions. Though these types of deals won't put money in your pocket, they do help offset your costs.
In rare cases, famous pro gamers receive salaries from their sponsors. Of course, you'll be prohibited from taking on conflicting sponsors, just like in any other sport. Similarly, you can receive a sponsorship of sorts from you team's fans by offering in-game digital goods with your team's branding, like decorative digital "stickers" to use in-game. In 2015, 16 teams earned $4 million in total payouts for selling stickers at a major "CS:GO" tournament.
Become a Coach
Even professional gamers need coaches. Make money helping players train, strategize, manage endorsements, and book events and tournaments.
In 2015, an assistant coach for Team Liquid of "League of Legends" fame revealed that he made an annual paycheck in the mid-$30,000s, plus health insurance and performance bonuses. Of course, the total pay amount can vary depending on how well the team performs and what game they're playing.
And if you're wondering, yes, coaches do share in the payouts when their teams win big. That's why coaches of some of the best teams manage to earn $120,000 yearly.
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