Appleton: Play video games for a career?

January 24, 2014 

Have you been thinking about changing careers? Maybe you would like to be part of a rapidly growing industry?

Well, I have an option that you may not know about yet: professional gamer.

It is an extremely difficult profession to break into, but more and more opportunities are opening up. Here are some observations that may help you get in the door:

Bring something unique to the table. The main source of income and exposure for almost all pro gamers is online streaming. You are going to need a gimmick to help get you noticed. Some people get really angry and freak out on their webcam feed. Some people play the game in a really interesting and unique way. Just like any other entertainment industry, you need to stand out, and there are a variety of ways to do this.

Play the game well. This is secondary to standing out. Many players can make a living without being the best or anywhere near the best, but you do have to know what you are doing to some degree.

Be dedicated. How dedicated? Typically, even the established pros stream their gameplay for about four to five hours a day. The up-and-comers tend to stream about eight hours a day. It is just like any other career path: It takes work. You do get to play a game that you probably love, but I imagine that being forced to play to make a living changes your experience a little.

I can compare it to one situation that I just experienced. I was given a review copy of "The Banner Saga" by Stoic Studio. I received the game on Thursday, and the review had to be up at 11 a.m. the following Tuesday. I loved the game, but I had to play through about 20 hours of it in three days. Then I had to do some research and get a 1,400-word review posted for when embargo lifted.

I enjoy my work and loved the game, but playing a game for work is just a different experience than casual gaming.

So, why would anyone want to work this hard to break into pro gaming? Money.

One staggering figure is the prize pool for the Season 3 (2013) World Championships for "League of Legends." This event sold out the Staples Center in Los Angeles and was able to offer $2,050,000 in prizes. The winning team of five players received $1 million.

Now, they have a lot of managers, sponsors, agents, etc. that take a cut of the money — just like any other professional athlete — but that is a pretty nice chunk of change just for playing a game.

Wait, I just said that "League of Legends" players are professional athletes.

Well, according to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, they are.

As first reported by the Los Angeles Times, foreign players have been given P-1A visas to compete in the U.S. This is the same visa given to foreign baseball players such as Yasiel Puig or to Canadian hockey stars. These athletes are foreign citizens with no green card, but they are given entry into the country because it benefits all parties involved.

Riot games, the creator of "League of Legends," had to meet the government requirements for a major sports league in order to secure the visas.

The requirements include having a complete set of rules and at least six competing teams with combined revenues of more than $10 million, which Riot easily met.

Here is a recap: If you have a unique presentation, the skill required and can dedicate hundreds of hours to performing live via streams and contests, you can be a professional gamer. The rewards for your ability and hard work can be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

This is a pretty tall order, and even those who make it tend to burn out or be eclipsed by younger talent within a few years. Think of competitive gaming as an Olympic sport (and it will be in the future). A teen gymnast probably will retire by the time he or she is 25.

A long and storied gaming career is not likely. But that's OK, at least you will get paid to do what you love.

If I have convinced you to give it a shot, go ahead and shoot me an email or a tweet. I will be more than happy to collect a finder's fee and help manage your blossoming career.


Rory E.H. Appleton is the associate editor for and a journalism student at Fresno State. You can reach him at rory@corruptedcartridge. com or @RoryDoesPhonics on Twitter.

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