Whenever a story comes out about a professional gamer winning millions in a championship, it’s easy to question what you’re doing with your life.
But since eSports can’t be all novelty cheques and Champagne showers, so we spoke to Byrce “eGym” Paule of The Chiefs, a League Of Legends team based in Sydney, to see what it’s really like being a pro gamer, and what you need to do to get on his level.
The Chiefs at last month’s League Of Origin event. (Photo: Red Bull)
First, the big question: can you actually make money off eSports?
In short, yes – if you’re really, really good.
“In Australia, it’s certainly a new industry,” says Bryce. “It’s a very tough lifestyle to support yourself with, for the average player. [The Chiefs] have been relatively successful, but if you’re not coming 1st/2nd, it’s hard. Those wins bolster our salaries, then sponsors help out too.”
But wait, hold up: how do you get to the level where you get to be in a team? Bryce, at least, just started out by playing LoL in high school, and getting super into it. When he began to move up the rankings, he was approached by a team, and at age 18, he was flown to his first competition.
“It really hit me when I was being flown to the Gold Coat, all expenses paid,” says Bryce. “My mum was super confused.”
Bryce’s current team, The Chiefs, are one of Australia’s most successful in League Of Legends tournaments. They play weekly in Sydney as part of the Oceanic Pro League, training five days a week in their team HQ, where they all live. You can catch their games on Twitch each weekend. There are two tournaments a year, with room to move up to compete in the Oceanic tournaments against the likes of Korea, Japan, and New Zealand. Winning that, they’d compete in World, which is the current goal.
Bryce trains at The Chiefs’ HQ. (Photo: Red Bull)
“[Each day], we have two scrim blocs,” says Bryce. “That’s where we make 2 separate teams and play up to 3-3.5 hours, first from around 12-4pm, then 5-8/9pm. Between, we have a game review with our coach, and take a lunch break. There’s also individual practice at night, too.”
It’s a lot of work, the sort that takes over your whole life.
In a way, it’s more intense than a sports team, given that you, your teammates, coach and manager share a house. So it really has to be your passion, especially since you don’t do it for the money.
“We don’t play for the cheques at the end of the game,” says Bryce.
While eSports generally don’t reveal pay, we know that those millionaire eSport stars like DOTA2 player Saahil Arora are exceptions, not the norm.
Saahil Arora. (Photo: Xygaming.com)
In 2015, Saahil made an estimated $25,111 USD ($33,136 AUD) direct from tournaments. And even then, while that prize isn’t anything to sneeze at, it’s also below minimum wage – and tournaments aren’t that common for most games.
Luckily, Saahil hustled: that year he made $1,730,076 USD ($2,283,008 AUD) off gaming, which means just like most A-list sporting stars, most of the money isn’t in winning so much as sponsorships and side-deals. It’s mean pickings for most at the lower rung of eSports, especially in a burgeoning scene like Australia.
Queensland vs. NSW at League Of Origins. (Photo: Red Bull)
One way many Aus gamers make money is through streaming. Services like Twitch let them live-stream gaming sessions to subscribers, splitting the ad revenue and subscriber costs between the service.
Many gamers like South Australia’s Chelsea Sandy, aka xMINKS, make their money just off Twitch and appearances at events: in an interview with 60 Minutes, xMINKS revealed she was on six-figures thanks to her 350,000 followers.
xMinks making bank. (Photo: 60 Minutes/Channel 7)
But there’s a bit more to Twitch than just gaming – over at The Guardian, writer Alex Hern tried to become a streaming star but quickly realised in addition to being really, really good at playing, he also had to be entertaining. He writes:
Streaming looks effortless when you’re watching someone else doing it…. but as anyone who’s ever done live TV probably knows, the pressure of an audience changes things. Firstly, the desire not to have dead air forces you to provide a running commentary on everything you’re doing. But vocalising something forces you to think about it, which means the sort of decisions previously taken on autopilot now take conscious effort.
Secondly, if you’re streaming to an audience, you have to be streaming constantly.
You’re performing 100% of the time you’re playing, which adds a whole layer of mental concentration to gaming. Add to that the your viewership numbers could make the difference between paying rent or not, and it’s pretty stressful.
Similarly, Bryce warns that eSports is also “hyper-competitive”, which makes sense since your pride, professional standing and a hefty bonus is on the line.
The Chiefs are ready to d-d-d-duel.
With that in mind, Bryce’s best advice is to dive deep into the game you’re looking to play professionally. Train, play religiously, and enter competitions as they come. And when the competitions do come, don’t worry about the crowds.
“I still get nervous on stage – you hear the crowd, but more than that, you feel them, the sound shaking your desk,” says Bryce. “But once you get into the game, there’s always a moment about five minutes in, say after your first trade, where you’ve forgotten about the crowd. Nothing else matters outside of the monitor.”
Now’s a good time to get involved, too, since eSports is burgeoning in Aus.
In May, Australia held an Intel Extreme Masters event for the first time at Sydney Olympic Park (featuring a prize pool of $260,000), and last month, The Age reported that the AFL are planning to host tournaments at Etihad Stadium. Channel Seven are also starting an eSports league too off the back of ScreenPlay, the new show from ex Good Game hosts Stephanie Bendixsen and Nich Richardson.
Bryce’s best advice is, of course, the most obvious: only do it if you live, breathe and love the game you’re playing.
“I’ve always said if I didn’t enjoy playing League Of Legends, I wouldn’t do it,” says Bryce. “I play for the love of the game.”