July twenty-fourth through the twenty-seventh, San Diego Comic-Con showcased quite a few of our exciting video game panels, one of which was focused on eSports. Sam “Samzorz” Hall, Scott “Gandhi” Lussier and John “ZeRo4” Hill, joined me on location to reveal how aspiring gamers can become professional eSports players. Although Ryan “Fwiz” Wyatt and Sean “Day” Plott were unable to speak at the event, I caught up with them afterwards to capture their valuable insight for this special edition column.
We began the panel with a touch of each pro gamer’s unique history. Sam Hall described the inspiration he found the moment he saw Scott Lussier playing Halo 2 on USA Network. Hall recalls how powerful that moment was to him—watching someone play a video game on television. In that moment, his passion for eSports ignited, and his journey practicing and then competing soon followed. John Hill got started in competition through the passion his father had for supporting John’s dream. His father took him to his first competition at a young age giving John the fuel to pursue pro status.
All the panelists touched on how important it is to realize that playing video games competitively is as difficult and time consuming as other jobs in the work force. It can be a viable career and should be treated as such if that’s the gamer’s goal. Late nights, long hours, and sacrifice will therefore be common.
Scott Lussier began discussing just how important discipline was when he got in to eSports. He explained to the crowd that you should hone in on your play style and be competitive. John Hill mirrored that sentiment and told the audience about the importance of that first real match. Start competing as soon as possible, Hill proclaimed. Joining local or online tournaments will help players learn how to cope with nerves. As soon as you are playing competitively, your mind can play tricks on you and your skill suffers. So don’t wait. Expect to screw up a lot during those first few competitions, Hill said. But as you compete more and more, your muscle memory begins to kick in and you will notice your ability to combat nerves improves.
If you want to compete in a team-based game it’s often challenging to find the right teammates. Always seek like-minded individuals. From my personal experience, working with positive, passionate people has always been one of my guiding principles with every gaming and literary project, and the success of each project is always attributed to that goal.
Another aspect of competitive gaming is remembering that at the end of the day it’s entertainment. Audiences want to see talent and be entertained. Much like in other professional sports, audiences tend to find commonalities with eSports athletes, whether it’s their style of game play, the kind of equipment they use, or a life experience they have in common.
Sam Hall and I described how pivotal it is to think critically and with a business-mindset to further any type of career. For example, Hall explained the benefits of streaming your practice sessions and began researching when the best times to stream would be. Hall also mentioned how much time goes into building your brand outside of practice and competitions. For example, he spends quite a bit of time working on tasks such as updating his website, reaching out to sponsors, incorporating motion graphics, music playlists, and following up with players and fans.
We also mentioned that personalizing your approach in your business could open opportunities. Being polite, humble, genuine, kind, and thorough can move mountains. Acknowledging and talking with your supporters and fans not only exposes you to new connections, but also opens up various ways to collaborate, share, and garner knowledge.
The panel touched on how fast eSports is evolving. We’ve seen achievements in the industry like eSport players being recognized as professional athletes and receiving athletic visas allowing for global competition. In addition, Robert Morris University Illinois began incorporating online sports (aka organized video-game competitions) into its athletics program—meaning players will join the university’s athletic department as varsity athletes and receive scholarships.
After the panel, I got a chance to speak with both Sean Plott and Ryan Wyatt to gain their unique perspective on the eSports industry.
Can you describe the opportunities and obstacles that players face when becoming a pro?
Sean Plott: The biggest obstacle always is skill. Obviously, there is plenty to talk about on "how to practice and become the best." However, I'm going to take a different angle. Suppose that you ARE a great player, one of the best around. The biggest problem you encounter is noise - you'll become flooded with countless requests from people inviting you to work on projects, join their team, promote their product etc. Without even wanting to, the aspiring pro must suddenly consider himself as a business entity, "What is my value? What projects contribute to my goals as a player? How do I decline projects without burning bridges?" This leap to understanding your value and your goals is the biggest stumbling block I've seen. Naive players will apply little thought or due diligence to team offers, blindly accepting whatever seems like a short term cash gain. Well intentioned but inexperienced managers wind up not paying. The player feels like a victim, but in reality never took the time to avoid these problems. Fortunately, there are guaranteed safe revenue streams such as Twitch.tv or coaching that can support a player while he's studying big decisions.
Ryan Wyatt: The difference with eSports now, compared to the past, is that in order to do it right, you need to be doing a lot of things to further your brand. There's streaming, video content creation, managing your social channels, etc. I actually find excelling at these things to be more difficult than the hurdles you face on your way to becoming a pro. It's not about just being the best anymore, it's about how to shine the brightest.
What steps can an aspiring gamer take to become a pro player?
Sean Plott: I think every pro should study basic entrepreneurship - how to negotiate reasonably and calmly, how to value yourself, how to read a contract, cashflow basics etc. This can be achieved by talking to almost any contractor in any industry and ask them how they'd deal with similar requests. Asking for advice from multiple respected eSports community figures is even better!
Most importantly, you have to ask yourself, "What do I want?" Amazingly, very few people, including pro, ask themselves this question. Suppose you're being offered a sizeable chunk of money to stream for 10 hours a day, 5 days a week with a product ad up while you stream. What's the correct choice in this spot? It depends on what you want. Maybe you like autonomy, so you'd want instead to stream 50 hours a week whenever you liked. Maybe you prefer to hide your strategies from other competitors, so you'd only want to stream 5 hours a day to save time for your regular practice. Maybe you're just looking for money, so you'd like to stream 10 hours a day EVERY day and ask for more money! Everything is relative to what your goals as a person are, and thinking of yourself like a tiny business means you get to make whatever choices you like.
Ryan Wyatt: Compete, compete, compete. Nothing is given to you, everything is earned. Competition websites, like MLG, help foster amateur growth into pro competition. Competing in online tournaments, and showing up to LAN is the best way to develop relationships with other players on the rise. For games that are team based, I think finding the right team can be difficult. You need to attend events and compete online to really forge strong relationships with players to get to the top tier. No one has ever become a pro player easily. Every single player has put in the time it takes to play at the highest level.
How is the eSports evolution impacting the video game industry at large?
Sean Plott: Developers realize that an eSports game has its players online for 10-40 hours every week, a level of engagement that directly leads to more dollars. Naturally, developers are trying to produce future eSports titles to capture those hyper committed communities. Also, developers like Valve are smartly leveraging the passion of the community to help create additional content and even steer development with game and balance ideas.
Ryan Wyatt: It has been a wonderful thing to see publishers and developers really focusing and investing in eSports. A lot of them see it as a marketing vehicle, and through that it creates wonderful opportunities for people to get involved as players. In terms of the gaming industry, eSports has gone mainstream and now your hard-pressed to find a triple A game not acknowledging eSports and competition.
How exciting to be a part of the eSports industry in this rapidly evolving time. Who knows what else the future has in store. I’d like to extend my heartfelt thanks to Sam Hall, Ryan Wyatt, Scott Lussier, John Hill, Sean Plott, Major League Gaming, DayTV, Mortality eSports, and the countless producers, supporters, and fans. Thank you for your outstanding enthusiasm, your passion for the industry, and for your valuable time. If you would like any additional information regarding this column or for general inquires, don’t hesitate to connect with me on Twitter and Facebook and at GeneseDavis.com.
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