Number of pro gamers vs. pro athletes


How Many:
Professional esports players (pro gamers)
Contrast with BLS data for professional athletes



The esports players figures above do not reflect the newly developing esports leagues, of which there are at least 3:
Overwatch League (OWL) – 12 teams with 6-12 players per team
NBA 2K League – 17 teams with 6 players per team
eMLS – 19 teams (details are thin, more forthcoming)

OWL, which is being launched by game publisher Blizzard, will pay a minimum salary of $50,000 per year, with players signing up for one-year contracts at a time. On top of the base wage, players will get a share of any bonuses the team accures. Half of all tournament prize money secured by a team will be shared between the players. Teams can have between six and 12 players…There are currently seven teams in the Overwatch League, drawn from cities across the US, along with a pair of teams from South Korea and China.

TechRadar, July 2017
“Want to be a pro gamer? This is what you could earn playing Overwatch”

More info on the owners and affiliated cities is reported by Engadget.

The NBA is partnering with the developer of the NBA2K game franchise to create an esports league, which will be called “NBA 2K eLeague.” According to the NBA, each of its 30 teams will eventually have its own eSports squad, just as they’re represented in the WNBA or the lower-tier D-League. Every 2K eLeague team will be made up of five human players, which the NBA plans to treat the same way it does athletes who play for the San Antonio Spurs, New York Knicks or any of its other NBA, WNBA or D-League clubs. There will be contracts and endorsement deals at stake, for instance. The main difference here is that there’s room for more diversity, since these pro players can be of any age, gender or race to play on the same court — even if it is a virtual one.

Engadget, Feb 2017
“In the NBA’s eSports league, diversity means a new kind of athlete”

The NBA 2K League Qualifier took place in January, 2017.
An 85-person draft was created.
17 teams will be created at first.
Competitive salaries and benefits, plus additional options for more earnings

Forbes, Dec 2017
“NBA 2K League: How To Qualify, Salary Info, Draft Process, Twitter Account, Rules And More”


Even before the three leagues described above launched, there have been very popular esports teams with some team members earning their livlihoods through tournament earnings, streaming income, and other play-related earnings (eg: team salaries and room and board).

Neilsen ranks the 7 most popular esports teams in the US as: Cloud9
Optic Gaming
Team Liquid
SK Gaming
Counter Logic Gaming
Ninjas in Pyjamas

Nielsen, 2017.
The Esports Playbook

As an example, Cloud9 fields teams for 11 games. As of the time of publication for this blog entry, their 11 teams include 12 American players, as well as 6 American staff members (eg: coaches).
League of Legends: 7 American players, 2 American staff
Counter-Strike:Global Offensive: 5 American players, 3 American staff
Hearthstone: 1 American staff


Here’s a bit of general commentary from Sports Illustrated:

The current state of professional gaming mirrors the beginning days of the NFL and NBA. In those league’s inchoate stages, players often had to work other jobs to supplement their seasonal salaries. Even today, some professional athletes—like pro lacrosse players—hold other jobs to bolster their income. The same is true for most professional gamers.

Still, 18 gamers made more than $500,000 in esports prize money alone last year, and 195 made more than $100,000. Similar to professional golfers and tennis players, prize money makes up only a portion of the top gamers’ yearly income. Some are paid salaries by their teams, and many parlay massive followings built from live-streaming their gaming sessions into sponsorships with game equipment and manufacturing companies.

The number of full-time professional gamers is, as of right now, modest. But if esports stays on its path toward mainstream appeal and the sponsorship and TV dollars continue to flow in, it won’t be long before dozens of gamers are making more than $1 million every year. In 2017, we’ll take a step closer to that reality.

Sports Illustrated, Feb 2017
“What to expect from the booming esports industry in 2017″


Here’s commentary from 2013 on the number of pro gamers:

Being able to subsist solely on a pro gaming salary is a lofty dream indeed. “Business Insider” and e-Sports Earnings reported that only 60 professional gamers worldwide have earned more than $100,000 in prize money, as of 2013. Speaking to “The New York Times” in 2012, Sundance Giovanni of Major League Gaming estimates that “only about 40 people in the U.S. can make a living playing video games. I’d like to get it to a hundred. I think we’re a year or two away from that.”

Chron, 2013, citing NYT (inferred via archive.org)
“Salaries of Pro Gamers”


Here’s a bit of a profile of a pro gamer:

There’s a reason why eAthletes are so competitive—their job is easy to lose. As fun as the perks might sound, for Towey, Evil Geniuses, and hundreds of other pro gamers, the eSports life is a grind, not some glamorous dream job. Tournaments aren’t always enough to pay the bills—especially if you don’t win. That’s a big reason that some eAthletes, such as Ryan “State” Visbeck, use streaming to pay the bills.

Visbeck is a 23-year-old professional player of StarCraft II, a strategy game in which players control whole armies rather than controlling a single character as one would in Halo. As a “freelance” pro player—one who isn’t currently tied to a particular pro team—Visbeck spends his days broadcasting his StarCraft II games on streaming service Twitch. The service allows fans to watch Visbeck’s games live as he plays them, and also includes a chat function so they can interact with one another and the pro himself. Visbeck earns money through Twitch streaming subscriptions, which give viewers perks like special chat icons and access to his slate of recorded videos, as well as fan donations. It’s enough to support him as he lives in South Korea, where StarCraft has been extremely popular for more than a decade. Originally from California, Visbeck moved abroad to train with a pro StarCraft team in 2013 and has lived there ever since.

ComPlex, Aug 2016
“eSports Ain’t Easy: Inside the Everyday Grind of Pro Gaming”

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Posted by cc on February 23, 2018 at 9:32 pm | comment count