The trajectory of a professional gamer’s life plays out much like a tournament. A slow ascent in the beginning, a major breakthrough to the big time, and finally an explosion of success, a culmination of what they’ve been building toward for so long. It’s this success that drives pros: the few, glorious moments at the top that make the thousands of hours of training and commitment to excellence worth it.
But what about after it ends?
Professional esports careers burn hot and bright, but eventually, they burn out. The average length of a career in traditional sports is between four and five years; for esports professionals it’s often shorter. Players go pro when they turn 18 and often retire by their early 20s, usually due to burnout or physical wear and tear.
But while they may no longer be gunning down enemies or casting spells on the battlefield, retirement isn’t the end for many esports professionals — there are many roles that former players can fill. Here are some of the major ways that competitors stay in the scene after their playing days are over.
Many professional gamers connect with their fans through popular streaming options (most notably Twitch) where they will continue to play games to thousands of viewers – with just a little bit less on the line. Through fan interactions and often tutorials, former players regale their viewers while imparting some of the knowledge they’ve gleaned from years in the professional scene.
In turn, fans go above and beyond what sponsors can offer, and their generous contributions allow pros to retire comfortably to the world of streaming. Through subscriptions and donations, former players are able to continue their career in ways not thought possible even five years ago.
Seen as a novelty just a few years ago, coaching is now a requirement for most professional organizations. After all, players have enough on their plates learning movesets, practicing combos and working for every bit of precision they can muster. Why not add someone to help gameplan for opponents?
Coaches do that, and their ability to take competing opinions from players and gel everything into one cohesive strategy has taken professional play to the next level. No longer do teams show up and decide on the spot how to play – they come in with detailed strategies, contingency plans and scouting reports.
No one is better qualified to lead this process than former players, and that’s why pros becoming coaches have quickly become the norm. Look no further than Counter Strike’s Sergey “Starix” Ischuk, who was on teams that won more than $200,000 during his career as a player before moving to the coaching side, where he has enjoyed just as much success, leading teams to more than $300,000 in winnings.
If there’s any more natural destination than coaching for former players, it’s the broadcast booth. From in-match color commentators to studio analysts, many of esports’ top pros land at the desk somewhere. Frame-by-frame breakdowns of game-deciding turning points, insightful critiques of a player or team’s strategies, or just being able to explain exactly how a particular play was made are all ways former pros translate their gaming skills into the booth. Former pros can do all that, and they arrive in the booth with instant credibility.
If in-game coaching or commentary aren’t your thing, another option is to be a team manager, who’s responsible for the day-to-day strategic operations of professional teams. While they may work largely behind the scenes, managers are key to fostering the progress of their teams. From practice schedules to scrimmage meetups (often called “bootcamps”) to media appearances to even some non-gaming time for team activities to build chemistry, managers are the “minion creeps” of esports: always there, rarely noticed, but vitally important to moving things along.
And that’s just what they do for the players. Back in the office, they’re always working ahead. Searching for talent, negotiating player contracts and building the roster of the future are all tasks that often fall to team managers.
It may not always be a glamorous job, but it’s one that esports couldn’t live without.
For some players, competing on a professional team isn’t enough. After all, why work for others when you can work for yourself as a team owner?
Take Andy Dinh, also known as the owner of Team SoloMid. An esports organization featuring teams in games such as League of Legends, Hearthstone, Super Smash Bros., and more, TSM is the brainchild of Dinh, who began his professional career playing League of Legends for a different team but soon decided to start his own. Eventually, he retired from playing to focus on growing the business from the top, and has turned it into one of the leading esports organizations in the world.
Team ownership isn’t for everyone, but enterprising young players often look to dip their toes into the ownership side. With business and advertising interest in esports exploding, there are many opportunities for entrepreneurial players to move up into an ownership role after their playing days are finished.
In the fast-growing and ever-changing world of esports, there are more options than ever for players once they hang up their controllers. While their professional careers may be short and intense, pro gamers can be confident that they will be able to stick in the industry even after the final victory screen has faded.
Corbin Hosler is a freelance writer, editor and content creator based out of the esports hotbed that is Oklahoma. His career began by loading Warcraft: Orcs and Humans with MS-DOS, and today he travels the globe covering the wonderful world of esports.