The best way to learn how to make video game money is to talk to someone who knows all about it. MoneyNation did just that during a recent interview with Scott Smith, former COO of Evil Geniuses, the top-earning eSports team in the world according to eSportsEarnings.com. Smith has 52,000 Twitter followers and is still heavily involved in the eSports world.
According to Smith, it’s very hard to make real video game money as a player. That said, there are definite characteristics shared by the top earners, including extremely high skill levels, good personalities, entertaining demeanors, mastery of social media and top networking skills. People who make real money playing video games often use Twitch, YouTube, matchmaking services and other tricks of the trade, earning salaries, millions in prize money and even big sponsorship deals.
How Hard is it to Make a Living from Video Game Money?
How hard is it to make a living from video game money? Very hard. Like, get-struck-by-lightning hard.
“It’s just like basketball,” says Smith. “You and I can go to the park and we can shoot hoops all day long. We can have fun and play pickup games and be very good at it but you and I are never ever going to get into the NBA. It’s the same with competitive eSports. I can play Counter-Strike, you can play Counter-Strike, but you and I are never going to Malaysia to play in a top Counter-Strike tournament because the skill gap is there. If there’s no skill gap there’s no e-sport. It’s fun to watch because it’s hard.”
How Many People Make a Living from Video Game Money?
An estimated 2,200 eSports players worldwide make a living from video game money. There are more if we count streamers.
“In Counter-Strike,” says Smith, “there’s probably 20 to 30 teams with players making money at that earn-a-living level.”
With five players on a Counter-Strike team that means about 150 total players making a living from video game money in the world of Counter-Strike. With roughly seven to ten other popular eSports of a similar size, there are anywhere from 1,500 to 3,000 players tops earning a living playing video games. In other words, making money playing video games is about as likely as getting into the NBA or the NFL, which is in turn about as likely as getting struck by lightning.
A Video Game Money Overview
Video game money in terms of tournament prize payouts is starting to rival major sports like golf and tennis. The Valve corporation crowdfunds an $18 million prize purse per year for the world Dota 2 tournament.
According to eSportsEarnings.com there are 26 tournaments each year with prize purses in excess of $1 million. There are 500 tournaments with purses over $80,000. Three times more people tuned in to the 2015 League of Legends World Championships than viewed the Super Bowl.
More Eyeballs Means More Money
That sheer number of eyeballs means lots of ad revenue, which means there’s lots of video game money out there. According to Smith, Shaquille O’Neal now holds part ownership in an eSports team. Mark Cuban is looking at investing in the sport. Every broadcast network now has an eSports desk because they realize this is what young people are watching.
“They’re not looking at it and saying oh yes these kids playing video games are just like LeBron James,” says Smith. “But they’re absolutely saying, there are more eyeballs there now and that means more ad revenue.”
Video Game Money: How Much Do Players Make?
Video game money is rapidly growing. The top 500 players won more than $20,000 each in prize money 2016. The top 100 players made over $125,000 and the top 20 made over $400,000, not including salary.
“A top player in League of Legends probably makes $5,000 to $10,000 a month in salary,” says Smith. “That’s a rough guess because our salaries are not public. Counter-Strikers on any of the top ten teams in the world probably make $8,000 to $15,000 a month.”
There are also incentive bonuses for doing well at tournaments and money from streaming and from donations.
How to Make Video Game Money
The first way to make video game money as a player is to be exceptionally good.
“There’s a kid named Shroud who plays Counter-Strike for a team called Cloud 9,” says Smith. “Shroud started streaming his gameplay and people realized very quickly that he wasn’t just good at the game. He was really good at it. In about three years he’s gone from being just a streaming Counter-Strike kid to playing on one of the top teams in the world. Again, it still comes down to a one in a million shot. This is not easy.
How to Make Video Game Money from Streaming
“If you’re not good, be entertaining,” says Smith.
There are hundreds of players out there making video game money from streaming. There are at least two platforms for making money from streaming your own video game play. One of course is YouTube and the other is called Twitch. Some of the richest gamers in the world made their fortunes from YouTube, while Twitch offers benefits to gamers that YouTube can’t touch.
Also see: How to Save Money on New Video Games
How to Make Video Game Money from YouTube
Many players who don’t have the skills to compete still make video game money on YouTube. Some even make millions. In fact the top earning YouTuber in the world is a gamer named PewDiePie. PewDiePie isn’t particularly good at playing video games, but he’s very funny. His videos have racked up over 13 billion views since 2009. He has a net worth in excess of $70 million. Most of that money comes from streaming gaming videos on YouTube.
The way it works is, a gamer makes a video of himself or herself playing a game. The gamer uploads the video to YouTube and allows ads to be placed on the video. If the gamer then gets millions and millions of views, he or she then earn ad revenue. It’s much easier said than done but there are definitely players making video game money that way.
How to Make Video Game Money from Twitch
Twitch lets players earn video game money by streaming videos like on YouTube. Gamers on Twitch do make money from ads, but they also make money from subscribers and other income streams.
“Twitch is a broadcast platform on which anyone and their mother can fire up a web camera and their computer and stream themselves playing video games,” says Smith. “There’s a guy named Lyric who lives in Boston who’s probably the second if not the highest streamer on Twitch. He doesn’t compete in anything. He just streams. But he has thousands and thousands of subscribers who pay him every month, he gets tips, he gets donations, he gets sponsorships, but he doesn’t compete. There’s no eSport component to what he does. He’s an entertainer. That’s one way to make money playing video games.”
The curious can check out Scott’s Twitch channel here.
How to Make Video Game Money from eSports
Another way players make video game money is from competitive eSports. Think of eSports as the NBA of video games. There are competitive leagues built up around certain video games, complete with tournaments and world championships, sponsorship dollars, teams, salaries, prize money and bonuses.
According to Smith, there are roughly five to seven major video games with eSports components, plus several console games that have large eSports scenes. Anyone interested in making money playing video games should check out the following eSports games:
Major eSports Games:
- League of Legends
- Dota 2
- Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
- Call of Duty: Black Ops III
- Heroes of the Storm
- Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft
- Halo 5: Guardians
- StarCraft II
Console Games with Big eSports Scenes:
- Smash Brothers
- Street Fighter
- Marvel vs Capcom
To Make Video Game Money, Players Need a Good Personality
Surprisingly, Smith says a good personality goes a long way for a player who wants to make real video game money.
“If everyone likes a kid and he’s super sweet and nice he’ll have a lot better chance of breaking in and building a following,” says Smith. “Our fan base is far closer to us than pro sports players are to their fans, so having an engaging personality will go incredibly far for an eSports pro. You might have two people with the exact same skill set but they say wow, Scott’s got 100,000 people following him on Twitch and a huge YouTube following. I’m bringing Scott into my team because I’m not just hiring Scott but I’m also getting his fan base.”
Players Who Excel at Social Media Make More Video Game Money
One sure way for a player to earn more video game money is by being good at managing social media. A player with a bigger fan base on Twitter, YouTube and Facebook will be more likely to get a sweet deal from a team.
“Streamers and YouTubers are big time,” says Smith. “Some of these big teams sign streamers just to represent their brands. They don’t even compete but they’re on their “stream team” wearing jerseys with logos. They create brand awareness for the team. That grows the team’s fan base.
Network to Make Video Game Money
There’s no system of agents and talent scouts in the eSports world, so networking is a crucial path to earning video game money. Players who network and mingle with the pros increase their chances of earning a living at eSports dramatically. Networking however doesn’t just mean rubbing elbows and passing compliments and smiling a lot. In most cases it means getting into the eSports matchmaking services and doing well there.
Matchmaking Services as a Path to Video Game Money
Players often break into the video game money world through what’s called matchmaking services. These are in-game systems that match players with like skill sets in amateur competitive events. Players with very good skills often get discovered in these matchmaking systems.
“Counter-Strike for example has its own in-game matchmaking system,” says Smith. “It has a rating system that matches players with similar skill sets. Also outside companies started making what’s called PUG services. A PUG is a Pick Up Game like in basketball. So for Counterstrike there’s a system called ESEA and you log in and pay a monthly fee and their service links you with like-minded, like-skilled Counter-Strikers.”
Matchmaking is Where Pros Get Discovered
“So basically the very skilled but undiscovered kid would play his way to the top of the ESEA ranking system and that’s where the pros go to practice. That’s where they warm up. So now word gets out pretty quick that hey this kid is tearing up ESEA. Is he cheating because he’s really good. That’s how you get noticed. It would be like if there was a big gym that all the NBA stars went to and they looked down the court and said wow, that kid is really good, he’s hitting three-pointers all day. Who is he?”
“Every game has its own matchmaking system. Dota has its own matchmaking system in the game. League of Legends does too. So do Starcraft and Overwatch. They’re easy to find. Every game has a subreddit. Go look at the subreddit for each game and you’ll find the matchmaking service.”
Want to Make Video Game Money? Get Embraced by the Pros.
To make real video game money, players have to get to know people in the industry.
“Right now it’s very much a who you know situation,” says Smith. “I’m sure there are plenty of kids out there who have the skills but haven’t been noticed. In real sports there’s scouting systems and college sports and we don’t have that so how do you get discovered. Well you start playing with the pros and the pros say oh wow this kid is really good. Then they give you a shot and if you do well then you’re in.”
Want Video Game Money? Don’t Quit Your Day Job.
The number of players who make video game money is very small compared to the pool of people who’d like to break in.
“Don’t drop out of school,” says Smith. “You have to realize that the odds of you being in the Staples Center playing pro level League of Legends in the next couple years because you think you’re pretty good are slim to frikking none. Because it’s not only your skill. You might be just as good as that guy at the Staples Center but how do you get found? How do you bump into the right people who need you?
If a kid plays games and he’s good and he streams and people watch it and they like it and people notice him then people start saying oh wow this kid is good. Then if the pros like him and they give him a shot and he nails it, then yes, that kid can make real video game money.
Different Video Game Money Income Streams
Players who make real video game money don’t just get paid from one source. There are several different ways the pros rake in cash. Often, making money from playing video games is very similar to making money in a pro sports league like the MLB or the NBA.
Video Game Money from Prizes
One way players make video game money is from prizes. In 2016, total prize money of over $70 million was awarded in the eSports world. There were well over a thousand tournaments and hundreds of players made over $20,000 a year just in prize money. The top five players in the world made over a million each from prizes.
Also see: Kim Kardashian Net Worth
Salary Video Game Money
Players on the world’s top teams don’t just make video game money from prizes in tournaments. They also earn salaries. While those salaries don’t yet compete with the money thrown around in the NBA or the NFL, they do offer a living wage to the best of the best. Players on the top 30 League of Legends or Counter-Strike teams can make anywhere from $2,000 to $15,000 per month. Whether they sit at the high or the low end of that scale depends on where their team sits in the rankings.
Video Game Money from Streaming Subscriptions
Streaming subscriptions on Twitch are an excellent source of video game money. Those players who are exceptionally good or exceptionally entertaining can draw in enough subscribers to earn a living. Streamers can earn up to $3 per month per subscriber according to the Huffington Post. That means a player with 1,000 subscribers can earn $3,000 per month.
Streaming Ad Revenue Video Game Money
Another way players make video game money is from streaming ad revenue. Sites like Twitch and YouTube pay a small amount for each ad impression. Depending on the value of the ad category and whether the viewer clicks on the ad, YouTubers can make anywhere from $1 to $8 for each 1,000 video views. This means ad revenue doesn’t pay as well as subscriptions, but it’s still a viable way to make money playing video games. Gamers like PewDiePie and CaptainSparklez have made millions in this way.
Donated Video Game Money
Twitch has a donate button that lets viewers give video game money to their favorite players. This is another way for gamers to make money. Gamers also get tips from their viewers. It’s a common enough moneymaking method that there’s a reddit for Twitch streamers that explains how to handle donations.
Video Game Money from Individual Sponsorships
Just like in major league sports like the NBA, NFL, MLB and NHL, professional sponsorships and endorsements come into play. In the world of eSports, most of the video game money teams pay their players in salaries comes from sponsorship deals with the teams. Sometimes however a company like Red Bull will want to partner only with a specific player. When that happens, top players can pull down big deals from well known brands.
Collegiate eSports Scholarships: The Video Game Money Back Door
The back door to make video game money as a player is the collegiate eSports scholarship.
“Every college and their mother is starting esports programs under their athletic programs,” says Smith. “They’re sponsoring kids to come play video games for that school. They’re giving scholarships. The kids go to a training area at the school where instead of having a gym and basketball hoops they’ve got computers.”
“Robert Morse University is one of several schools that now have an eSports program. Now a kid can get a free education playing video games. That makes mom and dad happy and it makes it more accepting that it’s a skill set that a university is recognizing. I’m sure traditional alumni are saying are you kidding me? This kid’s going to get a letter from Ohio State playing League of Legends nooo! not on my watch! It’s mostly the smaller schools so far but it does give kids another inroad to make money.”
Video Game Money After the Glory Ends
Of course earning video game money as a player is for the young. Nobody over 40 is still going to be making big money playing video games because the reflexes just aren’t there. That may worry some who have the skills now because they’ll wonder what they’ll do for a living as they age. There are several options open to eSports champions after retirement, just like in the world of pro sports. Some former eSports figures like Scott Smith have transitioned to the broadcast booth. Some are starting their own teams. Others help peripheral gear makers redesign products like mice, headsets and keyboards. Some players transition to making video games or running a team.
Video Game Money from Non-Player Jobs
Apart from the players, there are plenty of people making video game money from more mundane jobs in the industry. Designers, writers, receptionists and other peripheral employees all make a living in the industry without actually playing the games. For a rundown of non-player video game jobs, check out our post on that here.