Eventually, technology caught up with the fans passion by allowing the community to directly support pro players. Graham moved full-time into providing commentary during matches in the 2000s, similar to announcers during sports broadcasts. Then starting in 2008, software that let people more easily stream video became widely available.
Robert Lee sat down with his parents over dinner at a favorite Chinese restaurant to break the news: He decided to drop out of college after one year at California State University in Fullerton to pursue a career as a professional video game player.
Lee had started to make more than a little money broadcasting his gameplay on Twitch while commuting to school three days a week. He wanted to make that a full-time job.
Almost three years later, Lee is a pro League of Legends player, earning a salary that pays enough to cover rent, clothes, food and a couple luxuries, he says, though he declined to provide a figure. That’s in addition to the millions of dollars in prize money that his team, compLexity, is competing for at tournaments around the world.
Lee, known by his handle ‘RobertXLee’ when he plays, is not alone. Players have been able to turn professional gaming into careers — ones that allow them to live comfortably while playing the games they love. These pros’ paths are beginning to mimic those of athletes, starting with amateur tournaments before getting recruited by a professional league or team. The stakes are high, too; the top 10 highest earning players pulled in $8.18 million in tournament winnings.
Not coincidentally, tournaments have begun drawing millions of viewers. Last year’s League of Legends final was watched by 32 million, while the live event held at the 18,000-seat Staples Center in Los Angeles sold out in less than two hours after tickets went on sale. And last month, more than 200,000 people watched the Dota 2 finals at another game tournament in Seattle, where a winning five-member team walked away with $5 million in prize money.
Game publishers Riot and Valve have made millions riding the wave of the newest competitive genre, called MOBAs. Their respective games, League of Legends and Dota 2, have millions of players in almost every country around the planet. While these companies run their own internal competitive leagues, there are also third parties that both manage tournaments and broadcast them, such as Major League Gaming in the U.S. and ESL in Europe. Each has a business model that feels like a merger between ESPN and a sports league like the NBA, though they typically manage tournaments for almost a dozen games instead of just one. Read more…