If you want to make it in esports then you have to ditch your family and friends, stop showering, not even think about getting more than four hours of sleep, and sell your belongings to invest every penny you have into your passion.
Or so that’s the message a lot of people in esports are sending out to impressionable and aspiring young people. Esports is a nascent industry. One that’s developed at a fast pace, partly because of money being pumped into the scene from venture capitalists. Back in 2003, for example, money was low and grinding was almost essential — if you wanted to work in esports then you had to forgo the idea of being paid equivalent to your ability and output. You had to really love it to make something of yourself.
In 2021, though, esports is largely kept afloat by outside capital. Both from firms who are looking for a return on major investment and from companies who are spending significant amounts to get in front of the young, segmented, and enthusiastic audiences that we command through sponsorship. This means that the industry has been able to become increasingly professional in a short space of time. Now companies with millions of dollars in backing are common and they can afford to pay people for their time and services.
The overwhelming message sent out to those looking to become an industry professional, from the old guard and relative newcomers alike, is that hustle is necessary. You have to work 24/7 to separate yourself from the pack and to make it in this entertainment sector. This isn’t healthy.
Let me caveat this column by saying that I’m not referring to entrepreneurialism here. Yes, there’s typically an element of sacrifice — time-wise or financially, probably both — that’s required to make it when you start your own venture. Entrepreneurs have similar struggles and paths across most industries; more power to those who feel strongly enough about an idea to try and make it a success. That’s not what I’m referring to here. I’m thinking of those who want a job (or a better yet, a career) in esports.
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There’s a clip of OpTic Gaming founder Hector ‘H3CZ’ Rodriguez that surfaces every few months on Twitter. “There’s no hours in esports and gaming if you want to make it. It is a 24/7 job that does not sleep, and the only way to succeed and make a living off of this is if you give it your goddamn all,” he says.
#Esports is a 24/7/365 thing, it doesn't have time for your excuses, it doesn't care about your feelings, it doesn't care about your situation, it only cares about the RESULTS! Give it your all or watch someone else working harder than you take all the glory. pic.twitter.com/1o4SvZd3CQ
— OpTic HECZ (@H3CZ) October 30, 2018
This is not the message we should be sending to teenagers who find esports fascinating and believe they want to work in the industry. There’s money in esports now. Our ecosystem is like many others in that you can work eight hours a day, five days a week, and make a stable living. You can provide plenty of valuable work throughout 40 hours in a week.
In a lot of cases, especially working for an organization with significant backing like Dignitas, companies can afford to pay you for your services. Dignitas are looking to exploit somebody, it’s that simple.
If these entities are scraping by day-to-day, barely making a profit despite having millions poured into them, then that’s their own problem. It doesn’t mean innocent, enthusiastic young people should be forced to work ungodly hours on zero salary just because they’ve been told it’s the only way to break into esports. That narrative is, frankly, bullshit.
I used to be one of those people who worked anywhere for 16 to 18 hours a day. I thought it was the only method of being productive and creating great things. That was until it caught up with me. Not only was I mentally exhausted, I had ignored other aspects of my life — my family, my friends, my health, and my personal interests. This is anecdotal, sure, but I’m just one of thousands of people who have opened up about the very real effects of ‘grinding’ over the past few years.
You’re actually likely to be more productive by taking adequate time to rest. To think. To strategize. To socialize. It’s all too easy to become infatuated with ‘hustling,’ especially when legendary esports figures are saying it’s the only way to make something of yourself. You’ll maybe become disenfranchised and start to question things. You’ll definitely lose some focus if you’re opting to only sleep a couple of hours per night.
Sport and perf psych would argue that taking breaks make what you do better, not worse. I understand the hustle attitude and for some people it works but it’s rarely sustainable. You set a precedent that you always work that way, and that’s dangerous. It leads to burnout.
— Carl Daubert MS (@Perf_Coach_Carl) February 12, 2021
If you want to put your best foot forward, you’re better off giving yourself the rest you need, taking some time away to assess how you’re performing and the standard of your output, and getting inspiration from sources external to your job and industry. You know, like you can do in effectively any other industry where it isn’t an issue.
I’m not saying there’s a right or wrong way to go about working in the esports industry. No two paths are the same. Some people, especially over a decade ago, needed to make gambles to prove their worth and secure enough income to make esports a full-time gig. Now, with esports wearing its grown-up pants and already paying tens of thousands of people, it’s possible to make it without putting every other aspect of your life on hold.
Please don’t think working incessantly is the only way you’ll make it. Doing a great job is good enough in most cases. Care about what you do, remember you’re lucky to work in an industry that excites you every single day but don’t let it take over your life and become detrimental. That’s not where esports is at anymore.
I’m a proponent of hard work being integral to success, however you define it You should focus on what you want to achieve and chase after it, but I’d recommend doing so healthily. Long-term, it’ll pay off in dividends.