With the pro-gaming industry set to be worth $1.6B by 2023, many are noting the extremely short (and often miserable) careers of those who compete.
Whether you register esports as a legitimate athletic pursuit or not, the crises they suffer are particularly real, and outside what most of those who are paid to sport are asked to endure. According to a new documentary, some of the world’s top players are at work eighty hours a week. In concert with the pressure, both mental and physical, result in the commonality of early retirement.
Polygon reported that the mid-twenties was the shelf-life of your average pro gamer, as motor skills and reaction times numb and fall by the wayside.
However, much time has passed, and in the meantime, the industry has grown rapidly, and with it, the fan (and anti-fan) base that follow their march on social media, burnout is a very real condition of entry. The numbers are staggering. Both in the prize money, but those who watch it. Roughly 400 million viewers tune in, with a mistake or gaffe or failure excoriated online. As ESPN put it, every wrong move is “toxically scrutinized on Reddit, Twitter, and other online forums.”
Combine this with the difficulty of tuning out the online noise, considering that is the primary pool they swim in it, the pressure builds, the undercurrent grows and the best of them are washed away, cast far from the now-unfriendly shores of their social islands. To combat this, many managers of many teams are monitoring the mental health of their players, with members of the Dallas Fuel, now allowed to visit home mid-season. They also have access to a dedicated sports psychologist. FemmeFerocity, a team that plays Heroes of the Storm, highlights in its core values the importance and “competitive advantage” of good mental health. Whether or not this will have an effect is unknown.
Indeed, the League of Legends player Zach “Nien” Malhas, who represented Counter Logic Gaming was perceived not to be good enough by the community in 2014. The non-stop outpouring of criticism coming from thousands of anonymous strangers, among other issues, proved to be too much. Nien decided to step down from CLG and take a break from professional gaming altogether. He was 19 at the time.
“Before when I used to get trash talked from random fans, or whatever, I would just brush it off because I was super confident in myself, and just my play… I actually enjoyed reading trash talk about myself because I’d just laugh it off every single time… I just thought it was hilarious… but after a while, I just was in a slump and lost all my confidence, and just seeing all the constant trash talk really… it’s really, really, really, really hard to deal with thousands of people just trash-talking you all the time. Especially when you don’t believe in yourself,” Nien said.
As Nikkei Asia noted in 2018, “The average retirement age for esports professionals, so the industry saying goes, is 25. That is when a gamer’s reflexes begin to decline — fatal for professional players of fast-paced genres like first-person shooting games.”
As it is still a new sport, the conditions and limitations that need to be, and have been met by those who play it are working in the dark, minus precedent. Consider the sport, and its problems, to build, not subside. According to gaming research firm Newzoo, revenue from the esports industry reached $660 million in 2017 and is forecast to climb to $1.6 billion by 2023.