E-Sports, Making A Living Playing Video Games

Apr 14, 2017

Sixty-four teams of five compete for the Gears of War 4 Pro Circuit trophy, and their part of a $200,000 prize pool
Credit Ang Santos / WBGO

People were competing for video game supremacy by pumping quarters into arcades on boardwalks, laundromats, and their local VHS rental stores since the 1980’s.  And before that on a little old video game console called Atari.  But gamers making a real living playing them, that’s a different story.  Adam Fletcher is director of communications at The Coalition, the studio that develops content for the popular XBOX One title Gears of War 4.

“E-sports has kind of evolved.  So you see that prize pools are going up events are becoming bigger.  More things are on the line for the players,”  Fletcher said

It’s said the grand prize for the first ever e-sports event was a year’s subscription to Rolling Stone magazine.  For the Atlantic City Gears Pro Circuit event, 64 teams of five are competing for a $70,000 top prize.  Evolved?  I’d say.

“We have guys here that do that for a living because they are signed with very large organizations that actually keep them and pay them to continue to practice and play.”

Fletcher says teams are travelling to from all over the world to compete in Gears of War.

“We have teams from Latin America, teams from Europe, France, the UK and so forth.  It’s awesome to see everyone moving together, playing the game for money, to hang out with other people in the community, and meet up with friends.”

An impressively expensive number of XBOX accessories and monitors make up the spaces used for a Gears e-sports event.  There’s a main stage where the best teams compete, to color commentary.  John Kefaloukos calls Gears of War pro circuit events.  Like commentators in other sports, he was a once a pro player.

“I started streaming on Justin.TV at the time.  That then became Twitch.TV which is now a massive online platform for video game live streaming," Kefaloukos said.  "That’s what really helped me to start to get comfortable in front of a camera, learn how to talk, learn to be confident, how to speak with an audience, and engage with the community.  Next thing you know I had a microphone and I was doing it professionally at a higher level as a broadcaster and commentator for actual competitions.”

OpTic Gaming are your Gears of War 4 Atlantic City champions
Credit Ang Santos / WBGO

Many would say that OpTic Gaming are the New York Yankees of the Gears Pro Circuit.  Nick Ridgeway is Team OpTic’s coach. 

“I scout other teams, watch what they’re doing, take notes, keep track of any tendencies that I might see,” Ridgeway said.

Gamers know him as OpTic Ashes.  He changed his major in college to stake his claim in e-sports.

“I actually switched my degree to psychology to help understand better how people think, better relate to my players, to better convey information to them.  From there it’s just been kind of a passion.”

OpTic Gaming’s strongest competitor is Team EnVyUs.  Coach Ryan “RyanFoolz” Summers says the e-sports scene is nothing to scoff at.

“The numbers speak for themselves.  You can see it in the growth pattern that e-sports is on.  I read that we’re on a similar trajectory that the NBA was for example.  You’re seeing large leagues come up with investors like NBA owners.  Morgan Stanley is doing evaluations on e-sports.  You see the big players coming in and I think that’s because you can’t ignore how big it is getting,” said Summers.

With 64 teams and only 12 receiving cash, that leaves a lot of gamers like Lavent from Brooklyn empty handed.  But for him, it’s less a job, more a vacation.

“As you get older you have responsibilities and bills come into play.  I’m actually a little lucky.  I work as an EMT.  I work three days a week, three doubles, this way I have four days off.  So I can arrange time off if I want to come to these events.”

Team Optic took home the grand prize in Atlantic City.  Next up is Paris, before the final circuit stop in Las Vegas.  The Grand prize pools for those two events totals in at $325,000 dollars.