How do professional players make money

Earning money with eSports? Five gaming pros talk about their salary

The salaries of the top gamers in eSports are no longer a secret: The Korean Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok is said to earn several million dollars a year, plus prize money and sponsorship income. Also at Counter Strike: Global Offensive one was amazed last year when Nikola "NiKo" Kovac changed teams for a transfer fee of 500,000 dollars.

But how much money do less prominent people in the eSports industry make? We talked to five of them about money at the ESL One eSports tournament. Nobody wanted to reveal the monthly salary, not even after repeated inquiries. But our interlocutors allowed themselves to be carried away at least to a few hints.

Melek "m3lly" Balgün, 30, former professional player, now eSports presenter

Melek Balgün: "My horse and I don't have to go hungry" | Image: Motherboard / Jan Lindenau

Motherboard: How can you still earn money with esports after your professional career?
Melek Balgün: My colleagues and I are the faces of events like ESL One. We moderate shows on the big stage and on the sidelines of the event. It all started with Turtle Entertainment in 2007 with a paid internship. Now I am booked as a moderator not only for eSports, but also for trade fairs, congresses, events, mostly related to gaming or the tech scene. Right now things are going very well; in the last six months I have been to hotels and planes more often than at home in Cologne.

Have you been able to make a living from the jobs right from the start?
I started my own business two years ago. It's been going really well for a year now: I can make a living from it, I'm fine, my horse and I don't have to go hungry. The question is also: What am I burning for and what makes me get up every morning and do the 16-hour job that I sometimes have? Of course, more money is always possible, for example if I were to work in a managerial position in a marketing agency. But I also have to ask myself: is it worth it to me?

Dorian Gorr, 32, Chief Marketing Officer at Veritas Entertainment

Dorian Gorr: "For many, switching to the industry is like jumping into deep water" | Image: Motherboard / Jan Lindenau

Motherboard: When did you get your first cash with eSports?
Dorian Gorr: I made my first money with eSports in 2013 when I wrote a newspaper report about the "Call of Duty" European championships. I worked as a journalist for a long time, reporting on gaming and eSports. For a few months now, I've been doing eSports full-time. With our company, we advise customers who want to enter the market, explain what strategies there are to reach people. To this end, we are building what is probably the largest eSports and entertainment location in Europe with a large partner in the middle of Berlin. It will be launched in 2019.

Are you currently earning less than before?
No. For many, a change in the industry is a dip in the deep end. Then a lot of passion is necessary at the beginning because you don't earn much money. But I had enough experience and contacts; i know what i can do; and now I earn better than I did in the media industry.

Ian Smith: "I wish I had a full-time job in esports" | Image: Motherboard / Jan Lindenau

Motherboard: What brought you to esports?
Ian Smith: I conduct the doping tests with the players after their matches and take care of cheating and betting fraud in eSports. My job is called Integrity Officer at ESIC, that's the eSports Integrity Coalition. The ESIC is a membership organization that is financed through contributions from eSport events - from the ESL to much smaller organizations, for example in Dubai or the Middle East.

Can your job in eSports support a family?
I wish I had a full-time job in eSports, but so far ESIC can't afford it, I'm too expensive for them. So I also advise other organizations on sport and integrity. However, I spend most of the time with eSports and believe that in a year I will be exclusively at ESIC.

Jérôme "NiaK" Sudries, 29, team manager at G2

Jérôme Sudries: "Our team can make a living from it" | Image: Motherboard / Jan Lindenau

Motherboard: How do you even become a team manager in an eSports team?
Jérôme Sudries: I'm not a gamer, I come from the universe of conventional sports. I was a cyclist and want to bring my experience from the sports industry to eSport. I started out as a team manager ten years ago Counter Strike: Source, at that time still without payment. I earned my first full salary with eSports four or five years ago.

Can you say that you are a rich man?
I wouldn't say I'm a rich man, but every time I renegotiated there was a leap up. We are now at a very comfortable level. And our team is very lucky to be able to make a living from it. I know I won't be able to do this job all my life, the same is the case with the players. I earn enough to be able to lay aside a little.

Timo "Spiidi" Richter, 22, professional player at the German eSport organization Sprout

Timo Richter: "I didn't earn a cent in my first major tournaments" | Image: Motherboard / Jan Lindenau

Motherboard: As a professional player, you get a fixed salary. What did you live on in the beginning?
Timo Richter: My first competition was in 2011. I registered alone and played with nine randomly selected people. I didn't win anything, it wasn't about money either. But I've stayed with it since then because I enjoyed it. Two years later I went to my first finals in the German "Counter Strike: Globale Offensive" league. It's crazy when you compare how over the past five years it's not just viewership that has changed. Everything is more professional: when I started, one or two teams in Germany could make a living from it - if at all.

How has income changed over the course of your career?
In my first two major tournaments, I didn't earn a cent, apart from the prize money. Fortunately, that has improved with my fixed salary at Sprout. I'm a very frugal person, I prefer to put something on my side instead of buying a car right away. Now in August I'm indulging myself, I'm going to Thailand with my girlfriend for two and a half weeks. There is also the 4-star hotel.

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