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Inside the glamorous, disciplined life of a professional gamer


Professional gamers facing off during the League of Legends 2018 North America Spring Finals competition at The Fillmore Miami Beach. — USA TODAY Sports

Professional gamers facing off during the League of Legends 2018 North America Spring Finals competition at The Fillmore Miami Beach. — USA TODAY Sports

In 2011, Dorothy Schmale dropped off her 14-year-old son at the Port Authority bus terminal in New York City. Until then, Michael’s obsession with videogames had seemed like any other hobby. 

Sure, Schmale worried about the time gaming took away from his homework, but it kept him out of trouble. Now, here she was, sending him off on a 13-plus-hour bus ride to Columbus, Ohio, where he would compete in his first major tournament for Call of Duty. “It was hard for me to let him go,” she says. “But that’s really when I knew this was going to take off.” 

Six years later, Michael Schmale (also known as SpaceLy) signed a contract to represent a newly formed organisation called Ghost Gaming, which announced it was paying him and each of his teammates a US$4,000 (RM16,045) monthly salary, as well as a shared US$50,000 (RM200,570) signing bonus. More impressive still were the perks: Ghost housed them in a 10-bedroom mansion that overlooks Hollywood and, incidentally, was formerly occupied by Justin Bieber.  

Ghost, which generates most of its revenue from tournament prize money and sponsorships, also supplied the recruits with a coach, team manager, general manager, chef and personal trainers. The trainers were there to knock the sun-deprived, posture-challenged gamers into shape (Schmale spent the first week of the workouts throwing up until he learned to skip breakfast beforehand). Ghost’s thesis: Treat these teenagers and twenty-somethings not as slacker nerds but as disciplined, professional athletes.  

That a company would pay a bunch of guys (and they are all guys) to live in a mansion and play games shows how far competitive gaming has come. The eSports industry brought in US$1.5bil (RM6.01bil) in revenue last year and is expected to generate US$2.3bil (RM9.22bil) by 2022, according to SuperData, which tracks the industry. All of that money has finally made professional videogaming an actual career for young people around the world. For example, the 50 starting players who entered this year’s North American League of Legends Championship Series were guaranteed a minimum salary of US$75,000 (RM300,855), with the average player earning about US$320,000 (RM1.28mil). 

Over the next six months, Bloomberg will produce a series of mini-documentaries about gigs like these. We’re calling the series Next Jobs. Economists have made all kinds of predictions for how innovations including artificial intelligence will kill jobs. Long before self-driving cars threatened to displace cab drivers, modern telephones displaced switchboard operators and automobiles made coachmen redundant. Those advances were painful for the people forced to find new professions, but didn’t result in mass unemployment. That’s partly because new jobs emerged too. 

Once again, careers unimaginable only a generation ago are popping up around the world. Some may fade away as quickly as they appeared; others could become as ubiquitous as app developers are now. It’s impossible to know ahead of time. But spotting these budding careers now may give us a peek into the labour market that the next generation will enter.  

Many of these emerging jobs are exciting – and, in Michael Schmale’s case, glamorous – but they’re risky, too. Despite the uncertainty of his new gig, Schmale was unfazed. “I understand how uncharted it is, that it could change tomorrow,” he said. “That’s just the type of person I am.” — Bloomberg

   

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