Full benefits, 6-figure salaries, 401Ks and nutritionists — 2 professionals reveal what it’s really like to be paid to play video games for a living

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Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment

E-sports – which is to say, competitive, professional online video gaming – have exploded in popularity in recent years.

In fact, experts have predicted that e-sports viewership is likely to surpass that of traditional sports leagues, including the NBA and MLB, by 2020. Indeed, esports revenue is likely to climb to more than $900 million this year as television channels like ESPN continue to incorporate e-sports into their daily lineups, and streaming services like Amazon’s Twitch become more mainstream.

In a world where competitive video games have the potential to be as lucrative an industry as professional sports, the title “pro gamer” has evolved massively since the ’90s, where a relatively small group of die-hard gamers played in relatively unnoticed tournaments for community notoriety and occasional prize money.

In the modern world of e-sports, pro gamers are salaried employees with medical benefits and 401-ks, and who have personal nutritionists and fitness trainers. They are celebrities and role models for the fans who purchase jerseys and other merchandise in their honor. They also happen to play the same video game for 8 to 10 hours a day.

Business Insider got to interview professional gamers who play in the Overwatch League, competing at the highest levels of Blizzard’s acclaimed and best-selling competitive first-person shooter “Overwatch.”

We got an inside look at the ups and downs of their everyday lives and, the journeys that they’ve taken to get to the highest level for their game of choice.


During an average week, teammates spend the majority of the day practicing “Overwatch” for hours at a time.

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Members of the San Francisco Shock play practice matches in Burbank, California.
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San Francisco Shock, Blizzard Entertainment

“Practices are really hard and really demanding,” said Daniel “dhaK” Martinez, a professional player on the San Francisco Shock, one of the twelve permanent teams in the Overwatch League.

Martinez said that on a typical practice day, he and his teammates play two hours at a time, for two or three times a day. These practice hours include running drills and skirmishes. The practice time give the players time to perfect or experiment with different in-game characters, called “heroes.”

While the notion of getting paid to play video games all day may seem like a fantasy for many gamers, the reality of the training sessions can be both physically and mentally taxing, explained Jacob “Jake” Lyon, who plays on the league’s Houston Outlaws.

For example, Lyon said he struggles with severe wrist pains thanks to the long hours spent working a keyboard and mouse in practice, and has to wear “geriatric gloves” while sleeping and regularly do special stretches to reduce strain.

“That’s definitely not something I thought I’d have to worry about at 21,” he laughed.


Match days come with the extra stresses of competing for a live audience of millions, doing press and meeting with fans, says Martinez.

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Fans gather in the Blizzard Arena Los Angeles in California.
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Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment

“It’s definitely surreal-knowing you’re playing for tens of thousands of people, all watching from home,” said Lyon, who plays for the Houston Outlaws.


Any level of public notoriety comes with the responsibility of learning to be a role model for young fans — especially since “Overwatch” is smash hit with younger and older fans alike.

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Daniel “dhaK” Martinez takes the stage with his team, the San Francisco Shock.
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Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment

“It definitely requires a lot of personal responsibility,” said Martinez, of the San Francisco Shock. “There are a lot of young kids watching, so you have to be extra careful – especially when you’re streaming.”

Martinez is referring to the practice of streaming “Overwatch” matches on platforms like Amazon’s Twitch – something that is not required by the Overwatch League, but which several players do on their own time to promote their personal brand and blow off steam.

Martinez says despite the pressures of fame, he’s welcomed the opportunity to have an impact on young gamers and fans.

“It’s also really nice, knowing you can affect other people’s lives…knowing that someone looks up to you,” he said.


However, like professional athletes, e-sports players are not immune to scandal.

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DreamKazper plays Overwatch in a live match, with his former team, the Boston Uprising.
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Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment

Several high-profile players have come under scrutiny for inappropriate behavior in their personal streams, as well as during matches. Blizzard has recently taken a more heavy-handed strategy while cracking down on players that do not “meet the behavioral standards of the league,” including during their down time, as Lyon put it.

The most recent incident involved Jonathan “DreamKazper” Sanchez, of the Boston Uprising team, who was suspended this week amid allegations of sexual misconduct involving a minor.

Team management for the Boston Uprising posted this tweet Sunday, when the allegations came to light on social media:

The official Twitter account followed up Monday with a tweet announcing that Sanchez’s contract had been terminated. Other players have exited the league under a dark cloud, as well: Félix “xQc” Lengyel parted ways with the Dallas Fuel following a controversy over his use of language towards other players.


Despite growing pains, the Overwatch League is working hard to separate itself from the toxicity that often looms in gaming culture.

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Jacob Lyon plays alongside teammates to bring the Houston Outlaws a victory.
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Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment

When asked how the league reacts in the aftermath of a scandal, Lyon says word moves quickly. The coaches do their best to communicate with players, but Lyon says there isn’t much to be said besides, “please don’t be this person.”

“Fortunately, I think this is going to stop happening as more players are made an example of,” said Lyon.

“When you become a professional at this, your role changes from a player to an entertainer and a role model,” a role which Lyon says he does not take lightly. “We’re representatives of Blizzard and Activision and all these entities – for better or worse – and now people are starting to pay attention.”


Because all of the teams are based in Burbank, California very few players have local ties. Luckily, the league provides housing and other perks, so they’re able to focus their energy on competing.

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San Francisco Shock teammates gather for an all-hands meeting.
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San Francisco Shock, Blizzard Entertainment

The Overwatch League has tried to emulate traditional sports in as many ways as possible, a league representative told Business Insider. One of the ways they do so is by dedicating each team to a city the same way the NBA and NFL do, even though all teams are based in Burbank, CA, and the players come from all over the world.

Because almost none of the players are local, the teams provide housing and many other amenities for the players. Martinez said he lives in an apartment complex with many of his teammates and several other teams, while some team owners opt for “gaming houses” that can house all the players they sponsor.

Lyon said his team is provided with fitness trainers and a nutritionist – the latter of whom previously worked wiht the San Francisco 49ers – who help the team maintain their health and pursue their fitness goals, even as they spend most of their days in front of a computer monitor.

“Part of becoming a professional is understanding that if you can do something outside of the game to make yourself a better player in the game, like having more discipline over your health or sleeping better or whatever it is, you should absolutely be taking care of those things,” said Lyon.


E-sports have been around since the ’80s, but the Overwatch League (and many of its players) is actually quite young.

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Jay “sinatraa” Won, of the San Francisco Shock, cutting his 18th birthday cake surrounded by teammates.
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San Francisco Shock, Blizzard Entertainment

The Overwatch League was first announced in November of 2016, just a few months after the release of the video game, which won Game of the Year at The Game Awards in December. It held its first pre-season matches in December 2017, and its inaugural regular season began in January 2018.

At its conception, the league established a “path to pro” for ambitious Overwatch players. It includes its own unofficial minor league, called “Overwatch Contenders,” and open division tournaments in which anyone can compete and essentially try out for the contenders bracket.

The Overwatch League invites players from all over the world, with the only requirement that pro players be over 18 years old.

Several players like Matthew “Super” DeLisi and Jay “Sinatraa” Won of San Francisco Shock are recruited by a team as minors, but aren’t allowed to play their first match until they turn 18.

After formally joining a team, Overwatch League players are paid a minimum of $50,000 a year, but many of them make more than six figures.


After months of speculation from fans about how it planned to handle co-ed gameplay, the league debuted its first woman player last week.

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Kim “Geguri” Se-Yeon competes alongside her teammates, the Shanghai Dragons.
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Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment

Kim “Geguri” Se-Yeon played her first match with the Shanghai Dragons last Wednesday, after signing with the team in February.

Se-Yeon usually plays with one of the more offensive characters, which is especially notable because of a prevailing stereotype that women play better with characters with healing or defensive fighting styles.


“Really, other than being lighter on the physical side, it’s a lot like traditional sports,” said Martinez. “The fans are so dedicated. They come here with signs, cosplays, and jerseys, it’s an experience that’s so much bigger than just watching the game.”

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Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment