You may have heard a lot of hype recently about the amount of money that can be made playing video games. Just like the athletes of major sports competitions, there are gamers out there who make millions. And like the lower leagues of sports, there are plenty out there who make next to nothing.

Only the top e-sports pros earn big money. Photo by Jakob Wells.

As of February 2019, only the top 69 players in esports had earned a total of over USD 1 million. By the time you get to the 500th top earner, earnings are less than USD 200k. That means that out of all of the esports gamers in the world, the vast majority earn less than an average full-time job.

This could change in the coming years. League of Legends, for example, just set a minimum wage of USD 75,000 for pros in America, though other countries can still underpay, and other games have no such standard. As video gaming continues to grow in popularity, there could be more opportunity for more cash, not just for competitive gamers, but also for those looking for long term careers in the gaming industry.

For now, at least, most pro or semi-pro gamers, whether in esports, poker or Twitch streaming, are faced with several dilemmas when it comes to earning enough to live comfortably. Many have to balance gaming with part-time work. Gaming also tends to be a short-lived career with an early retirement age. And what about those who start late? Is it possible to switch to gaming if you didn’t enter the industry in your early twenties? Let’s take a look at some case studies of how pro-gamers have dealt with these situations.

Early Retirement in Esports

Esports players who play on professional teams face typical retirement ages in the early 20s. Only the elite gamers play top games at the highest level, and so player’s time at the top doesn’t last long. This happens either due to slowing reaction times with age, or simply because they are replaced with upcoming talent.

30-year old Justin Wong knows this all too well. He is a Street Fighter V pro who made the majority of his income through a combination of tournament winnings and broadcasting his practice games. He did well streaming other games too, like Mortal Kombat X (remember those brutal fatalities?). “JWong” needed an exit strategy, and now works in a tech company.

Juan “Hungrybox” DeBiedma is one of the leading Super Smash Bro Melee players of all time. He has consistently held up in the Top 5 rankings and is the second highest earner, currently signed with Team Liquid. And he’s not even full time! DeBiedma says that he always wanted stability, and so he balances his competitive esports with his job for supply chain company West Rock.

Big Wins Sparks Career Change

RamónColillas wins USD 5.1 million to spark a huge career change. Photo by Neil Stoddart, Rational Intellectual Holdings Ltd.

Poker is another game, perhaps an early example of esports type gaming, in which some make it and others struggle. Again, there are players who also have part-time jobs and players who retire early to take their careers in fresh directions. And then there are those who get their opportunity in the form of a big win.

This is what happened to Ramón Colillas, a 30-year-old ex-personal trainer who’s epic live tournament win is allowed him to begin his journey as a pro.

Colillas played in minor league football teams in his home country of Spain and wanted to pursue a career in sports. Unfortunately, multiple knee injuries meant that he never made it big in football. Ramón Colillas became a personal trainer, a job suitable for his skills, but which didn’t quite satisfy his competitive spirit. At this point, he was only playing a bit of live and online poker in his spare time. His early attempts to go pro had been fraught with bankroll issues.

His big break came when he won the first stop of the Championship of Spain in 2018, earning himself leaderboard points that would eventually win him a “Platinum Pass,” with flights to the Bahamas and entry to the USD 25k entry PSPC tournament. Colillas went on to come first for a neat USD 5.1 million and is now a member of Team PokerStars. That’s quite the overnight career change

A Pay Cut For Gaming

The big e-sports and poker winners are attractive examples of when gaming pays, but there are people who love the gaming industry so much that they would take a pay cut just to be a part of it.

Jason Van Beveren had a corporate role in a Fortune 500 IT company. It paid the bills and he could live a fairly wealthy lifestyle but found himself deeply unsatisfied. His friend pointed out that the gaming industry seemed to be his natural calling, and at 30-years old Van Beveren followed the advice and started a gaming blog.

From this, he picked up work with Parris Lilly managing a major gaming website, before creating a gaming portal to integrate their content. The blogging experience led him to a job as Head of Player Experience at a gaming studio. Ultimately, he has taken a pay cut but is much happier with his life.

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