The esports industry has seen tremendous growth and popularity over the past few years. However, despite the rapid interest and participation in esports, the industry is playing catch up with their solidified pathway to pro. Unlike traditional sports, such as football, basketball, and others, esports encompasses many different types of games, not just one. The pathways to pro in those aforementioned traditional sports are more linear than in esports. Take football, for example, where the pathway to pro has set steps that almost every professional NFL player takes. Once the players get to the high school level, they are ranked and recruited to play in college, and then drafted to the NFL right from college. There are obviously outliers that take a different path, but this is the normal process most professional football players take.
In regard to esports, there are a variety of video games in which you can go professional, but there is no set pathway. The main, current path to pro revolves around a player’s networking, entering specific events that recruiters are going to be at, and live streaming their gameplay, hoping a recruiter is interested in them. These are not nearly as effective as a set pathway to pro would be, but again the esports pathway has yet to be solidified. This is due to many factors, but the main contributor is the vast number of leagues within the industry. Each video game has many leagues at every level of play: youth, high school, collegiate, and professional. This can lead to recruiters not knowing that certain leagues exist, having an overwhelming amount of places to look for players, as well as having uncertainty about which leagues represent the most talented player pools.
Also, most professional gamers are actually recruited before they are even in college and their careers are much shorter than traditional sports athletes, often ending in their mid-20s. This is again due to multiple reasons but a huge factor is the lifespan of the video game (how long a game stays popular). This average shorter lifespan of professional esports athletes, and the sheer number of games and leagues, leads to difficulties in setting a clear pathway to pro. However, with the exponential growth esports has seen, more areas have begun creating youth and scholastic esports programs to help mend the fragmentation. Developing more of these programs at an established and credible level can help define a process each aspiring esports athlete should take, instead of just entering random leagues and events with hopes of being recognized.
Scholastic esports programs and leagues are fairly similar to how traditional scholastic sports would work, just on a smaller scale at present. At both the high school and collegiate levels the school/university decides if they want to field an esports program and which games they want to support. They then decide if they want to join a league or just have the team play within their school/university. Collegiate esports is now seeing many colleges/universities build esports specific venues for their program play. Again, this area is still fairly fragmented, but there are a few organizations working to organize and govern this part of the industry. Implementing these governing bodies for scholastic esports is a great step in building a credible and solidified pathway to pro.
For high school esports, Generation Esports is one of the main organizations working to support its sustainability, and for collegiate esports, it is the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE). It is important to note there are also many other organizations working with these two to support the overall effort to make scholastic esports sustainable and help it grow. There are also many scholastic and collegiate one off, or repeating, events produced by other organizations. All these events and leagues have the purpose of trying to help grow the opportunities for students to succeed and have fun while doing so.
This esports pathway to professional is not mutually exclusive to esports gameplay. This effort includes creating a set pathway to obtain a successful career in the esports industry. Colleges and high schools are implementing esports curriculum and offering esports majors around the world. Within almost all academic esports programs there are opportunities to work behind the scenes of events. Providing these students with the opportunities to help organize and produce these esports events gives them real life experience in areas in which they can build transferable professional skills and potentially make a successful career. The pathway to pro in esports is being built for both gameplay and supporting careers.
Members of our CANA team, Stephanie Allison and Todd Allison, have first hand experience with one of these newly created scholastic esports programs. Their son had his first high school Rocket League tournament this past month. The high school has an entire room set up with high end PCs and monitors to facilitate the Rocket League program and events. Speaking on the event and her son’s overall participation in esports, Stephanie stated,
“When my son decided to join his school's esports team this year, I was so excited for him! He's involved in several other activities but his passion is in gaming, esports, youtube, and the like. Every kid is different! So it's great to see another activity not only be offered but take on worldwide popularity. Plus, due to that popularity, the amount of opportunities it opens for players at all levels is outstanding - from scholarships and awards to jobs and successful careers!”
This first hand experience with esports programs at the high school and youth level is exactly what needs to occur more frequently. A huge barrier in the esports industry now is the understanding and adoption of esports by parents. Stephanie also mentioned something not many people realize: “Several of the kids on our team play esports AND soccer, football, hockey, etc. But for a lot of them, esports is all they do. They finally have something that is a fit for THEM.” If more parents can understand why their children are invested in video games and esports, they will see the true benefits it offers and realize esports is something that can lead to a successful career for their children.
In regards to youth esports, there are scattered programs and leagues across the country and the world. There are a few organizations doing a very good job at organizing and running these youth esports programs, but right now a big limiting factor is the overall buy-in. These programs and leagues place a major emphasis on using esports to help children develop lasting life skills. They provide a number of resources, such as personal coaching and personal training, in addition to setting up games and leagues.
The esports industry has been growing rapidly for a few years now but has yet to reach its full potential. The industry needs to mature and really solidify the pathway to success for both professional gameplay and professional careers in order to be universally accepted. There is still much work to be done, but esports is such an exciting and fun industry with unlimited potential.