Esports is already massive, and will continue to grow even faster. No expert would contradict this: esports is already overtaking ice hockey, and now even competes against flagships sports such as football. However, what is often forgotten in the conversation are the athletes themselves. Pro footballers are highly educated model athletes who leave nothing to chance. Clubs command entire armies of coaches and advisors to help their players cope with the various challenges on and off the field. Comparatively, esports athletes live the life of an amateur.
Football clubs command armies of coaches and advisors. Comparatively, esports athletes live the life of an amateur.
Weekly training schedules with given exercises? No way! Nutritionists, mental coaches, fitness trainers or other specialists? They simply do not exist for most professional esports athletes. While investors and sponsors have smelled blood and are pumping more and more money into the esports market, the professionalisation of esports athletes lags behind.
A career as an esports athlete begins and ends much earlier (in most cases) than the majority of other careers as professional sportsmen. Competitive gaming careers often end in the mid-twenties as the human brain and reflexes no longer react as intuitively to high-speed attacks from the opponent. Therefore, most gamers have to turn pro at the age of 17, or even younger – a rather short time to learn how to live like a pro. The foundations for a successful career as a gamer therefore lay in one’s youth. If a gamer wants to get to the top of his game, he must invest early on.
However, at the start of their esports career, most of them are miles away from a professional way of living – compared to young elite footballer players. Through systematic education and established support systems, footballers not only learn technique and tactics, but they internalize having a professional lifestyle at teenage age. That is exactly what is missing in esports. Only the high-talented gamers manage to get from their bedroom as a child to the top of the esports business.
This is why most recent esport moves of different European high schools are quite interesting. Since last year, the Norwegian school“Garnes Vidaregåande Skule” in Bergen, for example, offers esports as a school subject. In addition to traditional classes, where pupils write exams, their abilities as a team player or their skills in communications are evaluated as well as their performance in game strategy and tactics. On top of gaming exercises there are athletic training, nutritional counseling and special exercises to improve the reflexes of students. Overall, it’s a very popular project, and some High Schools in Sweden already apply similar concepts. Rumors say that schools in the United States and South Korea are also thinking about offering eSports as a subject.
Training and educating esports athletes will need to happen in a professional sports environment.
Universities are also slowly waking up. For example, several US-American and Asian universities offer scholarships for gamers. In England, the University of Staffordshire announced a new bachelor’s degree in esports. Tencent, the largest e-game developer in China, recently announced plans to build a whole city dedicated to esports, which will host a university.
While schools and other academic institutions increasingly discover the relevance of gaming content in their curriculums, training and educating esports athletes will need to happen in a professional sports environment. At least in Europe, pro football clubs entering the scene with dedicated FIFA or LoL teams could play an important role. The gamers can benefit from their coaches and infrastructure, and profit from their expertise in marketing, sponsoring or even scouting. Some clubs already offer academies or campuses to train their employees. Why not open them for professional esports teams?
Scouting esports talents currently takes place mainly through game-specific ranking lists by the developers/publishers. However, a simple update in the game software can completely mix up rankings from one day to another. Accordingly, the contract periods are short. Gamers are usually signed for not more than two splits – high fluctuation within a team is normal. Thus, for football clubs it is important to recognize future stars early on and tie them to the club. Here, Schalke 04 led the way last year with the so-called “Scouting Days”.
Gamers are usually signed for not more than two splits – high fluctuation within a team is normal.
However, discovering talent is only one side of the coin. Developing them is the other. Gamers do not enjoy structured career plans, they did not attend any eports junior performance center or university, and they did not benefit from regional or national support centers. Even if the eSports organization “Penta-Sports” has recently opened the first professional eSports academy in Berlin, this was only a first move. Many more have to follow.
Although linking professional football clubs with esports seems to be a win-win situation, it is still a long way for both sides to benefit from each other. One thing should be clear: the professionalization of esports athletes must go ahead if they want to keep up with the rapid growth of the industry and if they want to keep up with the expectations. Education is crucial, first and foremost.