I play video games for a living

Seb Barton, 24, didn’t realise that playing video games in his bedroom as a teenager would turn into a serious money-making career 10 years later. We spoke to him about esports and the life of a professional gamer.

guy with headphones on plays a video game

When I was 13, I was in a team of terrorists committing and preventing acts of terror from my bedroom. Not in real life, of course, but in a video game called Counter Strike. I never thought my obsessional hobby would become a career. But much to my parents’ initial displeasure, I’m now 24 and earning a living from my passion for gaming – more widely known as ‘esports’.

I always played video games for pleasure. But I was dedicated to developing knowledge and learning the strategies. It became more of a skilled hobby than just fun. I spent hours in my bedroom playing with different gamers online – from those who played just for fun, to those who wanted to be professionals.

I never considered it a career

Professional gaming is like any other sport. You train, you have a team, you enter tournaments, and you can win prize money – a lot of prize money. I never considered gaming as a proper career, I didn’t think I was good enough. But when I was 15 a group of friends and I created a team in a game called Team Fortress 2. We entered a tournament and won $4,000 (just under £3,200). We achieved that as a self-built team with no coach, and no salary. You could actually earn decent money from this, I thought, so I made professional gaming my goal.

That goal became a reality when I was 19. I was playing online one night, and it turned out my opponent was a professional player. It was like having a friendly football game in the park with a stranger, who was actually a premier league player. At that time the team he played for needed a new member. They got in touch and invited me to meet them. And just like that, I was signed-up. After four years of practising my technique and mixing with various players online, suddenly I was earning a decent salary doing what I love. I haven’t had to worry about my finances since.

I now play for a different team, which specialises in a game called Overwatch. I played it for fun, alongside playing on Team Fortress 2, but as my profile grew, another team wanted to snap me up. Overwatch is a multiplayer, team-based game that you play with five other people against another team of six. Without going into detail, it’s called a ‘first-person shooter’ game, so basically involves weapons and combat from a first-person perspective.

Daily life is pretty unique

The competitive gamer stereotype is that we wake up in the afternoon, play in our bedrooms all evening and night, then go to bed at 5am or 6am. For me, that’s not far from the truth because I play for an American team while I still live in England. I’m waiting for my P-1A Visa – a visa for internationally recognised athletes – to be approved so I can move to the USA. But until then I’m working on American time from England. I usually go to bed at 8am or 9am, wake up at 5pm, and am ready to train with my team from 10pm to 5am.

I work really hard – professional gaming doesn’t mean just playing a game. I have to analyse my performance, analyse other pro-gamers and their techniques, and work with my team to refine my skills and strategy. I also make sure I eat well and keep fit so my concentration is always on top form.

It’s a different lifestyle, and sometimes I’m definitely missing out. I had a holiday booked with some friends last year that I had to cancel due to a major tournament in the USA. But getting to travel as much as I do for my job makes up for the downsides. In the last few months I’ve been to Germany several times, France, South Korea, and the USA, all to compete in international tournaments, which were great experiences. I just make sure I catch up with family and friends whenever I can.

If I ever find it tough, I remember how lucky I am and what I’m aiming for – to win tournaments around the world. The money in esports can be astonishing. You can earn up to $150,000 (about £120,000) a year through salary alone if you’re good. But it’s not just about the money. Despite the fact your team can win millions for the major world tournaments (like the World Cup), the glory and pride is the best feeling.

There’s the possibility you might be dropped

Like any career, there are pros and cons to professional gaming. For me, the main positive is doing what I love for money, which is something I’m really grateful for. I know I’m lucky.

The main negative is the lack of stability and security. If your performance drops, you can be side-lined from the team (like being benched in football), or even dropped altogether. There’s also the risk of online abuse on social media. Professional gaming is a very public career, like any other sport, and it’s not good to disappoint your fans. I just remind myself that there’s a reason I’m a professional gamer, which is because I’m good at it. I listen to the feedback from my coach, not what anonymous, online haters have to say.

My family surprised me

My family and friends have always been super supportive. At first my family didn’t quite understand my decision and still wanted me to go to uni as a backup plan. But once I started earning money they realised gaming could be a career.

My advice? Work hard

You need to love the game you play, otherwise there’s no point in pursuing it professionally. But I’d also advise not have professional gaming as your only avenue. It sounds boring, but make sure you have a backup career. You have to see esports like any other professional sport. It’s hard to make it to the top.

I like to say to myself: work hard, then play hard. And maybe, if you’re lucky, your play will become your work.

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