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The hardships of being a Counter-Strike professional

For the average viewer, it might be difficult to comprehend the struggles being a professional gamer might bring. After all, in their eyes, they make hundreds of thousands of dollars playing their favorite video game, but there’s more to it than that.

Time is Money

In traditional sports, such as football, at the amateur level teams may train once or twice a week for an hour. Players only begin dedicating huge hours to their craft after they have already begun earning a stable income. It is estimated that English winger Raheem Sterling now of Manchester City was earning around £30,000 a year as a seventeen year old. Now obviously this is a player who showed and has now displayed his great potential. However, even young players playing in the 2nd and 3rd tiers of English football will be living comfortably from their wage packets.

This is a far cry from the amount of time spent by even budding esports players. Looking at the masters league in Faceit’s pick-up game service, two tiers below the professional level, the top three players had committed 114.1, 107.3 and 89.6 hours in the past two weeks on Steam. A heck of a lot more than any semi-pro football teams will be playing. This is a large chunk of time to commit without reaping any immediately justifiable reward.

The fact that any player wanting to reach professional status has to dedicate this sort of time speaks volumes about the exclusivity of such a career. More often than not, players have to give up trying quite early because there comes a time where people have to think about the future and creating a comfortable life. Jarosław “pashaBiceps” Jarząbkowski is a player who in the past has been open about his struggles in the beginning of Global Offensive. Watching his player profile below gives some insight into his life and how it all started for him.

Variations of Practice

Another strain on professional players is that to stay at the top level they not only have to spend time practicing with their team but also play alone to hone their basic in-game mechanics. It is true that after playing for many years the various weapon sprays, crosshair placement and movements become muscle memory but it only takes a few days of not playing for it to significantly drop off. While the start of the spray might still be deadly, your muscles will begin to less effectively execute the last ten bullets or so. You will get fewer headshots since your wrist hasn’t been actively making the flick movement for days.

On top of that, many leaders and coaches will expect their players to leave practice and do their revision. That might be to practice smoke grenades or study their own demos to perfect play. Nicolai “dev1ce” Reedtz at the ELEAGUE Major talked about studying his own heat maps so as to not become predictable to opposing teams.

Studying heat maps is going the extra mile of course, but players still spend anywhere between around 2-6 hours a day perfecting their in-game mechanics and most likely a further 6 hours practicing team strategy with the possibility of official matches after that. These players can spend up to sixteen hours a day playing Counter-Strike. If everyone else is going the extra mile, it’s something a top competitor can’t afford not to do.

Device was vocal about studying his own heat maps at the ELEAGUE Major. [Source: Dreamhack]

Home or Away

Time leads onto another aspect of professional Counter-Strike which is the traveling. One of the beautiful yet challenging elements is that tournaments are conducted all over the world. From Sydney to Stockholm to Dubai and back again. Currently, we have the most over saturated pro circuit within esports with our players traveling to approximately three LAN tournaments a month.

This is one of the reasons why I rate Counter-Strike players more highly than many other esports players. In League of Legends, all five players live in the same house and can articulate a consistent schedule as the matches are in the same place at the same time every week. Spending so much time on the road can only add to the mental fatigue Counter-Strike players experience through repeated high-level competition, the amount of time practicing amongst missing home.

A huge talking point this year is the conflicting schedule between ESL One Cologne and the PGL Major. [Source: ESL]

Witch Hunts

Being a professional sportsman undoubtedly makes you susceptible to much hate from opposing fans or your own if the team is underperforming. In football, this may be in the newspapers or on Twitter. However, the difference between footballers and esports players is that most footballers are not consistently active on Twitter. Therefore, don’t have enough time to read all of the messages or are busy traveling to read the newspaper. The difference in esports is that they work over the internet so all mediums used to criticize or hate on players is in a place where they are going to see it. Whether that be on Twitter, Reddit or in-game.

A recent story that came to light is that of Mikail “Maikelele” Bill, who was once playing in a major final to now failing to qualify for tier two LAN events. Of course, Maikelele himself will likely admit that his own form has declined in that time. Although, it wasn’t entirely his fault, for example, losing his spot on the Ninjas in Pyjamas despite playing consistently well.

Many esports communities are too ready to unjustifiably disrespect pro players. These people without proof or little insight take to forums to insult people who they were the biggest fan of yesterday. It must be a hard pill to swallow when these players who are driven by competition and winning for the fans, can’t garner their respect when they go through a rough period.

To conclude, next time your team is going through a rough patch consider some of these factors and take it easy, they’ll come back.

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