To become a world-class eSports player has become an aspirational career for millennials across the globe, yet in a world where most young professionals accept that they will be working long after their 60th birthday, the majority of eSports pros have been hanging up their mousepads in their mid-20s. What are the reasons behind eSports pros retiring so early and what steps are being taken to prolong their careers?
Careers at the height of the eSports scene are notoriously short. Within Riot Games’ North American League of Legends scene, a professional in lieu can begin competing at the tender age of 17, though historically will retire at the ripe old age of 25. The generally accepted reasoning for such a short career lifespan, is that youth dictates two necessary factors of an eSports professional: lightening reaction times and precise motor skills.
Players who have extended their careers past the 25-year mark have typically found themselves branded as ‘washed up’. Former Team Liquid player, Brandon “Saintvicious” DiMarco, retired from playing at just 28 years old, labelled an “old man” by fans and even self-admittedly, before opting to take a back seat as a coach.
Former League of Legends professional Stephen “Snoopeh” Ellis retired from Evil Geniuses’ League of Legends roster before he had even reached the age of 23:
“People get tired in a lot of ways: you play 12 hours a day for six days a week, and four and a half years… you’re waking up in the same environment you’re working in and eating in as well, so there’s no switch-off.
“It’s a very toxic, intense environment, and for a long period of time that can be very, very tiring. So as a consequence their play suffers and then they become worse.”
Stephen “Snoopeh” Ellis
Player ‘burnout’ and a loss of competitive appetite remain as the most frequently referenced causes for early retirement. But as eSports enters a new era of investment, there has been a notable shift in accountability. In the past, the ‘blame’ for eSports professional’s early retirement age had been placed upon both the competing organisations and the wider industry standards.
Previously, teams were incentivised to push their players to the absolute limit, given that their performance in one particular season was far more important than their overall career span. Once a player had given their all, they could always be replaced with younger talent waiting in the wings; there was no incentive to consider a players potential burnout.
Team owners have since revolted against this line of thinking, redirecting the onus onto players themselves to be responsible for their career welfare. Immortals’ Noah Whinston went so far as to argue that to suggest eSports lifespans were ‘bullshit’:
“It’s kind of bullshit when people reference the lifespan of eSports pros in the current day. You have not seen the retirement of a pro in LCS since the influx of new investors into the scene – and there’s a reason for that.
“I think people kind of attributed the reasons that pros fell out of the scene earlier to: “you just cant hang with the young guns for more than three to four years” and I think thats completely wrong.
“I think what happened was people decided that sacrificing 14 hours a day and living in a team house wasn’t worth $25,000 a year.
“Now they’re not getting paid $25,000 anymore and ‘miraculously’, even players that aren’t performing that well, aren’t retiring – I wonder why that could be!?
“I think the idea that an eSports career has to be short is ludicrous.”
Noah Whinston, Immortals CEO
The life of an eSports professional undoubtedly burdens players with mental fatigue, though the financial motivations of the modern scene are now substantial enough to incentivise pros to extend their careers, where previously they might have retired. Burnout and boredom for the game are easily cured by money it seems.
As eSports player salaries (particuarly LCS pros) continue to soar, players are far more willing to sacrifice their time and personal lives as it will result in a healthy ‘nest egg’ when players decide to move on from their careers in stage. The stigma surrounding eSports players’ early retirement may soon become a thing of the past.