Maybe this is something that’s just infested the communities I’ve experienced over the last decade, but one of the absolute worst traits that has been allowed to fester and spread has been the delusion that gamers over the last few years have adopted when it comes to what defines a professional.
The words “professional gamer” get thrown around like candy these days. I can understand the appeal. I remember watching videos of the early Cyberathlete Professional Leagues and thinking “Holy crap, that’s amazing, how can I get in on that?”. I was so inspired that I ended up spending entire school holidays practicing just to try and climb up the ladder a little further.
But I, nor anyone else that I played with or against, was stupid enough to assume that we were “professionals” in any sense. It wasn’t a question of attitude (a benchmark we would have failed spectacularly) or behaviour. It was just a simple reality.
We were doing this for fun. There was never enough money in it to make a living and, sooner or later, we’d all have to give the game away and begin walking down our own paths.
Over the last few years though, that perception has changed and been warped completely out of proportion to the point where getting $2 gifts from a sponsor and wearing a shirt with some tags on it somehow makes you a professional.
Let me be very clear on this: if you are not earning enough money to make a living, you do not, in this realm or any other that exists, qualify as a “professional”.
Hell, if you don’t earn enough money to pay tax back to the government you can’t really call yourself a professional. You might as well be on welfare (and the sad truth is that a lot of purported pro-gamers were just that — living off the government).
This isn’t some elitist view; it’s pure, cold, hard fact. The literal meaning of a professional, according to Wikipedia, is someone who is “paid to undertake a specialized set of tasks and to complete them for a fee”. Dictionary.com is just as precise: “following an occupation as a means of livelihood or for gain”. Other dictionaries that I looked at reiterated the same theme.
It seems fairly clear — and yet people have been happy to re-write the definition and market their new one as fact, even if it is about as far from reality as my keg-like gut is from the cover of GQ.
I understand the value of recasting yourself as a professional instead of a competitive enthusiast. It’s more appealing to sponsors, for whom the word professional is associated with certain standards of behaviour, skill and marketability. None of those factors actually change if people start describing themselves truthfully, but it’s all about the perception.
By my count, only around 20 gamers in Australia from 2000 onwards can actually describe themselves as true professionals, ones who earned enough money to actually have to file a tax return (or ones that were in situations where they were living abroad for extended periods for the sole purpose of gaming). And the reason for that pitifully small number is because most of the gamers that received a “salary” received such a small amount of money that they’d have earned more by collecting the dole (I wouldn’t be surprised if some did both).
We are not professionals; we’re enthusiasts. This is a hobby for us. A very competitive hobby, no doubt, but a hobby nonetheless. That may change in the future — gaming isn’t going anywhere, which will only lead to more eSports fans — but the community does itself no favours by closing its eyes and pretending that black is white.