For years professional gamers have earned money through tournaments and competitions, but recently the industry has boomed. It’s become easier than ever to make money playing video games.
In 1998, the highest-paid gamer in the world earned $16,000, and by 2008 that number had skyrocketed to $130,000. Last year, a Finnish Dota 2 player named Jesse Vainikka topped the competitive leaderboards, bringing in $2.29 million from 10 tournaments.
In addition to professional competitive gamers like Vainikka, professional game streaming has exploded. The most popular streamers on Twitch earn more than $1 million annually, and in 2017 all streamers on the platform combined to earn more than $87 million.
How to Make Money Playing Games
Naturally, as the industry has become more profitable, gamers are looking for ways to make money for themselves. In 2012, Twitch averaged around 300,000 unique broadcasters each month. So far this year, the site has averaged more than 4 million monthly streamers.
While there are now more ways than ever to make money playing games, a majority of those earnings go to the best of the best. Less skilled gamers have more opportunities to earn money, but generally it still takes pro skills to pay the bills.
What Separates Pro Gamers From the Rest?
With few exceptions, all of the highest earning gamers are among the most skilled players in the world. But even among that top 1% of gamers, there’s an even more elite earning class that takes home a big chunk of all gaming profits.
Tournaments Don’t Guarantee Riches
Consider this: Dota 2’s International 2018 Tournament had a prize pool of more than $25 million, the biggest pool in esports history. The champions, Team OG, finished on top of the 18-team bracket and brought home 11.2 million dollars split between their 5 players. The team that finished 18th won just $63,000, or about $13,000 per player.
Most gaming tournaments feature more competitors and a smaller prize, meaning that unless you play for one of the top 10 teams in the world in any game, you won’t exactly be raking in cash.
Neither Does Twitch Streaming
The story is pretty much the same for streamers. Many Twitch streamers have gained popularity for their personality or a fun gimmick, but the highest earners are elite gamers. Similar to tournament payout structures, the best of the best earn a majority of all income, while some highly skilled gamers earn a fraction of that.
For example, Turner “Tfue” Tenney has become one of the most popular streamers on Twitch for his remarkable Fortnite skills, and has even won some high profile Fortnite tournaments. From paid Twitch subscribers alone, Tenney has earned approximately $140,000 per month this year. Compare that to Tobias Fate, a Twitch partner ranked in the top 500 of all streamers, who has earned about $6,000 each month this year.
The point is, even if you’re the best gamer of anyone you know, odds are you might not be skilled enough to compete with current pro gamers. With the saturation of pro gamers at the top of the market, where can casual gamers break into the industry?
Content That Casual Gamers Can Make
Even if you don’t offer elite gaming skills, there are still ways for you to create content and make money playing games. While tournaments offer enticing prize pools and more skilled gamers usually gain more popularity, you don’t need to be one of the best in the world to make money.
Through Twitch and YouTube in particular, gamers can create content that draws viewers and earns income even if they aren’t great at games. Here are some popular video and stream types that don’t require pro skills to create.
If you’ve watched any non-competitive gamers on YouTube or Twitch, you’ve probably already seen a “let’s play” before. Let’s plays are on the opposite side of the spectrum from competitive gaming. While many gamers make a name for themselves with their skill, some utilize their personality to gain a following. The game itself is of secondary importance in a let’s play, and it really serves as a device to lead the commentary.
PewDiePie (aka Felix Kjellberg) is the most prominent example of a let’s play creator. His YouTube channel has 96 million subscribers, but people don’t watch for his gaming talent. Instead, Kjellberg has become an entertainer who uses games as his platform and has become wildly successful.
Similar to a let’s play, a walkthrough video can be thought of as a “let’s watch.” All you need to do for a walkthrough is simply walk through a game, whether that’s explaining controls, earning achievements, or showing how to progress through levels.
Walkthroughs don’t require much skill because people watching them are looking for explanations. Viewers don’t want to be wowed by your inimitable skill, they want to see exactly how things are done so they can replicate them. Walkthroughs have long been the bread and butter of gaming sites like IGN and Gamefaqs, and Twitch has made them more prominent.
Speedruns are far from easy, but they often require luck and practice more than actual skill. The point of a speedrun is to complete a game as quickly as possible, and many runs employ glitches or other strategies that aren’t truly skill-based.
If you’re considering trying your hand at speedrunning, pick a few of your favorite games and research the best runs in them. You may not be able to keep up with the record times, but if the run looks fun and simple you can still have a great time playing it. If you enjoy yourself, try speedrunning on a Twitch stream or recording it for a YouTube video. Even if you’re not setting world-record times you can attract viewers and grow your skills.
Employing Pro Strategies Without Pro Skill
Let’s plays and walkthroughs remove the competitive aspect of gaming, and speedrunning is an entirely different kind of competition. Creating this kind of content can still earn you viewers and fans, but you might still be aching to really compete.
Luckily there are ways to be competitive in nearly every major esports game without necessarily being as skilled as Tfue or Ninja. You may not find the same level of success as pro gamers, but the right strategy can be as important as the right skill set.
Example: The Fortnite “Stairway to Heaven” Strategy
Despite a small decline in popularity, Fortnite is still one of the most played games available.
Fortnite has been out for about two years so a lot of gamers have had plenty of time to master the ins and outs of the game. That means any time you drop into a game, at least one of the other 99 players will be a pretty legit player.
That doesn’t mean you’re destined to lose though. There are some clever ways to secure a Victory Royale and build your skills without being the best shooter or builder in the game.
How to Use the Fortnite “Stairway to Heaven” Strategy
This strategy won’t make you a lot of in-game friends, but it can get you a few wins and make for an entertaining stream. When you drop from the Battle Bus, aim for an edge of the map where you can quickly get a lot of wood. With any luck you won’t have to deal with more than one or two other players and you’ll be alone with your materials.
As the storm closes in on you, build a staircase toward the safe zone until you reach the build limit, and then start building floor pieces. The goal is to wait until there are only a few people left and the circle is small so you can pick off the remaining players and get a win. You can either hang on your platform until it’s over, or find an item like gliders to drop in on your unsuspecting enemies below.
While this method can feel a little monotonous as you build your staircase, you can either edit this part out for a YouTube video, or focus on chat and your commentary on Twitch. The end of the game should be so entertaining that it’ll make up for any lost time. With a little luck, using the stairway to heaven can make for an easy win and a fun video, all while you improve your gunplay and quick building skills.
Are you good at games of skill? Check out our review of Solitaire Cube if you’re ready to make your talent work for you!