Adults love asking kids what they want to be when they grow up. At one point I know I was destined to be a professional soccer player, astronaut, and race car driver. At a young age these answers can be funny. However, what is a parent to do when their high-schooler says they want to be a professional gamer?

The knee-jerk reaction for many parents is that it’s a silly idea and not a “real” career path. For less nerdy parents and those who don’t understand esports this declared profession can be a cause for alarm. Can a person actually earn a living playing games? Is this a real career or a hoax? How does one even enter this profession? All of these are great questions and by the end of this post you’ll have a bit more insight into the world of competitive gaming.

What Is A Professional Gamer?

Think of a professional gamer as any other professional. They play a sport that others watch and admire. The pro has an advanced skill level that allows them to compete with the best in the business. Michael Jordan was a professional basketball player. Johan “N0tail” Sundstein is a professional Dota 2 player. Pro gamers earn a living by competing in and winning competitions. Just like other sports sponsorships can also make up a large part of a player’s earnings.

Esports, the proper term for games played competitively, is a real industry just like traditional pro sports. Many people want to play in the NFL but will never get the chance. Likewise to compete in esports a player must be experts. Passion for gaming isn’t enough to make it to the top. For example, esports competitors must be able to manage up to 400 movements on their keyboard and mouse in a minute. Intense focus and concentration are also required. Tournaments are filled with cheering fans and the fast-paced nature of competitive gaming means decisions must be made in split seconds.

Yes, They Have Training

Competitive gamers are far from the stereotypical middle-age gamer living in their parent’s basement sucking down Red Bull. Pros today must train just like athletes in other sports. If you’ve ever sat at a computer for any length of time you know it can be physically trying. Stiff shoulders and neck along with pain in the wrists and hands. Players must manage these strains while handling cortisol levels that are comparable to those produced by race car drivers.

Training is also required to maintain and improve hand-eye coordination. For those of us that play games recreationally we well understand that excelling and winning isn’t natural or easy. With the intense graphics and action in games today decision making and hand-eye coordination is difficult to master.

For those of you doubting that gaming requires training check out this short (4:22) video on how a college esports team trains for success.

Wait. College Esports?

You read that correctly. Colleges offer esports programs and now have competitive gaming teams. Just like playing college basketball is a step towards the NBA, playing on a collegiate esports team is one path to becoming a professional gamer.

If your child already excels at gaming and has won some awards you might want to encourage their passion. Colleges today offer scholarships for esports. If your children show potential with gaming it could be a ticket to college. Other sports have collegiate associations and so does esports in the form of The National Association of Collegiate eSports (NACE). Today NACE reports over 170 schools and 5,000+ student-athletes in the U.S. alone.

If your child shows promise in esports and you’re considering schools they might attend review the NACE directory of colleges with esports teams. You can filter by game and the profile for each school provides contact info for coaches.

College Esports Resources

In no particular order I’ve provided below some helpful links for parents researching esports. I realize a child saying they want to go to college to play games might be worrisome. However, after conducting your own research you may be surprised to find this is a real possibility.

Esports Scholarships lists, as you might’ve guessed, scholarships for esports. Filter by region and division as well as by private or public schools.

A list of varsity esports programs across North American and compiled by ESPN.

The internet is full of additional resources. A simple query in your favorite search engine will return tons of articles and listicles. Many schools also offer information for parents on esports as they understand it isn’t a traditional path for students to take.

Career Potential

So maybe you’re excited that your child’s gaming obsession could land some scholarship dollars. Any assistance paying for college is always welcome! However, what about post-graduation? How will your child live if they are “just” a professional gamer?

I could go on about following your passion and living on your own terms. Some of that likely applies here. Rather, I’ll discuss that professionals can pull down some serious bucks from gaming.

Remember Johan “N0tail” Sundstein I mentioned previously? The 26 year-old from Denmark has earned $6.9 million over his career spanning 121 tournaments. This doesn’t include sponsorship money. Now I won’t argue that this is the norm. It is certainly an exception. However, when we encourage kids to play football and other sports we know the odds of them signing a multi-million dollar deal with a pro team is highly unlikely. If they are so lucky as to land a spot in the pro ranks though the earnings can be huge.

Sponsors such as Red Bull, Nike, and BMW are getting in on the action. With big names come big sponsor dollars. From tournaments to jerseys and individual players it is possible for professional gamers to earn a respectable living with sponsorships. These large brands understand that esports draws a huge crowd. The potential to get their message in front of an engaged audience is very appealing. Not to mention they can reach a larger audience than via traditional sports with a stadium.

Potential Downsides

So by now every reader with a child interested in gaming sees a scholarship solving the college tuition question. Not so fast. As I mentioned above the odds of becoming a college-level or pro gamer are low. Like any other sport every enthusiast wants to be a pro, but only the top 1%, if that, ever make it.

We’ve written previously on this site about how technology benefits children. While tech can be positive parents should look out for some of the downsides.

Mental Fatigue

Performing at the top of any field, sports or otherwise, takes a toll mentally. If a child feels added pressure to perform to maintain a scholarship they may become fatigued. Watch for signs of burnout like sleeping more than normal or not enjoying gaming anymore. Yes gaming can be a career and every career has pressure. As parents we must moderate and ensure our kids are well-rounded and do more than just game.

Physical Issues

Many professional gamers are required to exercise. It may not be as intense as NFL players, but they are required to get out and move about. Younger gamers and aspiring pros may not have that discipline. They may incorrectly believe that they have to spend hours upon hours in front of a screen. Following proper screen hygiene practices will help prevent lasting physical damage. Be sure your kid gets up and enjoys fresh air daily. It’s also important that gaming doesn’t consumer their entire life. Wanting to practice and excel is admirable. Losing family and friends as a result is not so great.

At first glance aspiring to be a professional gamer might seem silly. Parents want what is best for their children. We naturally get worried if they want to pursue something we don’t understand or look down upon. I’d encourage parents who have aspiring pro gamers at home to take the time to learn about their child’s passion. Why do they enjoy gaming? Is it something you could also learn to enjoy with them? If nothing else showing support is important. Esports are gaining in popularity and acceptance around the world. Some of us “older folks” might not get it, but the same can also be said for some of our hopes and dreams when we were young. Like anything else in life it’s important to do your homework to fully appreciate the facts and arrive at your own conclusion. For what it’s worth, as an adult I still think it would be awesome to be a pro gamer!


Sports spectator, cicerone in my dreams, and dad of two amazing kids. I've been known to mess around with some PHP, SQL, R, and other alphabet soup-esque languages.

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