E-sports: The Dream of Big Fame

By Richard Löwenstein

How do I become an E-Sports professional? Many young people ask themselves this question. But only a few people go the way to professional gaming, and only a few can. Why? Two people from Munich know the answer.

Daniel Schötzau and Jamal Sohail grew up in Munich and are both in their early twenties. Daniel is 21 and Jamal is 24 years old. They have typical hobbies of young men at their age; they read fantasy novels, they hang out with friends, and sometimes they also play sports. Apart from that, they spend a lot of time playing video games. What was at first a hobby soon became a profession. Daniel and Jamal sometimes even played five days a week, ten to twelve hours a day. That was two years ago, when they were still dreaming of becoming E-sports professionals.

E-sports as a Business Model

Jamal talks about the day when it all began: “It was in February 2012. A friend of mine had a beta download key for DotA which he gave to me and I started to play the game.” The abbreviation DotA comes from gamer jargon and means "Defense of the Ancients", an expansion of the classic, fantasy, real-time strategy game, Warcraft 3. With DotA 2, the US manufacturer Valve has adopted the concept, developed it further, and turned it into a business model.

DotA runs independently and is free of charge. Anyone can download the game for free via Valves' digital platform, Steam, and get started right away. This so-called free-to-play concept dramatically lowers the barrier to entry and forms the basis of the worldwide popularity of the US production. In January 2017, a time when DotA was very successful, 14 million gamers worldwide played Valves‘ Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) video game. Today, about eight years after the first test matches and seven years after the official launch, around eight million people still play regularly.

A Financial Award of $34 Million

DotA is based on combat scenario. Two teams with five players each network online or via a LAN network. They then come together on predefined battlefields and fight with Orcs, Centaurs, and Dwarves until one of the teams is destroyed. This sounds easy but is actually far from it. If you want to be good at this game, you have to know around 1,000 genres, be able to interact with teammates, understand the battlefield, identify your counterpart’s strategy and react in a smart and spontaneous way. It is like chess with fast reactions. “I was really amazed by the complexity of the game. The beginning is hard, but I like the high skill cap. There are no limits, you can always improve in DotA, even if you’ve already played for eight years, like I have,” states Jamal.

In the beginning, the game was free. In order to earn money from it, Valve has developed a so-called Battle Pass for DotA. With this pass you can get access to further functions, greetings, and cosmetic effects for the game’s heroes. If you want to engage seriously in the game, the Battle Pass is a must. In this way, Valve generates a stable revenue and promotes sales.

A quarter of its revenue is given to selected players in the biggest DotA tournament called “The International” that has taken place every year since 2013, and the award continues to rise. In 2019, Prize Pool Tracker recorded a total sum of more than $34 Million. This is the highest amount of money that has ever been awarded in E-sports and more than a million viewers watched the finals live via the streaming platform Twitch.

Jamal Sohail (1. On left) at a training camp in Sweden together with Daniel Schötzau (3. on left). Jamal‘s DotA nick name is Blazemon. Photo: Jamal Sohail

“The financial rewards are abnormally high”

Such high sums of money have a magnetic effect on gamers that consider embarking on an E-sports career. “80 percent of all e-sports professionals concentrate on DotA because the financial rewards are abnormally high compared to League of Legends or other e-sports games,” Jamal states. He and Daniel started their professional career in 2016 when they began to play with top teams and had regular training sessions. DotA constantly dominated their everyday life, at least five days a week, ten to twelve hours a day, which is not unusual among e-sports professionals. “Most of the top teams train seven days a week. They play against other teams, search opponents via Matchmaking, and analyze the session on replay. I think this is too much. No one should play more than five to six days a week in order to have time for physical activities and to relax”, Daniel states.

Friends and family do not always support the gamers as e-sports do not gain much recognition as a profession. “A profession that is also fun is nothing serious for most Germans. I was often asked where this would all go,” explains Jamal. But in March 2017, Daniel and Jamal got their big chance. The German e-sports organization PENTA integrated Daniel and Jamal into their professional team. Their goal was to get a ticket to “The International 2017”. The two young men from Munich achieved their first successes in the initial preparation games and they were even better than some of the leaders of the world rankings. But their success was followed by a massive setback – they failed in the decisive qualifying match for “The International”. And so, they couldn’t take part in the tournament and had no more chance of winning the big award that could have changed their lives. “It was a huge disappointment,” states Jamal.

A Career in E-sports Dies Fast

The income of an e-sports professional can be very high, but it also depends on the success of the team. “The monetary awards for DotA are mostly distributed among the top five players of the team,” states Jamal. If you do not rank among the top players, you will have a hard time making a living. Their failure in the qualifying match was a turning point in the young mens’ lives. Jamal is still passionate about DotA but he is no longer a professional player. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Game Engineering and has now enrolled in a Master's program in Computer Science at the Technical University of Munich.

When asked if he could give advice to people that want to have a career in e-sports, the answer was very clear: “Do something else. Professional e-sports are neither predictable nor stable.” Nevertheless, Jamal likes to remember his time as an e-sports professional. “I got to travel to China and Spain, and I met a lot of interesting people,” he states.

But the journey is not over yet. Jamal and Daniel regularly go to DotA training camps in Sweden where they have a great time, play video games, and help others to improve in DotA. As professional trainers, they share their knowledge with around 40 gamers and help to shape the future e-sports generation.