In the past few weeks, I've taken a step back from this to consider this from a more personal angle, realizing my own journey through professional gaming. In parallel, I've also considered my professional journey, as a business owner, a contractor and an employee. I've read an unhealthy dose of "what makes an employee engaged" textbooks and actually realized there's an interesting parallel to be made.
I don't feel this warrants an article, so I thought I'd share this in my journal.
Without further ado, let me present you why I feel that being a Pro-Gamer is the Most Engaging Job in the World!
It's actually a job!
Make no mistake, being a Pro-Gamer is actually a job, in every sense of the word. If this hasn't been made abundantly clear by the sheer amount of efforts involved in getting to top spots in any given tournament, there's a lot of money on the line, and in most cases, skill and practice pays off. You can't cheat your way around this just like you can't ace that Maths test without first learning the basics.
Now, arguably, there is always some luck involved, but for Pro-Gaming to be a career, you need to look at the long run, and consistently score high.
And just like a real job, there are consequences. If you start slacking, you can start underperforming, and that means losing a lot of games, which means not getting any money. That, in turn, can get you out of some events, kicked/fired from a team/training house, and possibly end your career.
It IS a real job, but closer to a Sports from which it borrows the name (similar to free agents running in Hockey, Football or Rugby league for example) as opposed to formal employer/employee relationship. It has its perks, of course!
Unlike the "real world" where corporate strategies are often complex and seldom well articulated or even communicated, games have very simple objectives: destroy all buildings, score higher within a limited amount of time, reduce opponent's life to zero, etc.
This creates a clear and concise quantifiable baseline against which e-sports pro-gamers can gauge their performances.
Though this can foster a strong climate of competition, this avoids the sense of loss with not knowing what to do.
Feedback on Progression
Having clear goals creates a scenario where pro-gamers can more easily understand Wins and Losses and quantify the value of any given play or strategy. This awards them constant feedback on their own progression.
Each game adds to the knowledge pool of the player and helps identify what works / doesn't work under which set of circumstances.
The critical part about this is that feedback comes often after minutes of play (or few hours), and not every few months/year, giving the pro-gamer that many more opportunities to improve over the course of a year.
Having some form of flexible schedule is often listed as a top requested life/work balance perk. Pro-Gamers have that, except on Tournament days. They can practice pretty much anytime (though they must practice a lot).
Furthermore, they can practice as much/little as they want on any given day. They can practice very hard 1 month before a competition, and then cool down for a few weeks if they'd like. They get to fine-tune their own flow and get to synch with events in the way they best see fit. In other words, they have a large level of control over their practice time.
Note though that several teams/houses may alter this by imposing training hours and quotas.
Teams / fans and competitions only care that they win, regardless of how. This is largely important as this gives the pro-gamers a lot of creative freedom to determine the best path to achieving success, which is something which is terrifically engaging to the average individual.
Most corporate strategies have an elaborate plan for success which specifically describes the "how to get there" steps leaving little imagination (and motivation) to the underlings. This causes demotivation and inefficiency as it prevents decisions from being taken at the tactical level efficiently.
One of the most interesting prospects of e-sport is that it is a (albeit unforgiving) fair environment. The winner is the one who gets it all, and that person is the best player. It's hard to claim a person to be "lucky" to win a best of 7 match in a 1v1 matchup after winning 13 best of 5 previous engagements against the best of the best for example. Aside from the loser of that matchup, and hardcore fans, no one can really be pointing the finger and claim foul play, because the rules are simple.
As a result, whoever is the best gets to come on top and reaps the reward. This is much less frustrating, to a degree, than some corporate environments where what you do and how you come across are two entirely different things. Sadly, the way you look is often the one you're generally judged against by lack of ability to measure your true value and many individuals will go by, mastering the art of "looking beautiful" but never actually doing much.
E-Sports is great because it is WYSIWYG. You can't really go much further than your win/lose and tournaments won stats. This is all you have to show for. Not making top 8 is strictly inferior to making top 8. Consistently making top 4 is an ambiguous but possibly better sign of skill and achievement than a single top 4 presence in over 5 tournaments, etc.
The bottom line is that there's no cheating your way up without skill in E-Sports, and that frustration can only stem from underperforming, under practicing, or facing an opponent that was flat-out superior. Luck can lose you a match, but most likely not a best of 7, chances are your opponent played mind tricks on you!
Actually Deserved Congratulations
One of the most frustrating elements of work is seeing someone (even yourself) being congratulated when you don't feel it was warranted, especially when the person (or you) did not get congratulated when they should've. For example, let's pretend you save your company 5k $ on a monthly basis by the clever way you're making something that nobody has been thinking about. You've been doing this for 4 months and no one even thought about giving you a pat on the back. Then, somehow, by doing your job, the project you are managing ends up in the news (totally out of your control) and goes viral (yay!) and the president of the company congratulates you in front of everyone.
So you could be happy, but the truth is, you didn't DO anything for this to happen, so there's nothing to really be happy about. And you could be a bit disappointed that the accountant didn't realize what you did to save this 5k/month, so you might feel that the valuation system of your company is actually flawed. And you'd be right!
In E-sport, the valuation system is not always right. Not every win/loss is worth the same (it depends who you play, in which tournament, etc.) but winning a tournament is always a big thing, and you will always get congratulations for that, and it will always be deserved. In fact, many of the top contenders will get a lot of praise as well for making top 4 (depending on the game) and this is because this is a quantifiable environment.
Arguably, some people may not have noticed that awesome 4Gate Push you did in Round of 8 Game 4, but chances are, if it did not win you the game, it was short of brilliant, and it did not require congratulations. It's harsh, but you're not the only top player there. Actually deserved congratulations must only come in when something truly exceptional happens for them to have any value.
This isn't equally true of all e-sports games, but many team-based games played at competitive e-sport level foster team collaboration and help develop team-based work efficiency. It pits individuals in situations where each player is valued for its own playstyle and expertise. Players learn to play as a team, not overstep on other's roles and egos, and function as a whole. Even if one individual rises as a tyrant, the team recognizes it as part of the functional unit and a necessary "evil" to achieve better results objectively.
To a lesser degree, even 1v1 games can benefit from collaboration: teams/houses allow for fellow e-sporters to practice together, develop strategies and counters in a "vacuum" metagame. This is a competitive environment, but a shield from a larger, more competitive world, and this lesser form of collaboration still exists.
After carefully considering the above, I postulate that E-sports, as it stands, it a deeply engaging job, possibly the most engaging job in the world (along with other excellence-driven arts / sports). I find it interesting that we're only just beginning to truly become fascinated by this phenomenon (even though competitions existed back in the 1980s) and applaud that this is becoming a viable career path.
I can't help but wonder what's the "afterlife" for an e-sporter. The Starcraft BroodWar scene has taught us that 1st generation hardcore pro-gamers had a lot of room as commentators (Day9, Tasteless, InControl, TLO, etc.) but these seats will be maxed out, and not every pro-gamer excel at communication skills.
What other avenues are there for deeply engaged, competitive problem-solvers with a knack for adrenaline boosts? How can we leverage these hulks when they hit their prime (30s)?