The following is a reprint of an article I wrote for Elevate (http://elevate.gg) in 2015, after working in esports for about a year. Its lessons are just as pertinent today as they were when I wrote them.
Apart from my past, around a decade ago, when I was a (semi-)professional Halo and Street Fighter player, and when I played for the top Planetside 2 competitive team NUC, my only exposure to professional eSports has been over the past year, while I have worked for eLevate. Needless to say, it has been a rather rapid rise for me in the organization, wherein I moved quickly from a writer and Web developer to the Chief Communications Officer and PR Head of the company. While I believe my exposure to and development within eSports has been relatively unique, I believe I have seen enough of the scene to have a decent understanding of how it works, where there are opportunities, and its critical needs for development.
One of these latter areas is in the need for good writers. Not just journalists – content writers, individuals who are skilled with the written language and have a strong skills in vocabulary, spelling, and grammar, and can help (…wait for it…) elevate the eSports scene into something more high-class and professional. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of areas where there is topnotch writing and content; at this time, however, it seems the exception, rather than the rule.
Now, rather than address this question as one of How can I become a writer in eSports?, I have decided instead to take on the whole of the scene, addressing a broader question of How can I start working in eSports? The lessons I’ve learned as I’ve perused applications, hired writers, and worked at eLevate have broader reach.
Side note: I fully recognize that eLevate is far from the largest eSports organization, in North America or otherwise. However, we are among the major organizations in several prominent outlets, with a high amount of growth over the past year. So when I speak of eLevate as a “major” organization, I’m entirely aware that there are bigger (massive even) organizations out there with more complex structures. What I present is based on my admittedly limited experience.
Now, first, a little about me. When I said I have had a unique break into eSports, I’m not lying. I have a Ph.D. in organizational leadership and am in my mid-30s. Most who break into the scene are high school or college-age, have little formal training in management, writing, marketing, etc., and as a result, have found my experience leaves me somewhat over-qualified. This isn’t meant to be an ego trip for myself; that ship has sailed long ago. But when I look at the organizational needs within eSports, it comes from a place of practical experience, maturity, and education that just makes the picture a bit clearer for me than for many new to the scene. Again, this is not a “high horse” I come from – I only have a year of experience in the market. That year, however, has provided a wealth of information and experience that I believe allows me to provide some tips to the aspiring eSports professional in how to make this a career.
Pardon the length. I’ve written a 300-page dissertation, so think of that before you throw this into the TL;DR pile.
Lesson One: Find Your Niche. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve received an application from someone wanting to work for eLevate in any capacity. To me, this is a HUGE no-no, and a red flag to me and those in my organization that the applicant is more interested in just having the name rather than the responsibility. If all you want is an entry into the organization, you’re coming at it all wrong, and will likely not get it. Organizations are not in the business of just handing out titles to fans. eSports organizations have specific needs and gaps. It’s not our job to figure out where you fit; you need to figure out what you can provide to the organization and see if that’s a critical need we have.
Sit down. Think about the things you enjoy doing. Is it writing? Photography? Social media? Playing Minecraft? These are (really!) lucrative skills that eSports organizations are looking for. Pick one and hone that skill. Do you still enjoy it? If not, move on. Find something you’ll love doing, for no pay (more on that later), and something that you can honestly become good at. As an upper-level supervisor in a major organization, I’m not looking for a project. I’ve gotten applications from so many writers where the errors in the email message itself are so pervasive that I could not, in good conscience, even consider the application. I need to know that people I’m hiring have prior experience, skills, and expertise so they can get the tasks done that I need without having to invest my own time to “fix.” Consider that – we want quality products, not people with our name who can’t get the job done without having their hands held the entire way. Learn to operate on your own, to make your products as high-quality as possible, and you will have organizations lining up to hire you. For real!
The majority of my e-mail applications look like this. Spend some time making sure your email will convince me you know how to write. Spelling and capitalization errors in a single-sentence message does not convince me.
Lesson Two: Start Small. I get it. You’re 15, and you love eLevate, and want nothing more than to be a part of the organization. But your skills as a social media marketer go no further than your personal Twitter with 50 followers. We deal with impression counts in the millions, and we need polished marketing professionals. The best way to hone your skill is to start small. There are 2 ways to do this – start with a small position affiliated with a major organization, or in a larger role within a smaller-profile team. I will more easily hire a writer on my team who has written in eSports before, even for amateur or semi-professional teams. It tells me you know the scene and you have legitimately worked on your skill. Stop trying to jump feet-first into a major organization, and work on giving yourself a skill that markets you to all the major organizations. You might find yourself getting an incredible offer, building experience, and even finding your skills paying off at college, with a job, and beyond. Further, you might find yourself delaying your progression by starting out too big. If you join a major organization and immediately exhibit you are somewhat unskilled, that org may immediately peg you as that and not give you the challenge you need; on the other hand, if you’re in a smaller organization as a top content producer, you might find yourself growing rapidly and moving into larger teams that know you can handle the workload. Furthermore, some large organizations simply do not have the time or resources to employ someone with little to no experience. I can’t hire the 15 year-old writers just because they’re in Honors English in high school. That’s not enough for what we’re trying to do. But I bet it’s enough for the semi-professional team that’s looking for the occasional article to get their name out there!
Better yet, start building your own personal brand. Show us you know how to market yourself on Twitter in a deliberate and professional manner. Let us find out that you approach your own Twitter account the same way you would approach ours, and make messaging that can reach broad audiences and engage clicks and purchases. We have sponsors and corporations to answer to, and need to prove we have a professional marketing team. We cannot add people to the group who have little-to-no experience, and find ourselves responding to a major company why we didn’t spell their name correctly in our marketing, or made a mess of our strategy. It’s a serious business, and we need serious people. If you have a major YouTube presence and all it contains is a lot of sloppy, badly produced videos, how can we expect better from you?
Lesson Three: Be Patient. I have witnessed over a dozen applicants in the past year who follow-up to their initial application less than 24 hours later to find out why I haven’t responded. Be patient. Organizations do not move at the speed of your mind. I personally have other daily responsibilities that keep me from reviewing each and every application. Put the application out there, follow the organization on Twitter. Give it a week. Follow-up in a respectful and professional way. Furthermore, be patient with feedback. If anyone actually gives you meaningful feedback on how to improve, don’t take that as a put-down. Organizations have different obligations and needs, and any professional giving you their thoughtful feedback is giving you their time and effort. If you can’t take constructive feedback or criticism, you’ve picked the wrong industry. This market is full of individuals who are incredible at what they do — whether playing games, managing organizations, or creating content. If you want to be incredible too, you need to start from the perspective of “my stuff is not incredible yet.” Period.
I totally get it. Not getting a response for a few days is frustrating. But try and understand all the other things we are working on. Give it a week. We got it, I promise!
This piece cannot be emphasized enough. I have caught myself on several occasions getting frustrated that companies and sponsors aren’t responding quick enough, when in reality I’ve only given them a couple days. eLevate is a company too; our priorities are with our teams first, and our messaging and marketing second. Human resources, applications, and staff development are, quite frankly, a distant third.
Lesson Four: Recognize Quality. This bit is somewhat more nuanced, but I think it’s an important point. Be careful with whom you affiliate, whether that is people or organizations. Some organizations in eSports are downright toxic – bad working environments, disengaged managers, rotten reputations – and may even still be high-profile in the professional scene. I recommend avoiding these organizations at all costs, and I don’t say that in some sort of strategic way to ensure you come to eLevate. There are many great organizations out there. It only takes a little bit of digging to find out what organizations foster negative communities, which ones do practically no marketing and burn bridges with corporate sponsors, and which ones go through staff members like water. If you feel “iffy” about an organization, do some research first.
Just because the team does well in a particular game does not mean it’s worthwhile to join. You might find yourself answering to a new organization why you were a part of that environment, or being turned down because of your presence on a “bad” team. Similarly, don’t take a position you don’t think you’re qualified to do – and be honest with yourself about this. As a sub-lesson, don’t take a “big” title simply because it’s in a “bigger” organization. That might be an indication that the structure isn’t there, and you might find yourself with more responsibilities and blame than you bargained for. I won’t name names, and you’ll probably never get me to identify any organizations explicitly. Each organization has strengths and weaknesses, and if its weaknesses are directly associated with the work you want to do, avoid them. For me, I look at their articles, content, and social media. If I can find a whole host of errors or unprofessionalism in any of those settings, I worry about the quality of the organization’s team responsible for the content. Likewise, I run a tight ship in eLevate, striving to ensure those errors do not abound in articles we publish. Organizations that care about image, profile, and quality will be evident by their image, profile, and quality.
Yes, the all-important area of pay. This is a really diverse scene in terms of revenue structures, financial strength, and payout. If you are just entering the eSports world, I think you should expect no pay for your work, and that’s just the reality of the scene. Most organizations and teams cannot afford to pay their writers, as any money in is principally reserved for paying professional player salaries. This is not always the case, and you might find yourself in a paid position. But keep one thing in mind – if they are paying out heavily for content, the trade-off might be a reduction in pay for professionals, which as a best-case scenario means there will be a revolving door of pros leaving and joining the organization, but the likely worst-case scenario is that the pay is lower because the quality/talent is lower (or vice-versa). There’s a place for lower-quality professionals, but if that is happening because of the human resource costs of article writing, then my opinion is that the organization does not have its priorities straight.
Team eLevate has put high-quality teams first and foremost in its pay structure. This means there isn’t a lot to pay for staff, including management. That time will come once growth occurs, but the growth is stifled if staff pay takes the front seat to the other, more prescient needs. If you can get on board with an organization like that, then there’s a lot of growth potential and you have the ability to grow with it, in all respects: pay, position, profile, and identity. If you can set pay aside and sign on to an organization that you can truly believe in and that you can see succeeding, the pay will come eventually. I can assure you of that.
Look, eSports is a fun industry in which to work. There’s a tremendous upside – the market is still growing at a rapid pace, more sponsors are getting on-board, and the professional talent is practically growing exponentially. Major companies and media outlets are starting to recognize eSports as a valid entertainment industry and are starting to develop their own employment strategies and partnering with organizations and teams to promote their brands. While breaking into a “major” eSports organization is difficult, it’s not impossible. It takes time, dedication, development, and a strong sense of identity and self-awareness. Individuals who can identify their strengths and market them to organizations can find themselves rising rapidly, as I have done, and find a lucrative outlet for their skills.
I wish you all the best of luck, if you are interested in breaking into the market. Keep at it, and I hope to hear from you if my advice was helpful!