Professional video gaming is a young man’s game.
As players get into their mid-20s, their reaction time slows and the game’s mechanics become more difficult, says Diego “Quas” Ruiz, a player on professional League of Legends team Team Liquid.
Those who don’t retire because of diminished skills often tire of pro gaming’s long days and unusual living situation.
Retirement doesn’t mean sitting back on the beach, though. While players often earn upwards of $US100,000 per year, they don’t make nearly enough money to support themselves for the rest of their lives.
Many of Team Liquid’s players are fast approaching that mid-20s sell-by date. Of the team’s five players, Christian “IWDominate” Rivera is 24; Diego “Quas” Ruiz is 23; and Alex “Xpecial” Chu is 22.
We asked them what they plan to do when they retire.
Christian “IWDominate” Rivera
Rivera has played League of Legends for five years — practically centuries in video game years. He’s restless about his team’s inability to win the League Championship Series, the pro league in North America, and every loss brings up thoughts about retirement. While he wouldn’t put a concrete date on his retirement, he says he thinks about it “every day.”
When Rivera retires, he’ll likely stay in the video game industry in some capacity. Over the course of his career, he has amassed a sizeable following on social media sites and would likely parlay that into a career streaming on Twitch.
Many gamers have found they can make a lot of money through streaming, which involves playing video games on camera for an audience online. Although the streams cost nothing to watch, streamers can earn six figures by running ads, gaining sponsors, selling merchandise, and soliciting donations from the audience.
In addition, Rivera says he’ll look into coaching a pro League of Legends team or working for Riot Games, the publisher of League of Legends.
If none of those opportunities materialises, however, Rivera says he’ll go back to college to finish his degree in psychology. He dropped out of the University of Miami with only one semester left.
Alex “Xpecial” Chu
While Chu has been playing since he was 18, he’s uncertain about retirement, saying it’s probably a few years off. He’s equally wishy-washy about what he will do when it comes.
For a year before going pro, Chu attended University of California, Santa Barbara. According to Chu, if he were to retire tomorrow, he would finish his degree. However, as he gets older, he’s less enthused about returning to school.
“I can’t rule out going back to college, but I can’t say that I want to,” Chu says. “If I go back to school, I need to have a really good guideline [for what I will use it for] or I’m just wasting another four years. I’d rather look for a job and not go back …”
Chu is unsure what that job would be. He talks about pursuing other opportunities in the gaming industry but is otherwise vague.
Diego “Quas” Ruiz
Before moving to the US to play League of Legends professionally, Ruiz studied mechanical engineering at a university in Maracaibo, Venezuela. While he doesn’t plan to continue those studies, he’d like to attend college in the US to learn programming — a skill he could use in a longterm career.
Ruiz says he would work while attending college. That work would likely involve coaching inexperienced players, which he did before going pro, or streaming instructional videos on Twitch or YouTube.
“It’s natural for me to give players solid advice,” Ruiz said.
Ruiz’s retirement date depends on two factors: how well Team Liquid performs and his desire not to enter “the real world too late.” At most, Ruiz says he will play for another two years.
In many ways, League of Legends has served its purpose for Ruiz. He used the game to obtain an athletic visa to the US, a place he has dreamed about living in since childhood.
What about everyone else?
Because League of Legends and pro gaming are so young, it’s too early to know how former pro-gamers are doing as a whole. However, Dan Dinh, the VP of Operations for Team SoloMid, one of the top League of Legends teams, offered up some helpful perspective.
“Some make the leap to a personality and make YouTube videos or stream on Twitch full time … Some go back to college. A lot of players go work for Riot. Others build a connection with other gaming companies while they are playing and work for them,” says Dinh, who’s been involved with League of Legends since the beginning and watched many players retire.
“You see a lot of people in interesting places and a lot of people in not so interesting places,” he added. “There’s the good, the bad, and the ugly.”
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