The challenges of HR in esports

Words by Sebastian Lager, esports veteran actively involved in the space since 1999 and founder of TwogNation

Gaming is a multi-billion dollar industry. When we take a deeper look we can see that gaming spans across the world from China to Brazil, everybody plays games. What started in the 80s became a worldwide industry today . The days of Space Invaders are over, where we went to the arcade in order to play some games. Today we all have computers and even if you cannot afford one you have a smartphone, which allows you to play games. We are living in a digital world. This digital world is observable, especially in gaming and esports, since gaming is intrinsically digital. But we have issues like every other industry. The “Human Resources Issue” is one of these problems and maybe one of the most problematic ones. Today I am going to dissect this issue from several different angles.

Polish Esports Report for Q1 2018, Part 1: Sponsorships and Soccer Team  Synergies – The Esports Observer|home of essential esports business news  and insightsThe number one biggest issue in the esports world is the experience. Since our industry is roughly 20+ years old, the experience in the system is lacking on all fronts. People who had the chance to be in esports for 20 years, were either extra privileged, where they did not need to make money and they were able to pursue their dreams or they were “insanely passionate” about esports. We might be a relatively young industry but this only means we need more experienced people. The experience is still required in esports and this means there will be ups and downs in your career. You still need to work hard, you still need to make sacrifices in order to be successful in this industry.

As I have said before we are living in a digital world. This digital world offers cheaper labor costs and makes outsourcing or outstaffing possible. Today young people want to be involved in esports and gaming. We have seen the wave of thousands of people trying to become a Youtuber or a streamer because they see this as a viable career choice. People want to work in gaming. Esports is no different, through TwogNation we receive thousands of applications from "every corner of the world". These are the most important words in this article, "from every corner of the world". This means an American is competing with someone in the Philippines. How many companies have we seen that open a factory abroad just because it is cheaper? The Esports industry does what other industries have been doing for decades. We do not open factories but we offer a chance to people all around the world. 

Fantastic EsportsBefore we dive into more specifics, let us first check out esports history. Esports emerged in the late 90s and it began as most of the industries, with a lack of experience. This meant that the pioneers of the esports industry had to bear a lot of hardships. Let us call them the “veterans”. Those veterans had to do everything themselves, they had to act as a "jack of all trades". They had to learn how to do things themselves and the community helped, a lot of passion-driven people volunteered to make it happen. Most of the time they were doing even their own video editing, something we have specialists for these days. These people bet big but they also won big in the industry after years of waiting and often suffering. The veterans of the esports industry sacrificed a lot, in order to do something they are passionate about.

Then came the second generation, in the 2010s. This generation mostly consisted of previous professional players and people who doted over the veterans. Veterans were looking for people who share the passion for esports. The second-generation founded their own organizations and companies, and we can still see some of them in action today. This generation started the specialization in the industry but they only managed to specialize up to some degree. Still, some of them relied on being the "jack of all trades" but suddenly we had esports producers, anchors, marketing, the whole C-level spectrum, etc.. This also showed the early signs of what the industry could be. In reality, the second generation is not over, they are still among us, especially with endemic brands, publishers, etc.

Game on for esports industry: How to win at the fastest-growing sport  around | GamingMaltaAfter 2015, there was a big shift in the market. The technology entered into our lives more and more and we started to live in a digital world. This was perfect for the esports industry, and it also opened the industry doors wide open. The third generation are those who started in the 2010s and are the entrepreneurs and employees of today.. The structures were mostly established when they started, it was unlike before 2010, a real viable industry, that offered career paths for anyone. Most companies were specialized in one form or another. There are still "jack of all trades' people but they are needed less; especially if the company is big and mature enough. Along with the third generation, the digital world also allowed companies to outsource their work and this created an industry available for the entire world. The third generation still has to work hard and have experience nonetheless. There are still sacrifices to be made if you want to be in esports over another older industry.

There is a gatekeeping issue in the industry. This is normal for a couple of reasons. First of all, knowledge transfer in esports is harder than in most fields. Being in the center of all things is very important in esports. Hiring many people from different industries is possible, but it is harder for them to catch up since they do not know the ins and outs of the industry. Therefore when we are hiring for esports, the experience is still the number one valued skill. It is easier to hire an esports person and let them take a marketing course than hiring a marketing person who never even heard of esports. Just like every industry, experience means also network and connections, and maybe even more importantly it translates into authenticity and trust.

Many people that never were bold enough to make the jump into esports are also entering indirectly. Today big companies such as BMW, Google, Facebook, Amazon, and many more are jumping into esports. This means that individuals who worked in those companies who did not make the leap towards esports are also entering into the industry. Hiring does not need to be external all the time, these companies already have people who have an interest in esports for a long time. However, this creates an issue in the industry, even though they are affiliated in a way, they still have more experience in their previous field, something not related to esports. I personally would recommend companies to hire a new person, over transforming an existing resource because they had an interest or hobby related to esports or gaming. It simply won’t be good enough in many cases. I have often experienced that the person in charge of esports for a company, often needs a good amount of education in esports before reliably catering to the mandate they’ve been given.

5 Amazing Facts About Console Gaming Industry RevenueIn the beginning earnings of individuals from the esports industry was nothing compared to other industries. The veterans had to wait for years in order to get close to other industries. However, today we can see that esports started to compete with other industries and we can see people coming from different industries. This changed the general outline of the industry, in reality, there is still a lack of experience in some fields, however, now esports is big enough to pull talented individuals from other industries. However, as we have said before the third generation is living in a digital world, and maybe this was the biggest shift in the industry.

Esports is egalitarian in a way and it empowers people that work remotely. Of course, we have some issues but the digital world offers us this opportunity. If you have social anxiety issues or disabilities, esports can be a good field for you, because you can work remotely. If you want to travel the world this is also possible with esports. Most of the jobs in the industry can be done online and you do not need someone breathing down your neck for long hours in an office. However, the digital world also means more competition within the market. The competition for one job is not happening between a dozen people who saw the ad in a newspaper, in reality, it is far from it.

Since we are digitized, a person in India is reading the same job advertisement as a person in the United States. This means the competition for the job is on a global scale. Let’s face it, there are realities a person in India does not have the same living cost as a person in the USA. They can work for much cheaper and they are even more ambitious because they can not work in this industry in their own country. So we have a person asking for $1,000 and another asking for $250, with the same set of skills, most companies will choose the cheaper and more ambitious person. 

If you have read the article until now, you understand how important experience is in esports. If you are a volunteer in a local esports club for some time, that is still a better experience than some placeholder title on LinkedIn. However, never lie about your references, once you are caught, you will be blackballed from the industry. Entering into the industry from the grassroots is much better. For example, I am a CEO and I would ask you about what else did you do besides going to school? Young people are making sacrifices everywhere and you need to make some too in order to gain experience. There are ways where you can gain an upper hand in a global market.

You need to be specialized in a skill or your job needs to be physical, for example, you are a producer and you need to be at the studio. So your first solution is to work locally, where you can be physically available. However, even physically demanding jobs are affected these days, especially after the Covid-19 pandemic. With Covid-19 many companies started to work online and remotely. This includes companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Google, and this showed one thing to everyone. Most companies understood that people do not need to be in an office for 8 hours in order to be effective. They are saving on rent, utilities, and many more with this method. The companies understood that they can be as effective even sometimes more effective when they are working remotely. For example, at TwogNation we are running a hybrid structure, we have some people working remotely but we also have a physical office where our workers can create a sense of comradery. The same goes for working hours. Our team can come and go as they please, if they have a structure for key meetings and synchronization.

The second part of my advice if you want to get hired is to have a specialty and be good in that field. If you average in a specialized field, you might lose the opportunity because someone else is cheaper. If you are a social media manager, be the best one, if you are an admin try to be better than everyone else. However, I understand that is not always possible, but there is another route if you want to make it in the industry. You can be good locally and still sought globally. If there is a company that wants to invest in Qatar for example, if you can speak Arabic, you have an edge. If you have good local connections and know the culture and everything, that is really enticing to companies as well. Play to your strengths and you will have a place in the esports world.

Esports still require a lot of sacrifices, the industry grew tenfold over the last decade, however, there is still a need for experience. You need to have special skills in order to make it in the industry, especially if the job is remote. Improve yourself even if it's just volunteering. The world became more digital and you need to adjust your skills according to it. A lot has changed over the last twenty years and only time will tell what will happen to the esports industry over the next twenty years.

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