David Rodríguez’s forearm hurt a lot when he played two or three games. It was soon clear to him that this epicondylitis would prevent him from competing, but the electronic sports – video game competitions – to which he was dedicated, gave him another chance. He began mentoring friends and other players, at first casually, then regularly. “Word spread that I did these kinds of sessions until one day Mad Lions came to me and they signed me, because they already knew how I worked,” he says. At only 22 years old – an age still to be a player – he is second coach of the popular video game League of Legends at this club based in Madrid.
His case shows that the fledgling esports industry can employ more people than just gamers. The sector will move 1,084 million dollars in 2021, according to the forecasts of the specialized analyst Newzoo, a 14.5% increase compared to 2020. The audience will also grow, 10% to 728.8 million viewers. And part of this economic activity is covered by these new professions, such as a sports director of a club, managers, medical personnel, sports psychologist or player representative.
The 2019 Esports Jobs Report, the latest report published by the video game employment platform Hitmarker, estimated the number of paid workers in electronic sports in 2019 at 9,705 worldwide. It is still a discreet figure, but it represents an increase of 111.39% over the previous year. The pandemic has slowed momentum but has not changed the overall trend. David Alonso, sports director of Vodafone Giants, is blunt: “The sector has completely changed. It has become very professional. There are more and more trained profiles, even people who come from other sectors and are interested in sports to work in that industry. There are also many interested brands. And it has become much more popular entertainment. “
Within these new professions, Rodríguez’s position as a coach is one of the first that comes to mind. “I work a lot individually with the players and I also make sure they understand each other within the game. Because in the League of Legends there are different positions and some do not know each other’s, so I work so that they understand the problems that each one has within the game ”, he explains. He also studies the rival team and its players, to develop a specific game plan for each game.
The roles are very reminiscent of a football or basketball coach. Something similar to what happens with Alonso’s mission as sports director. “I am responsible for looking for talent, for negotiating with that talent, for hiring. But as I have training as a coach, I also help in the management of that talent to develop teams from below or help our own coaches to create the best possible atmosphere ”. He has been in that position since 2017, but before he became known as a coach for three years. When Alonso started playing at age 14 there wasn’t even a professional environment in which to compete.
Luis Cardona is a physical trainer at Mad Lions. He studied Physical Activity and Sports Sciences (CAFD) and did his Final Degree Project (TFG) on physical preparation in electronic sports. He found very little research on the subject and had to extrapolate knowledge from other fields. But the effort paid off. “When I finished my degree, I presented my CV and my TFG to all the clubs in the national league. The next day they called me from Mad Lions, who were just looking for a physical trainer, ”he says.
Cardona has been a physical trainer for two years, although he had previously been in other sports. He is in charge of taking care of the health of the players and preventing injuries. “Before each video game training we do a warm-up, of about 10 or 15 minutes. If they have already done some gym in the morning I make it more specific of the areas that involve sitting and moving the mouse and using the keyboard. If they haven’t had a gym in the morning I try to make it something more generic, in which they move all the joints ”. It also gives guidelines for the nutrition and rest of the players.
Jaime Callejas (Sens) got the job on the spot. He had studied psychology, had worked in the clinical field, and had entered neuroscience. But at that time he couldn’t find a job. This time coincided with the launch of a new title, Overwatch, and Sens started playing games to make himself known. He had played since he was little and knew he would stand out soon. In effect, they called him from Movistar Riders to coach a team of this video game and when the club decided not to continue with this project they offered him another job. “They offered me to stay there and work as a club psychologist. It was all learning as you go, ”he recalls.
Skills to perform under pressure
Sens is one of the few over 30s in an industry that thrives on very young people. In his case, he has been practicing as an electronic sports sports psychologist for four and a half years. “I teach players the skills they need to perform under pressure, in competitions. And when they are underperforming, I help them to identify what is making them perform worse and we work on it ”, he explains. “But performance has many areas, from lifestyle habits, emotional management, stress management, how what we think affects our emotions, how our emotions affect what we think,” he says.
In Spain, the sector is increasingly demanding more workers. Last year, 27 million euros were billed, according to AEVI (Spanish Association of Videogames), a drop compared to 2019 (35 million) due to the pandemic. However, the employees in this industry went from 600 people to 800. Of these, there are 590 hired by professional teams of which 270, less than half, are players.
Also at Movistar Riders is Raquel Esperanza (RachelGin), who works as a manager in a sector where men prevail. It started in an amateur way. She helped a team when she had the opportunity and made herself known that way, until the team called her. With electronic sports, she combines her two passions: video games – her parents already played Xbox with her – and organizing events. “I am the link between the club and the team at the competition level,” he says. Each club usually has several teams, each competing in a different video game. “My role is to inform about everything in which we are competing, to inform the team of broadcasting [retransmisión] so that they buy the rights if they want to broadcast and keep the network team informed ”.
From Budapest, where she has traveled to accompany the CS: Go team in a face-to-face tournament, RachelGin tells how her work is that sometimes invisible part that ensures that everything goes well. “At the sporting level, I manage the calendar,” he says. “In the beginning, you had to find all the invitations to tournaments and put them in a calendar, so that the team could climb the rankings. I had a very good team, which made it very easy for me to get them into a very competitive scene ”.
In the world of electronic sports there are already even representatives. Álvaro Vázquez’s company, CEO of Algon Games, does this work. “It is very similar to the agencies representing footballers. If you have any problem or any claim or management with the club, we will advise you on a legal level ”, he highlights. “Our players start from the age of 16 and many times there is a lot of ignorance.” Even on the part of the parents, who at those ages supervise the player’s activity. They also negotiate termination clauses for the peace of mind of the clubs. Steps that the player would otherwise have to do on their own.
The electronic sports sector has the doors increasingly open to different profiles. “In office positions, within the coaching staff of a team or in team management, you can earn a living,” reflects David Alonso, the sports director of Vodafone Giants. “A lot of value is placed on the people behind the teams, making decisions and helping the different divisions within a club run.” And he clarifies that yes, it also refers to economic value.
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