October 30, 2020

How to land a job in online gaming or esports if you’re not an engineer

  • The esports and online gaming industries have boomed in recent years, as major companies like Amazon, Google, Gucci, and more have activated esports sponsorships and brand deals.
  • Business Insider spoke with executives and professionals in esports and online gaming for advice on landing a lucrative role in this emerging industry if you’re not an engineer.
  • Grow a deep knowledge and passion for games and the cultures around them by digging into online communities, attending conferences, and following gaming influencers on social media.
  • Pick a highly coveted skill — such as artificial intelligence or analytics — and develop an expertise in it. If you’re transitioning into the esports space from another field, highlight transferable and valuable skills from your past jobs. 
  • The industry is always looking for ways to grow in unexpected and innovative ways, providing ample opportunity for aspiring entrepreneurs to consult, open agencies, or start other businesses. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Dave Rosen loved video games as a child, but thought that to have a career in them you had to be a software engineer or artist. As a communications assistant at the Big East sports conference, he was neither. 

It wasn’t until he pursued his MBA in sports business that he realized there are plenty of jobs in gaming that don’t require proficiency in C++ or the color wheel. A connection he made during his master’s program led to an internship at Electronic Arts, then a job offer to work with games that had nothing to do with sports. 

“Some of the best advice I got was if you’re excited about the company, you should go for it and worry later about being on the project you want to be on,” he said. He said yes and spent four years building his skills at the international brand. 

Rosen eventually took a position at another gaming company, then returned to Electronic Arts, then bounced back to sports with a job at Bleacher Report. He moved through a few more employers before landing at KingsIsle Entertainment, which develops online games such as “Wizard101.” After two years as the VP of marketing, he’s now the company’s general manager. 

It took a host of good mentors and teachers to help him land his ideal job. But now that he has it — and a six-figure salary to go along with it — the journey seems worthwhile, he said.

People itching to follow Rosen into the lucrative esports and online gaming industries will find there are plenty of opportunities. The esports job marketplace Hitmarker reported an 87% increase in job postings between 2018 and 2019 and a 194% uptick in executive-level jobs. While software engineer positions grew at an impressive clip (234%), they were outpaced by project management (431%) and data management jobs (505%). 

While most of the top 10 companies that used Hitmarker in 2019 were gaming firms, there were two notable exceptions: Amazon and Google. And Imari Oliver, founder and CEO of Bond and Play, a media, technology, and entertainment company, has seen an impressive number of non-tech firms reach into the esports and online gaming space. Mercedes-Benz, Gucci, and Louis Vuitton are luxury brands that have all activated sponsorship or brand deals with esports organizations in the past few years. 

“I always tell people, I don’t care if you do basket weaving, you can find a role in esports or video games,” Oliver said. “You just have to be creative.” 

Part of that creativity is finding a job that actually pays. Although Hitmarker saw the number of full-time jobs advertised jump from 68% to 75% between 2018 and 2019, that means a quarter of all positions were part-time, freelance, internship, or volunteer positions. 

Esports and online gaming executives shared their advice on how to find a six-figure job in these booming industries. 

Focus on understanding the culture around gaming and networking

People interested in online gaming and esports should go beyond playing and become experts in the people and culture surrounding the games. 

“It’s valuable to spend time in the kind of digital communities where people are playing or talking about playing,” said Kristen Salvatore, senior vice president of Cloud9, which manages esports teams in some of the most-played games in the world, including “Fortnite,” “Counter Strike: Global Offensive,” “League of Legends,” and “Hearthstone.” Among other claims to fame, the company fielded the first North American team to win a major “CS:GO” championship and the first North American team to make it to the semifinals of a “League of Legends” tournament since the Season 1 World Championship. 

Salvatore already had loads of experience with esports when she came to work for Cloud9, having spent several years as a sales and marketing consultant in the industry. When the team at Cloud9 asked her about doing some work for them, “our conversation went so well and I was so taken with the organization’s mission that I told them instead of consulting, they should make me a job offer,” she said. 

Paige Funk, senior marketing director of the esports network Nerd Street Gamers, which provides competitive opportunities for all gamers through a network of esports training centers, tournaments, event support, and content, recommended honing in on the types of games you’re passionate about. 

“Esports is often categorized as one specific thing, but that’s like saying sports is a single category,” she said. “There are fighting games and first-person shooter games and strategy games, and sometimes these audiences don’t look anything like each other.” 

If you’re going to successfully serve these different groups, “You have to go into their world,” she added. “You have to ask questions and see what’s important to the consumer. That’s more important in esports than in other industries.” 

Besides playing the games, watch others play or talk about them on platforms like Twitch or YouTube, and follow gaming influencers on social media. “In a non-COVID-19 world, I’d recommend going to conferences or TwitchCon or other events throughout the year,” Funk said. For now, look for gaming conferences that have moved online. 

Funk started her career in traditional sports, working for the Philadelphia 76ers and a subsidiary of Major League Baseball. When she was debating about whether to pursue an MBA, she met with a colleague, Rob Johnson, CMO of Nerd Street Gamers. He encouraged her to take a job with them.

“I did months of research before committing to it,” she said. “I did a lot of research on joining startups and the risk factors associated with that. I tapped into my network and called other people who had gone from traditional sports to esports to get their perspective. Doing your research is really important, especially if you’re taking a job at an executive level.”

Given that she was recruited to her position by a colleague, it’s no surprise that Funk highly recommended people build their personal and professional networks within the gaming industry.

“In the traditional sports industry, you see that everybody knows each other,” Funk said. “It’s like that tenfold within esports.” The industry can feel open but closed at the same time, she added — people are willing to welcome newcomers, but it can be hard to break in unless you know someone who’s already involved. 

Consider it a job, not just a passion

While knowledge about esports and online gaming is important, Funk emphasized that it’s not enough to get you a lucrative job.

“When I worked for the 76ers, we would tell people, ‘We’re not looking for Sixers fans. We’re looking for people who can sell,'” she said. That’s particularly true in esports because there are so many startups. They need people who can innovate, generate good ideas, and act on them. 

Esports and online gaming are a business, so it’s important to know something about the business side of the industry as well. Rosen recommended checking out resources such as GamesIndustry.biz, The Esports Observer, and the Esports Trade Alliance. 

No matter how much you love gaming, remember that working at an esports company is still a job.

“You should pursue a career because you’re excited about the work, not just because you’re excited about esports,” Rosen said. “The people who are happy are the ones who are excited about what they’re doing, not just the subject matter.” 

Get good at a specific skill (preferably one that’s in high demand) 

Rosen recommended picking an area of emphasis, such as accounting, marketing, or human resources, and developing expertise in that area. Skills in high demand right now include artificial intelligence and anything related to data analytics. 

“Even if you’re someone who isn’t interested in, for example, being a data analyst or working with paid advertising, developing an understanding of what those things are and how they work will give you a leg up,” Rosen said. “I’m not a data analyst, but I have to look at data and have conversations about it every day. I need to be able to ask good questions and understand what people are saying about it and understand at a strategic level why it’s important.” 

Oliver sees lots of opportunities in marketing, advertising, and graphic design. As more esports and online gaming companies partner with brands for advertising, sponsorship, and experiential campaigns, he said, they’re turning to agencies to help run them. Managing activations inside or outside of a company is a huge opportunity. 

Skills that are valuable to an esports or online gaming company can be developed anywhere, not just at other gaming companies. “The best places I’ve worked and the best people I’ve worked for understand that great skills are transferable,” Salvatore said. “It’s not necessarily about, did you have a job title that had esports in it?” It’s more about highlighting skills and accomplishments from past jobs and how they can translate to a new employer. 

Take the entrepreneurial route

There are ample openings in the esports and online gaming community for entrepreneurs, if you’re more the be-your-own-boss type. 

“If you’re on the advertising and marketing side of the business, people are always looking for people who can help them develop a series of tournament to pitch to networks,” Oliver said. “If you’re into branding, there are tons of esports teams and leagues that may not be doing a great job in marketing themselves individually or collectively. An opportunity for marketers and advertisers is to work with teams, individual gamers, esports facilities, or tournament organizers to design a brand positioning strategy, story, and business rationale that makes them attractive to sponsors and potential investors who require a clear ROI.” 

Interested in working with niche groups within the online gaming industry? How about designing fan art or digital merchandise? Creating nutritional products for professional gamers to help them optimize their mental, physical, and cognitive performance? What about managing the new group of influencers the industry is spinning off? 

“All of them need people who understand the industry who can help them,” Oliver said.

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