Every week, Westminster College marketing major Dylan Myatt spends about 20 hours playing video games to help pay his tuition.
Myatt plays League of Legends, a multi-player online video game where two teams of five players battle each other in real time. According to League of Graphs, a database website dedicated to the game, Myatt is ranked within the top 0.25 percent of players globally.
Myatt said he initially started played casually, not realizing his skill at the game could translate into anything other than enjoyment.
“I was playing with my friends when you could make five versus five teams for fun,” Myatt said. “We made it to a pretty high rank, and I realized I was getting pretty good at the game.”
Over 100 million people play the game each month, according to Riot Games, the company that makes League of Legends. The company also sponsors a sanctioned professional league where top players compete full time, much like traditional sports.
Myatt said he started taking League of Legends more seriously and joined an amateur team to play in a tournament that gave him a shot at a professional career.
“We got fourth in the tournament and they were taking the top two teams,” Myatt said. “So we lost our sponsorship, lost everything and the team broke up. At that time I realized I was maybe decent enough to start making money.”
Myatt said he began entering in small, winner-take-all tournaments about six times per month. These tournaments cost $20 to enter, but the winners could walk away with anywhere from $300 to $600, depending on the size of the tournament.
“I probably won like half of them on average, so like three per month,” Myatt said.
Though he was making money from playing, he said the pressure of winning took its toll.
“There were times I’d win five out of six tournaments in a month and it was amazing,” Myatt said. “And then sometimes I would win only one out of six and it would be really stressful. I had to plan ahead and save money.”
Myatt said the strain of playing for money is a common reason talented players quit playing League of Legends.
“I know a lot of pros that quit because they said the game stopped being fun,” Myatt said. “And I enjoy the game a lot, but it makes me think if I wasn’t making money from it how it would be different.”
Myatt said these concerns have shifted how he makes money from the game. Within the past few months, he said he has played in fewer tournaments and started coaching other players instead.
“Lately I realized that people will pay me kind of outrageous money to teach them how to play,” Myatt said. “So I have about 10 regulars that I help coach.”
For Myatt, coaching has been a more reliable source of income. Instead of relying on winning, he earns a consistent hourly rate. He said he typically charges $40 for a two-hour session of coaching, during which he works with players over voice communications.
“I’ll watch their ranked games or if they have recordings I’ll look at the videos with them and tell them what to improve on,” Myatt said. “I’ll play custom games with them and show them my mouse clicks and show them what they need to work on.”
Though he hasn’t stopped playing tournaments altogether, Myatt said he enjoys his role as a teacher much more than he did as a competitor.
There are downsides to dedicating significant amounts of his free time to competitive gaming, Myatt said. He also works at a part-time job and is triple majoring in marketing, economics and business management.
“You could almost consider it like a job,” Myatt said. “If I can’t dedicate enough time to it during the day then I’ll work into the night and it will impact my sleep.”
According to Myatt, video games are tricky to balance with the rest of his life. Unlike a sport, he can play League of Legends just by turning on his computer. Playing video games involves less physical activity than sports do, meaning Myatt can spend large amounts of time practicing, which he said enables unhealthy patterns.
Despite the downsides, Myatt said he's happy he's been able to turn his play into work.
“If you’re good at something and you can get paid for it and have a good time doing it, then do it,” Myatt said. “It’s stressful at times, but in the end I think it’s worth it.”