February 13, 2021 (Updated )
Esports is the industry of competitive sports video gaming, and it’s a burgeoning sector. Games such as League of Legends, FIFA and CS:GO regularly draw in thousands of viewers interested in watching professional gamers battle it out on a competitive stage.
Esports journalism, however, remains a fairly unturned stone compared with traditional sports journalism. While mainstream outlets such as the BBC and The Washington Post have started to cover esports more regularly, other places, such as ESPN and Yahoo!, have recently shut down their esports divisions. So, is esports journalism worth pursuing?
To find out, we spoke to four esports trailblazers at the top of their game. These were freelance writer Alexander Lee, who regularly covers esports for publications including WIRED and The Washington Post; Kelsey Moser, a League of Legends freelance coach and former esports journalist; Imad Khan, a freelance journalist and host of FTW Podcast; and Dexerto’s business content editor, Adam Fitch.
So, How Do You Become An Esports Journalist?
One thing all those we talked to agreed upon was that esports journalism in its current state is an unreliable source of income by itself, though that did come with a few caveats. “I wouldn’t recommend freelancing full-time as a dedicated esports journalist at this point”, explains Alexander. “But I think having bylines about esports will be huge in the future, as esports journalism becomes closer to traditional sports journalism and more jobs open up.”
Even Kelsey, who has worked for esports publications all over the industry and is a household name on the League of Legends scene, says that she has had some issues with job security. “There’s a lot of volatility”, she says. “You’re probably going to find opportunities, but the opportunities will constantly be in flux, so it can be kind of scary.” The esports industry is still working itself out, and this is reflected in its journalism sector.
In this vein, Imad recommends taking esports work on the side to begin with, while working in a more general journalism role. “Start out by sneaking in a few esports stories here and there,” he explains. Unfortunately, full-time roles are hard to come by. “There just aren’t a tonne of jobs for a full-time dedicated esports reporter at the moment, and for the roles that do exist, the pay just isn’t very good because their traffic doesn’t bring in the type of revenue necessary to give you a nice salary,” adds Imad.
“There just aren’t a tonne of jobs for a full-time dedicated esports reporter at the moment. Start by sneaking in a few esports stories here and there”
Adam also recommends prioritising job security first and foremost. “I’d say for going freelance first but having something on the side is the safest bet – at the end of the day you need to be able to afford to eat and live in a house and stuff,” he says. Still, Adam is positive about the future of the industry. “In some areas we’re seeing really good growth, in some areas we’re seeing artificial or questionable growth,” he explains. “The key word is growth, whether good or bad.”
Know Your Audience And Tailor Your Coverage
One of the major differences for those working in esports compared with traditional sports is the target audience. This changes how fans receive their news and how they interact with the industry, and thus impacts how journalists conduct their coverage too.
“The gaming scene and the esports scene is overwhelmingly male, and much younger than traditional sports,” explains Alexander. This impacts how audiences interact with their interests and receive their content. “Video content, for the most part, does much better than long form written content,” says Alexander. “And there’s less value in interviewing streamers because those interested in streamers will just watch their streams. There’s an ‘e’ in esports for a reason.”
Esports fans are also constantly engaging with one another, says Kelsey. “Everyone is kind of interacting with each other all the time,” she explains. “They’re often looking for more information, a way to feel more connected to the community or more involved in the conversation. So it has some peculiarities.”
“Video content, for the most part, does much better than long form written content. And there’s less value in interviewing streamers, because those interested in streamers will just watch their streams.”
For Imad, this ever-present connectivity means that journalists in the industry need to know how to tap into fans’ mindsets and produce relatable content. “They can unionise better than city council staff if they really dislike you,” he jokes. “Building trust with the community takes time, and quality reporting will eventually turn heads – like other journalism, if your audience thinks you don’t know what you’re talking about that’ll hurt your credibility”.
Alexander puts it differently. “People like to get mad when it comes to games,” he states. “So, you kind of need to have thick skin or be prepared to ignore that.”
In that regard, esports fans certainly seem to mirror their traditional counterparts, though the online setting of esports communities – bound together by social media such as Reddit, Twitch and Twitter – makes the community somewhat unique.
This has its advantages too, though. “I find that if you have a unique perspective, or something to say that you aren’t seeing everywhere, then you’re probably going to find some kind of niche audience,” says Kelsey, “and the closeness of the community in general means that pro players, coaches, whatever, are really accessible”.
Find a niche
Everyone we spoke to advised two things: build up a niche and make connections within the industry. Esports is still a relatively young industry, and, as such, there is plenty of room to find your specialism within it. “Find the thing you can write about that no one else is writing about and write it to death,” advises Alexander, “there are a lot of different angles in esports that just aren’t being covered.”
Kelsey echoes a similar sentiment: “Make sure you have something that is really meaningful, that you feel is important to say in some way or another, and eventually the following will grow,” she says. “It might be slow, but it’ll happen.”
“Make sure you have something that is really meaningful, that you feel is important to say in some way or another, and eventually the following will grow.”
Meanwhile, Adam advises: “Go to the fringes, find how esports interacts with other industries. Find unique angles there, work out your voice and then go about putting yourself into relevant publications once you’ve proven yourself a bit.”
Make Friends And Network With Others
Adam has got one key bit of advice for burgeoning esports journalists: get networking.
“I think the most important skill that I have is being able to connect with people,” he says, “being able to network via cold emails, for example.”
Imad, too, thinks that networking is vital for journalists wanting to break into the esports industry. “It’s not too different to traditional reporting,” he tells us. “Go to events and grab people for a coffee. Get in touch with players, managers, and team members if you can. It just takes time.”
As with many journalism gigs, working in esports is uncertain, full of intricacies and requires some hard work. But if you have enough passion, and the time to graft part-time for a bit before looking for something more permanent, then you may just find a way in.
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