Dan Hodeanu received his first computer when he was six years old and began playing Counter Strike, a first person shooter game, unbeknownst at the time that he would end up playing video games competitively for a living a decade later.
“Fast forward to when I was eleven, I was going to local cafes, like internet cafes and playing in tournaments,” said Hodeanu. “They wouldn’t let me in because I was too young, so my parents had to stay beside me for them to even allow me in [the tournaments] and because [the other players] didn’t think I was even good at the game.”
When Counter Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) released in 2012, Hodeanu fell in love with the game and began climbing the competitive ladder, playing the best and worst of the best.
“I got into the [high ranks] where you play with the same people in different mixes,” said Hodeanu. “That’s basically how I got to meet my teammates at that time.”
Around age 16, Hodeanu became a player for a team called Team GreyFace, an inside joke about one of the emojis in CS:GO. In 2016, GreyFace were invited to a middle-tier LAN event in Sweden.
“We ended up being picked up for a certain tournament in Sweden. We had to go there and we had a boot camp, which is basically where they rented a house for us and we had a physical coach,” said Hodeanu. “In the morning he would pick us up for physical exercise and then we had to play [CS:GO] for eight or nine hours. We had another session with a different coach and then a mental coach. And then we played more, then had the tournament.”
Team GreyFace was picked up by the top-ranking Swedish esports team Ninjas in Pyjamas (NiP). Hodeanu’s team would be considered an academy team which is a smaller team playing under a big name team.
Despite the growing popularity of tournaments and streaming, esports was still an ambiguous and even questionable career avenue.
“In the beginning, [my parents] didn’t quite understand it, because they thought it was just a form of entertainment,” said Hodeanu. “Then I was trying to tell them all the time, ‘look at DOTA, they’re getting international tournaments with millions of dollars. They can actually make money.’ After years of me pushing and pushing, they kind of understood that ‘oh, it’s an actual thing that he can do as a career.
“I was also under 18 when I went to the [first] tournament in Sweden, so my mom flew with me because I couldn’t fly alone,” continued Hodeanu. “Even then, they were supportive about it.”
However, the industry was far from perfect.
“When I started, all the players that were playing in the same tournaments were getting like 500 euros (~519 USD) per month and the company would keep maybe 80% of the prize money, so you would get absolutely nothing,” said Hodeanu. “That was also one of the main reasons why I quit; because the companies back then, even in 2017, had these predatory contracts.”
For instance, players signed contracts for five years, which can be incredibly long compared to other sports especially for the teenagers and young adults. Companies took advantage of young players to farm their monetized viewership and winnings.
“Right now it’s better, in terms that you can see that it’s becoming a more mainstream [sport],” said Hodeanu. “Contracts are better, pay’s better. And now the company only keeps around 30% of the winnings, which is great.”
The pushback from both professional players and the community over the past few years forced companies to amend their exploitative contracts and provide better career platforms for their athletes including pay and health benefits.
“The reason I quit, is because at that time, it was still not very good in terms of ecosystem wise,” said Hodeanu. “I wouldn’t want to work in something that I’m not sure what’s gonna happen in ten years.”
“I think it was a good decision on my side,” continued Hodeanu. “If you look at statistics, not even 1% of the players make it to something that is going to be reliable. The average age of players retiring is around 28 in esports.”
In reflex focused games especially, older players are often outplayed by younger, usually teenaged, players. Additionally tendonitis, carpal tunnel syndrome or other injuries from playing can end a player’s career.
While esports can be a viable and rewarding career, the importance of a fallback career or degree is paramount for retired esports athletes.
Hodeanu graduated from Jönköping University with a Bachelor in Business Administration and currently works as the Junior SEO for the website JustWatch. Despite his career change, he still holds a passion for esports and anticipates growth of the industry.