Traditional sports have always been the realm of the young and that has been well accepted, but nowadays esports is truly pushing the extreme. Professionals who aren’t even out of their twenties are referred to as ‘old men’ and most of the popular players of the past few years are born way closer to 2010 than I am personally comfortable with.
That said, there are some young players who accidentally stumbled their way onto the world stage. Examples like the Vegas kid from esports infancy are comedic but early entry into the competitive scene can be damaging to both the players and the scene.
Who Are Some of the Youngest Esports Players?
For context on the ages we’re talking about, League of Legends has a relatively old playerebase. Despite being ‘Old’ the OLDEST player in the Chinese Competitive League (LPL) is 26 and there are several 18 year olds. That league aside, the general youngest League of Legends players you see are 17 year olds, and they are quite common.
In DOTA 2, the youngest player we’ve seen has been SumaiL, who won DAC (an official Valve event) at 15 years old. Later that year, once he was 16, he and team Evil Geniuses won the International, the largest prize pool in gaming.
This all said, if we want to start finding the truly young players, we need to look away from team based games and towards single player, where we have seen some bafflingly young players win huge prizes, after which they placed and took home decently sized contracts.
Starting high, Jaden ‘Wolfiez’ Ashman holds the Guinness world record for taking home over a million dollars in a single tournament, by coming second at a Fortnite tournament at 15. That is blown away by the current contracted professional Fortnite player, Joseph Dean, age 8.
By the way, I loved the quote from Joseph “I’ve thought about being a professional gamer a lot, but no-one took me seriously until Team 33 came along.”
That said we can get even younger than that if we look a little further back, Lil Poison was signed on to play Halo back when he was three. Funny enough, because he’s 23 now, he’s on the older end of professional players.
Finally as a standout there are also young professional players in strategy games, an example being Dana Fischer, the youngest Magic the Gathering player to make money playing the game.
How Young Is Too Young… Does It Exist?
It’s easy to say that there is no such thing as “too young” as long as someone is good enough to compete. Afterall, esports competitive advantage is that several physical barriers that limit competition within traditional sports are absent. That said, ‘as long as you’re good enough’ feels like an overall optimistic or purposely naive viewpoint.
Simply put, esports players are professional athletes and, depending on the game and region, minor to major celebrities. Similarly to child actors in Hollywood, this comes with a cavalcade of issues that can be incredibly negative on younger players, whether they be children or younger teenagers.
One of the first points is that most professional esports at this point are run by large organizations, now, luckily there aren’t that many stories of predatory contracts at the highest level in esports, but it’s difficult to ask a young player, and their perhaps unprepared parents, to understand how to manage the business side of esports. You can end up with children who are in situations that aren’t healthy for them or their families.
The biggest point is next, and that is the mental toll that attention and pressure can put on competitors of any age. League of Legends player Ryu is most known for losing a 1v1 back in 2013 and describes his career as a career of regrets, Uzi considered one of the best ADCs of all time retired at 23 citing mental and physical health issues. In other games the mental tax is also appearing, for example the Counter-Strike Professional Players’ Association just added around the clock access to clinical psychologists for players.
It’s critical to recognize that professional esports stop being ‘games’ and become high pressure careers that put a spotlight on players. Throwing kids into that situation is possibly unethical. This is luckily relieved a bit in single-player games as younger players can be more free to engage and disengage as they find the game fun, as opposed to needing to be part of a professional team with strict rules and practice times.
What Do the Developers Say? Is There a Limit?
In the end, League of Legends creator Riot Games has a 17 year old minimum for their professional players, and even then both Uzi still needed to leave due partially to mental health. I think that age minimums for these sorts of professional sports should be more common.
Esports is still in its infancy and without heavy support networks and age limitations I worry that we’re going to see the fallout of heavy attention on the young kids that are putting up numbers. Esports might skew young, but careers ending at 23 for mental health issues is a tragedy that we need to avoid, even if it means waiting 1-2 more years before seeing the new GOAT.