What it was like being a pro gamer in the early 2000s by Jimmy “LiN” Lin
Hello, my name is Jimmy “LiN” Lin. I am 34 years old and from Alberta, Canada. I'm a former professional Counter-Strike 1.6 & Source player for teams like Evil Geniuses and 3D. I was also the former Head Coach of the Evil Geniuses VALORANT team. I am currently working in Partnerships & Content at Aim Lab.
How I became a pro? I’ll start from the beginning. I was 12 or 13 years old when I first tried Counter-Strike beta at a friend's house. I remember being hooked after playing for 5 minutes. I didn’t have a PC at home so I never got the chance to put in a bunch of hours. When I turned 14 I got a job at a community center painting fences for elderly people. I would take every pay check and buy 1 computer part at a time, if I had any money left over I would use it to play at a LAN center near my house. Eventually, I was able to purchase all the parts and put a computer together on my own. Now that I think back I have no idea how I was able to figure out how to build a PC at that age because YouTube wasn’t around at the time.
During my time at the LAN center, I met some other pretty good players. So when I was able to play at home I continued playing with them online. If you wanted to play CS competitively online the only place to do it at that time in North America was an online league called the CAL (Cyberathlete Amateur League). It was a tiered league that started at Open and went all the way to Invite.
I played a few seasons of CAL and attended local LANs in Alberta where I was able to compete against much better players and teams. I was fortunate enough to be able to perform on LAN consistently at a young age and was picked up by one of those teams who had a spot in CAL-Invite. Your performances in matches were the only way to get discovered by other teams online. There was no social media or YouTube, you couldn’t share your best clips on Twitter to generate hype and showcase your skills, you were a name on a website with some stats beside it. Everyone at the time was looking at a website called GotFrag and following online and LAN play that way.
Being a professional gamer back in the 2000s wasn’t a career. The majority of players were still in school or had full-time jobs and we would all gather in the evenings to play. Our team practice schedule was generally Sunday to Thursday for 4 to 5 hours in the evening (4-9 or 10 PM). To find scrims we used a chat program called mIRC (the Discord of the 2000s) and a server called GameSurge. You would post chat messages that looked something like “5v5 ours cal-i+ train”.
Salaries at the time were nothing to what a professional player could make today. My first few contracts were roughly between $700 - $1,500 per month. In my very last season playing in the Championship Gaming Series which took place in Los, Angeles the salary was $30,000 per year ($2,500 per month). We spent months in LA during the filming of the season so accommodations were paid for (all the players lived in the same complex), and they provided a per diem for food which was separate from the salary.
Most of the tournaments that you played in outside of the CGS were basically at some sort of venue. most of the time in North America it was a conference hall in a hotel (Example: Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center). There wasn’t an extravagant stage where the players would walk in and do intros. There were just lines of computers in a big room and people would sit down, set up their peripherals, change their settings, and then you would just go live. There would be multiple matches going on at the same time (unless it was the finals) so you would hear people screaming from other matches going on while playing your own.
Most of the sponsorships at the time were with the teams themselves. Intel, Nvidia, Steel Series, and other companies sponsored Team 3D. There weren't many or any players that had sponsors directly. In today’s age, there are so many more sponsorship opportunities because of social media and live streaming. You could be a part of an organization but also have sponsorships directly with companies to promote their brands. This didn’t exist before.
Support staff also didn’t exist. The majority of teams didn’t even have a coach. It was a team manager and 5 players. We had to figure it all out ourselves and find areas of improvement through playing. There was no use of data outside of individual performance +/i, KDR, etc. It’s great to see organizations investing in staff to support pro players.
It’s hard for me to recollect the pressures of being a professional in the early 2000s but I can’t imagine the pressure of being a current pro. There are so many eyes on your performances and so much “noise” with social media, I can imagine being under tremendous pressure all the time to perform at a high level. All your moves are held under a microscope and there will always be haters, but at the same time I have seen people who didn’t seize their opportunities and didn’t reach their full potential, and maybe they won’t ever because they weren’t putting in the work to improve themselves and their gameplay every single day.
Retiring from pro gaming is such a different narrative nowadays. When I stopped gaming I found myself working in IT because that’s all I knew, computers. Most of my former teammates and other players from my generation went off to find jobs in whatever field they graduated college/university from. I’m fortunate enough to find myself back in gaming/esports through the connections I built over 2 decades ago. A lot of my past experiences and knowledge are still valid to this day. If you want to do something in gaming/esports:
- Build strong connections and relationships.
- Don’t be toxic and don’t do things you will regret later in life.
- Always think about the future and don’t be short-sighted.
Most of my content is focused on VALORANT. My website has VALORANT blogs to help you learn the fundamentals of the game. My socials are geared toward quick tips and tricks. If any of that interests you give me a follow.
TikTok: https://www.tiktok.com/@lin_fpsInstagram: https://www.instagram.com/lin_fps/