The Herald is this week profiling people who have made a living by turning a hobby into a job.

A 17-year-old is among a growing number of Kiwi "e-sports athletes" who make a living playing video games internationally.

Ari Greene-Young, known online as "Shok", is a member of a professional League of Legends team called Tectonic based in Sydney competing in the Oceanic Pro League (OPL).

He - along with his four teammates - earns a salary to battle other teams once a week in matches that are broadcast online, which he trains for 12 hours a day, six days a week.


"First we have two blocks of team practice, that's more focusing on your knowledge of the game [and] building our strength as a team. Then later on we just play on our own focusing on reactions and stuff like that," Ari said of his average workday, which starts about 8am.

Along with their manager and coach Ari's team live in a flat paid for by the competition's organisers. They have hardly any expenses, so almost all of the money he earns goes straight into savings.

Like professional athletes in traditional sports, they're also encouraged to go to the gym, eat healthily and drink lots of water, Ari told the Herald.

Ari Greene-Young, 17, gets paid to play League of Legends. Photo / Michael Craig
Ari Greene-Young, 17, gets paid to play League of Legends. Photo / Michael Craig

OPL players are usually on yearly contracts - they work 46 weeks a year and get a six week break between seasons.

Ari was hired in July 2017 after being scouted while competing in the New Zealand League of Legends high school competition the year before.

"I was offered a trial for the team and did well I guess. It just kind of happened," he said.

"In the game there's an in game ranking you can view and I was very highly ranked. I've been preparing for quite a long time to try do something like this. I've wanted to be a gamer since I was a kid."

The former Massey High student - who left school two weeks after he was offered a gaming contract - started playing League of Legends in his spare time when he was 14, enjoying the competitiveness.

Ari "Shok" Greene-Young is from Auckland but spends most of the year in Sydney where he is employed as a professional online gamer. Photo / Michael Craig.

Although his parents were initially skeptical about gaming as a career, watching a New Zealand tournament on Sky TV last year legitimised it for them and they were now supportive, he said.

Duane Mutu, operations director of e-sports broadcaster Let's Play Live and spokesman for the New Zealand E-Sports Federation, said professional gaming was a legitimate and lucrative career and the industry was growing in New Zealand.

According to research by GEMBA, 1 million New Zealanders watch or participate in e-sports and 68 per cent of the total population play video games in some form - whether that's the casual game of Candy Crush or professional League of Legends.

Mutu said he knew of about 20 Kiwis competing in the OPL and several more playing other games professionally.

The number of e-sports athletes was rising as New Zealanders were able to access faster internet and more competitions were being set up, he told the Herald.

Internationally, some professional gamers - like those in the OPL - earned a salary, while others were sponsored to go on tours, similar to surfers, then there were those who earned a living on the competition circuit.

It was hard to say for sure what most gamers were paid because contracts were negotiated privately with their employers, Mutu said, but the biggest prize pool for an e-sports competition so far had been US$21 million.

"That number compares to already the top tier of all sports in the world."