Gaming comes with substantial startup costs, whether you’re gaming as a hobby or trying to turn it into a side gig or even a career. That said, there are plenty of ways to save money on the costs of gaming.
If you enjoy gaming, you may have thought about turning it into a side gig or even a career at some point. If you’re interested in following this path, you might be curious about what it takes to become a professional gamer in 2021.A gaming career can take different routes, including streaming, competing in esports and working behind the scenes in the general industry. This last year, streaming proved especially popular.
“Viewership has been up for all of us streamers,” explains Dee Rock (BBXH), a full-time Twitch broadcaster, esports caster and streamer. During the coronavirus pandemic, people who transitioned to remote work found themselves able to access Twitch and other streaming sites that might have been blocked by their employers – and those extra hours of watching while working paid off for streamers looking for larger audiences.
But what does it take to build the kind of rig, fan base, sponsorships or endorsements that can help you launch your gaming career? Whether you’re a casual gamer or looking to turn it into something more, gaming still comes with significant startup costs to get the rig, equipment and games you need to play (and stream or compete). Here’s a financial guide with insight to help you get started.
How much does it cost to get started as a gamer?
“The gaming setup you need depends on the role you want to pursue,” says Philip Wride, a former semipro gamer and current CEO of Cheesecake Digital, an esports agency and marketing company. “If you want to be a streamer, then having a second gaming machine to process the gameplay and videos is useful. If you want to be a professional player, you don’t need the second machine – but having top-quality equipment such as a mouse, keyboard and headset can provide advantages.”
These advantages come at a cost, but the good thing about building a gaming setup is that most of these costs are one-and-done.
“Equipment costs are completely front-loaded,” explains Jacob Beach, esports coordinator at Centralia College. “New esport games come out seldom enough that your upkeep cost on games will be very low.”
How do you save money as you set up your gaming rig? Start by creating a budget. Then, begin comparison-shopping for the best products that fit within your price range.
“The best tip I have for saving money on gaming gear is don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you need the best equipment,” advises Jesse Bodony, co-founder and CEO of Looking For Group, a service that helps match gamers with esports coaches and recruiters. “I play all my games on a $1,200 CyberPowerPC from Best Buy and it does the job just fine.”
Don’t have $1,200? Don’t worry. “A $900 PC will run almost any current esport title at 120 frames or higher without any issues,” says Beach.
If your budget allows you to put money toward top-of-the-line equipment, focus on what your gaming rig can do – not on what it looks like. “Making your PC look aesthetically appealing shouldn’t matter. Having flashy lights and a clear CPU case won’t do much in the long run,” explains Craig Parker, professional gamer, former Alliance member and current managing director of OES Online Esports. “If you don’t splurge on an aesthetic PC, you can divert the money saved to buy better parts. An eye-catching computer with less-than-great parts wouldn’t help you win a DOTA match.”
Beach agrees and suggests putting at least some of that extra cash toward a gaming monitor that you can continue to use as your career grows. “A 144hz 1ms response time monitor will cost around $150 to $200 but will last you essentially a lifetime.”
There’s one more piece of equipment to keep in mind – your gaming chair. “A good chair will cost you $250 to $300,” advises Beach, “but will last years and years and save you a lifetime of back and neck pain.”
How can you save money on the cost of gaming?
Gaming can be an expensive hobby – and becoming a professional gamer will require you to invest both time and money into your career. That said, there are plenty of ways to save money on the costs of gaming.
“To save on games, it’s worthwhile to follow dedicated Twitter accounts which post about game sales,” says Roger R. Quiles, esports attorney at Quiles Law. “To save on equipment, you may want to find content creators which are sponsored by that equipment manufacturer and see if they have a coupon code available for use.”
Parker agrees that shopping sales is one of the best ways to go. “Steam is every PC gamer’s go-to site,” says Parker. “What’s so great about Steam is that it regularly hosts seasonal sales. You will see titles going for up to 30% to 40% off.”
Shopping seasonally can also save you money on equipment. “During the holidays, Amazon offers amazing deals on electronics,” Parker explains. “You’ll not only be able to save on a new console and controller, but you could also get a couple of games free. The best thing about this is that free delivery is usually included.”
Don’t forget that once you begin pursuing games professionally, many of your gaming expenses become tax-deductible. “When you’re working in games, you should speak with your accountant about whether your game and equipment expenses are deductible as work expenses,” Quiles reminds us – so keep that in mind as you continue to level up.
Gaming credit card rewards
Promo codes and sales can help you get started, but if you really want to save money on your gaming expenses, it’s worth knowing how to use credit card rewards to your advantage.
One of the best ways to maximize your credit card rewards is by earning credit card sign-up bonuses. Most top credit cards offer new cardholders welcome bonuses that can be worth hundreds of dollars, which is enough to cover the cost of a high-quality gaming chair or a new gaming monitor, for example.
Many credit cards require cardholders to spend a certain amount of money within a certain amount of time to qualify for the sign-up bonus – and since many gaming expenses are upfront costs, this could end up being a win-win. All you have to do is apply for a credit card with a lucrative sign-up bonus, use the card to invest in your gaming rig and a few new titles, hit the spending amount required to earn the bonus, and use the extra rewards to either pay off a portion of your credit card balance or continue building your gaming career.
If you decide to make gaming your career, you also have the option to apply for a business credit card – and many small-business credit cards offer high sign-up bonuses, including welcome bonuses that exceed $500 per card.
Plus, today’s best credit cards offer industry-leading rewards on every purchase – even the purchases that already count toward your sign-up bonus.
Best credit cards for gaming
In the table below are some of the best credit cards for gamers, including credit cards with high sign-up bonuses that you can use to cover the costs of gaming. In addition to these top rewards cards, you might also want to consider retail credit cards like the GameStop PowerUp Rewards Credit Card or the My Best Buy® Credit Card, especially if you’re interested in accessing discounts and special offers associated with your favorite gaming retailers.
|Cards||Rewards||Sign-up bonus||Annual fee|
|Chase Freedom Unlimited||5% cash back on Lyft purchases (through March 2022)|
5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards
5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target® or Walmart® purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year
3% cash back on dining
3% cash back on drugstore purchases
1.5% cash back on all other purchases
|$200 cash back if you spend $500 in the first three months||$0|
|Citi Rewards+® Card||2 ThankYou points per dollar at supermarkets and gas stations (up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1 point per dollar)|
1 ThankYou point per dollar on all other purchases
Every purchase rounded up to nearest 10 points ($2 soda earns 10 points, $13 movie ticket earns 20 points)
Annual bonus of 10% points back on ThankYou points you redeem (up to 100,000 points per year)
|15,000 ThankYou points if you spend $1,000 in the first three months||$0|
|Discover it® Cash Back||5% cash back on quarterly rotating categories (up to $1,500 in purchases per quarter, after activation)|
1% cash back on all other purchases
|Discover will match all of the cash back you earn in your first year as a card member||$0|
|Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card*||5% cash back on Amazon.com and Whole Foods purchases|
2% cash back on restaurant, gas station and drugstore purchases
1% cash back on all other purchases
|$150 Amazon.com gift card upon approval||$0 ($119 Prime membership required)|
|Capital One Walmart Rewards® Mastercard®||5% cash back on Walmart.com purchases, including grocery pickup and delivery orders|
2% cash back on purchases in Walmart stores and fuel stations
2% cash back on restaurant and travel purchases
1% cash back on other purchases
|5% cash back on in-store purchases for the first 12 months when using Walmart Pay||$0|
How can you earn money as a professional gamer?
Not all professional gamers will be able to make a full-time living streaming on Twitch or playing esports, but that doesn’t mean you can’t turn your interest in gaming into a successful side hustle or a way of earning extra cash.
“There’s always room for new gamers,” says Rock. “Everybody can bring something different to the table. If you can put out interesting content, like comedy or something highly interactive, you don’t even need to be the best person at the game.”
How much could you earn if your gaming career takes off? “As an entry-level professional with a mid-tier professional [esports] team, you can make $1,000 to $3,000 USD per month and you can grow from there,” explains Wride. “In the CS:GO community, the top players can earn more than $10,000 per month, and, in League of Legends, top pro players are starting to sign million-dollar contracts.”
Here are two of the most common ways to earn money as a professional gamer:
“I started streaming with mobile games,” Rock explains. “It’s a lot easier and cheaper to start that way. All you need is a tablet or a phone and the ability to plug in your device and mirror it for streaming.”
At first, Rock’s streaming career was more of a hobby or side gig. “I worked a full-time job and streamed on the evenings and weekends. It took me a year until I could stream full-time.”
How can you turn your streaming channel into a full-time job? It’s all about finding your fans – and, once your fan base is large enough, finding sponsors.
“If you want to be a full-time streamer, you will need to have built a steady viewing audience/fan base,” Wride advises. “This is what you monetize – and dedicating more time and effort will enable you to further grow your audience and attract sponsors or partnership status from the likes of Twitch, YouTube or Facebook Gaming.”
“As a professional gamer (someone who plays in tournaments), there are several ways to make money,” explains Wride. “The first is from the salary you make as a contracted player to a professional team. After that, you can make money from endorsement deals and sponsorships. If you are good enough, you may also get some of the prize money you or your team win.”
Be aware that esports can include a significant time commitment. In fact, Rock’s growing esports career was the big reason she quit her job and became a full-time gamer. “When I started working in esports, I began traveling and doing events. This required me to use up all of my leave and vacation time.” Rock realized that she had to choose between her day job and her gaming career, and she picked gaming.
As with streaming, you don’t necessarily need to be the best gamer in the world to get started with esports, but you will need to be good enough to join a local team and/or win smaller tournaments. As your career grows, consider using your earnings to improve your gear. “Tournaments offer cash prizes,” Parker explains. “You can modify your build as you go, becoming a better player.”
What happens after you become a professional gamer?
If you decide to go into gaming, streaming or esports full time, think long-term. Your ability to maintain an active streaming career and/or win major esports competitions may peak at a certain point – so make sure the skills you are developing as a professional gamer can transfer to other game-related careers.
“My esports career started during my time as a student at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA),” explains Danny Martin, CEO of esports training center Esposure. “I saw an opportunity to repair gaming equipment for my classmates, which ended up spurring an idea to organize large-scale esports tournaments on campus. That initial entrepreneurial experience, combined with my courses and several mentors in my life, really served as the leaping pad that led to where I am today. It’s so rewarding to now be able to introduce individuals to career opportunities and help them find their path in esports through our Education to Entertainment (E2E) ecosystem at Esposure.”
Bodoni had a similar experience: “I got started in gaming and esports when I founded the esports program at my alma mater, Dominican University of California. Seeing a lack of formal support for student gamers on campus, I decided to spearhead grassroots efforts with students and develop a formal esports business plan for university leadership. In 2018, I co-founded a higher ed consultancy that develops esports programs for colleges, universities and athletic conferences. In 2020, I co-created the first open-source national directory of college esports programs. In 2021, I ran operations for a nonprofit that tackles systemic issues in collegiate esports.”
Even if you don’t make gaming itself your career, you can still bring in a paycheck pursuing a career you enjoy in the general field.
If you want to get into gaming – whether you’re playing games as a hobby, streaming on Twitch as a side hustle or planning a professional esports career – you need to be financially prepared.
Gaming comes with a lot of startup costs, especially if you want to invest in the kind of gaming setup that can help you build an online fan base or win tournaments. Gaming credit card rewards can help you offset several of these startup costs – and the best credit cards for gamers can help you save money on everything from your CPU to your gaming chair.
If you use credit card rewards to help you launch your gaming career, make sure you stick to your budget and pay off your credit card balances in full. If you find yourself in more credit card debt than you can handle, it isn’t necessarily game over, but the time and money you’ll have to put toward paying off credit card debt is time and money you won’t be able to put toward gaming.
As your career continues to grow, you’ll be able to take advantage of additional financial resources – from sponsors, ad revenue and fan donations to tournament cash prizes. Consider upgrading to a business credit card and hiring an accountant to help you manage your money and your taxes. It’s also worth asking yourself where you’d like your gaming career to go in the future, so you can begin building skills that transfer from the console to the board room, the classroom or wherever your interest in gaming might take you next.
All information about the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature card has been collected independently by CreditCards.com and has not been reviewed by the issuer. This card is not currently available through CreditCards.com.