Gaming used to be a simple hobby for many of us – and still is – but the advent of Esports turned what used to be an activity to pass the time into a full-on competitive sport among pro gamers from all over the world.
Despite evolving into a multi-billion dollar industry with a market that’s estimated to be valued at nearly $12 billion in 2030, many teams are struggling to turn a profit. While some of the richest pro gamers compete in Dota 2, others earn big by dominating titles such as Gears of War and Apex Legends.
We interviewed Jvonn Williams, a pro gamer who stands out as the sole black player in the world of Apex Legends esports. Williams achieved an impressive six-figure income during his Gears of War days. As he aims to make a shift into content creation, Williams spoke to us about his future ambitions, the challenges of being a pro gamer and his thoughts on the esports industry.
What inspired you to start playing games and how did you get into competitive gaming?
Jvonn Williams: What inspired me to start playing games was playing with my older cousins and having a competitive nature from playing sports as well. Naturally, like most people and their cousins, they probably beat you at something multiple times. And you come back and it’s like, ‘I’m gonna stop losing to you someday!’ So you start grinding, whatever it is. That’s what sparked that kind of competitive nature in me. How that translated to Gears or just competitive gaming in general, I found that there’s a platform called GameBattles at the time, so I was able to sign up and compete in online tournaments for absolutely free. And everything happened from there.
How has being a pro gamer impacted your life outside of gaming, how has it impacted your relationship with your family, career and education?
Competitive gaming takes a long time, so going into that splitting off with a career is actually possible but you might be hindering your teammates or you might be hindering other people like the organisation that you’re playing for and you’re not going to be playing at full capacity.
Some of my best friends that I have right now are because of gaming…Jvonn Williams
But I will say in regards to relationships, imminence is an outlet for many people so it’s not too hard to keep all those relationships that you have. You could have them hop on the game with you and you still break away and have weekends. And actually, some of my best friends that I have right now are because of gaming, so it worked in my favour.
How was your initial experience with the gaming community, did you find it to be welcoming and supportive?
I didn’t know what type of world I jumped into. The first time I went to Mexico, I was probably like 17 at the time and I’m just signing autograph after autograph. People were lining up to talk to me and take pictures of me and my mom thought they were trying to attack me at first. But no, they just all love the game so much.
Would you say that the industry has changed over time when it comes to diversity and inclusion? And what do you think esports organisations and event organisers can do to make esports more inclusive?
For inclusion, I think there are a few issues when it comes to women who are competing with men. I don’t know why guys don’t like getting beat by girls. But as far as diversity, on Gears it depends what community you play in. So Gears of War was extremely diverse. In fact, in my entire first professional team, everybody was minorities. I had an all-black team, it was kind of dope. And then on to Apex, I’m the only black Pro, so it’s a huge change depending on what game you’re playing.
What were some of the things that made it difficult for you to succeed as the only black pro gamer in Apex? And how did you overcome these challenges?
The only thing I would say that made it a little difficult to me, was just noticing the culture change. The way I see has to be a little bit different, the things I relate to is a little bit different, but I haven’t really endured any type of racism or anything like that. It can be happening, but I don’t really pay mind to that. I just tried to keep it pushing and the best thing that that came with me was the fact that I had a lot of accolades already being the champion, already being an MVP, already succeeding and stuff like that. So it’s hard to overlook that. It becomes to a point where you are making a terrible decision if you’re overlooking it.
What have been the biggest rewards of being a pro gamer?
Some of my biggest rewards would 100% be just my fan base and the community I’ve built over time and all the support I’ve had. But other than that, I’ve won events that are $150,000, I’ve won the MVP award, I’ve been posted on huge brands like Astro gaming and stuff like that.
My favourite thing is just having so many people to connect with…Jvonn Williams
So there’s a lot of things that come with that. I would honestly say I’m way more personable, so I will say that over the money and stuff like that, my favourite thing is just having so many people to connect with and just enjoy watching it.
What inspired you to make the transition from a pro gamer to becoming a full-time content creator?
What inspired me was just knowing that it’s a smart decision long term, because I think that when it comes to longevity, that’s the most important thing in the gaming space. And being your own brand. And having a lot of concentration is a way to last longer, that even after I compete, I could switch over and do all types of different content. But as long as I have the support following me, that’s the best thing.
What are some of your future goals as a content creator?
My future goals would be to make that smooth transition into content making. I want to be able to completely retire from competing, because it does take a lot of time. It takes a lot of preparation and grinding. So if I transition that into just doing live streams and YouTube videos, TikToks and stuff, and get paid extremely well for it, and be comfortable and happy, then that’s the goal.
How do you see the future of gaming and esports and what do you hope to see change over the next few years?
For certain games I want there to be way more international events. Some games are already doing it. Apex is doing it where a lot of the events have been in the UK. They’ve had an event in Japan and stuff like that. That’s so dope, those flights are crazy. But yeah, I just want to see way more international involvement as much as possible. I think that’s how the game was marketed because a lot of games that I’ve played so much are North America dominant.
What other games do you enjoy playing when you’re not competing and is there any upcoming game(s) you’re excited to play?
The games I love to play, my favourite RPG single-player type of series is the Fallout series. So Fallout 3, Fallout New Vegas, those were amazing for me growing up, It was definitely M-rated when I was playing at 15, 14.
My favourite RPG single player type of series is the Fallout series.Jvonn Williams
But it was extremely fun, I love RPG games a lot and people wouldn’t expect that because I’m really competitive. A game that I’m super excited for is Gears Six.
What advice would you give to gamers who are aspiring to go pro? What are some of the most important qualities or skills a pro gamer should develop?
What I would say for them is to start now – and you don’t need to have a team. You can literally start on your own and just start becoming better at the game. A big thing that worked for me is the work, you just have to notice that the work is pretty much already done for you. You just have to do the research. So you need to watch those players that you know are better than you, you need to study their decision making, their awareness and just try to incorporate that into yourself.
What challenges do you see ahead?
The challenges I see from myself is that I actually just love competing so much. So breaking away from that is going to be pretty difficult for me, but I know it’s going to happen in due time. Other than that, just switching over. I’ve already gone pro in this game. But there’s levels to everything. Going pro is not as easy as winning a championship, so that will be my challenge; keep on climbing that ladder. I have to pretty much climb the ladder over again, since I’ve done it already in one game. I feel like I could do it again. So yeah, that’s pretty much the only challenge I have as far as competing. Let’s see how that goes.