In traditional sports, players that reach a certain age had historically shown decline in their performance. This is usually due to the players' physical prowess declining as they age, but what about esports? Most traditional sports require to use of muscles that form their whole body, but in esports? The physical part isn’t that big. However, in most esports, the average age of the players are extremely young, and they usually retire at a very early age compared to traditional sports.
Taking League of Legends as an example, many players have retired from professional play in the past few years, but none of them were above 30 years old. One of the most recently retired players is Kim “Khan” Dong-ha, who is only 26 years old, although he did retire to do his military duties. Besides Khan, the ROX brothers in Song “Smeb” Kyung-ho, Lee “Kuro” Seo-haeng, and Kang “GorillA” Beom-hyeon all retired the year before that, after the 2020 LCK Summer Season, at the age of 25 or 26.
Compared to that, the careers of traditional sports are mostly based on the fatigue of the body, so mostly they retire in their late thirties. Like this, the careers of League of Legends players are much shorter than in traditional sports. Why is it like that? Obviously, esports players don’t use their bodies as much as traditional sports athletes. There must be some other reason.
The fatigue of a player’s body may not be as critical as in traditional sports, but it also happens in esports as well. Jian “Uzi” Zi-Hao is one of the best ADCs in the history of LoL esports, and he retired back in 2020 due to a chronic shoulder injury. He came back this spring and played in nine games before going back for a break. Like this, although esports is not quite as physical, injuries can affect the players’ performance and force them into retirement as well.
However, most cases aren’t due to injuries. Then why? We asked a few older players and coaches in the scene about why esports players’ careers are so short, and most of their answers were similar: the players aren’t as motivated as before. Often, when something people are passionate about turns into their job, they lose their passion for whatever it is.
100 Thieves head coach, Bok “Reapered” Han-gyu mentioned that as players age and play the game as “work”, they tend to become less passionate about the game. “As players grow, they get to experience more interesting things, and gaming starts to feel like work. When that happens, they can’t put in the passion they hand when they started into the game.” A fine point from the mastermind coach. A former LCS player said something similar. “Some players just lose interest and don’t play or practice as hard as before. Rather than their age, they feel that the games aren’t as fun. That was the case for me. Playing games wasn’t fun at the end of my career.”
Golden Guardians veteran support Kim “Olleh” Joo-sung agreed about the motivation, saying that the players have to enjoy the game first. “Since practicing gaming isn’t as physical as in traditional sports, there’s no limit to the practice time — it’s just about how much they’re enjoying the game. Some people can practice 20 hours straight, but some can’t even play for four hours.”
The main point these focused on was that the players lose interest in the game as they grow, and asserted this is the truth behind the aging curve in esports. Although it may not be the ultimate truth for all players, it sounded reasonable. Reapered added to his thoughts and spoke of how naturally motivated the younger players are. “Taking young players nowadays for example, they have to start from the rookie league or as a trainee in a team. There, they have to work hard to be spotted and promoted to the academy or the Challengers league. After that, they have to work harder to get on the starting roster of the main league,” he said.
All that effort piles up to the point where they can play in the top league. The next motivation is to become a star player, or win Worlds, and so on. Reapered pointed out that those who can use their passion as fuel for their motivation towards these goals can reach those goals, but those who can’t will eventually lose interest as there are many temptations after becoming a well-known player being paid lots of money.
“When prospects become star players, they are revealed to temptations lurking here and there. The salary, the parties, countless DMs from female fans, etc. When they try out those things, they’re also fun. The point is about how well they can endure those temptations and keep their passion for the game, or at least keep the balance to maintain their performance.”
Veteran top laner Jeong “Impact” Eon-young also said something similar back when he joined Evil Geniuses. “There aren’t enough fun things in life to retire yet,” said Impact, which was the essence of what Reapered said. “If I were to get married and have kids, things could change… If I had something in my life that I have to concentrate on more than playing — I’ll retire if I can’t completely concentrate on LoL.”
There still are plenty of old boys who are active and doing well in the scene. Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok and Kim “Deft” Hyuk-kyu are still some of the best players around the world. Zaqueri “aphromoo” Black will turn 30 in September. Besides the active players, Kang “Ambition” Chan-yong won Worlds when he was 26. So what does age matter? Close to none — it’s just about how much passion the players have.
Reapered gave some last comments on the matter. “The good players are simply good. Those who are my age that are retired still reach Grand Master and Challenger and do well. It’s just about how well or efficiently they spend their time around gaming and practcing. In my opinion, the key point is passion, time management, and mindset.”