Esports is often portrayed as a professional industry that has been built on passion, perseverance and hard work. That narrative is further fed by the fact that many employees within the scene are themselves eager fans of competitive gaming, who have the rare opportunity to work in an industry they love.
Yet thanks to esports’ notorious hustle culture and people’s passion for the subject, many within the scene work gruelling hours and maintain highly irregular workdays.
However, as esports continues to professionalise, the tightrope balance between work and pleasure has started to become more unstable. While it’s great that many in esports get to work in an industry they cherish, at the end of the day — it’s still a job.
Player wellness initiatives have started to be implemented across esports. Some of the biggest organisations in the world are now putting an emphasis on making sure that their professional players are treated well, both mentally and physically.
However, by comparison, the topic of staff wellness and work-life balance is rarely talked about. Aiming to disrupt that, earlier this year esports communications consultancy The Story Mob announced a bold new initiative to improve work culture that shocked many in esports: a four-day work week.
According to Anna Rozwandowicz, The Story Mob’s Founder and Co-CEO, the COVID-19 pandemic spurred a reevaluation of the status quo at the company.
“After having spent the last two and a half years mostly inside and forced to rethink how we approach work, we wanted to educate ourselves on the best way to combine the ‘new normal’, our demanding jobs in a fast-paced and ever-growing industry, [and] achieving our personal goals and ambitions,” Rozwandowicz said.
Looking into the topic of work culture in November 2021, Rozwandowicz was astonished by the idea of ‘wasted time’ during work days. She listed such things as time spent getting into and out of focus, not automating certain tasks and inefficient time management.
After looking through her own schedule, she realised she could cut a few hours in her Thursday afternoons. “That was an eye-opener,” she said.
From there, she decided to put the rather drastic, bold and innovative step toward trialling a company-wide, four-day work week into motion.
Stabilising the work-life balance
The idea that you can lose a work day, yet somehow be more productive, does sound a little confusing. Surely fewer hours in the week to work means less gets done? The Story Mob aren’t naive to the implications of cutting work hours. Rather, a defining factor in its decision to enter the trial was to add more ‘life’ into employees’ work-life balance.
Rozwandowicz explained: “Our assumption is that an extra day of rest from work will result in fresher minds, more energy and renewed approaches to creative thinking and problem solving during the four days they spend working.
“We also wanted to spend more time on the work that actually matters, versus doing work for the sake of doing work or because ‘it’s always been that way’.”
The effectiveness of a four-day work week is still relatively unknown. Some industries, particularly tech, have begun to adopt the move, though The Story Mob is the first within esports to publicly take the plunge. The company is a full-service, international communications consultancy, which naturally raises questions as to how the agency will handle many different clients across many different time zones.
“Sharing accounts between teams on different time zones is actually very helpful when working a four-day week,” she explained. “Clients get 24/7 coverage with little ‘dark’ time between the two offices starting/finishing work, while many projects are rolling from NA to EU and EU to NA daily, effectively cutting our delivery time in half.”
According to Rozwandowicz, the switch took six months to research and two months of preparation for the team. This included various exercises everyone had to complete and the creation of sample scenarios for all the different types of situations an agency could find itself in.
“We came up with over 50 reasons why the trial could fail, and brainstormed ways to mitigate the potential failure,” Rozwandowicz explained.
Some of the potential scenarios she detailed included the increased pressure that planning and prioritising tasks can put on everyone. In response, The Story Mob designed a new onboarding programme for every new staff member, putting an emphasis on making sure everyone had tools, skills and behaviours before opting in for the trial. Moreover, extra team activities were budgeted to compensate for the loss of ‘water cooler talk’ that comes with having less time to socialise at work.
“I overthought everything I could think of and documented the outcomes of it transparently for everyone at the agency,” Rozwandowicz said.
Given the novelty of a four-day work week, Rozwandowicz said the agency will also dedicate some time in the coming months to talking about its journey with more esports businesses.
An industry built through passion
Ultimately, the reason for this change is to adapt work cultures within the esports sector — an industry that has been built on oftentimes unhealthy habits.
“Esports has always been an industry driven by passion — so many great companies in our industry are built on long days, even longer nights, insane travel schedules and mental and physical efforts that go into accomplishing anything that matters,” said Rozwandowicz. “But I also think that there are still cases where the industry wears overtime and exhaustion like a badge of honour.”
Rozwandowicz was abundantly clear that she isn’t discrediting passion and love for the scene. In fact, it’s the opposite — she’s an avid fan of esports, which helps drive her work.
However, it’s on employers to not take advantage of people who view esports as a dream job and would be willing to do anything to achieve that goal. “People at the start of their careers need help learning about the best ways to get certain things accomplished,” she continued.
“I believe in personal responsibility and it’s something I look for in candidates and employees — ‘extreme ownership’ is one of our core values — but I also fully assume the responsibility for creating a work environment where work pressure is manageable, [where] we set healthy boundaries and Mobsters feel supported and celebrated.”
Esports’ growing professionalism will likely result in more structures that emphasise workforce well-being, as highlighted by the growing focus on player well-being.
Nevertheless, the high intensity and high-stakes nature of esports will make it difficult to completely eradicate long hours and intense weeks of preparations. As such, it’s important to provide a balance, Rozwandowicz detailed.
“This can be countered with things that help balance the scale: extra and true rest and recovery time, access to places and resources that help people to zoom out and see the bigger picture, and above all, understanding and support from leadership teams.”
Developing an esports working culture
The Story Mob’s work culture shift is not just stopping at four-day work weeks, either. In particular, the agency’s Co-CEO highlighted career progression as a key discussion point. “From day one at the Mob, we’re looking ahead at everyone’s progression paths — nobody wants to be a coordinator or a junior executive forever so we try to map out Mobsters’ career progression as early on as we can.”
As such, Story Mob is looking at implementing more external training to help staff progress. The agency is in discussions with the UK’s branch of PRCA (Public Relations and Communications Association) to progress this mission.
Whilst it’s far too early to tell whether four-day work weeks will become the norm across the esports industry, Rozwandowicz is leaning towards implementing the four-day work week policy permanently in the company “for those who want to opt-in”.
While it’s far too early to tell whether it’ll become a norm in esports, the days of having to work six-day weeks for 14 hours could become a thing of the past as companies like The Story Mob make trailblazing attempts to reform company culture.
“The way we work has changed forever,” Rozwandowicz concluded. “It’s time to embrace it!”
Supported by The Story Mob