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Freelancing in the Pandemic. It’s a Dog-Eat-Dog World.

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In a world where the Covid-19 pandemic continues to rage on almost two years after it first disrupted the world, it is an understatement to say that livelihoods are being affected. 

And few communities feel the financial effects of the pandemic more than the freelancer community. In Singapore, it was estimated that freelancers in the creative sector lost more than $20 million in revenue during the height of the pandemic. In Australia, the number is almost 10 times more, at almost $200 million. 

Some may point out that while many physical events have been forced to be cancelled, esports events are still going on due to the nature of the event – events are being streamed online anyway and people are used to watching it online.

But people forget that when tournament organisers (TOs) resort to doing their events solely online, it means that people like freelance events personnel, stage crew are declared obsolete. 

Lesser physical or LAN events taking place also translates to lesser revenue opportunities for TOs. And while many events do happen online, the number of online events have also shrunk.

“Lack of major LAN events hurt smaller TOs if the event is small scale but if it’s an international Tier 1 it still goes on either LAN or remotely,” said Daryl “Hungrycasts” Lim, a caster currently under the employ of talent agency Loudmouths.

Jobs are now few and far between as freelancers compete in a much harsher dog-eat-dog world. Game genre/title be damned, freelancers are left resorting to hunt for gigs wherever they can to survive. 

Said Tan KianChew, one of Singapore’s best freelance game observers: “There are just lesser opportunities. The jobs haven’t changed, it’s the office/studio space that’s hard to accommodate. Some months the jobs can be far and few between. Other months it’s packed and you have to make choices like which gigs to take.” 

Competition for jobs is sometimes so keen that freelancers have to resort to undercutting others’ rates in order to land the job and get some income. This age-old practice has since been exacerbated by the pandemic’s constricting restrictions. But is it ethical?

“Undercutting is very common, there are TOs that shop around for rates first and compromise on synergy and overall show quality too,” said Daryl. 

“I think esports has always been about everyone working better to expand the pie, so transparency and not trying to min-max out other people is the way forward. As a caster, I’m inclined to give better rates too if I know a production house is transparent about their budget and is working to find a middle ground.”

In contrast, caster Justin “0Eris0” Koh feels that undercutting is par for the course. 

“Whilst I would wish that every shoutcaster gets what they deserve in terms of rates, there will always be fierce competition due to saturation in terms of supply across the SEA region,” he said. “This will definitely result in certain parties undercutting one another. Think about it, at the end of the day who doesn’t want to get paid more for the work that they’re doing? As the saying goes ‘Don’t hate the player, hate the game’.”

The fierce competition has in fact taken its toll on freelancers, especially in terms of mental health. 

Said a contributor who wanted to be anonymous: “Unlike full-time jobs, freelancing can sometimes feel like a 24/7 job. You can be working on a gig and still have a voice on the back of your head thinking of ways to land the next one. It’s extremely stressful, especially when you’re idle. You’ll keep thinking you’re supposed to be out looking for more jobs to sustain yourself and the family.”

It would seem though, that fortune favours the prepared. 

Justin told Ulti.Asia, “For a handful of shoutcasters who do not have the proper equipment (mic, mixer, e.g.) at home, they might find it challenging to land gigs if the employer requires them to cast from home. For me personally, I wasn’t that affected during the pandemic as I had the equipment already set up. Whilst the pandemic hasn’t been kind to everyone, esports related or not, I have been fortunate enough to be in the position where I’ve not been affected negatively by it.” 

For those finding ways to kill time during the lull period, Kianchew has some words of advice.   

“Build up rapport with the orgs and others in the industry,” he said. “Network, network, network. It’s the best way to get your foot in the door.”

We wish all freelancers well as they keep up the hustle. Here’s to the resumption of LAN events soon. Like everyone, we can’t wait!

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