For the past six months, 24-year-old Natesha Amber, also known as Cherry, has been living her dream. As a professional video game coach, she's able to work whatever hours she likes and earn a steady income of $3,000 a month after taxes — all while playing her favorite game, "Apex Legends."
Amber's knack for racking up kills allows her to earn $15 an hour gaming from her home outside Toronto, Canada, as a contractor for LegionFarm, a San Francisco-based service which pairs players with pros who either help them get better or keep them company during gaming sessions. Her responsibilities range from assessing clients' mechanics and giving them tips to be better at the game to lending her skills to help them win battle after battle.
Amber first started playing video games as a child, and has been drawn to different kinds of games throughout her life.
"I started out on Nintendo and SEGA like a lot of people, playing 'Donkey Kong' and 'Sonic' and stuff," she tells CNBC Make It. Amber got her first desktop computer at 14 and quickly got hooked on "League of Legends," a popular online battle strategy game.
Around four years ago, Amber picked up her first first-person shooter (FPS) game, "Overwatch." Initially, she was terrible at it, she says. But she was determined to get better after dealing with harassment and insults from other players online, which often came just because she was a woman in gaming.
"At first it was a hobby, and then I became super competitive," she says. "Being a girl, there's always a lot of hate thrown around. I had a vision in my mind that I was going to show those guys that [women] are just as good."
Being a girl [in gaming], there's always a lot of hate thrown around. I had a vision in my mind that I was going to show those guys that [women] are just as good.Natesha Amber
Through hundreds of hours of grinding — video game parlance for performing repetitive tasks to level up or otherwise improve in games — Amber rose through the ranks. She also transitioned to "Apex Legends," her current favorite game and what she coaches.
"I started at the very bottom, I was a total noob," she says. "It's very impressive for someone to get that good at FPS games that quickly."
As she got better and better, a friend mentioned LegionFarm to her, and she was immediately intrigued. At the time, Amber was working as a live chat agent, and the possibility of playing video games for a living was appealing.
Despite the unusual nature of the job, the interview process for LegionFarm is similar to other, more traditional positions, Amber says. Her stats were reviewed and her skills and mechanics were tested in competition against established pros.
"Being under pressure when you're trying to play a game can be really scary," she says. "If you're all tensed up it can really throw you off."
Luckily, Amber performed well and soon joined LegionFarm as a coach. She started at the company's lowest coaching level, earning just $5 an hour, and over the course of the next few months worked her way up by putting in more than 300 hours.
LegionFarm's pros are ranked in three tiers: semi-pro, pro and VIP. Semi-pro coaches earn $5 per hour, while pro coaches earn $10 and VIPs earn $15. Coaches start out at the semi-pro level and are promoted based on how many hours they work and the reception they receive from clients. In addition to "Apex Legends," the service also offers coaches for "CoD: Warzone," "Destiny 2" and "World of Warcraft," among others.
The coaches are located all over the world, from the United States to Russia. Because they are contractors, they are not required to earn the U.S. minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.
"To be VIP, you have to have people coming back to you, people who love you and who always want to be doing a session with you," Amber, now a VIP coach herself, explains. "Not everyone comes to LegionFarm just for coaching, sometimes people just want someone to play with. People like playing with me because I'm fun and I have a really funny personality."
Amber doesn't keep a strict schedule, but lately has been working a minimum of 40 hours each week. She doesn't stick to typical 9 to 5 hours, either. She can work earlier or later, depending on when clients want to do sessions.
The job is similar to that of an Uber driver: She receives requests while she is online and can decide whether to accept or decline. While some clients may ask to play for an hour or two, on occasion Amber will participate in marathon, 8-hour sessions. Clients can also pre-book her time if they want to make sure they have Amber on their team.
Amber also does live streams on her Twitch channel and occasionally has viewers turn into clients. She receives an additional $30 bonus for each new customer she brings to Legionfarm.
She doesn't hide her gender on her profile, instead highlighting it with a tagline that reads, "Who says girls can't game?" Her clients, she says, typically come away impressed, despite the negative connotations women in gaming face. Though she doesn't think of herself as a "female gamer," she takes pride in crushing harmful stereotypes.
Amber hasn't thought too far ahead about where her career in video games will take her, but for now she's happy earning a living playing the game she loves.
"Four years ago, I never would've pictured something like this," she says of her job. "I feel free. If I ever wanted to travel, I could do this as long as there's a computer around."
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