At 16, my dream was to be a pro-level Counter-Strike player. I spent hours practicing, scrimming with my team, and making highlight reels to "Let the Bodies Hit the Floor" with a pirated version of Sony Vegas Pro. I wasn’t that good, but it didn’t matter--I was inspired by the likes of Jonathan "Fatal1ty" Wendel, one of the world's first and most-skilled pro players, a guy who had won thousands of dollars in tournament winnings. Well, when I say “the likes of” I mean pretty much just him, because in 2001 he was approximately 89 percent of the competitive gaming scene.
"You can't make a living playing games," my dad would say. “Go outside and find something to do,” my mom would add. I ignored their pleas and sat in front of my PC for hours on end, determined to prove them wrong. But they were right. I couldn't. Even if I was good I couldn’t. Had I actually become a competitive CS player, my livelihood would've depended solely on tournament prizes--meaning I’d need to keep my job cooking (occasionally rotten) chicken at KFC. My dreams were pretty much impossible to achieve.
Well, they were. Now? Log into Twitch.tv or YouTube and you'll find personalities of all ages creating video content about games and generating income from ad revenue. Real money for playing games and communicating your knowledge/personality/skill to an audience. Granted, there's a hell of a lot more to the process than JUST playing games--building a big enough community to do so requires charisma and a sizable time investment--but the fact that anyone can make a few bucks playing games or talking about them, regardless of skill level, is an exciting option that simply didn't exist 10 years ago.
I would've loved to pay for my gas by streaming Mephisto runs after school. Instead, I did so by washing out bins full of chicken blood. Being able to afford a new mouse by doing a Let’s Play of Max Payne? That would have been killer. But back then, the only way an audience would find my sick-nasty sniper montage (the guy in Drowning Pool screamed "FLOOOOOOOOOOR" right as I nailed a sick AWP shot from across the map in de_dust2) was through a FilePlanet link. There was no YouTube, and the closest thing to livestreaming consisted of inviting my friend Nate over to watch me play.
And that's to say nothing of the eSports scene. It's growing at a ridiculous rate, thanks to the rising popularity of competitive games like StarCraft II, League of Legends, and Dota 2. Teenagers are winning a million bucks or more in prize money. Online viewership ratings for international tournaments number in the tens of millions--that's a tenth of the audience that tuned in for 2013's Super Bowl. Pretty mind blowing considering streaming really only kicked off in earnest a couple of years ago.
In fact, eSports has gotten so big and impossible to ignore that the United States now issues visas to international players, recognizing them as athletes and allowing them to reside within the U.S. if they're recruited by an American team. In the eyes of the law, StarCraft II tournaments are just as legit as NBA games. And let's not forget: many pro gamers earn a respectable yearly income; some have breached the six-figure mark between the money they earn from livestreaming revenue, tourney pools, sponsorships, and team salaries.
I mean, that's exciting, right? That your love of playing games can be translated into dollars? I’m way too damn young to be playing the “back in my day” card, but, Christ--back in my day (I'm referencing 16-year-old-me, who was busy breading raw meat with the Colonel's Original recipe and no I can't tell you the secret because I signed a waiver just kidding it's salt) these opportunities didn't exist.
The concept of making money by playing video games is, really, still in its infancy. It was only in the past few years that we've seen popular figureheads like TotalBiscuit and The Angry Video Game Nerd cultivate a massive audience (and to their credit, they and their peers have worked crazy hard to earn those audiences), or eSports tournaments generate more than a million Nates watching at the same exact time. And what's most exciting to me is that the phrase "you can't make a living playing video games" has transformed from fact into a flat-out lie.
Now, if only I could find my old CS videos...
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