You probably have at least one in your family. A young man (or more rarely, young woman) who plays video games all day long. Some of them even have a hope that they’ll be able to make a living off of it eventually. That dream may not be too far from a reality.
Video games are quickly becoming an organized sport, as young people with no interest in traditional sports invest more time and money into playing, and even watching, video games. It used to be that the only way to make a living as a gamer was to be one of the very top players who could win purses at tournaments or get signed up for video game testing. That was back when most people just played video games. If you think about it, it’s similar to the situation with traditional organized sports: there’s money in it only because people want to watch it and support their favorite team, whether they play the game or not.
But who wants to watch video games? Apparently a lot of people. It’s the YouTube wrinkle that has created the avenue for even average gamers to make a living:
The chance to earn money, let alone a living, by playing video games was an adolescent fantasy until YouTube launched its Partner Program in 2007. It allows eligible YouTube users to make money through Google AdSense, which runs targeted commercials alongside user-generated video. Users who join the partner program get 55 percent of advertising revenues—the amount determined by the type of ad, its price, and how often the video is viewed—while YouTube keeps the remaining 45 percent. A few hundred views per month hardly generates pocket change; tens of thousands might pay the rent.
So gamers post videos of themselves playing video games, usually with commentary, and millions of people watch these videos. And this viewing is not just limited to online streaming. Some gaming events are attracting large crowds as well. Just take the most recent North American Championship for the game “League of Legends,” held at Madison Square Garden:
The League of Legends North American Championship sold out within minutes. The event was a mixture of pro-wrestling spectacle and Comic Con cosplay: fog machines and high-velocity rock music, dramatic announcers and campy player nicknames. Fans dressed up as their favorite characters.
. . .
“The top pro earners are making close to a million dollars,” Dustin Beck of Riot Games told CBS News. He said last year’s League of Legends championship had almost double the average audience as the World Series — 27 million viewers via YouTube and Amazon-owned TwitchTV, which streams video game play.
Believe me, I think it’s strange how popular and how organized video game fandom is becoming. But I guess watching someone point and click some pixel-based characters around a screen is not all that much less substantial, or more arbitrary, than watching grown men hitting each other repeatedly down the length of a field holding an inflated leather object. Games are games, apparently.
It is likely that video games will grow up alongside organized sports, but it could be that traditional sports are losing their appeal with younger audiences. It may be that some day soon, parents won’t think practicing video games is any less fruitless than working on your jump shot. Rather than looking at their stay-at-home son and thinking, “My kid’s a real bum,” perhaps they’ll be saying, “If you keep practicing, you might just make a living from that some day.” That “some day” might be rapidly approaching.