Dennis “Thresh” Fong won a “Quake” tournament in 1997, taking home John Carmack’s Ferrari 328 as a prize. He was 20.
So, this “pro gamer” thing has been around for a while (I mean, there were actually print magazines covering P.C. gaming. Each month, I would pick up Computer Gaming World, PC Gamer, PC Games, PC Gaming, PC Accelerator and one or two others I’ve forgotten. The only survivor in print form is PC Gamer).
(“Quake” was a first-person shooter popular back in the 1990’s. I think it’s up to Quake 7 right now, although they dropped the numbers after Quake 4 and the most recent release was “Quake Champions”. John Carmack essentially helped create the 3D first-person shooter.)
Thresh was earning about $100,000 a year through gaming (and endorsements) until he retired from gaming and co-founded an instant-messaging and social networking site for gamers which was eventually sold to Viacom for $102 million.
To quote the Joker in “Batman Begins”: If you;re good at something, never do it for free.
Any misgivings or concerns about professional P.C. gaming (and console gaming) have long since been swept away by a flood of cash. I was one of those folks, and not just because I wasn’t good at first-person shooters, even back then. My gaming tastes are just too varied to want to spend the time required to reach elite status on just one game.
And I don’t really consider memorizing level layouts, keyboard combos, loot location and other tricks required to succeed at the professional gaming level to be fun. I once watched a “Starcraft” (real-time strategy game) match between professional players in Korea. They were issuing a ludicrous amount of commands each minute, their mouse hand practically a blur. How can anyone enjoy the game playing that way? It just seems like an intensive efficiency exercise.
(Then there are the players who earn their livelihoods as streamers on Twitch. Gotta give them credit ... that’s, like, brilliant.)
Easy answer, of course: they aren’t playing for enjoyment. They’re playing to win, and earn money. They’re part of pro teams, in pro leagues, playing in pro tournaments. And like any pro teams, if you’re skill level isn’t up to it, the team will find another player. Winning has an enjoyment all its own.
(Well, maybe the Fortnite people. I watched my nephews play, and they mainly seemed to just airdrop onto an island and then run around knocking stuff over and occasionally shooting at someone or being shot. I’m thinking the players who compete for $3 million prizes don’t play under such casual conditions.)
So professional videogaming isn’t a bad thing, although I still draw the line at calling them “cyberathletes.” You’re not athletes, people; you’re gamers. You don’t play a sport, you play a game.
And, while I acknowledge the existence of a legit sport called “golf,” many pro gamers I’ve seen aren’t exactly in any kind of “athletic” physical condition. And, no, just calling them “ESports” doesn’t change anything, nor does being featured on ESPN (Entertainment and Sports Programming Network).
Yup, no problem with professional gaming and players earning huge sums of money. But now there’s this gambling thing ...
(Yes, readers, 18 inches into the column and we’ve finally reached the real subject. I think that’s a personal record.)
Betting on the outcome of videogame matches has been around for a while. Now, however, players can gamble on themselves.
(To win, I assume. I guess there’s a way to keep players from betting on their opponents? Seems that would be a problem.)
An app called Play One Up was launched on the Apple store earlier this year. And yes, I realize I may have just helped people find it who were previously unaware of its existence (players must be at least 17 to download the app).
It connects players on the Xbox One and the Playstation 4 in online matches of “Madden Football,” “NBA2K” and “FIFA.”
According to a recent article in USA Today, spending on Esports is expected to rise from $221.6 million in 2018 to $516 million in 2023 (data from PricewaterhouseCooopers). New England patriots owner Robert Kraft owns a team in the Overwatch League; the owner of the New York Mets owns a Call of Duty World league franchise (which reportedly sell for $25 million).
Of course gambling interests were going to get involved.
The smart approach by Play One Up and another app, Skillz, is they’re not looking for the hardcore professional gamer. They’re aiming for the casual gamer, the one’s who don’t have the time, dedication and inclination to play on the pro circuit, but do play games. But — hey! You mean i can still earn money playing games?
Another company is producing video game gambling machines — play, for example, “Soul Calibur” on an arcade machine. But if you win, you get money.
These games are planned for casinos. Slot machines for the younger generation.
Play One Up reports (per USA Today) players have wagered about $1 million over the last six months.
Reportedly, young people weren’t gambling on slot machines and table games in traditional casinos. Now they’re just playing a video game, right? And if they’re really good, they can win money. Where’s the downside?
The “House” always wins. Casinos and other companies that sponsor gambling don’t stay in business by paying out a lot of winning.
Maybe I’m just too “old school.” Maybe I’m just a geek who never grew up and now sees the purity of gaming tainted by money. Pro leagues, pro teams, they were all inevitable — there were arcade tournaments back in the 1980’s. It’s the nature of gamers: we’re competitive. There are wold championship tournaments for “Monopoly”, after all.
It’s in our DNA: who’s the best? Let’s find out! And make it worth their while for the best to show up and compete. Meantime, for those of us who didn’t get this far, let’s make a little side wager as to who’s going to win.
Earning money through winning professional tournaments = good. Sitting at home and potentially losing more and more money as you bet on yourself to win an online game = well, not quite the apocalypse. But there’s a bad moon rising.