The NCAA runs ads that talk about the hundreds of thousands of students involved in college athletics, "and most of them will be going pro in something other than sports."
Well, you can debate whether running these ads during the Final Four of the March Madness men's basketball playoffs is unintentionally hilarious or not, but I thought of this tagline when I saw an article on some non-NCAA competitors who had chosen to go pro as video-game players. (Source: NY Times.)
Alas, unlike those NCAA "student" ath-a-letes who will be going pro in the NBA or the NFL, most of the opportunities for professional gamers are drying up.
One fellow referenced in The Times article is the world champion "Dead or Alive 4" player. He was one of a hundred professional players who had been paid a base salary plus tournament winnings by Championship Gaming Series, a league sponsored by News Corporation and DirectTV.
Alas, the Series was shut down a few months ago.
Like so much else these days, it was a victim of the recession.
Now Emmanuel Rodriguez, who chose to focus on Xbox-ing rather than go to college post-high school, is back to working at Sam's Club. There, I suppose, he can keep his skills up with the demo versions of Xbox on the floor - when he's not stocking, greeting, complaint taking, cashiering, or whatever else that ol' Sam has got him doing. (Actually, there are probably a lot of kids with college degrees who are looking for jobs at Sam's, so maybe Rodriguez wasn't being so impractical when he started pursuing a career in the video game pros. On the other hand, it's one thing for Lebron James to decide to go pro after high school - that's sure worked out okay, hasn't it - quite another thing to go pro in a sport that's wildly popular, and still pretty much wildly amateur.)
For Rodriguez, the loss is tremendous:
“Going into this, I busted my heart out,” Rodriguez said recently. “It felt like I put in all this energy to build something big. I felt like everything I built up was gone.”
Fortunately for Rodriguez, he's just 23, so he has plenty of time to put all that energy into building something else that's big. (Techie yenta that I am, I'm channeling him to get some technical credentials and go and build, or QA, or market Xbox games.)
I don't do video games. I didn't do my era's version - the pinball game - either. (I will note that, at arcades, us older folks do tend to gravitate to the pre-point inflation mechanical games, while the youngsters head for the latest electronic ones.) But I'm no stranger to the enormously absorbing, some may say time-wasting, potential of computer games. Many the happy, near catatonic hours I've spent with Freecell, Tetris, WordZap, and TaiPei. It's great: since none of these games require particular concentration - other than WordZap when you're on a winning streak: it can get pretty fast after you've won 40 or 50 games in a row - you can think about other things, and it sort of looks like you're working. I never played games at work, so it really doesn't matter to anyone whether I'm trying to remember whether "yuk" is an allowed word in WordZap, rather than working on the big report for Mr. Big. These days, I'm on my own clock. I did have a boss once who would sit there playing Tetris while she was talking to us. She'd say something like, "Just let me check this for a moment," but we could see the floating Tetris shapes reflected in her glasses.
So, while I do think that professional video game playing is somewhat peculiar, I am not one to make out-and-out fun of it, either.
The good news for those aiming to go pro in this field is that there remains at least "one significant competitive circuit in North America, Major League Gaming."
“We have driven everybody else out of the business,” Matthew Bromberg, the league’s president and chief executive, said in a recent interview at his office in Manhattan. “The history of league sports begins with one league.”
Anyway, I'd have to give some thought to Bromberg's statement that "the history of league sports begins with one league." It seems to me that before and after baseball's National League emerged, there were a ton of duffer little leagues around the country. And both the NBA and the NFL are examples of one dominant professional league absorbing the less dominant, upstart ABA and AFL.
But it's pretty interesting that Bromberg's business has raised over $40M in venture, and several of the players in his league make over six figures, between salaries and endorsements.
I'm not quite up on any video game nuances - the only video games I've heard of are "Grand Theft Auto" and "Guitar Hero"(which, now that I think of it, may not really be a game). But there are apparently two types: console games (like the Xbox ones Emmanuel Rodriguez excelled at) and personal computer games (like TaiPei?). Major League Gaming's big game is "Halo 3" - "a first-person shooting game" (whatever that means).
Maybe if he can switch from console to PC, Emmanuel Rodriguez can try out for the MLG.
“I still believe in gaming,” he said. “I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I just gave it up.”
Given how ephemeral most jobs (and careers, even) can be these days, why not?