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Monday, October 8, 2007
Pro gaming: An FAQ

By Patrick Hruby
Page 2

Play video games for a living? I think I can do this.

Great. Start practicing.

Practice? We're talking about practice?

Yep. Three to four hours a day, 30-40 hours a week. Double that in the two weeks leading up to a major tournament.

Hmmm. I'm worried about my thumbs.

You should be. Pro gamer Dan "OGRE1" Ryan sometimes applies super glue to his fingertips to create artificial calluses, the better to prevent blisters. One of his former teammates used to soak his hands in ice water.

Yipes.

Don't forget neck aches, back pain, shoulder soreness, migraine headaches and, of course, carpal tunnel syndrome.

Big deal. I'll buy an ergonomic chair and take yoga. Anything else?

Whatever you do, do not break your hand playing basketball or smash your fingers in a car door.

Buh-bye, livelihood.

Livelihood. That's what I'm talking about! How much money does a pro gamer make?

Top prize for winning the 4-on-4 "Halo 2" (or, coming up, the just released Halo 3) bracket at an MLG tournament is $20,000, split four ways. The year-end national championship, this weekend in Las Vegas, is worth $100,000. The league also has about a dozen players under contract, with the biggest deals worth $250,000 over three years.

I don't play "Halo 2."

Reconsider. First prize for "Rainbow Six" and "Gears of War" is $6,000 and $5,000, respectively.

Hey, not bad.

Not bad, but not great. Claude Chaisson, a 29-year-old "Rainbow Six" player from Nova Scotia, estimates that he's made about $10,000 over the last three years playing in online and in-person tournaments. He also has a full-time job as a Web programmer.

I don't want to work. I want to win. Where do I sign up?

At MLG's Web site. For 4-on-4 "Halo 2" play, MLG tournaments host 208 teams -- 16 pro squads, 16 semipro squads, the rest is first-come, first-serve for amateur teams willing to pony up a $240 registration fee.

Oh, so it's like the World Series of Poker.

Same idea, though the pro and semipro slots are reserved. Also, make sure you're quick with the F5 button: Amateur slots for MLG's Dallas tournament sold out in 3 minutes; for Chicago, 15 seconds.

So where does the league's money come from?

Investors and sponsors. MLG's business model is based on NASCAR: Build a loyal fan base, then act as a (profitable) contact point between advertisers and fans.

How many fans can I expect to see?

A couple thousand in person, and many more through MLG's cable television show and video-heavy Web site.

When you say "fans," you mean "gamers," right?

Yes and no. Tournament attendees are largely on hand to compete, but they also watch and root for their favorite pros. They cheer, make signs, ask for autographs, do all the same stuff you'd see at a traditional sports event. Only they drink more Red Bull.

So, you're saying I could become famous?

At least as famous as an Internet sportswriter.

Listen to Eric Hammersmith, a childhood friend of pro gamer Dave "Walshy" Walsh:

"I've met a lot of people being part of Dave's entourage. I'll be sitting at the hotel bar, and as soon as I say I'm Walshy's friend -- boom, instant conversation. People tell me all kinds of things: that he paid cash for a house, that he paid cash for a yellow Ferrari. I tell them that he still drives the same damn Taurus since high school and lives with his mom."

Hold up. Entourage?

Uh-huh. And it's a good gig. During last season's NBA playoffs, Hammersmith received free tickets to a Cleveland Cavs-New Jersey Nets game, courtesy of Walsh by way of Nets forward Richard Jefferson, himself an avid Halo player. Hammersmith sat right next to Jefferson's family.

Speaking of pro hoops, what's up with Gilbert Arenas? He sponsors Walsh's Halo team?

Yep. The Washington Wizards guard plays Halo all the time. Says he wants to be the Mark Cuban of pro gaming.

Is Arenas any good?

For an NBA player, he's great; by the standards of pro gaming, not so much. Walsh and Co. have played with him a few times, and they've given Arenas a nickname: Agent Zero Kills.

I can do better. Suppose I make it as a pro. How long will it last?

No one knows. Most of the top MLG players aren't old enough to drink. League cofounder Mike Sepso, himself a gamer, doubts that anyone over the age of 30 has the visual acuity to remain competitive. Walsh, 23, sees himself competing for three more years, tops, in part because travel and practice is hard on his body.

What comes after that? I can't just open a car dealership or restaurant painted in pro team colors, can I?

Maybe not. But gaming is a billion-dollar industry, which means business opportunities abound. Pro gamer Tom "TSquared" Taylor founded a company that gives online gaming lessons. Walsh co-owns a gaming-themed clothing company, Kiaeneto, that sells more than 2,000 T-shirts a month. He drew inspiration from youth apparel-maker Hurley, which started with skateboarders and became mainstream.

One more thing: Gaming groupies don't actually exist, do they?

Pro games swear otherwise. Says Walsh: "It's weird. It's crazy. Attractive girls out there are interested in gaming for whatever reason. My girlfriend doesn't like it but can't do anything about it. She's in disbelief."

Patrick Hruby is a columnist for Page 2. Sound off to Patrick here.