An 8-bit Conversation: The rise of professional competitive gaming

Sixty minutes is all it took. In one hour, Riot Games sold out the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Fans from all over the country purchased their tickets to watch the grand finale of the “League of Legends” Season 3 World Championship.

“League of Legends” is a PC-based video game where two teams of five compete for resources with the ultimate goal of capturing the other team’s base. “League of Legends” is currently one of the most popular online video games, and it also has a vibrant competitive scene.

Along with the crowd of rabid fans packed into the Staples Center, more than a million fans watched the event at home over the Internet.

The crowd watched as SK Telecom 1 from Korea defeated the Royal Club from China for a total prize of $1 million.

Your mother was wrong — it is possible to make money playing video games. E-sports, as they are being called, have grown in popularity in the last few years. Whether it’s “League of Legends,” “Starcraft II” or any other heavily played online multi-player video game, people aren’t only playing anymore; they’re watching.

The Christmas morning when Santa Claus brought me that shiny new 8-bit Nintendo, I never dreamed there would be such a thing as the term “professional” gamer. That’s got to be an awkward date conversation:

“So, what do you for a living?”

“I play video games.”

“No, really, what to do you do?”

“No, really, I play video games.”

Maybe with the rise in e-sports, it’s not so awkward anymore. Gamer Sean Plott, better known in the gaming community as “Day9,” has built his personal commercial empire off it. Players like SK Telecom 1’s Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok have gained mini-celebrity status because they’re skilled with a mouse and keyboard. Don’t believe me? Google “faker” and see what the top hits are.

Twitch is one of the major reasons that video games are now becoming a spectator event as well. Twitch allows gamers to stream their games live over the Web for the world to see.

Twitch spun off from Justin TV as Seaport Place for its gaming content, becoming its own website in 2011. Companies like Major League Gaming, which stages professional gaming tournaments, have used Twitch to further their brand. Twitch has a mobile app allowing fans to watch their favorite gamers anywhere, any time.

In July 2011, Twitch opened a partner program allowing popular streamers to share in the advertising revenue they create. While it is hard to say just how much they make, the top streamers can average 2,500-3,000 concurrent viewers. When I was 10, my friends used to sit and watch me play video games. Why didn’t I think of selling ads? Twitch, where were you in 1992?

Later this month, Microsoft will release its Xbox One video game console and Sony will release its counterpart, PlayStation 4. Both of these consoles will have a built-in ability to stream, allowing for even the biggest technological newbie to put his or her video game experience on the Internet.

Now, before all the geeks in their parents’ basements start calling their stockbrokers (all right, you got me, they don’t have stockbrokers, but you know what I mean), while competitive gaming is certainly on the rise and it wouldn’t surprise me to someday see these broadcasts move to television as they already have in Korea and Singapore, as in other competitive endeavors, only the best of the best get paid, so your mom was probably right all along. You’re not going to make money playing video games. If I entered those tournaments, I’d be eliminated faster than it took them to sell out the Staples Center. One thing is for sure: The popularity of e-sports isn’t going away any time soon.