“Son, what do you want to be when you grow up? An astronaut? A pilot?” “No dad, I want to be a professional gamer!” Yes, you heard that right: a professional gamer.
Text and photos by Brendan McDade
Being able to make a career out of gaming is no longer a fantasy. That is due to the emergence of e-sports, more commonly known as competitive (video)gaming tournaments. Recently, game developer Epic Games held a new gaming tournament, with more than 30 million dollars of prize money. People from all over the world competed to get their hands on the jackpot. It took a lot of years to get to this point in the gaming industry. But what has it done to the perspective of ‘the gamer’? Is he still seen as an anti-social being, living off energy drinks and Doritos? Or is he seen as a possible millionaire in the making?
Before the emergence of the internet in the 90’s, gaming was primarily a solo activity. Koen Schobbers, former professional gamer and current ambassador of the Dutch esports association, says that it was very difficult to find like-minded people as a gamer during that period in time. “Videogames were played alone in the attic. Gamers had no way of reaching out to people like themselves. They had no other option than to keep their passion to themselves”, says Koen. The general public got to make all kinds of assumptions about gamers, and a negative stigma arose.
But the rise of the internet turned out to be a positive development for gamers. “Gamers finally had the opportunity to talk to each other”, Koen explains. The Internet became a place where large numbers of gamers were able to express themselves. They began to create their own tournaments at bars or small arena’s, with friends and other people. And this eventually caught on with companies. “Companies became eager to benefit from this development, which eventually resulted in the commercialization of gaming”, says Koen.
The first few gaming tournaments hosted by companies, were often small scaled, with prizes like magazine prescriptions or one-game arcade machines. But these tournaments became bigger by the year. “The technique of games and game equipment improved rapidly. This in combination with the growth of social media, and the increasingly involvement of companies in the gaming industry, ensured the development to the level e-sports is at nowadays”, Koen explains.
And that level is immense. In 2018, esports brought in more than 215 million occasional viewers, this number is predicted to rise to over 300 million viewers by 2021.
A certain shift in public opinion towards gamers is noticeable. “The stigma towards gamers seems to slowly disappear. This is largely because of the societal impact of companies who invest in the gaming industry. “People are bound to companies they trust. If one of these companies enters the gaming market and thus starts posting about it on social media, it doesn’t go unseen by the general public”, says Koen.
But there’s still a long way to go in changing all negative stigmas toward gamers. “Gaming is still heavily connected with addiction, which is the cause of a lot of the negative stigma towards gamers. But game addictions can be the cause of a variety of factors, which can make it very complicated to combat at times”, Koen says. Professional gamers get access to psychologists and nutritionists to fight the ‘energy drink and Doritos life style’. But there’s still strides to be made for non-professionals: “Gaming is still a relatively new phenomenon, and we’re still figuring out how to deal with it”, Koen concludes.