“You can’t make a living by playing video games.”
While many grew up hearing this admonishment as a means to motivate to do chores, studying or some otherwise seemingly “productive” behavior — society now offers a number of ways one can earn a living with their gaming habits.
In addition to media outlets that have sprung up, such as Twitch, a live-streaming video platform owned by Amazon, there are eSports teams being formed, much in the nascent way that professional sports teams did about 100 years ago.
And now there’s even a camp to train Santa Claritans eager to get in the game, so to speak, to quote the mantra of video game industry leader EA Sports.
In fact, the gaming world has come a long way from “The Wizard,” the 1989 Fred Savage-Christian Slater movie in which gamers from all over the country converged in Universal Studios Hollywood for Video Armageddon, a fictional annual, national video game tournament that awarded $50,000 to the top prize.
In the first week of July, for example, Glowhouse Gaming & Studios hosted the first session of a six-week esports summer training camp, which was also the first of its kind in the Santa Clarita Valley.
Esports, or professional competitive video games, have recently taken the world by storm, and steadily becoming a mainstream part of popular culture. Usually organized around tournaments or leagues, gamers all around the world go head to head in games like “Overwatch,” “Fortnite,” “Call of Duty” and “Mortal Kombat” to prove their dominance and take home up to millions of dollars in prize money. In perhaps the latest sign of the time, in January, Wired.com reported that 200 colleges across the United States are offering $15 million annually in esports scholarships.
Another popular new profession is that of the streamer. Host personalities will either live-stream or upload recorded footage of themselves playing a popular video game and add their own commentary, usually on internet platforms like Twitch or Youtube. The most popular streamers, like 27-year-old Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, can make as much as $658,000 per month from streaming.
Glowhouse Gaming owner Shandrell Lynch said that the idea for the camp came to her after her daughter, who is an avid gamer, introduced her to the concept of esports.
“My daughter was always holed up in her room, and I would always tell her to come down and spend some family time, but she would always say, ‘Mom you can actually get college scholarships for video games and esports, you should look it up,”’ Lynch said. “I had never heard of competitive video gaming, but I researched it and thought it was pretty cool. So instead of being negative, I wanted to find a way to nurture that. For this generation, competitive video games are a normal thing and a viable option.”
Glowhouse Gaming’s esports summer course, which is geared towards children age eight to 16, sought to teach its students the basics of how to establish themselves in the burgeoning esports industry. Each week focuses on a different video game including “Fortnite,” “FIFA,” “Mortal Kombat,” “Super Smash Bros.” and a week dedicated to virtual reality gaming. Besides just playing the games, the children were taught skills like Photoshop, video and sound editing and how to give commentary.
“The content was hard to put together because there’s so much out there, and the kids already know so much — so I tried to balance finding what material was worth listening to with the things videos they wanted to learn from,” said Michael Ruiz, youth program coordinator and teacher for the camp. “I know there’s a lot of toxicity surrounding the gaming community and bad things attached to it, but my hope for this class is to bring out a positive side. We’re all here because we love gaming and we want to be better.”
Ruiz said that he was surprised by how enthusiastic the students were to learn about the more technical aspects of streaming, like how to edit music for a highlight reel. The camp’s participants sometimes would rather continue working and learning more advanced topics than play the games, he added.
Lynch said the selection of games was based on popularity among the target age range for players, plus the presence of an established competitive league or circuit around a game. Among the games, the Nintendo fighting game “Super Smash Bros.” is the most popular.
Initially, Lynch said many parents thought that the camp was supposed to teach children how to design and code a video game, but it was encouraging to see that the parents were interested in supporting their children’s interests. Despite the backing of big name sponsors like Coca-Cola, HP and ESPN, as well as buy-in from traditional athletes and celebrities like Michael Jordan, Drake, Scooter Braun and Steph Curry, esports is still often looked down upon by some traditional sports fans.
Ruiz noted that all of the world’s most popular sports, such as basketball, baseball and soccer — which have all since spawned hugely popular video game simulations — all started out as hobbies before the athletes started to garner widespread fame, appeal and professional status.
“I don’t know much about esports outside of it being competitive gaming and that there are scholarships for it, but I’m happy to support my son’s interest in it,” said Suzanne Westbrook, who, after seeing how much her son enjoyed the camp, signed him up for additional sessions. “My son plays games online with his friends, but I thought gaming in a new environment with other kids would be a good introduction to esports.”
Mandy and Heath Hanchett signed up their sons Justin and Brody, and even though Mandy said she doesn’t necessarily like her sons staring at screens all day, she recognizes that it is a new frontier with potential to make money and develop skills.
“I absolutely think esports counts as a sport, because just like any other sport it requires specific skills, and I personally would have zero of the abilities required to play any of these games,” Mandy said.
As the first of its kind, the summer camp is Lynch’s proof of concept and based on how well it succeeds would like to try to establish spring and winter break camps, as well as an after-school program with an expanded curriculum. Looking even further ahead, Lynch envisioned the Santa Clarita Valley as an esports hub, with its own competitive league.
“The fighting-game and sports-game communities are really strong here,” she said. “I think esports really has a strong future in Santa Clarita.”
Glowhouse Gaming & Studios is located at 25061 Avenue Stanford, no. 40, Santa Clarita. To learn more, visit glowhousegaming.com.