A long time ago, I stopped calling myself a gamer. In fact, there was only a tiny sliver of time when I could do so at all with a straight face. When I was a kid, my mom kept me from console gaming entirely. Sure, I could play Atari, Nintendo, and ColecoVision at friends' houses. I don't want to go too far down memory lane, but I did play Mattel's Classic Football before it was "classic." But when I got home it was just me and the television. We didn't even get cable until I was 12 years old.
Back then, another way I could play video games was at the arcade in the Hampshire Mall. I managed to get my initials on a few final-scores lists, but the real test was to make my fistful of quarters last as long as possible. That usually meant avoiding the graphics-rich flight simulators. If you had a crew, you could make a few bucks last for a while playing Gauntlet, but not solo.
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No matter how good you were, every minute spent in an arcade cost money. I usually couldn't afford to play for more than 15 minutes or so. Of course, I could always watch other people play for free.
When I started in the technology business, I set out to make amends for my impoverished childhood. As an entry-level editor at Mobile Computing Magazine, I convinced id Software's PR agency that Doom II would be of great interest to our readers. I had to go to the agency's office to pick up five floppy disks with the game code. I promptly took it back to the office and installed it on our office LAN. We played every day at 5 p.m. (Um, sometimes earlier.)
The undisputed high point of my so-called gaming career was in November 2006, when the PlayStation 3 came out. I had the good fortune to be working at PC Magazine when there weren't a lot of gamers on staff. I talked Sony into giving me early access to the console and wrote one of the first reviews of the final product. I loved it. My bottom line read: "By combining a great gaming platform with a high-definition Blu-ray player and a host of other features, the Sony PlayStation 3 makes a welcome addition to any living room." That's right; I was super-impressed with the Blu-ray player.
After that, my gaming days went downhill. I got busy at work, got busy at home, and just didn't have the time to commit to video games. What kept me connected was watching my son play.
As a parent, I tried to limit his game time—but as a geek, I gave in pretty quickly. He would play Call of Duty or World of Warcraft for hours as I sat by and offered advice. I know that sounds annoying, but if it bothered him, he never hit Pause long enough to complain. So the second wave of my dubious gamer career was entirely as a spectator.
Now, of course, watching other people play games is totally acceptable and, it seems, tremendously appealing, if not entirely understood by older generations. And with a massive audience comes the opportunity for gamers to make money playing the games that used to cost me 25 cents a minute.
PCMag's Jeffrey L. Wilson never lost his gamer credentials. He's spent the last 20 years writing some of the best gaming reviews and commentaries on the web. In this month's cover story, he digs deep into the life and business of professional game players. One thing he discovered: Research firm Newzon estimates that the multi-million-dollar business known as eSports will generate $1.1 billion by 2019.
It isn't easy making a living as a gamer, but it's nice work if you can get it. And it sure beats dropping quarters in a slot.
Dive into the lucrative world of eSports, along with reviews, news, and how-tos, in the June issue of the PC Magazine Digital Edition, available now.