On Atascocita Point Drive, one home has all the trimmings and trappings of typical American suburbia.
But inside, nine young cyber athletes from the US and beyond have converged in this Humble, Texas home. Here, they partake in a Spartan regimen of eat, sleep and play, fighting foes here and abroad for pride, glory and sweet, sweet cash.
== Professional Video Gamers: Lol Wat? ==
For you and me, video games could be a passion or a hobby. For Team Complexity, it's a way of life. Complexity Gaming COO and Houston native Jason "Anomoly" Bass has been in the electronic sports game for 12 years and knows what it takes to win.
"We provide a mechanism for them to focus on their gaming and not really have to worry about how they're going to get to the event or how they're going to pay for their food or rent, so they can just focus on their trade and focus on winning and trying to win that prize money," Bass said.
Yes, these kids play games, but player manager Scott "Popcorn1" Ford and the players know when it's time to get serious.
"Everything we do, we do together and it's a lot of fun. When it's work time, we work," Ford said.
And what is work time? Five days a week, these young men dedicate eight hours or more on their craft: playing video games on a level you can I could barely imagine.
Sugar Land native Joshua "TriMaster" Niven was a full time college student, pursuing an economics degree at the University of Houston. An avid "Starcraft II" player, Niven's skills earned him the attention of Complexity gaming.
When the chance came to jump onto the e-sports scene, Niven leaped.
"It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity kind of thing," he said. "It's something I really enjoyed and at the time when they picked me up, I thought I could go really far with it."
On a typical day, Niven will wake up around 8 or 9 a.m. to play on SCII's Korean server, testing himself against players across the sea. At 12 p.m., he and his teammates begin in-house practice until 4 p.m.
Practicing a game isn't just playing it. Complexity's SCII team rigorously goes over every match, analyzing mistakes and creating new strategies. The advantage of in-house practice means these guys can walk into a tournament with strategies their opponents have never seen.
== Getting Rich Playing Games ==
For their skill and dedication, sponsors spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on these kids, treating them like high-performance racing machines.
"The lion share of our revenue is actually more like a Nascar model," Bass said. "Our players are our cars, if you will, and we slap the logos of the companies that pay us to market for them."
There's big money to be had all around. All the players are on contract and salaried. Tournament prize pots can be worth hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars.
And they don't even have to win. One player earns six figures live streaming his games over the internet, drawing in 5,000 to 10,000 viewers at any given time.
"Streaming, like Twitch TV, has become a great revenue generator for these gamers because hundreds of thousands of people tune in to watch them play," Bass said. "Just like on TV, they run commercials and they get paid a percentage for every commercial run and every thousand people who watch it."
Why is there a demand to watch people play games? Bass called it a curiosity to discover a level of play beyond your own. David "MoonMeander" Tan, a recent arrival to the house from Canada, said it's all about the entertainment value.
"Playing a game, sitting there like a dead horse, yeah, sure your skill is good but people want more, and I give them that extra push," Tan said. "I show them I can be funny, entertain them, make jokes here and there, laugh, have fun."
== Playing to Live ==
Think you've got the skills to make your habit an actual living? Bass said people like you are a dime a dozen.
"Just like anything else, anybody can be professional but to what level? Millions of people play games but I think there's a misconception, ‘Hey, I'm pretty good at this when I play on a public games server. I win most of the time'," he said. "But when you play against one of our pros, you don't realize there's just this whole another level. You'd think they're cheating."
But it's not all hopeless. Bass and his players gave me these tips to help you on the path to gaming stardom:
"It's just like being competitive at any kind of sport, like you have to put the work and effort into it," Niven said.
"It's not as formalized as say, the NFL, but it's more formalized that you just can't send us a email," Bass said. You have to obtain a certain level of credibility and recognition inside the industry, go to an event and have a breakout performance and get noticed by an organization like ours.
"Start live-streaming first and talk to a lot of people, have some connections in the online world, and be a funny guy," Tan said. "People like that."
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