How gaming has changed

I first started gaming at the age of 6. I fell in love with it and dreamed of working in the video game industry when I grew up. I thought of the games I enjoyed playing and thought one day I would help make the latest releases. Although gaming has always been a big part of my life, my career path took a different turn, and I now work as a certified translator and interpreter. The concept of being a cyberathlete or professional gamer didn’t exist back when I was a kid. Now it is a common career aspiration. It is so common that you can find a plethora of articles advising parents how to deal with the issue if their child says, “I want to be a professional gamer!” Although pro gaming is a legitimate career, the aspiration instils some concern among parents who don’t want their kids to pursue an unstable job. The same concerns would be absent if the kids selected “typical” careers like doctor, teacher or even astronaut. 

This is to be expected. Pro gaming is still a very new profession. It has a lot of evolving to do to come into its own. The competition is extremely  high too. The best of the best make a good living, but the same cannot be said for mid-tier or bottom-tier talent. If you had a kid and they told you one day they want to be a pro gamer when they grow up, how would you feel?

Sometimes I think back to video games I played when I was a child. It was state-of-the-art, cutting-edge gameplay that looks prehistoric and extremely basic now. I was regularly told that the hours I spent playing video games were a waste of time. If I’m being honest, a part of me agreed and a part disagreed. I always felt that my hand-eye coordination and reflexes were being tested and honed with video games. They weren’t a total waste of time. 

Now in my mid 30s, I still play video games for fun and a way to unwind. Gaming has and I believe will continue to be a big part of my life. Are you a gamer? What does gaming mean for you?

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August 2, 2022 11:11 am

Just like you, I started gaming at an early age. I remember coming home from school to a Nintendo Entertainment System with the games Duck Hunt and Gyromite. This was my entry into the Nintendo vs Sega wars that would dominate discussions with other kids at school in the following years. The Mario vs. Sonic discussions got pretty heated! I stayed loyal to Nintendo, asking my parents for a Super Nintendo when it was released but later joined the dark side, getting a Sega Megadrive too. When Sony entered the scene with the Playstation and Microsoft with the Xbox, I’d made the switch to PC gaming but it was clear the industry was on the cusp of something much larger.

Although I’m not a gamer anymore, it’s abundantly clear that gaming is a monumental industry now. The ability to make a living by streaming or to earn thousands of dollars by selling cheats is a testament to how the industry has changed. It’s fun to reminisce about the things gamers did in the late 90s and early 2000s when the internet wasn’t as prevalent or fast as it is today.

My foray into online gaming started with Duke Nukem 3D. I fell into the rabbit hole, watching demos of the best players, hoping to replicate their strategies, and memorizing spawn points and weapon placements on maps like Hollywood Holocaust and Red Light District. At the time (late 90s), our internet connections were limited to dial-up modems. Think 28.8k, 36.6k and 56.6k modems. If we wanted to have a “Dukematch”, we’d have to call our opponents on their landline phone number and connect to their modem. Latency was a constant annoyance and I was always on edge in case someone accidentally picked up another landline phone in house, which would sever the internet connection.

When Quake 3 Arena Test was released in 1999, it opened up a world of possibilities. The latency or LAG was pretty bad but placing the load on the server and having each player connect to the server instead of each other meant you could game with much more people. The early Quake 3 Arena Test experiences were a bloodbath of camping and ‘praying and spraying’. There were so many people who’d join a single server that you could stay in one place, launch rockets in a single direction, and there’d be a good chance you’d rack up a good number of frags. Many times the connection to the server would be so unstable that you’d just hold down the fire button and after 10 seconds of the lag reconfiguring, you’d see that you had racked up 5 more kills.

As laggy as those early Q3 Test days were, it would set the scene for multiplayer gaming’s growth. Prior to moving to Quake 3, I had played Duke 3D on KALI, software that allowed you to play with other people over the internet (instead of having to connect via dial-up). It was innovative technology but the gaming experience still depended on the internet speeds of the players involved. Often when someone wanted to have a Dukematch on Kali, they’d mention the map, but also requirements such as the speed of PC and internet connection of their opponents: “Cable modems only, please!”.

My experience with Duke3D served me well to get into Quake 3. I felt that the strategies I’d learnt in Duke could be transferred pretty well to Quake, allowing me to be somewhat competitive. Just like with Duke, I fell into the Quake3 rabbit hole too. One thing I remember was wanting to find the “configs” of the best players like Fatal1ty. Configs were files that showed what settings players used. For example, it would show how bright they kept their screen or how they had configured their controls. Several years earlier, Dennis ‘Thresh’ Fong had popularized the WASD controls that many players adopted. W (up), A (left), S (down), D (right). We felt if we could find the legitimate config file of Fatal1ty or ZeRo4, we’d have the same advantage they had to become so good. Of course that was never the case. Their ability came from practice, consistency and talent; not some setting such as mouse sensitivity or screen brightness.

Those early eSports tournaments, earnings and gaming celebrities (the “influencer” term wasn’t used back then) set the scene for the multiplayer gaming industry’s growth. You can now become a professional gamer, a career choice that wasn’t a consideration in the late 90s. I remember one time playing in a Quake 3 server, and out of nowhere other players turned on me. They were angry that I was using the lightning gun to rack up frags. As someone who hadn’t played Quake 1 or Quake 2 online, I didn’t understand why it was a problem. One of them explained that ever since Quake 2, there had been a Quake “etiquette” in which the LG, although effective, shouldn’t be used. In retrospect, this incident was embryonic of the precariousness of pursuing a career as a gamer or influencer. One day you’re on top of the world, the next day after having made an unintentional “error”, everyone turns against you.

The gaming industry has always fascinated me. With metaverse development in full swing, it’ll be interesting to see how the industry evolves and what the concept of being a “gamer” will entail.

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Abi Ortega
August 3, 2022 9:40 am

Being a pro gamer is a subset of influencer, an all encompassing term that includes streamers, Instagram models, bloggers, TikTokers and any other online presence. While young kids probably aren’t thinking about the monetization opportunities of being a high profile gamer – they just think it’s the coolest thing in the world – those in their late teens and early 20s will be well aware of what it means to have a following.

Having a large following presents people will numerous monetization opportunities. Hobby gamers who want to become pro gamers will be putting in the hours, not just because they enjoy gaming, but because they know of the lucrative opportunities that await. This is why pro gamers don’t just stick to gaming. They are active on Instagram, Twitter, TikTok and any other social platforms they can manage to post frequently on. The reasoning is straightforward. If you can leverage your following as a pro gamer to build a following on other social platforms, the brand deals, collab requests and sponsors will start appearing.

I’m aware that I make it sound easy. Of course it isn’t as simple as having a following in one platform guaranteeing a following in another. Some gaming streamers on Twitch record their streams and upload it on YouTube as Let’s Plays. Not uploading unique content for YouTube creates the impression of a disingenuous attempt to cash out on YouTube ad revenue.

Also just because you’re a big name on one platform doesn’t mean you’ll be a big name on another. Joy Cho is the most followed user on Pinterest with 15.2 million followers. Has anyone outside of Pinterest heard of her? Having cracked how to build a following on Pinterest, she has a modest following on YouTube and TikTok, and is at macro influencer level on Instagram, having only 3% of followers as she does on Pinterest. Another example is Quora. Does anyone outside of Quora know who Sean Kernan and Balaji Viswanathan are?

Becoming a pro gamer is a difficult feat in itself. The sponsorships and prize money are lucrative if you have the drive and talent. But it is lonely at the top. Many gamers, aspiring or actual alike, know there are greater monetization opportunities if they leverage their following onto other social platforms. However a following on one platform does not guarantee a following on another.

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Jason Ng
August 5, 2022 9:20 am

A couple of years ago I wanted to get an MBA degree. I put my heart and soul into it with the hope of redeeming myself of academic neglect in my high school years. As someone in my early 30s at the time, it didn’t go unnoticed that the average age of the schools I was targeting was around 27. At first I didn’t think much of it until people told me I was at a disadvantage. Some admissions experts I contacted told me I had ‘no chance’ of admission. I read blog posts that derided my age as someone approaching ‘Father time’, not MBA applicant material. I never got into my preferred MBA schools and sometimes I wonder how much my age played a factor in the admissions committees’ decisions.

Now if I thought MBAs had an age limit, gaming is a different beast. The average age of top competitors in League of Legends is 21. It’s 23 years for Starcraft 2 and CS:GO. Top competitors are very young. When it comes to gaming we tend to think the concern is top down i.e. parents are worried about their kids gaming too much. This isn’t always true. Sometimes it’s the other way round, with parents pushing their children into competitive sports as early as the age of 3 or 4. If you want to get an idea of the pressure some parents put on their kids to be professional athletes, I suggest watching Trophy Kids. It is sad to see how parents try to compensate for their unfulfilled dreams through their own children. Knowing that gaming is a young person’s game, I wonder how many parents will push their young kids to the brink of hating the games they once enjoyed.

“But age is just a number!” I hear you. In some sports, athletes peak in their 30s and 40s. When I was a kid, I thought that once you hit your late 20s, you’d decline soon after. Tennis players like Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Serena Williams have shown that you can be highly competitive in your late 30s. Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are still the best football players in the world despite being in their mid-late 30s. Maybe that’s what we needed; some people to break this stereotype that professional sports are for young people only. Now we know we can be great into our 40s, we’re not placing self-imposed limitations on ourselves.

If we need an example of this in gaming, look no further than Daigo Umehara, a pro gamer born in May 1981 who won the Street Fighter V Arcade Edition competitions, CPT 2021 Online Event: Japan 3 and FAV CUP 2022. Indeed, age is just a number!

Murray Hinton
August 4, 2022 3:08 pm

I get where concerned parents are coming from. If one day I have a kid and they tell me they want to go into gaming full time, I’ll be concerned about their health! We already live a sedentary lifestyle. Most people don’t bother with exercise and healthy eating. Now think about how much time you need to be in front of your computer to make it as a gamer. Couple that with easily accessible junk food and you have a very unhealthy lifestyle.

Gaming is also incredibly repetitive. Findings in a CBS report show that gamers tend to be young, “yet they have ailments and body issues of people much older than themselves”. Overuse injuries resulting in tendonitis and strains in the neck and back are common.

I’d also be concerned about their mental health. It was revealing of the fickle nature of followers when Ninja took 48 hours off and lost 40,000 subscribers. Also if you look at some streamers, they are the personification of burnout. Sometimes I look at a streamer who’s been going for several hours and they look so run down. It’s uncomfortable to watch. If I’m a fan of a streamer, I don’t want them to always stream for my entertainment. Take some rest for goodness sake!

But then again, what do I know? A study of 39,000 gamers has found little evidence to suggest gaming affects their wellbeing. The average gamer would have play for 10 more hours than usual for wellbeing to be affected. Sounds great, right? Not quite. Wellbeing depends on compulsion. If people want to play video games for 5 hours a day, it is unlikely to affect their wellbeing. However if they have to play video games for hours and hours a day, that’s a different story. Which one do you think happens with professional gamers; want to play or have to play? Full-time gamers feel they have to put in hours of repetitive practice each day to stay at the top of their game in a highly competitive environment and to not lose subscribers.