The time was about three months before his college graduation. Tomas Castillo’s Mom and Dad were in town, along with his lifelong “girl” friend, Aubrey Walker—a girl and a friend, but not a girlfriend, mind you, but rather someone he’d grown up with throughout school and in his neighborhood. She’d come along with Tomas’s parents to check out his off-campus apartment and to help him firm up plans for graduation and beyond.
They’d all gone out to dinner, a seafood place they liked, and had what, to him and his college-addled belly, seemed like a grand feast, paid for courtesy of his Dad. Now it was time for small talk on the drive back to his apartment. Now there was no more escaping it. Like it or not, and he suspected the latter, Tomas would have to tell his parents and Aubrey of his post-graduation intentions.
“You’re joking, right?” was his Dad’s first reaction, while his Mom said nothing. That was almost worse. Like his Mom, Aubrey remained silent, too.
“I know I can do this,” Tomas had argued. “I’m good at it. No, not just good, but really good. A man from San Diego specifically came up here to recruit me. He said I’ve got talent, I’ve got skills. I can’t say I’ve seen that level of enthusiasm from any of the new media companies I applied to. Mr. Park really wants me.”
Telling his parents he was going to forgo a career in new media in favor of playing video games for a living went about as well as Tomas expected, which meant the news landed with a giant thud.
“Playing games for a living?” His father had blustered. “That’s about the lamest thing I’ve ever heard. We didn’t send you to school for four years and thousands of dollars . . . blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.”
Tomas tuned his Dad out in short order, but then his mother finally broke her silence. “I know you always enjoyed playing games, even when you were very little,” she said. “It might be fun, but you can’t make a living playing games, can you? I mean, it’s just not practical. Be real, Tomas. Don’t you want to do something worthwhile with your life?”
That was just the thing. Tomas did want to do something with his life . . . and he knew he could. This was his opportunity.
Times were always changing. Back in his parent’s youth, you couldn’t make a living playing video games. Who would want to watch someone play pong or space invaders? But nowadays, from Defense of the Ancients (DOTA) to League of Legends, Smite, and beyond, games had become their own virtual worlds—complete with dedicated player athletes as well as committed fans. The world—virtual and real—had changed.
Sitting next to him in the back of the car, Aubrey reached over and squeezed his knee. She knew when to be quiet. It wasn’t her place to interject herself in this row between Tomas and his parents. Tomas felt her silence reassuring.
He explained how Hyun Park, team “Otherworld’s” sponsor and manager, had reached out to him off and on over the last few years, culminating with an offer when Mr. Park visited the school last month. He promised Tomas $45K a year for three years, plus match fees, sponsorship opportunities, and fan interaction bonuses. In return, Tomas would be part of his team and participate in the League of Legends tourneys. To get paid that kind of money, straight out of school and for doing something he absolutely loved, seemed an absolute no-brainer.
His Mom and Dad felt otherwise.
“Don’t’ give in,” Aubrey whispered to him. “I know this is important to you. You’ve never failed at anything you’ve tried in your whole life. You’ll be good at this, too. You’ll show them.”
Aubrey’s words had meant the world to Tomas. They’d buoyed him through the rough spots in recent months as he moved forward with his plans, despite his parent’s misgivings.
Now, six months later, he was about to enter the arena with his teammates in the first round of this year’s League of Legends playoffs. If they won today, he and his team would move on to the quarterfinals . . . and who knows where to after that?
He was getting paid just as Mr. Park had promised, but the prize money in this tournament was even bigger, with a quarter of a million dollars going to the top team. He couldn’t even imagine that much money. Granted, he alone wouldn’t get the entire prize, but winning the tournament in and of itself would go a long way to showing his Mom and Dad that gaming as a profession was the real deal—something he truly could make a living at—and that he had made the right decision after all.