CLEVELAND — Video games have been blamed for violence, obesity and addiction. However we don't hear a lot about how much money there is to be made. And nearly 40 years after Pac-Man first hit local arcades, playing video games is now a bonafide career.
From professionals who can earn seven figures, to college students who are now getting scholarships for their skills, this is no longer just fun and games.
"It's very difficult to be the best at a video game." Tyler Blevins says.
He should know.
Tyler made $10 million in 2018 streaming himself playing Fortnite.
22 million people follow his YouTube “Ninja” account. Many are following in his lucrative footsteps, and they’re making a mint through sponsorships and prize money from competitions.
The industry is expected to grow to $1.5 million by 2021.
That’s one of the reason’s why colleges across the country, like the University of Akron, are developing eSports programs, building gaming facilities and even offering scholarships to gaming champs like they do with traditional sports teams.
"A lot of the research has shown that the more students are engaged with activities on campus, the greater likelihood they are going to stay in school,” says Nate Meeker, eSports Coordinator at the University of Akron.
As one might expect, there’s no shortage of interested players.
1600 kids applied for 53 spots last year.
"The minimum scholarship is one thousand dollars for our players. The coaches and the managers it can go up to twenty five hundred. But there's not really been a set limit on the cap right now," Meeker told us.
Colleges are forming partnerships with facilities like Top Level Gaming in Middleburg Heights, OH to find players.
Some of the best gamers in the area are drawn to events like their Fortnite Fridays.
"I've been playing since I was about four,” says 10th grader Justin Breda.
"I've had memberships since I was able to read."
And this ain’t yo momma’s basement. Top Level has more than 40 state-of-the-art gaming stations with a fiber optic network bringing in a full gigabyte of speed.
"One of the best things about it is it doesn't take anything to game. You know, I can't play in the NBA. I'm not six five… but I can game," says Top Level Gaming Founder, Brian Buckholz.
Despite the fact, more people are watching gaming championships than the NCAA Finals and the Super Bowl, Blevins says pro-gaming isn’t for everyone.
"It's becoming a very competitive career choice right now,” he says, “and you want to make sure that you're securing your future."
Especially if the only game you’re good at is Pong!
Click here for more information on Collegiate eSports.