TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – The professional video gaming revolution, where you can get paid to play games as entertainment for others, has officially arrived.
But the epicenter of this booming billion-dollar industry isn’t in New York, Chicago or Los Angeles. If you ask the gamers themselves, they say it’s right here in Florida.
Video game streamers, developers and even collegiate eSport athletes are rapidly descending on the Sunshine State, and it has little to do with sunshine. They’re playing, developing and competing in video games professionally and launching lucrative careers in the process.
Oh, and the money is massive.
Esports Revenue Streams
In the coming year, the global Esports Economy will grow to $906 million, a year-on-year growth of +38%. The majority of this will be generated directly from sponsorships and advertising. Hover over the rings to see the exact number.
The total prize money of all eSports events held in 2017 reached $112 million, breaking the $100 million mark for the first year of competition. Analysts say, with sponsorships, the pro-gaming industry has eclipsed $1 billion.
The immense influx of cash is being driven by a sharp increase in online viewership. According to last year's report from market analytics firm Newzoo, 380 million people worldwide will watch eSports this year.
Global Esports Revenues Up More Than 38%
North America will account for $345 million of the total and China for $164 million. Hover over the bar to see the exact number.
The online competitions are major draws, but the industry is being propelled by individual gamers who are "streaming" their way to monstrous paychecks.
STREAMERS IN FLORIDA
Some gamers here in Florida have become online celebrities through streaming online.
Websites like Twitch and Mixer give gamers a platform to play video games for an online audience – sometimes in the tens of thousands or more – and earn money through viewer subscriptions, donations and ad revenue.
Kevin Murray is among the more prominent streamers. Known better by his gamer tag "KMagic101," he plays a variety of games for a loyal fanbase on Mixer from his home in the Tampa Bay area.
Murray is now a Mixer partner, giving him advanced monetization methods and a featured spot on the website’s homepage.
"I get the privilege of playing video games on the internet for a living," said Murray. "Florida is the emerging spot in the nation [for video game streamers,] in the world honestly."
Murray’s friends are also popular streamers who live here in Tampa Bay, including King Gothalion, Professor Broman and SchviftyFive. Several reports online peg their annual salaries at more than $100,000 a year.
Murray, who is known for his entrepreneurial endeavors as well as gaming, now streams five days a week for Mixer in what has become his primary source of income. He says the money comes from the tens of thousands who watch him play daily, which includes "regulars" – similar to a restaurant or bar.
"People come in and this is where they spend their day," said Murray. "Most of the people that are regulars will be here all day. [They’re] hanging out, chatting with each other."
While most streamers stick to specific games like Fortnite, PUBG or Call of Duty, Murray plays different games throughout the week. He says the pinnacle of the profession is having the luxury of playing whatever game you want.
"It's the goal in our industry, I think, is to have a community that comes no matter what game they see," he said. "They're more interested in hanging out with you, with each other."
GAME DEVELOPERS IN FLORIDA
The games of tomorrow – ones streamers might be playing in years to come – are being created by imaginative developers, many of whom are right here in Florida.
Florida is home to several universities, such as Florida Polytechnic, with degrees focused specifically on video game development.
At Florida Polytechnic’s most recent gaming expo, representatives from Microsoft were on hand to judge games built by students.
Presenting a game for one of the biggest gaming companies in the world is a thrilling prospect for seniors like Carlos Machado, who is a handshake away from a job offer.
"It's a lot of work. A few sleepless nights basically," Machado said when asked how long it took to build his latest third-person shooter game, Scarlet Reverie.
"The game expo is an opportunity for people who have developed games here either through the curriculum or as passion projects to show off their work," said fellow senior and game developer Celeste Ramirez.
Ramirez works at Steamroller Studios in Eustis, Florida. The independent development company has worked on games like Rise of the Tomb Raider, Worms W.M.D. and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided.
"It's really stressful for everything to come together on time," Ramirez said about games meeting deadline for publishing.
There are several popular video game development studios in Florida. The largest in central Florida is Electronic Arts Tiburon, which employs 750 people around Orlando.
ESPORTS COMPETITION IN FLORIDA
When it comes to competitive gaming, more popularly referred to as "eSports," there’s nowhere the spotlight shines brighter than playing for a live audience in a packed stadium.
And no collegiate eSports arena in the country has more spotlights than The Fortress at Full Sail University, a recording arts school in central Florida.
"There's a lot of places this could be happening at, but Florida is already a great destination for vacation, for families, for all those types of things," said Full Sail eSports Strategist Bennett Newsome. "Adding eSports into that mix, that Florida can become the home to eSports, is a goal not only for Full Sail but for Florida in general."
The Fortress, a $6 million arena built for gaming competition, is the new home to the Armada, Full Sail University’s 80-person eSports team.
News Channel 8 was granted a special preview of The Fortress ahead of its grand opening later this month.
"Armada is our varsity team. We have varsity and junior varsity teams. We currently compete in 11 different titles," said Newsome, who grew up in Sarasota.
Newsome says it’s the largest collegiate eSports arena in the country that was built for the Armada, which is Full Sail’s only athletics program on campus.
"These are our student-athletes," he said. "They're competing for the school and this is a huge deal."
Newsome knows there are skeptics, including parents, but believes collegiate eSports will become accepted as just another collegiate sport in the years or decades to come.
"I feel like this is also a good buy-in for parents. Like oh, you're good at video games, you're good at this specific game. But I want you to go to college, so maybe you go to college and you compete at the collegiate level and then you get your degree and you go pro."
"When you look back to sports and you look back to basketball, for example, on how it got its start, it was very rough in the beginning but then it landed and now we're here. And I feel like in this country, eSports is in that foundation phase."
A foundation that is growing here in Florida faster than the games themselves.