San Antonio online gamer plans to skip college, head straight to $20,000-a-month job as eSports pro



When Waylon and Willie sang their classic advice to mothers about the future vocations of their babies, they had not anticipated the gunslinging cowboys on the eSports livestreaming site Twitch.

Today’s schoolchildren will end up earning money and building careers in jobs that did not exist during the heyday of Waylon, Willie and the boys.

NST_MysticFox began building a name for himself three years ago as a top-ranked player on Overwatch, a team-based, first-person shooter game. Now 18 years old and mostly retired from Overwatch, he logs on to livestream his play and to build his career chatting with fans — and shooting at things in other games.

After graduating from O’Connor High School on the North Side in a few weeks, Eyon Norman of NST_MysticFox fame does not plan to go to college. He plans to go pro as a full-time online gamer.

“Don’t let ’em pick guitars or drive them old trucks. Let ’em be doctors and lawyers and such.” That’s so 1978.

Norman thinks his future is brighter — at least his financial future — as a video-game player on Twitch. About six months from now he plans to earn $20,000 per month.

If that number sounds crazy high, consider that Norman’s riding a very big generational trend. My totally unscientific, anecdotal data tells me people older than 30 generally have never heard of Twitch. If you haven’t, here are a few data points to think about.

Twitch ranks 13th in the United States in terms of total web traffic and 26th globally. I’m pretty sure you’ve heard of the top 12 sites, so if you don’t know about Twitch, you should. Let’s test ourselves: Google, YouTube, Facebook, Amazon, Reddit, Wikipedia, Yahoo, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, eBay and Netflix are the top 12. How come you hadn’t heard of Twitch?

More males ages 13 to 21 view eSports as relevant to their lives (56 percent) than consider traditional sports relevant (44 percent). A recent study estimates that eSports viewers will exceed the viewership of all other traditional sports domestically, except the NFL, by 2021.

Amazon, your neighborhood online bookseller, wholly owns Twitch, which it bought for close to $1 billion in 2014.

Norman, by his own reckoning, sits on the bubble right now between amateur and professional game players. To use a baseball analogy, Norman’s in the minor leagues but ready to make the move up to the big leagues.

He holds an Affiliate ranking on Twitch, which means he earns money like 150,000 or so other Twitch Affiliates. To originally qualify for this status, he needed 75 followers and three continuous viewers while online. He qualified in less than a year.

Now he has 983 followers. He believes upgrading to Partner status — and the chance to compete in the big leagues — is just about a month away. High school graduation in a few weeks frees up his time to go for it.

If he can become a Partner, that ups his revenue potential, giving him a larger share of subscription revenue and access to ad revenue.

So how does a player make money on this platform? Three ways.

The biggest pot of money comes from subscriptions, which on Twitch come in three tiers — $4.99, $9.99 and $24.99 per month.

Affiliates earn half of those subscription fees directly, while Partners typically earn 70 percent of subscription fees, with the possibility to negotiate more for the top tier of players.

Affiliates and Partners also may earn donations during gameplay, from viewers purchasing “Bits” and rewarding them to players for good play or just for chatting. The Twitch platform takes a negligible portion of these donations.

Finally, partners earn 10 cents for every online viewer who sees an advertisement on the site. Ads pop up for nonsubscribers when they log in to a player’s channel. With 100 online viewers, an advertisement could be worth $10 a pop.

Partners also have the opportunity to press a button that forces their viewers to watch a 30-second advertisement. The player-Partners have the discretion to subject their viewers to many advertisements (quick money for the player!) or to provide a more ad-free experience (try to reward and grow the audience!).

A fourth revenue stream would come from sponsorships and appearances, but I imagine that only matters to the very tippety-top of the eSports hierarchy.

While Twitch is currently the dominant platform for eSports, YouTube Live and smaller sites also provide additional platforms to grow viewership and receive direct revenue.

A recent online estimate of annual revenue for one of the top eSports gamers — named Shroud, who Norman considers the LeBron James of streaming — ran to $2.5 million through a combination of all these revenue streams, with subscriptions the largest piece of that.

Norman turns reverential as he describes his hero, saying, “He has a ton of viewers, really good gameplay, and he’s really nice. I’m just trying to follow in his footsteps.”

What makes for a successful Twitch streamer? It isn’t necessarily top gameplaying, although that helps. Norman says just as many viewers want a friendly personality.

Describing his post-graduation plan, Norman laid out a grueling online streaming work schedule. He plans to pay a friend to build his social media strategy on YouTube, Instagram and Twitter. But being online all the time is the biggest part of his strategy.

“If I’m not online,” he says, “all my viewers are going to migrate to someone else’s stream. I want to stay online as much as possible.”

Attitudinally at least, I think Norman gets it.

“You have to think of it like a job, and it will pay you like a job,” he says. “If you think of it like a hobby, it will pay you like a hobby.”

And what if his plan doesn’t work or bring in enough money?

Norman says his mother and stepdad are cool, but they’ve given him parameters around his dream. He has one year to make it as a professional eSports streamer on Twitch.

If he hasn’t turned it into a steady living by then, Norman agreed to apply and attend college to study business.

Michael Taylor is a columnist for the San Antonio Express-News and author of “The Financial Rules For New College Graduates.”

michael@michaelthesmartmoney.com | twitter.com/michael_taylor





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