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Nathan's column: A missed career opportunity

I played a lot of video games in my younger life, by which I mean everything up until late last year.

I started playing in the days of the original Nintendo Entertainment System and the Sega Master System, when getting immersed in a game mostly meant convincing yourself that a little blob of green pixels was the most powerful hero in the universe. Our heroes were pointy-hatted elves and adorable blue robots. We were still decades away from advances like being able to pick up prostitutes in stolen cars.

It was a simpler time.

I continued to play as the games got more complex. I was in college when online gaming started to take hold, which put us irrevocably on the path toward being able to swear at strangers while throwing pretend grenades at their faces.

There were times, I’ll admit, when I played for 12 hours or more at a stretch. Don’t be jealous. Not everybody can lead a life filled with so much glamour.

I don’t play that much anymore, but I stuck with video games even as I’ve gotten old enough that clerks could legitimately believe I was buying that copy of Lego Star Wars for my kid.

That’s what Amazon is for, right?

Things seem to be tailing off, though. I haven’t turned on my Playstation since sometime before the beginning of the year. I am pulling away from games, it seems, just as it is becoming increasingly possible to make a living playing them. Just like I always told my parents when they suggested maybe I should be playing outside rather than pretending to be an Italian plumber who has improbably been tasked with being the savior of a princess.

Seriously, were there no electricians available? At least a tree-trimming guy would have a saw or something.

Back to gaming, though. Pro gaming leagues have been around for years. Top gamers could win tournament prizes and get endorsement deals from makers of joysticks or snack foods. It was still a pretty fringe operation, though.

Now, so-called eSports are becoming increasingly mainstream. Over the weekend, covered The International, a huge competition in a game called Defense of the Ancients 2. The championship rounds were shown on ESPN3, among such high-profile events as the CrossFit Games and a Spanish-language boxing match.

The winning team took home a prize of just over $5 million. That’s about $85 million less than LeBron James got for his first Nike endorsement deal, but it buys a lot of Cheetos.

Calling something like this eSports suggests that the people who play are athletes. I’m not sure if that’s entirely fair. Professional athletes are admired by millions, rake in big endorsement deals and die at an early age because of all the time they spend pumping their bodies full of iffy chemicals and smashing at high speeds into other professional athletes.

Professional gamers, on the other hand, still mostly sit anonymously behind computer screens. They do tend to ingest a lot of pretty questionable things, though.

Professional gaming is growing, though. According to a USA Today story, Defense of the Ancients — DOTA, to people in the know — has more than seven million monthly users. The tournament championship was played in a sold-out Key Arena in Seattle.

I watched a YouTube video of one of the competitions. It involved fighting trees and giant fish creatures. The commentators used a lot of words that on their own were familiar but that, put together the way they were, came out pretty much as nonsense. So in that sense I found it a lot like watching baseball. People got excited when the fish-thing did stuff, but I couldn’t tell why, or what it had done or just how bad a fish beast smells if he’s out in the sun too long.

Seeing the kind of money that’s available I’m tempted to dust off my controller again. With a few weeks’ practice I’m sure I could hit the circuit as some kind of Sonic the Hedgehog hustler.

People still play high-stakes Sonic, right?

Reality can create a difficult brick wall at times, though. According to a story on the website The Verge, eSports are a young man’s game. Just as LeBron will eventually lose the leaping ability that allows him to throw down thunderous dunks and jump willy-nilly from one team to another, so to do professional gamers lose their edge. Even your thumbs have fast-twitch muscles, I guess.

Maybe it’s just not meant to be. Maybe I’ll never make my living with my gaming prowess.

Unless, wait. They don’t play professional Freecell, do they?

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

(651) 460-6606