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Iowa video gamer makes up to $500K a year

October 7, 2018

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — “What do you do for a living?” a man asked Nick Overton at a bar.

The Des Moines man answered that he plays video games.

“I think they call that being unemployed,” the other man joked.

Little did this buzzed stranger know that the 27-year-old man in front of him did not live in his mother’s basement — perhaps the oldest, outdated stereotype about gamers.

And he definitely didn’t know that he was speaking with an online celebrity of sorts, someone who sometimes gets stopped for autographs and selfies at the local Target.

With an annual income of up to $500,000, the popular YouTuber, Twitch streamer and professional video game competitor is living the career that teens dream of around the globe. And he’s doing it from the comfort of his Iowa home.

Overton earns more than 97 percent of Iowa residents. But the humble man with a boyish grin and a deep voice made for broadcast still drives the same car he did in high school. And he hates being called a celebrity, citing the thousands of YouTube personalities who have more subscribers than he does.

He’s aware of how quickly everything can fall apart.

Because it took nearly his lifetime to make it all happen.

At 12 years old, Overton was face-to-face with a child’s nightmare: His dad had just sold his Xbox and its accompanying games.

From the age of 4, Overton had a fascination with video games. His father worked in technology, so gadgets and electronics were nothing new to his family.

When he was 6, he got a Nintendo 64 for Christmas, an exuberant moment captured by camcorder. He, his siblings and even his father were absorbed into the worlds of “Super Mario 64,” ″Super Smash Bros.,” ″Star Fox” and “Pokemon Stadium.”

So, you can imagine Overton’s fury when he returned home from Johnston Middle School to learn his Xbox was gone.

“My parents did not like me playing back then. They thought I played too much, didn’t focus on school enough,” Overton told the Des Moines Register . “I freaked out. I was so mad at him.”

For two years, he didn’t play video games. He was involved in other activities, like hockey, soccer, football and fishing.

And like many other young Iowa residents, he got his school permit at 14 and went to work a part-time job at a Dahl’s grocery store.

Through his job, Overton saved enough money to get an Xbox 360 — the second generation of Microsoft’s game console. When he brought it home, his dad was furious, but Overton pointed out: He purchased it with his own money.

“The best advice he gave me is, if you’re going to do this, you need to find a way to make money from it,” Overton said.

He took the challenge seriously.

When he lost online, he would study the outcome and practice the skills he lacked.

Between the first two “Halo” first-person shooter games, he put in at least the equivalent of 250 days of game play.

Before going to the University of Iowa, Overton spent time working for Justin.tv, now known as the Amazon-owned live-streaming service, Twitch. He helped the company decide who should become “partners,” broadcasters that could make advertising revenue off their streams.

After graduating in 2013, Overton became the chief operating officer for a streaming company, Streamup.

On his own, he streamed his “Call of Duty” game play and uploaded videos to his YouTube channel, ImMarksman.

Though having a steady job seemed sensible, what he really wanted to do was focus on content creation. So when his yearlong contract was up with Streamup, he decided to take the controller into his own hands.

“I made more money streaming and doing YouTube than working for them, no question,” Overton said. “I don’t have to answer to anyone but myself, and it was a lot nicer and more appealing to me.”

The alarm buzzes at 3 a.m.

That means it’s time to make a video.

Once a week, when “Fortnite” releases a patch, Overton wakes up while everyone else sleeps and makes a video detailing the software updates to the game.

It’s a necessity, he said. Even though he goes to sleep at midnight.

“It helps get my channel name out there more,” Overton said.

When it’s not a patch day, Overton wakes up around 9 a.m. and immediately starts by talking to his teammates and answering emails. He was recently hired by Counter Logic Gaming, an esports organization, to play “Fortnite.”

The new gig comes with a salary, a 401(k) and medical benefits. There are practices, during which he plays “Fortnite” with other professional players.

He works on his video around noon and will have it finished by 3 p.m.

The video goes live at 7 p.m. and he streams on Twitch between 5 to 10 p.m.

Once YouTubers or gamers reach a professional and profitable level, their next goal is typically the same: move to Los Angeles.

But for Overton, Iowa is where it’s at.

The cost of it is low: purchase a console and a video game. Both can endure thousands of hours of play.

Tournaments are also mostly online. It’s about putting the practice in and being willing to take the time to improve game play.

“It’s a way nicer place to live. I like the seasons. I like that people are pretty overall nice,” Overton said. “I like a much quieter place to live.”

Over the summer, Overton and a partner playing in a tournament known as the Summer Skirmish won $12,500 each for placing fourth.

Right now, he’s competing in the Fortnite Fall Skirmish tournament, with $10 million in prize money up for grabs over the six-week event.

Through “Fortnite” tournaments, he’s won $35,000 so far. Combine that with his salary he gets from his team, his monetized YouTube account and his Twitch stream? He makes between $300,000 to $500,000 a year.

That number fluctuates higher and lower though because of tournament winnings. And with something as finicky as YouTube and staying relevant, he estimates he invests about 80 percent of his income.

Overton has over 930,000 YouTube subscribers and over 3.5 million views of his Twitch stream.

Online personalities like Overton play a huge part in the streaming and esports realm, said T.L. Taylor, a professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and author of a new book focusing on live streaming. They make games more accessible to people, he said.

“The amount of work they do as media professionals warrants game companies thinking about them in this way,” Taylor said. “They have serious creative expertise that are part of the industry now that have huge fan bases.”

But the vast majority of streamers or YouTubers will never reach the profit level that Overton has.

While older generations might be baffled that their kids are seeking out videos of people playing popular video games, Taylor said they shouldn’t be.

Esports first boomed in South Korea, where thousands of people gathered to watch expert players compete against each other, but in the past six to seven years, that phenomenon has spread to the United States.

Spectating is an important part of gaming, ever since people at arcades would linger around an expert player dominating “Donkey Kong.”

Online videos and streams have brought community gaming to a new level, where people can seek out particulars about a map they’re playing or consistently watch the stream of a single player they like.

Esports has made things even bigger, with people filling arenas and movie theaters to watch professional gamers at the top tier play against each other, just like they’d watch a basketball or football game, Taylor said.

Hawkeye Community College in Waterloo hired an esports “head coach” to help players in its new esports program, said Stephanie Cherry, associate director of student life. Four years ago, the college started an athletics program, and in March, it created an esports section in recognition of the rapid growth competitive video games have made in the United States, Cherry said.

The 25 students in the program are treated just like any other student athlete. Hawkeye seeks out the best gamers in popular video games like “Overwatch” or “League of Legends” and recruits them to come to the school.

Scholarships up to $1,000 are offered to the recruits.

There are weekly practices, where students in the program play together in a computer lab and hone their skills.

“People are excited about it. People know this is coming up,” Cherry said.

The hype is there.

The celebrity is there.

The money is there.

But with the long hours and intense perseverance it takes to get into esports and streaming, there’s no way anyone can do it unless they love it, said Overton.

“I never thought I was going to make money from this,” Overton said. “I literally only did it because I liked to do it.”

Most people think he’s living a dream job, which he is, but there are hardships, too. He only plays games when he’s doing it for work — just playing for fun isn’t fun anymore.

With fame comes trouble, too. Sometimes he gets recognized when he goes out. To his dismay, people have rung his doorbell to try to meet him, which he doesn’t appreciate.

It’s gone so far where someone has tried to “swat” him, where someone calls a local emergency number and pretends a threat is in progress when everything is actually fine.

But there are upsides, too. Overton’s dad is cool with him playing video games now.

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Information from: The Des Moines Register, http://www.desmoinesregister.com

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