Watching Sunday football is so 2010. With the Major League Gaming (MLG) National Championships earlier this month attracting hundreds of thousands of viewers and "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3" breaking sales records, video gaming is the next big spectator sport.
"E-sports," also known as cyber sports or competitive video gaming, are ensnaring an international fanbase and growing into a massive global phenomenon. And it's hardly surprising: 91 percent of kids and teens between the ages of two and 17 play video games, which adds up to over 64 million gamers. And not only are teens playing video games, they're also reviewing new games, watching gaming tutorials on YouTube, and attending national gaming tournaments like the MLG Championships.
For 21-year-old Mason "Neighbor" Cobb and 18-year-old Jordan "Proofy" Cannon, playing video games is more than a hobby, it's a career. Both are pro gamers with MLG and rake in huge salaries doing what they love. Much like professional athletes, they spend their days training and traveling across the country to attend tournaments, where they're treated like celebrities. Jordan is one of the most skilled "Call of Duty" players in the world, while Mason has been playing "Halo" professionally since 2005 and is now internationally ranked as one of the top players of the game. HuffPost High School chatted with Mason and Jordan about what it's really like to live every teenage gamer's dream (yes, it is as awesome as it sounds).
When did you first start gaming?
Mason: I first started gaming when I was around eight. But competitive gaming and traveling the country started when I was 15 years old. There was an MLG tournament in downtown Seattle, and I played "Halo" mostly with my friends, so we decided to go to this tournament. I ended up placing seventh. They invited me to LA; and since then, I've just been traveling the country competing. I've gone to over 50 tournaments now. I just got back from Rhode Island yesterday, we just finished up with the National Championships. It's been my career for the last six years.
Jordan: Back in the day, I used to play with friends for fun, and then we came across a website called Game Battles. I actually met the team that I ended up playing for professionally through Game Battles in an online tournament. From there, they linked me to websites and showed me all these cool things about MLG and how top players go to compete. I just wanted to get out there and make a name for myself and show people that I could be one of the best "Call of Duty" players.
Were you going to high school while you did all this gaming? How did you manage to find time to balance your schoolwork with gaming practice?
Mason: I was in high school, I played varsity golf, and I was on the high school basketball team. I just found a way to balance it all. I really found my passion in this competitive gaming.
Jordan: This is one of those things where you just [figured out] what's important and how to manage your priorities. I played basketball and baseball in my freshman and sophomore year of high school. So being able to go practice, go home, do homework, and then try to play with my team was a cluster of a bunch of things that I just couldn't handle. So I ended up dropping sports to play video games.
After you graduated from high school, were you fully focusing on gaming as your 9-to-5 job?
Mason: The thing with the gamers is that it's kind of like a 9-to-5 job, but it's more like 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. A lot of the sleep schedules are kind of skewed. But I did attend a semester of college at a community college. I wanted to go to a four-year school, but I was traveling so much and I had charity events. I had a lot of things on my plate at the time, and I devoted so much to this game league that I felt like if I stuck with really focusing all my energy into the league, then good things would happen.
What was the crowd like at the National Championships in Providence? Were you guys interacting with fans a lot?
Mason: The crowds at Major League Gaming are always very friendly. It's really fun to interact with our fans and other players that are there. That's one thing that I love about MLG: Jordan and I are basically celebrities when we go to these tournaments. Kids want our pictures, our autographs, they just want to watch us play. And then I go outside in the normal world, and I'm a normal person and never get bothered. It's pretty great.
We also started this new thing called Gamma Gamers, which basically pulled the top "Halo" players, the top "Call of Duty" players, and the top coaches together. We created this team where we're all sponsored by the same company, Gamma Labs. This tournament was huge. Their numbers are in the millions for stream viewers. It was just overall a really great weekend.
What's your take on the girl gaming scene? Are there more female competitive gamers in this world now?
Mason: Girl gamers are definitely starting to blossom in the league. You're seeing a lot more; they're just as competitive as the men. I know there are a lot of girl gamers that are really trying to crack into the top of our league. It hasn't happened yet, but I definitely see one day a girl gaming team totally taking people by surprise.
Jordan: The girl scene in "Call of Duty" is actually really high. We've almost had a girl placed professionally before. When you see a girl any time in a male-dominated sport, it's going to bring attention to them, so everyone hears about it. It was really cool being able to see a girl prove everyone wrong and show them that girls can game.
Do you think video games will end up being considered a sport in the same sense as football or gymnastics?
Mason: A lot people call it e-sports, and although it's not physically active, you have to be in really good physical shape. I do believe if you are in physical shape, you perform better ... I do see it being on cable television one day. Already in Korea they have two cable channels over there just dedicated to the competitive video game scene.
Jordan: I played basketball and golf, but I found that the competitive scene was a lot more fun. It was a way for me to generate income, I had sponsors. I was really part of something from the beginning. And now it's grown into this huge global thing.