At the birth of each new generation, the title of the most wanted job in the United States seems to change. For the Baby Boomers growing up amidst the Space Race, everyone wanted to be an astronaut.
Other decades have seen kids dream of taking up exclusive occupations like becoming professional athletes or movie stars.
As we enter the heyday of streaming, professional gamers like Ninja and Dream may be the next group that millions of kids around the world look up to and aspire to become someday.
One rising star in the booming industry is Noah Johnson, a student at West Virginia University who became the first gamer to represent the school for his talents.
Noah Johnson: What He Does
Barely a teenager when he first began taking part in tournaments, Johnson (popularly known by his gamertag of Noahupnxt) burst onto the national scene as a 17-year-old, winning the Madden NFL 20 Challenge and claiming a $35,000 prize purse.
His legend grew the following year, when he took home a collegiate national championship for himself and the Mountaineers, along with another $25,000 in winnings to pocket.
Johnson clinched the national title with a gutsy play, converting a fourth-and-ten play that let him run out the clock instead of taking the safe move, punting the ball away with the hope of making his opponent work the long field.
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Johnson benefits from a weapon that most other collegiate athletes don’t have at their disposal. In sports like football, basketball and baseball, athletes sacrifice their college eligibility if they turn professional, the first sporting contract they sign closing the curtain on their college career.
For e-sports, the rules are a little different, though, as Johnson can flip flop between the collegiate and professional circuits, all the while honing his craft against some of the best gamers in the world (and bringing in the big bucks in doing so).
As of December 2022, Johnson has brought in more than $265,000 career earnings in his climb to become one of the top fifteen players in the world on the virtual gridiron. He fell just short of scoring the go-ahead touchdown in the 2022 professional title game, getting tackled three yards short of the end zone as time expired.
The next professional tournament run will begin soon, as Madden 24 (the games are always named a year in advance) drops on August 15.
Collegiate tournaments typically take place later in the year, once the student athletes are back on campus: Johnson claimed his first national title with the Mountaineers in November 2021.
Unlike other sports, where there’s only one championship match per season, there are plenty of pro tournaments throughout the year for Johnson to add to his trophy case, like when he won the Madden 22 Ultimate Thanksgiving tournament.
A Growing Market
As the sports betting market continues to gain popularity, the number of things you can place bets on seems to multiply. If sportsbooks provide odds on a given category people are going to bet on it, whether they’re returning customers looking to diversify their expertise or new bettors drawn in by the inclusion of a sport they love (like e-sports).
Video games provide a condensed market where a single player can take part in dozens, if not hundreds of matches in a single day. Rather than waiting an entire week to bet on your favorite football team when they finally get around to playing, e-sports betting gives you options around the clock, and they take place at a much faster rate: a fifteen-minute game of Madden vs a three-hour (or more) NFL game.
As Johnson himself said in an interview with Nick Shook of Around the NFL, “you can play video games a lot longer than you can go out and hit each other in practice.”
Even with millions of users, the framework for betting is already in place, with video games like Madden and Call of Duty ranking online players based on their performances.
The sky’s the limit for the growing industry, yet another area cornered in a booming market… and it’s just getting started.