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Tom Taylor hones his Halo skills in Jupiter, Fla., Taylor has made more than $450,000 “fragging” sinister agents since becoming a professional video gamer in 2004. Computer gaming is a $7 billion a year industry in the U.S. — a sales figure that’s almost doubled since 1996, according to the Entertainment Software Association.
AP Photo by Rick Silva
Tom Taylor hones his Halo skills in Jupiter, Fla., Taylor has made more than $450,000 “fragging” sinister agents since becoming a professional video gamer in 2004. Computer gaming is a $7 billion a year industry in the U.S. — a sales figure that’s almost doubled since 1996, according to the Entertainment Software Association.

Playing around
for a living

Young pro video gamers grossing 6 figures as industry spikes

By Kelli Kennedy
Associated Press Writer

JUPITER, Fla. — Tom Taylor is anything but a computer geek.

Yeah, he spends hours a day behind a screen obliterating little green men or "master chiefs," but this self-professed ladies man has made more than $450,000 "fragging" sinister agents since becoming a professional video gamer in 2004.

In August, Stuff magazine featured him on "The Power List: the Top 20 under 30" alongside LeBron James, Ashton Kutcher and other celebs.

This week he'll debut in an 7-week reality series on USA Network, and next week he's competing for a $100,000 purse at the world championships in Las Vegas.

Taylor, or "Tsquared," is a far cry from the stereotyped computer nerd trapped in his parent's basement.

He's one of a handful of teens who have made their own fortunes in the $7 billion a year industry in the U.S. — a sales figure that's almost doubled since 1996, according to the Entertainment Software Association.

Thanks to the Internet, a handful of magazines, cable network devoted to gaming and corporate-sponsored tournaments attended by tens of thousands, the video game industry has cemented its place in pop culture. And by promoting the best gamers as professionals, the industry helps push its product — much the same way the visibility of pro golfers sells clubs and balls.

The financial rewards of video games are immense.

For example, Halo 2 grossed $125 million during the first 24 hours of its release, according to Microsoft sales statistics.

At a retail cost of $29.99, that's more than 4 million units sold.

"The folks that grew up with games are now getting older, and having kids who are growing up in an environment where it's a preferred entertainment choice," said John Davison senior vice president of 1UP Network, a multimedia network for gamers.

"Culturally it will have an impact across the board with expectations from entertainment and pop culture, and potentially beyond too."

Gamer celebrities

In South Korea, where the industry has boomed for years, the pro video gamers are celebrities mobbed by screaming fans at contests.

A similar movement is sweeping the U.S., and a handful of emerging pros enjoy rock star treatment, with world tours and six-figure paychecks.

Like poker and skateboarding, some say gaming is the next big sport — or cybersport.

Major League Gaming or MLG recently signed five players to some of the biggest professional contracts ever awarded gamers, including one four-person team to a $1 million, three-year contract. Taylor signed a $250,000, three-year deal in 2004.

After practicing three hours a night, Taylor runs 3 to 5 miles a day and lifts weights, which he said clears his head and boosts his focus.

Once you get past his typical teen bedroom — with a belly baring Britney Spears poster and rap music pumping in the background — it's easy to see he's serious about his craft. Three flat screen TVs with Xboxes line the walls. On the floor is a stack of "playback footage," more than 40 hours of "game tape" he watches at night.

"I record what I do so I can watch it later, just like football tapes," said Taylor, who launched a video game tutoring business last year and counts NBA stars like Richard Jefferson among the clients. He charges $65 an hour.

Like every professional sport, there's always a prodigy. In video games, it's 8-year-old Victor De Leon III.

He doesn't travel with an entourage and prefers playing with his dwarf hamster Cortana and watching Star Wars.

But put him in a Halo 2 tournament and "Lil Poison," as he's known, is venomous. His father, also named Victor De Leon, said the gaming whiz has already earned enough money to buy a luxury car and pay for his college tuition.

Throngs of fans surround the Long Island, N.Y., resident at tournaments. He's signed a sponsorship with 1UP Network, has a product line coming out in December and a clothing line debuting next year.

By the age of 4, De Leon was placing in local tournaments. His father, a video game junkie who taught Lil Poison to play at age 2, has watched the industry morph.

"I'm trying to go to the pro circuit like MLG," Lil Poison said shyly.

Considered one of the fiercest players in the league, 17-year-old Chris Smith or "Shockwave" said shows like the one debuting on USA prove the industry has gone mainstream.

"I do feel like we are the face of the industry," said Smith, who lives in Philadelphia. "I feel real proud of myself that I can be a part of something growing as fast as pro gaming."

On the Net: Major League Gaming, www.mlgpro.com; 1UP Network, www.1up.com.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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