What most people think of as a hobby or way to unwind can actually become a viable business venture. From YouTube videos including reviews and “let’s plays,” to massive gaming tournaments with six figure prizes, there are a surprising number of ways to develop video game playing into a viable business.
Johnathan Wendel, known by his tag name Fatal1ty in the gaming world, has taken his favorite past time and transformed it into a lucrative endeavor. Wendel dabbled in active sports like tennis and golf before dedicating himself to video gaming professionally.
As a child, Wendel dreamed of becoming a game tester or programmer. However, he found his true calling in competitive tournaments. After his first win in the 1999 Cyberathlete Professional League  (CPL), he walked out $4000 richer, and with a new drive for eSports.
Wendel said in an online interview with Small Biz Trends:
“With my success at my very first professional tournament, I quickly realized I could make a living at playing video games. I was in shock, and also extremely excited for my future.”
Considered the first and most prominent professional gamer, Wendel has earned over $500 thousand dollars in prize money in multiple tournaments.
But, perhaps more importantly, he has been able to turn that success into a successful brand and business. Using the earnings from tournaments, Wendel opened Fatal1ty Inc.  in 2002 and today offers fans around the world gaming accessories, computer mice, headsets, snacks and more, often branded with the Fatal1ty logo.
Wendel has been featured in a 60 Minutes special  as well as Forbes and The New York Times. And in 2007, he was awarded  the first ever eSports Lifetime achievement award for “showing exceptional sportsmanship, taking part in shaping eSports into what it is today and for being the prime representative of this young sport. He has become the figurehead for eSports worldwide.”
“[My business] has allowed me to continue with my passion for gamers and eSports over the last 12 years. I will do this for the rest of my life. I’ve given everything I can to help grow eSports and it’s going to be my on going mission for the rest of my life to spread the word of competitive gaming. My brand Fatal1ty Gaming Gear has given a lot to eSports over the years, and I plan on continuing that effort going forward with the right opportunities and the right partners.
As for the business side of things, it does cut into my time of just playing the games and enjoying myself, but I find a way to make both of my passions work. I’m just grateful they both go hand in hand. “
Tournament play is not the only option out there for those looking to make money playing games.
Platforms like YouTube and Twitch offer communities for players, with live feeds and “let’s plays”, videos in which the host will play through part or all of a particular game on screen while explaining some of the finer points for other players. Today, the most subscribed to channel on YouTube belongs to a gamer known as PewDiePie, who had over 29 million subscribers as of July of 2014.
PewDiePie , whose full name is Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg, currently earns an estimated $7 million annually in shared advertising revenue from his YouTube channel, Celebrity Net Worth reports . Kjellberg often uploads several videos per day, and these videos have quickly racked up millions of views.
Online Beta testing services like Game-Testers  offer players the opportunity to play games before they are even released for profit. Members have racked up more than $1.4 million in earnings on the platform so far, according to Game-Testers.
Beta testing has its downsides, however. Most testers would be lucky to make minimum wage, and job security is poor. It may be good for a few extra dollars here and there, but it’s not the best choice when it comes to gaming for profit.
As with most business ventures, getting started is often the hardest part. Tournament play requires hours of practice and training and attracts the best competitors from around the world. YouTube channels require substantial amounts of views and subscriptions in order to be profitable.
With enough hard work, however, both can become lucrative ventures and seem poised for exponential growth.
International gamers  photo via Shutterstock, Image: Fatal1ty.com