William Hill figures he was still having his diapers changed when he started playing video games.
"My dad handed me the controller and I've been playing since I was an infant, almost," he says.
Yes, it's an exaggeration, but it's not an exaggeration to say that, at 25 years old, he's been playing for almost 20 years. When he was little he told his mother, "When I grow up I want to play video games as a job."
Until the last three months, that was still a little boy's dream. But after spending more than $2,000 on equipment that includes microphones, studio lights, amplifiers and webcams, Hill hopes he's on his way to making it a reality.
Most nights, he can be found on Facebook as "Bigdaddydoodoo" — and yeah, he admits it's a "silly" name — playing Call of Duty: Warzone and, so far, he has attracted about 1,000 people to watch him do it.
"With streaming, if you are a funny person or you're really good at games, then you have an audience," he says.
Audience size can correlate with sustainability of the "work," but, says Hill, "There's not really a set number that comes to mind with a business like this. It's all trial and error. It's more of when I know my bills are comfortably paid and I can feed myself is whenever I would do this full time."
Among his streaming influences — or perhaps it would be more accurate to say his boy-I'd-like-to-get-there-someday influences — he cites, among others, Dr. DisRespect ($3.5 million net worth) and Stone Mountain64 ($2.5 million net worth).
Right now, Hill delivers meals through Dinner Delivered from 3-11 p.m. on the weekdays, playing video games for a couple of hours after getting home. But his goal is to make online gaming a full-time job. Although his biggest monthly haul at this point is $300, he believes he can do it.
"If I keep on a grind and I build a community, then yes, I would say so 110 percent," he says.
He may be right. Others are doing it and, in some cases, making millions of dollars, nullifying the times their parents told them, "You'll never make money playing video games!"
According to statista.com, about 850 million people worldwide tuned in to watch others play video games online in 2018. The next year, revenues for online gaming hit about $5.9 billion — yes, with a "b."
Gamers are now streaming their skills across Facebook, Twitch, Twitter and YouTube, among other platforms, which are paying millions for the top-tier players to use their services.
There are online players who are famous not only for their playing skills but also their personalities. That fame can lead to sponsorship deals or being recruited by esports franchises (teams, basically) similar to the way college athletes are drafted by football, basketball and baseball teams.
And the money can be substantial. Tyler "Ninja" Blevins, the world's top-earning online gamer, made more than $17 million in 2019, but only $100,000 of that was actual gaming. All the rest came from sponsorships, endorsements and speaking fees.
Back in high school, local 23-year-old Jack Frierson played Call of Duty with his friends, all in good fun (or not so good fun, considering how competitive some players can be). But in 2016, while still in high school, he turned his attention to the business side of things.
He now earns a retainer of about $3,500 a month, plus commission, searching out new talent and passing the word to several esports franchises. So far this year, four of the players he found signed contracts for $25,000, $50,000, $100,000 and $125,000, respectively.
He says he still plays video games "casually," but now he's more focused on "a consultant-type thing."
"I help out not with just players but with branding, marketing, stuff like that," Frierson says.
Local gamer Daniel Norris works 52 hours a week at his day job at Open Arms Care as a caregiver to people with developmental disabilities. But he still streams for about 15 hours a week at home, playing Call of Duty: Warzone as his Facebook alter ego "Beardedbeaver."
Since February, the 35-year-old has only made about $70, but that's OK because the number of his followers is steadily rising and he's having fun, he says.
Armed with a microphone and webcam, he offers running commentary while playing, "trying to keep it PG-13 most of the time." People with questions for him text them into a chatroom, so there's no verbal back-and-forth with those watching him.
"It's a little weird because you're talking to yourself," he says. "You've got to keep it fun, and any additional income is great."
Developing an online gaming audience is a pretty tough task, Hill says, and if you're truly serious, you've got to be in it for the long haul and play through the pain, so to speak. If you don't, the people watching you will head somewhere else, he says. So whether you're feeling good or feeling sick, revved up or dead-tired, you have to put on a "show," he explains.
"I need to keep on and keep on even after I work all day and I'm tired," he says. "As soon as I get home and hop in front of the screens and I turn on all the lights and everything and put a smile on my face, it's time to go."
And no way does being a money-making online gamer fit the 9-to-5 grind, he notes.
"It's crazy the world we live in today that allows me to do this."