The video gaming industry is hot. When the economy took a dive during the Great Recession, video game sales reached record highs. Millions of gamers across the world can’t get enough of their favorites but for an elite few, this passion has turned into a lucrative career.

Businessweek tackled the topic in a ‘The New Entrepreneur’ feature story: Elite Video Gamers Cash in by Sharing Tips on YouTube. Patrick Clark tells the story of one 20 year-old gamer, Trevor Martin:

“Martin—or TmarTn, as he’s known on YouTube - is a video-game commentator. He records video of himself playing games while he narrates his strategy, delivering tips on how to play better. Then he publishes the clips on YouTube. Between ad sales and sponsorships from video game companies, he expects to make more than $250,000 this year.”

Yes, you read that right, more than $250,000 a year for playing video games. He’s at the top of his game (pun intended). He is one of the nation’s elite gamers. He isn’t just a great gamer, though, he’s also a shrewd businessman. Without his popular YouTube videos and his more than 1 million subscribers, he wouldn’t be able to rake in a quarter of a million dollars.

For those outside of the gaming industry, this sounds ludicrous. Those of us that join Martin in his love of video games know that being a gamer can be a lucrative hobby. Let me take you back about 20 years. I was a member of an all-girl Quake 2 clan known as the QGirlZ. Don’t laugh, I’m serious - my fellow clan members and I took our game seriously and we had several top 100 national players in our ranks.

Eventually, the quality of play and the fact that we were girl gamers – something that wasn’t seen very often in the 1990s – caught the eye of video card maker nVidia. QGirlZ ended up becoming an nVidia-sponsored clan. Now I understand there’s a big difference between a free $500 video card and $250,000 a year, but my personal experience helps tell the story of today’s highly compensated elite gamer. This isn’t a new business model, but sites like YouTube are helping bring the story of elite gaming to the masses.

My kids are also part of this industry, from the consumer side though. We run a Minecraft server for my kids and their friends and Minecraft YouTube videos are popular in my house. My son’s favorite is SkyDoesMinecraft, who has over 5.2 million subscribers. My daughter prefers iHasCupquake because she’s a fellow girl gamer.

While my children love gaming and elite gamers can make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, it isn’t a career path I’d like either of them to pursue. Players need to put in hundreds of hours of screen time a month in order to become an elite gamer and in my opinion, there are other things I want my children to do with their lives. This isn’t to begrudge those that do make a living playing games, more power to them, but when the next up and coming elite gamer hits the scene, what’s going to happen to their lucrative career?

The big business of elite gaming
Sponsorships, ad-supported YouTube videos, fancy trips and more await today's elite video game players.