Like many entertainers before him, Dustin Carlson shed his real name. The tall 25-year-old with long red hair and thick-rimmed, black glasses chose a different path, and with that path came a new name, a tag: DentiSSBB.
Denti is a professional video game player. So when he plays – either at a tournament, or streaming to his 2,400 followers on Twitch – he puts on a show. The Fort Worth resident plugged into the live streaming gaming community, Twitch, in 2010, but he began attaining notoriety a few years later.
“I got a pretty decent foot in the door about a year ago,” he says. After a brief hiatus, he picked up again during the summer of 2015 and he’s had major success since then.
“I imagine myself more as an entertainer. It’s just, I try to put on a show and people come and they watch and hang out and I try to be as entertaining as I can,” he says. “When you make something on Twitch, it’s like you make an Internet lounge and you’re the entertainer. Everyone else can interact with you and you get to interact back.”
Twitch is a video platform that allows users to live-stream video games. The service has had near overnight success and is part of a huge shift in the online entertainment landscape. The website launched a public beta in 2011 and by 2013 Forbes declared Twitch the ESPN of video games. In 2014 the website boasted it had reached more than 100 million unique visitors a month. That’s part of the reason Amazon decided to purchase the company for $970 million. Last year ESPN got in on the action, devoting coverage to competitive gaming, or eSports. It was announced in January that ESPN would cover a Halo 5 tournament at the Aspen X Games.
“I think eSports is growing on a huge scale right now. It’s only going up,” Denti says.
After posting some videos to Twitch, Denti started attending tournaments, most of which offered a cash payout to the top winners.
Denti became so present in the Dallas/Fort Worth gaming scene and placed in enough tournaments that a Plano video game store sponsored him. FX Game Exchange hosts Smash Bros. tournaments each Monday, and they pay Denti to play.
Playing the Nintendo is now Denti’s main source of income. Because of that he plays every day. Sometimes it’s the only thing he does. “Playing is training,” he says matter-of-factly.
“There’s no set path to how you train. That’s the hard part, I think. I was talking with my dad about that. For sports there’s books and guides if you want to improve on something specific. But for competitive gaming there’s not really that much you can do. There’s some blogs you can find on the Internet that you think might be helpful, but most things I’ve found aren’t helpful. You’ve just got to prepare your own way.”
That level of focus can burn people out. It’s why some top-notch players choose not to devote that kind of time to video game playing. “You have to sacrifice so much time. It’s basically like a job. And you’ve got to think about what you’ll do after [you’re paid to play].”
That’s why so many eSports competitors are on Twitch. The website has offered its biggest streamers a chance to monetize their gaming. Last year the website offered around 122,000 of its entertainers a subscription button. The button gives fans a chance to support their favorite broadcasters with a $5 monthly subscription.
If fans subscribe they support the streamer, but they also receive benefits including virtual badges, custom emoticons and new chat room privileges.
A few years ago the only games you could go pro in were the big games like Halo or League of Legends. But the popularity of eSports has grown so much that the smaller games have found niche markets: “I would have eventually have left (Smash Bros.) and tried another game, but the opportunity came.”
“The way you can go competitive in other games is always different, especially with the really, really popular games. They have an online ranking system that will refresh over the season,” Denti says. “I don’t even know how you do it. It’s just, it’s very selective and if you reach a certain point they have these national tryouts.”
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Winning the big tournaments leads to big money. The first-place prize for the 2015 League of Legends World Championship was $1 million. According to esportsearnings.com, two players have won more than $2 million playing in Dota 2 tournaments.
Games like Smash Bros. don’t come close to offering that kind of payout, but the overblown, action-packed game is Denti’s passion. The video game is simple enough. Players pick from a number of famous Nintendo characters like Mario, Link, Kirby or Donkey Kong and they fight until only one is left standing.
It gives Denti a chance to play the characters he’s been playing since he was a child. The Super Nintendo was released about a month before Denti was born.
“Somebody bought that console just so I could grow up with it. Any time there was free time I was just gaming. It’s just what I’ve enjoyed. It’s never gotten old.”