Tooele resident Brian Shostak, a 20-year-old professional gamer, has more or less given up explaining what he does for a living.
His daily schedule isn’t especially unique among those looking to live an impossible dream. He wakes up in the morning, pays the gym a visit, plays the video game Halo, drops by a part-time day job, gets home in the evening, and hooks up online with his four teammates for group Halo practice — practice that can drag on into the next morning these days. Shostak’s team is busy preparing for a major tournament to be held in Dallas this November, where they hope for a chance to prove their ability to Major League Gaming, the world’s largest eSport gaming organization.
It’s also a chance to be among the first to play the newest version of Halo — which won’t be released to the public until two days after the Dallas tournament ends — before the rest of the competition, giving Shostak a potential edge in the qualifying rounds for future Major League Gaming events. And it doesn’t hurt that the winner’s pot is worth $40,000.
It might sound somewhat extreme, but Major League Gaming events have, as the organization loves to boast, attracted more 18- to 24-year-old viewers than the Rose Bowl. Last spring’s championship tournament had 20,000 in-person spectators, and 4.7 million more watching online. Hoping to capitalize on those viewers are the pro teams’ sponsors, which, in turn, help the players maintain their daily Internet connectivity.
That’s what Shostak does for a living.
With his current team, Shostak is trying to make a comeback after a few years’ hiatus from gaming. But he’s made it big in the past, and because he knows his chosen sport of Halo like an old childhood friend, Shostak is confident his team will deliver what the sponsors are watching for at the upcoming tournament.
“I have never lost a tournament in the state of Utah,” Shostak said. “Halo’s all about strategy. With my knowledge of the game, I know what to do, when to do it. I know how the game works.”
Shostak can’t remember a time before video games — he grew up playing with his father, brother and friends. When the Xbox and Halo were first released, one of those friends was an early adopter who introduced him to the game, and Shostak, like thousands of others, was instantly hooked on both the new console and the state-of-the-art game.
When the second version of Halo hit stores in 2004, Shostak discovered professional gaming on some Xbox Live forums. Two years later, he traveled to his first major convention and placed in the top five during a free-for-all Halo tournament. He won $250 and some new gaming equipment. More importantly, he established himself as a major player with serious potential in the world of Halo, and professional competition brought an additional, addictive element to a game Shostak already loved.
“The prizes are always nice, the attention is always nice, but what really got me hooked was how fun it was to compete,” Shostak said.
Halo became Shostak’s life, and he dedicated 10 or more hours a day to practicing.
“I played every day with some of the top pros,” he said. “I took every game I played seriously, looking for ways to become a little bit better.”
The affect was instantaneous, and by 2007 Shostak’s success at a tournament in Chicago catapulted him into a sponsorship with Red Bull. It also left time for little else, even new video games.
“You don’t really have time to play other games, because you’re always playing with your team,” Shostak said.
That same year, a third version of Halo was introduced, but Shostak found his interest waning. Halo 3 was not his cup of tea — possibly because of the game’s slower pace, he said — and before the year was out, he had ended his agreement with Red Bull and quite competitive gaming entirely.
“I got sick of sitting there playing a game I wasn’t going to do anything with,” Shostak said.
But he continued gaming, and, in addition, took a stronger interest in his personal health. Two years later, Shostak re-entered the competitive gaming community online, but this time took a more measured approach, sticking with smaller tournaments within the state. He continued playing even as he finished his education — graduating from Stansbury High School in 2010, and starting at Utah Valley University, where he studied aviation until this fall when financial concerns forced him to return to Tooele.
He still plans to return, just as he plans to re-launch his video gaming career at this fall’s Major League Gaming tournament. Already he has a pair of sponsors — a gaming site called HaloWarz.com and Trippinmodz, a small company that produces custom console controllers — few doubts about his team’s ability, and a game plan for using the upcoming release of Halo 4 to his advantage.
“It’s just like basketball, or any other sport,” Shostak said. “You learn the fundamentals of the game, and then you strategize about how to play it.”