Written by Andrew Seale
In an upcoming film, comedian Will Farrell plays an eSports professional, a rarity in a sport where players usually retire in their twenties as their hand-eye coordination slows down. It’ll be the highest profile film on professional gaming yet.
“He's not the most desirable person to represent your industry,” says Stew Houston, founder of Toronto-based startup , which marries theatre style viewing with social content from Twitter, Reddit, Youtube, etc… allowing viewers to stay engaged. “(But) it’s going to shine a lot of light on the industry.”
To outsiders, professional gaming can feel peripheral at best. But the number of spectators on the inside is growing. Individual gamers streaming themselves can draw upwards of 10,000 viewers, explains Houston who at one point was a professional Counter-Strike player. The serial entrepreneurs ideation for Overcharge is suited in his path as a web developer.
“I ended up starting a small social network, Toronto-based exclusively, before Facebook, we peaked out at just under 50,000 users, all GTA between 15 and 23,” he recalls.
He worked on various other projects before landing a gig as Full Stack Developer at Precision Nutrition a coaching and certification company.
“There are certain areas where gaming can be seen as a pastime but if it exceeds a certain threshold you kind of lose respect in the community,” he says. “That's how I felt working in nutrition, I never talked about my interest in gaming, especially where (my colleagues) free time was spent going to the gym or managing their macronutrients.”
Battling with mental illness, he left Precision Nutrition to focus on himself, taking side projects as needed. It was a tough time, but also a time where he started to make sense of what he wanted his career to look like.
Houston joined Futurepreneur. His nutrition background pointed him in the direction of food, so he started a company called LotusMeal to help cooks and foodies build out their own meal delivery businesses.
“I thought, why am I doing this? I don't have experience as a chef… that fizzled out quite quickly,” says Houston. “If you want to go the whole nine yards as an entrepreneur you really have to know your industry, be comfortable on the ground talking to people who are both potential users and professionals – when I was doing food that just wasn't the case.”
He realized he was placing too much focus on his web development skills and not enough on the things he loved. He realized there might be a career in gaming yet.
“I wouldn’t say it’s my life passion but it’s something I have a very real interest in both on an enjoyment level and on an intellectual level” he says. And he’s sunk that interest into Overcharge, starting development in December 2015 and launching in the spring of 2016. Since then he’s cracked more than 5,000 active users.
“It’s very rewarding,” he says.
He still thinks back to his time at Futurepreneur and the bootcamps where you had to subject your ideas to the scrutiny of others. He could bluff to some extent, but to what end? It taught him a valuable lesson.
“I saw the method they were using to chisel away at your certainties and uncertainties and I was able to cycle that concept through my head and apply it to what I'm doing now,” he says. “I see these challenges on a daily basis that if I didn’t know my industry intimately, I would've put it aside just out of cognitive dissonance – (but) everything is moving in the right direction.”