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People are paying good money to watch other people play video games in Tampa


Times Staff Writer

A troupe of performers will walk on stage Sunday.

Fans who shelled out more — sometimes far more — than $50 to be in the audience at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts will be psyched. Some will have traveled across the state for this.

The performers will take a seat, pick up controllers and play video games for nearly three hours.

It's called Let's Play Live. And it sprung from the moment Jack Pattillo noticed he and the rest of the Achievement Hunter crew were basically rock stars.

It was the annual convention for their parent company, Rooster Teeth, an Austin, Texas-based production house that earned a zealous fan base with viral videos. They were playing video games and cracking jokes — the core of what they do to entertain nearly six-million YouTube subscribers —when Pattillo looked around.

"We were on this stage, and I realized 4,000 people were watching us," Pattillo said. "I thought, 'Who else in the world gets to play in front of a crowd like this?' Rock stars. 'Well what do rock stars do that we don't?' They go on tour and play for their fans.'"

Last year, it sold out dates in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. Sunday it comes to Tampa for one of only four stops on its current tour, which includes Baltimore, Newark, N.J. and Orlando.

Described as a "non-stop frenzy of gaming and comedy," the show features Pattillo and other stars of Rooster Teeth's gaming channels doing what they do best. They'll play various games, broadcast on big screens in the auditorium, and talk over them. There's also some other irreverent shenanigans sprinkled in.

It's a lot like Achievement Hunter's YouTube channel, where actual gameplay makes up most of the content, but some popular videos feature real-world antics, such as one gamer kicking his foot through a co-worker's desk.

"We shaved one of our guys' heads last year in Chicago. We pulled up a woman from the audience to do it," Pattillo said. "Then he was going to shave her head in return, but we killed it before it went that far. That's the kind of stuff that can only happen at a live show."

Tickets prices are on par with a major production at the Straz, and some fans are paying much more for VIP experiences.

"Anyone who has been to an NFL or NHL game has paid money to watch other people play a game," said Will Brewer, a 26-year-old grad student at the University of Florida who bought front-row tickets. "It's not really that different."

Victoria Arnett, 22, lives in Orlando where she studies game design and works for a live-streaming video company. She paid $300 for VIP tickets for Orlando, and $95 for tickets in Tampa the following night. She's helps run a Rooster Teeth Florida fan group and is helping organize a meet-up at Splitsville in Tampa before Sunday's show.

"It's a big deal, yes, and to a lot of people, it's like meeting your idol," Arnett said. "You're finally able to see people who make you laugh through videos and shenanigans and, in my case, have been with you for years. ... In all honesty, we are probably more like a cult that pays for merchandise."

Another possible surprise to the uninitiated: these "idols" of the video game world from aren't even that great at video games. Above average, maybe, considering their job requires them to play daily, but far from the level of professional competitive gamers, they say.

But make no mistake; they are stars. Between its YouTube channels, Rooster Teeth has more than 28 million subscribers and has racked up billions of views. The company's RTX conventions draw people from around the world.

The company was founded 14 years ago on the success of its flagship web series Red vs. Blue, made by putting voices over actual game footage from Halo. These days they produce a slate of animated and live action series. They produce daily podcasts. Last year they made a feature film.

"I was employee nine when I started, now there's more than 200 full time employees," Pattillo said. "We've really been riding this internet thing. We're like a TV network, except on the Internet."

And now, off the Internet as well.

"There's something special about hearing immediate action, response and laughter from an audience. It changes the whole flow of it and everything we do."

Contact Christopher Spata at Follow >>@SpataTimes>