Once able to earn $100 an hour farming endless jackpots, times have changed for this dying breed of gamer.
Far away from the glitz and glamor the e-sports circuit, a different breed of semi-professional gamers is eking out an honest day’s work at arcades around the globe. If the Ninjas of the MLG, with their celebrity lifestyles and lucrative promo deals, are the World Series of Poker stars, these arcade hustlers—referred to within their community as “advantage players” (APs)—are more akin to legal card counters. These unassuming sharks will walk into a Dave & Buster’s (or any other entertainment center with an arcade awarding tickets that can be exchanged for prizes), hit their handful of preferred games, and quietly rack up thousands and thousands of tickets. Doing this just a few days a week can quickly amass enough of a ticket balance to trade for the top shelf prizes that casual players could only dream of redeeming, like game consoles and iPads, which APs often sell for profit.
For the elites in this scene, advantage playing straddles the line between obsessive hobby and part-time job. They aren’t scamming or stealing their way to big wins. They’re just incredibly good at these games and much of their skill is learned, rather than innate. Though baseline speed and reflexes are pre-requisites for success, it’s primarily repetition and a nerdy devotion to the scene that breeds top-tier APs who are able to quickly discern whether a game’s jackpot is ripe and able to be won or if it needs more time to “refill” through casual play. At home, APs study PDFs of game manuals downloaded from manufacturer sites, discuss strategies on their subreddit, track fluctuations in prize ticket value, and post YouTube videos showcasing their talents. But despite the internet’s aid in connecting APs worldwide and revealing the tricks of their trade to new generations of players, their numbers are dwindling.