LOWES, Texas — It was only two years ago that Johnathan Johnson, then a college student at the University of Texas at Austin, announced his dream: to create a $2,000 video game device that would allow players to compete in online multiplayer games for the high school level.
“I really wanted to do a $500 game console,” Johnson told ABC News at the time.
“So when I saw that the budget was so low and it was only going to cost $1,000 I just knew I had to do something.”
Johnson had started working on the project when he was in his final year of college in Texas.
His team at Lowes Hardware, a hardware store that has since been acquired by Staples, had already built a small prototype unit that they were selling for $200.
The prototype was too small for their needs, so Johnson had to find a way to fit it into a closet.
“We didn’t have a lot of space and the closet is very narrow,” Johnson said.
“But it was pretty hard to fit anything bigger than the front of the unit into the closet.”
Johnson wanted to create the ultimate console.
He wanted it to feel like a real console, but he wanted it made in the USA, using a manufacturing method that would produce his company’s high-quality components.
“When I was working with Staples they said, ‘Well, you know, we’ll give you a contract to make this thing,'” Johnson said at the TIME Digital Summit, where he introduced his new console.
“It was a little hard for me to understand what Staples wanted.
I thought, ‘Oh, it’s a contract from Staples,'” Johnson recalled.
Johnson’s dream came true, as Staples built the system and sold it to Johnson’s high school students for $1.
Johnson, now 26 and a senior in the College of Engineering at UT Austin, used the device to compete against his friends in the online multiplayer League of Legends.
The system was a big hit.
Johnson won the $10 million grand prize for his system, and his team built the next-generation console in just three months.
Johnson said he would never have imagined building a $1 million system like this.
“The cost was just so low, but the quality was just unbelievable,” Johnson explained.
“You could say the whole thing was like a dream.”
Johnson said the design of the new console was inspired by his father’s experiences designing a pair of golf clubs.
“He would sit at his desk and do this crazy, crazy thing where he would design a set of components,” Johnson recalled of the father of three.
“And he would do that until he was bored and he would go home and make a game console.
And the whole reason he did it was so that he could sit and play games with his son.”
The first generation of the system, which was called the T.R.S.D., was a $100 device that was supposed to be made by a small company in Japan.
But Johnson and his friends at Lowe Hardware built it on their own, in just six months.
Johnson said he spent $500 on parts and components, including a custom-built case and a few pieces of wood that he would later attach to the top of the console.
Johnson also built a case to fit the new system in his closet.
The second generation of Lowes’ console, the TRS-D Pro, was a much bigger system, with a larger console, a case, and a lot more hardware.
The TRS Pro was a prototype that Johnson and Lowes built, and it went on sale to high school and college students in May 2018.
It came with the full range of features that Johnson was looking for.
The Pro console included a display that could be placed in front of a player’s eyes, a camera that was attached to the console, and an analog joystick that could control the movement of the controller.
Johnson and the team at LOWES also made the system compatible with a variety of gaming systems, including the Playstation 4, Xbox One, and PC.
Johnson was impressed with the Pro system’s hardware and the quality of the components that were built into the unit.
“Everything was a bit different than what I expected,” Johnson reflected.
“A lot of it was the same thing as what we were doing with the TDS system.”
Johnson’s family was extremely supportive of his plans to build the system.
“My mom, my dad, and my brother were very supportive,” Johnson noted.
“They told me, ‘You’ve got to make it a reality, otherwise we’ll never let you play games.'”
The company that built the T-Series console also wanted to help Johnson and Johnson’s team out.
Johnson told TIME that he and his brother were offered $1 to take on a manufacturing job at Staples.
“That was a lot to take, especially with the high-end parts we were looking at,” Johnson shared.