NEWS - Monday, November 22, 2004

Professional Gamers Making A Killing

The concept of professional gaming is still relatively new, but as more tournaments surface and an increased number of skilled gamers enter the fray, the ability to make a living by simply playing games could become a reality for many. It already has for Jonathan "Fatal1ty" Wendel. Professional gaming has been growing at an even more rapid rate than the rest of the videogame industry. In just a handful of years since the first big leagues began appearing, the payouts for the biggest tournaments have skyrocketed into the millions of dollars. More and more individuals are making names for themselves (and a lot of money while they’re at it) by proving they’re the best gamers out there. GameDAILY BIZ recently spoke with Jonathan "Fatal1ty" Wendel, probably the most famous of this new breed of athlete, about the explosive growth of the sport. Show Me the Money Fatal1ty got his start on the pro gaming circuit in 1999. He had always known he was a great gamer, but previous competitions had always been too far away for him to test just how good he was. Eventually, a Dallas Cyberathlete Professional League tournament got close enough for him to drive to, and so it began; he walked away with a $4,000 check for 3rd place. "Gaming creates superstars. I’ve been traveling around the world for my Fatal1ty shootouts, and I’ve been known in every country," Jonathan "Fatal1ty" Wendel, Pro Gamer. Only a few short months later, he flew to Sweden to represent the U.S. in a worldwide tournament, and emerged undefeated, with the $40,000 first place check, and newfound celebrity within the professional gaming community. "In 2000 I made about $110,000," Wendel told GameDAILY BIZ. "2000 is also the year a peripheral company picked me up for sponsorship. The prize money is great and makes up a much larger percentage of my income, but the sponsorships are my stable income. It’s the check I know I can put away every month." "Once I started making a name for myself, I realized a lot of people were looking at what equipment I was using. That’s why I decided to start my own brand. Initially we just sold things like mouse pads, and they sold extremely well. They made a good amount of money," Wendel continued. From mouse pads to hardware What has set Fatal1ty apart from other pro gamers (besides winning more than any of the rest) has been his ability to market himself to potential sponsors and to gamers alike. Although he continues to win at the professional level, the brand he has created would be sustainable even if he no longer competed. Although pro gaming is still in its infancy, Fatal1ty has proven that you can parlay your skills with a mouse and keyboard into other ventures, perhaps similar to retired athletes who make the move to the broadcast booth. "I teamed up with ABIT to create my own line of motherboards and video cards. I felt like other hardware manufacturers were trying to cater to gamers, but they didn’t really know what we needed out of our hardware. The hardware is specifically designed for custom gaming rigs," Wendel said. The Future of the Sport "Professional gaming will continue to expand. Kids today are born into videogames. Today’s pastime has become videogames. It used to be that baseball was the backyard thing kids would do after school. Today kids get together and play videogames," said Wendel. Some have speculated that the sport has been hurt by the perceived fragmentation of the tournament scene. While some tourneys favor Unreal, others might make Painkiller or Quake their flagship title, creating what would seem like a lack of a single standard. Fatal1ty explained the situation in a different light. "It’s better to think about it like tennis. Tennis matches played on clay and matches played on grass offer really different experiences, but it’s still the same game. Playing a round of Painkiller compared to Quake is just like playing tennis on different surfaces—they both have their own intricacies to adjust to, but they’re fundamentally the same," he explained. Wendel’s goals aren’t all motivated by dreams of personal wealth and celebrity. Like most of the top players, he displays a genuine interest in nurturing the sport until it’s as mainstream as any other. "I have three goals, right now. First, continue competing professionally. Second, I want to give back to gaming. I made my first stable money from gaming through sponsorships, and I’m now sponsoring up and coming gamers with my own brand. I’ve given about $150K back, so far. Lastly, I want to continue building the sport and increasing its exposure," Wendel said. Where is professional gaming headed? Most likely to ESPN2 and beyond, as entire generations grow up not knowing a world without videogames. "Gaming creates superstars. I’ve been traveling around the world for my Fatal1ty shootouts, and I’ve been known in every country," Wendel said.


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