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If there were a Michael Phelps of video game tournaments, it would be Johnathan Wendel, better known to us all as Fatal1ty.
Like the top-of-his-game Olympic athlete, Fatal1ty has racked up considerable championships, supplements his winnings with a variety of endorsement deals, and remains one of the more recognizable names in his sport. He took time out of his training schedule to talk to us about the ways in which eSports has changed since 1999 and how to break into the competitive gaming arena.
It’s been over a decade since leagues like CPL, World Cyber Games and MLG started. How has competitive gaming changed since you first started winning?
In 1999, gaming was at its very early stages where nearly no one was competing full time. Years passed and around 2005, gaming was hitting its peak for payouts, which allowed players to could commit 100% of their energy to gaming.
Today, gamers are winning tournaments and grabbing some money here and there, but it seems more gamers are making money from team sponsorships and their own live streaming. I really like it that gamers can become stars in their own right and not have to rely on a specific team to make it as a professional gamer.
What’s the best route to becoming a professional gamer these days?
It's still heavily concentrated on how you perform in online tournaments and where you stack up on the leader boards. After that, it's being social in the community and always being available. When teams see your dedication and your hard work, they know you exist and put you on a potential list to pick up. Going to LAN tournaments is very valuable as well, as people to get to know you better and provides the opportunity to prove yourself. When people see you do it in person, it validates your skills much more than just playing at home.
What does your daily training include?
When training religiously before tournaments, wake up at noon and train till 4 PM. Go for a 20-30 min run and have lunch. Play another two hours and relax. Somewhere around 1-2 am, I'll hop back on and play another two hours before heading to bed at 4 AM.
This formula seems to work very efficiently for me and doesn't wear me out. As for my training partners, they hate training this much, so I usually find 4-5 different people to play with.
Which eSports events are the most newb-friendly for an amateur gamer to break into the world of pro gaming?
Online tournaments and local LAN tournaments are usually pretty easy and this is where you can get the most experience. Doing well in online tournaments with some good teams involved definitely will boost you into the scene.
At what point is a gamer considered “professional?”
The term is thrown around a lot. I think you need to make at least $20k-$30k a year minimum, to be considered an actual pro. But there is real no body that actually sanctions you’re a pro or not. I assume some can say if you made any money playing a game, you’re a pro.
Are there advantages to team-based competitions over solo gaming competitions?
Team based is fun and exciting for the players. It's a lot of fun to play with your friends and other talented players. When I played team games like Quake, Counter-Strike, Call of Duty etc, I was fortunate enough to have great teammates from previous games I played. A lot of FPS shooters can switch fast to other FPS games and still be pretty dominant. As for other game types, I would still give a die hard gamer a shot at being a teammate of mine in a game like League of Legends because they understand the commitment and drive it's going to take to get to the top! The negative side to team games is finding four other guys you like to play with and that you can win with. It's very hard to find committed individuals like yourself if you’re ready to put 1000% into it.
Solo gaming competitions I enjoy immensely! I love when all the pressure is on my shoulders and if I lose, I'm the only one to blame. When I win, I know it was my hard work and drive to get to the top! It's the best feeling in the world to win world championships in solo events; there is nothing else really like it. Also, from a financial perspective, you don't have to split the winnings.
Cheating has touched even top gaming teams like KeSPA. Have you seen become a widespread issue in competitive gaming?
Online there is always an element of possible cheating. You try to look for it as best you can and run a fair tournament for everyone involved. This is also why I was leaning towards going to LAN tournaments and winning there! You'll get a lot more credibility at these types of events than you will online.
“Fatal1ty” is the most recognizable names in eSports. How did you end up choosing that name?
Big fan of Mortal Kombat and I figured in the games I'm playing, I’m always trying to kill my opponent. If you remember what fatalities looked like in Mortal Kombat, that's what I'm trying to do to my opponent every time I kill him.
Games as unexpected as Super Smash Bros. Brawl have become part of the eSports trend. What kind of alternative games would you like to see played competitively in the future?
I would like to see fast twitched FPS games played more. I miss seeing big one-on-one tournaments in games like Quake, Doom, etc. I believe the skill needed in these fast twitched PC games belong to some of the highest skilled players in competitive FPS games. So yeah, I would like to see a new FPS shooter that all the hardcore FPS gamers could compete in on a very high level.