Jonathan Wendel has had a very good year. Known to the masses by his screen name, Fatal1ty, he is the top-ranked gamer in the world. He has been featured on MTV's "True Life: I'm a Gamer", on ESPN, CNN, and in magazines like Details, Maxim, Computer Gaming World, and Entertainment Weekly. Pulling in over $100,000 in winnings last year, Fatal1ty is a three-time world champion in the Cyberathlete Professional League. He has recently partnered with Auravision, makers of custom keyboards, mice, and other gaming accessories, has invested in his retirement, and, perhaps most surprisingly, is one of the nicest guys you'll meet. Fatal1ty is rapidly becoming the ambassador to the mainstream for professional gaming, and it's hard to imagine a better representative. I was lucky to get some sit-down time with Fatal1ty during last week's E3 show, which I used to get to know the hardest working gamer in the world a bit better.
GamesFirst!: First of all, what does it feel like to be the pro videogame player?
Fatal1ty: It's pretty cool. I mean, you're living a dream that nobody else is, that no one probably thought was possible, and it's living a dream. I feel very fortunate that I'm doing what I'm doing and I love doing it. I want to keep doing it; I want to contribute to the gamers and create some cool, high quality products for gaming. Also, I want to go back and do things to help sponsor and help grow the sport. So we're trying to do a lot of cool things and make this an accepted sport.
GF!: Well let's get the business out of the way: Tell me what you're doing with your Fatal1ty line and Auravision here at the show.
Fatal1ty: I just signed a massive licensing agreement with Auravision, and they'll have the rights to manufacture all of my products. So we'll have a Fatal1ty computer coming out, and we're rolling out right now a Fatal1ty keyboard and a Fatal1ty mouse. We already have the Fatal1ty mouse pad that I sell pretty much worldwide, in Europe and Japan, USA, and Canada. Basically we're going to create a lot of high-end gaming products for the gamers. And once we've grown the company, we want to sponsor gamers through it. So as the revenue comes into the company, we'll turn it right back around and put it back into the gaming community.
GF!: So what does a gamer get from having a Fatal1ty keyboard and mouse?
Fatal1ty: Basically, it's going to be the higher end. It's going to be customized how I would want it. When you're playing it's important to have the best equipment available. The keyboard has certain characteristics, such as how it allows you to respond faster because it has quicker key action. With the mouse pad, it has a larger surface so you're able to use a lower sensitivity and become more accurate and more consistent. It will help you become a better player. The mouse pad is very important because it allows you to have better aiming precision and it's more comfortable on your hands. The idea is to allow you to focus on your game instead of your equipment, and that's what I've always preached since I began competing in 1999. I don't want to worry about my equipment. I want my equipment to be there, done and over with so I can focus on my game.
GF!: And how is the game working out so far?
Fatal1ty: Great. Over the last three years I was the Quake III world champion in 1999. I was the CPL [Cyberathlete Professional League] world champion in 2000. In 2001 I played more Quake III and won tournaments all over the world, in Australia and other places. I was the CPL winner in Dallas in 2001 and that was a repeat, which no one had ever done before. But my goal is to get CPL champion every year. It's like Tiger Woods; he wants to be PGA champion every year in golf, and I want to do the exact same thing in gaming. In my third year, I went and played Unreal Tournament 2003 and got first place in the CPL championships. That was actually played on MTV. I won $10,000 and captured my third CPL championship in a row.
GF!: I saw you on MTV, and, speaking of that, you come off as this really mature, thoughtful guy, who is putting a lot of thought into what you're doing as well as the future of what you're doing. What do you say to people who expect you to be some kind of stereotypical trash-talking gamer?
Fatal1ty: Everyone thinks that. You always have an image of that top guy being a real jerk or whatever, and my goal when I got into this game was to get rid of that image, especially from the gaming point of view. There are these guys who think that they're the hot stuff, and they might be-they probably are one of the best gamers in the world. But I come out, actually being the best gamer in the world, and show a bit more of a modest side. I try to show an image like Michael Jordan would, or like Tiger Woods does. They're icons of their sports, and they're mature, modest, and they know they're the best-they don't have to tell you; they just play the game.
GF!: You compare yourself often to other well-known athletes. But there are people out there who don't buy it, who question the notion of a "cyberathlete". What do you say to them?
Fatal1ty: If you name a sport or an athletic concept, I can give you an example of that from the game. No joke. Like, you talk about an overhand slam in tennis-well I can give you a perfect example of how you do it in UT2003: You're over a hill, and you have to shoot over a ledge. You do just like you do in tennis. You jump up so high and you shoot that shot while you're in the air to get that guy. Same thing with dodging. The other guy's going to shoot you, so you have to dodge and fake him out. So you look left, go right. Or you keep pushing up on him, knowing all the time that he's going to shoot to your left as soon as you go left, so you go right the whole time because you just know what he's thinking. It's just like being in any other game. When you get in the game, you're high, and you're in the groove, and noone can hit you.
GF!: Would you say that people often, and mistakenly, perceive athletics to be a purely physical activity?
Fatal1ty: Yeah, there's definitely a focus on the physical activity, but I tell you: This game has so much thought process going on. You can think of it as chess, but this is not chess. This is like chess and sports in one. You have to have real stamina, not just physical stamina, but brain stamina. You have to bring that mental game, and that's the most important thing in these tournaments. When you get to the high levels, it's always a mental game. You just have that confidence, knowing you're the best, you've got to win. And that's the kind of focus you have to have going into it.
GF!: So you play UT2003, Quake III, Aliens vs. Predator-do you play any other games competitively?
Fatal1ty: Those are the main games I've been playing lately. I do play a little Counter Strike, but not too much competitively. There's always a Quake III tournament coming up or a UT2003 tournament coming up-something big. And the thing is, I love having all the pressure on me. When the pressure's on me, I'll play my best game. When I play a one-on-one game and it's all up to me, it's nice knowing that if I lost it's really my fault, and not my team's. It's cool having that edge, kind of like tennis, like Andre Agassi; you know, that guys' cool, he's just awesome. And he knows he has to work on certain parts of his game; likewise, I know I need to work on certain parts of my game and get better. So if I ever do lose, I know I have to work on certain things.
GF!: I know that being a game reviewer, I go through loads of games. You spend a lot of time with individual games, but I'm thinking we might have something in common: How do you find the time to just play games for fun anymore? Or do you?
Fatal1ty: Oh yeah, I definitely play for fun. I play Counter Strike for fun. I play Battlefield 1942 for fun. I play Warcraft III for fun. I play all kinds of things. And also, on top of that, I play sports a lot. I've played sports all my life, and I broke some school records at my high school for tennis, so I love playing tennis. I love golf. I like football, basketball. I'm a sports maniac and I love playing every sport there is. I grew up that way.
When I was 13, I actually played competitive billiards. I got up to where I could go to Junior Nationals for billiards. I tore up these old guys all the time at tournaments and whatnot. I'd play in professional tournaments and I'd win like four or five games off guys who played billiards at the highest level. I wanted to make a career of it, but things didn't work out. My mom didn't want me to go compete so much, so I kind of lost the drive to play that. I was kind of upset, but she didn't want me to go to the Junior Nationals.
I've always had these skills of hand-eye coordination. I'm able to understand mathematics. There's so much math that goes into these kinds of games and sports. I've always had a knack for being really good at these kinds of sports, and it's just something that's always driven me.
GF!: By now you've got people knowing you, and ordering your products from your website and reading about your winnings. What do you say to the people who want to beat you-who want to be the next Jonathan Wendel?
Fatal1ty: Well, you've got to have good enough equipment. You have to have dedication. You have to practice. And you've got to have fun. I started out and this was just a hobby, just fun. It was a thing to do at night after playing sports. At 8pm at night my friends and I would get going on some Quake or Doom 2. We used to string a network cable across the cul-de-sac to play Doom 2. And it was just a hobby. The next thing you know, I'm playing in the CPL. That's what you have to do. Go to the LANs around your area, show up, and play against the good players there.
It was always just a hobby, but when I turned 18, I thought, OK, let's see how good I can do. I went to Dallas, played in the CPL tournament, the first time I'd ever played professionally, and I won four thousand dollars. I got home, I put the check on the table, and I said, "Look at that, Mom and Dad. I made $4000 playing a computer game-what's this world coming to?" That was back in '99. After that I got invited to go to Sweden. People paid my airfare and everything. I got sponsored by a company to use their mouse, and after that it just boomed. Lately it's booming again, and this thing is just getting bigger and bigger. We're going to make it, and we're going to make this really fun for a ton of people.
GF!: You mentioned practice, and I heard you talk about this on the MTV special. But how much do you practice every day?
Fatal1ty: I think two to six hours a day is typical. But if it's before a tournament, I practice eight-plus hours a day easily. One time at the house in San Antonio where we were training down there, we woke up at 9am and gamed all day until 4am. My friend went to bed, but I kept gaming with another friend for two or three hours. I got up to get a Coke from the fridge because I needed the caffeine, y'know, and my friend, who I'd just got done playing with for like 15 hours straight wakes up and says, "What are you doing Jonathan?" And I'm like, "I don't know..." So I said, "You wanna practice more?" And he says, "OK." So he gets up after three hours sleep and we went at it again, all the way until like 8pm that night. We went for 36 hours or so.
To me that's fun. We were having so much fun. People kept showing up and we were just having a blast. We're talking smack back and forth. I'm not a big smack talker really, but when I'm hanging out with friends and stuff we talk. We'll be like, "In your face!" and like, "Oh! Facial!" It was hilarious. That time we were laughing so hard I was just rolling out the front door. I was on my knees laughing so hard because these two brothers, Shogun and Valdez, were talking so much smack. I mean, you know their brothers, but they talk trash so hard it's hilarious. We have a ton of fun just practicing and it's a blast.
GF!: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Fatal1ty: Hopefully still gaming. I want to game. I want to stay true to the gamers. I want to be with them and have fun with them.
GF!: Is Fatal1ty still going to be a huge name among gamers?
Fatal1ty: Yeah, we're going to still make the high end gaming products for the gamers. I mean, 40 years from now I'll probably be retired and who knows what. I might not be able to play anymore. But I'll still be with the gamers. I just want to sponsor them, help the community grow, and do all kinds of things. I really hope to sponsor gamers and help them experience the fortune that I have for the past three years.
You can find out more about Fatal1ty and keep track of his winning on his website: http://www.fatal1ty.com.