NEW YORK — In a week in which many gamers have pondered shelling out hundreds of dollars to play new games, Johnathan Wendel ended a first-person-shooter death match Tuesday with a $150,000 check for his efforts.
Wendel was competing in the Cyberathlete Professional League finals, gunning through a showdown in the game "Painkiller" against Sander "Vo0" Kaasjager. Wendel, who games under the name Fatal1ty, had been defeated by Kassjager earlier in the three-day tournament and had to climb to his victory from the loser's bracket. But on Tuesday night he proved unstoppable, pulling off four straight wins in 15-minute death matches to take the victory.
The players faced off onstage at the Nokia Theatre in Times Square, manning computers set right against each other. They could have been opposing chess grandmasters, if not for the announcers shouting about "kills on Meatless" through the PA. Above the gamers two big screens switched back and forth from the first-person perspective of both players' characters. They played at blazing speed, darting down corridors and pulling off kills at a blurring pace.
"I didn't know I had him until the last minute," Wendel said. "I was up 20 to 10 [kills], but anything can happen in this game." He trained for eight hours a day during the last two weeks and knew he had to keep his cool. "I thought, 'Dude, play smart, play slow. Don't mess around. This is serious. One hundred fifty grand, on the line.' "
The CPL finals marked the end of a weeklong string of pro-gaming events. Last weekend Singapore hosted the World Cyber Games, an Olympics-styled event where Team USA took first prize (see "Gamers Travel All The Way To Singapore To Play 'Halo' ").
The CPL event was actually the conclusion of the league's nine-month season, over the course of which $500,000 in prize money had been doled out. Another $250 was won during the first two days of the New York competition. The final quarter-million would be the spoils of Fatal1ty and VoO.
League founder Angel Munoz considered the Tuesday finals a breakthrough, in part because a mainstream network — MTV — was there to film the event.
"This is one of the happiest days of my life," he said. He expects competitive gaming to become a mainstream televised sport and says he thinks getting more pro gaming on TV will shatter stereotypes. "I like when people say it will be like a chess match or a poker match. But it's not — it's a virtual boxing match."
Competitive gaming is mainstream entertainment outside the U.S. In Korea pro gamers play at live events that resemble rock concerts. Tuesday's event played to a half-full Nokia Theatre, the empty seats perhaps a sign that pro gaming still has some growing to do in the States.
Despite losing the finals, Kaasjager was awarded an MVP trophy from Intel, an accolade for having racked up the most victories during the tour (he scored 3306 frags; Fata1ty nailed 3191). For that he won $20,000 and took $100,000 for his CPL second place for a total season earnings of $232,000. Still he wanted to win and was kicking himself for failing to take out Fata1ty during a late-match round that his opponent had forced into overtime.
He tried to wash the taste of defeat from his palette with his first-ever bite of a White Castle burger. Minutes after suffering a fatal frag, Kaasjager was surrounded by supporters armed with the miniature burgers, a delicacy the gamer hadn't experienced in his native Holland.
If burgers weren't enough, there was that other consolation. "I still won more money this year than he did," he said. Fatal1ty had "only" won $230,000 for the season. "So that's kind of a relief."
Watch "From Game to Fame," MTV's coverage of the CPL finals, right now on MTV Overdrive. The special also airs Saturday at 8 p.m. on MTV.