Manny "The Master" Rodriguez knows how to talk smack in English. He knows how to do it in Spanish. But that's not enough.
"I'm trying to see if I can get something in Japanese," he told MTV News earlier this week. "I definitely want to tell [other players] they're trash. I gotta get that in. I got to figure out what the word is for trash and garbage."
The Master isn't a bad person. He's just a really good player of the fighting game "Dead or Alive 4." This week he'll be the American team's representative for that game at the World Cyber Games in Monza, Italy, playing against contestants from more than 60 other countries. He's also one of the most notorious trash talkers in pro gaming, a scrappy sport in which most competitors don't make a lot of noise. It's something he thinks more pro gamers should do, if they want their field to grow.
"When these big events come around and I don't see other people doing this, I'm just, like, 'Dude, you are missing out on the whole event,' " Rodriguez said. " 'You're not grasping what's going on right now. You've got to go out there and be somebody because you never know when you're going to get a chance again.' "
Pro gaming is still fighting for mainstream respect and widespread appeal. The general public has heard that some hard-core players now make thousands of dollars — even hundreds of thousands — playing games (see "Dutch Gamer Uses $232K CPL Winnings To Splurge On First White Castle Burger"). But competitive gaming isn't close to a major league yet. It lacks crossover stars and a definitive league of its own. Various pro-gaming leagues and tournaments — like the World Cyber Games, the World Series of Video Games, Major League Gaming and the Cyberathlete Professional League — are still vying to prove themselves the NBA or Olympics of the scene.
Some organizers think that TV is the answer. Others court more sponsorships and big arenas, the likes of which have made pro gaming a star-studded, stadium-selling-out scene in "StarCraft"-loving South Korea. But Rodriguez thinks a little flair and a bit more bark would help gamers' cause too.
When he took the stage for the championship match at World Cyber Games' U.S. finals in September, Rodriguez jumped in the air and whipped a spinning kick. When he won the match's first round, he got in his opponent Daniel "King" Roberson's face, yelling, "That's right! That's right! I'll put you in your place! This match is over!" When King won his round, he just quietly said, "I'm sorry I have to beat you." Master got back to bragging. Loudly.
That's different than what's often heard at pro-gaming matches, where the announcers often speak at an auction-barker's pace as if they were broadcasting for radio and the gamers tend to sit quietly and focus on their play. That's not the way of the Master.
When he's not traveling the U.S. to compete in "DOA," Rodriguez, 21, works a part-time job at a Sam's Club in Irving, Texas. They don't call him Manny over there anymore. They call him Master. "Everyone at work thinks I'm a star now," he said. He savors that.
He started playing fighting games when he was 6 and growing up in El Paso, Texas. He would have preferred to play "Sonic," which was his game at the time, but his older brother had discovered "Street Fighter" and needed someone to battle. The younger Rodriguez sharpened his skills and became a fighting-game expert. This was the early '90s, when fighting games reigned supreme. "Back then if you didn't play 'Mortal Kombat' there was something wrong with you," he remembered.
Rodriguez sampled many of the fighting games that came out in the next decade: "Tekken," "Virtua Fighter," "Soul Calibur." But it was "Dead or Alive" that won him over and made him a winner. He entered Texas "DOA" competitions and started coming out on top. In 2004, "DOA" went online on the Xbox and he started fighting and winning tournaments there.
Last year "Dead or Alive 4" was released for the Xbox 360. Rodriguez stumbled at first. The moves of his preferred character, Ryu Hayabusa, had been changed. So the unthinkable happened. While the game notes exceptional sessions, awarding achievements for certain amounts of wins or for beating certain characters, it also gives a mocking award to someone who loses five times in a row. Rodriguez won that prize. He kept his losing streak in perspective and did so with his rare pro-gamer swagger. As he put it, "It happens to everybody. It happened to Michael Jordan. It happened to Muhammad Ali. It's going to happen to Master too."
Then he got back to winning. In August of this year, his streaking performance brought him to the U.S. finals of the World Cyber Games. Early in the championship match he really was backing up all his bragging. But King started making a comeback and Rodriguez came to realize that trash talk has its downside. "It started backfiring on me and I realized I was concentrating so much on talking trash that it was costing me the game."
He shut up for a bit. His trash became a mutter. Then he won, and he was standing and yelling at King some more. In the post-match interview, he was asked about the opponents he would face in Italy. His response? "They're dumb. They're not going to beat the U.S. ... You should give me my paycheck now."
Big-mouth athletes often make big bucks. People pay to see them back it up or get their mouth shut. Rodriguez hopes that's his future. Right now he's hoping to win enough money to buy a car — a flashy one, of course. His first match is Thursday against a gamer from Sweden. If he wins, as expected, he may indeed face some Japanese gamers later.
Here's a tip for the Master: That phrase he's looking to say? Omaewa gomida.
To see Rodriguez and the rest of the WCG competitors in action, go to the World Cyber Games' Web site.