Golden boy gamer becomes a brand
By Jo Twist
Computer gaming has come a long way since the days of Pong.
Global gaming tournaments now offer thousands in prize money and pro-gamers are turning into "personalities" who can earn a healthy living.
Besides lucrative sponsorship deals, they can be brands in their own right, and "known" by millions of gamers.
Jonathan "Fatal1ty" Wendel is the "golden boy" star of first person shooter (FPS) games; he is known as the best PC gamer in the world.
"The only way to make a living is to be the best," he told the BBC News website in-between "shoot-outs" at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this month.
Gaming tournaments are getting big and are increasingly attracting more coverage on TV.
Fata1ty wants gaming to be treated as a sport, and pro-gamers to be known as "E-Sportsmen/women".
The 23-year-old is likely to be the "sport's" first western trail-blazing personality and all-rounder in more ways than one.
"For pro-gamers there are about 12 or 13 tournaments and you have a chance to make over $300,000 [£160,000] if you win them all."
He has earned a fan base around the globe, winning six CPL (Cyberathlete Professional League) championships, the only gamer ever to do so.
He is Doom 3's first ever world champion, according to the Twin Galaxies' Official Video Game and Pinball Book of World Records, the industry's official record book.
What's in a name
But he is also one gamer who is proving that winning the tournament is not the only way to make money out of what was once an activity berated by parents.
In January, Fata1ty signed a lucrative 12-year deal with Creative Labs to design peripherals and accessories for gamers.
The deal is not just about letting a company use his brand name. As a pro-gamer, he will be telling the company what gamers want and need.
I never leaned towards alcohol, or smoking, or drugs or anything - gaming was a great saver for me
This he already does in his other contract with Abit which makes Fatl1ty motherboards and video cards.
"There is a bunch of things I have learned from going to global LAN [local area network] parties," he says.
As with all sports, equipment is crucial to how a player performs, just like the latest racket or shoes.
But only in the last few years have PC manufacturers taken the demands of gamers seriously by offering PCs and products tailored specifically for them.
There are several "hassles" that Fatal1ty and other gamers have had to put up with in the past, like on-board sound static, and unnecessary parallel ports, and latency problems.
"Most products today are made by people who know the technology," he explains.
"There are engineers who are crazy about the next step in technology, but they forget about what the gamer really wants."
Because he takes part in so many tournaments each year, he says, he gets to see what works and what does not for gamers all over the world.
"I went to Taiwan to talk to the engineers and designers about what a gamer wants and doesn't want.
"Sometimes they overlook the smaller things that would make a big difference for a performance-savvy person."
Passionate, and hardcore gamers, are often willing to spend a lot of money on new graphics or sound cards when the latest, graphics-heavy, top title like Doom 3 comes out.
But Fatal1ty's "brand" is also focused on shrugging off the image of gamers as socially inept and unfit.
This image has been evolving anyway as gamers get older, and as it becomes a larger accepted part of the mainstream leisure and entertainment industry.
But sport has never had a golden-boy mascot like Fatal1ty before.
Fatal1ty was - and still is - a keen and very able sportsman away from the keyboard.
Many of the growing army of female pro-gamers have been accomplished athletes in their day, and now seek another sport, says Fatl1ty.
Screenshot of Painkiller, Dreamcatcher
Painkiller is the next big-bucks game Fatal1ty has set his sights on
When he was growing up, gaming was a form of stress release. Tired of his parents or of his sporting exploits, he would unwind playing Quake for a few hours.
"I never leaned towards alcohol, or smoking, or drugs or anything - gaming was a great saver for me," he says.
And far from gaming turning him into a hermit, he talked to the whole world, says Fatal1ty, and learned new net skills in his mission to get better at the games.
The social side of LAN parties, where gamers gather physically with computer in tow, plug in, and play against each other, is crucial within the gaming community.
"Socialising online is awesome - you are talking to all these gamers just about random topics. It's like you are on the phone talking to a friend almost," he explains.
"Then you get to meet these guys at LAN parties.
"It's a total blast."