Interview: "Fatal1ty" -- Model, Athlete, Nerd?

One of my first writing assignments at AOL Games was an interview with pro gamer, Johnathan 'Fatal1ty' Wendel (yes, that's a numeral one). I got his digits, gave him a call on his cell - he was in the middle of playing some shooter with a bunch of friends. Really staunchly against the image of a 'nerd' - touchy subject? Calls himself an athlete... hrm.

Anyway, the interview went alright, he was a pretty cool guy. Ended up not winning the 'Quake 4' tournament that year. Oops?

The article is no longer online, so I've posted the full piece here.

"Fatal1ty" -- Model, Athlete, Nerd? (May 2005)
We talk to pro-gamer and media darling Johnathan "Fatal1ty" Wendel about setting an example, the gaming revolution and abstaining from the 9-to-5 job.

Johnathan Wendel, better known as ‘Fatal1ty,’ does what every kid really wants to do when they grow up. He plays video games and gets paid to do it. He's won over $500,000 by winning gaming competitions, practices eight to ten hours a day (right now for the upcoming Lanwar tournament) and – as he often points out -- still finds time to play tennis. Does this make him an athlete? Or some kind of super nerd? We ask him to fill in the blanks.

Who knew that playing video games would turn you into a role model? Crazy, huh?
Growing up, I always wanted to be competitive at whatever I was doing, but also be a good role model. When I grew up, I had my role models, too, like André Agassi and Michael Jordan -- anyone who was a hard worker and very competitive. But I understand that when you get to this high level, there’s this big responsibility that I have to be, and I want to be, a good role model for other people.

Do you think that you’ve also kinda turned into a professional nerd?
[laughs] Definitely not, I see myself more as an athlete. I play a lot of sports. Of course, playing computer games is not really perceived as a sport yet, but people are starting to see that we have to train really hard, we have to work on our hand-eye coordination, our reflexes, our timing, our strategy -- everything that you'd use in real sports. Growing up I played sports all my life, so I think if you can be a really great athlete, you can also be a really great gamer.

Do you see video games following pro poker as the next big spectator sport?
Definitely. It’s a worldwide sport; it’s not just in America. It’s in South Korea, it’s in Europe, it’s in China... It’s continuing to grow and we’re getting tons of publicity following the game. Also, you can play [games] on the Internet with anyone in the world. You can’t get any more competitive than it is right now, unless the Internet gets better. There are little things that aren’t the same as being in person. If you’re in person, you get to talk to them after the game, shake his hand. So at all these major events that we play at for big money and big prizes, we play in person, because you want to have the drama, and the talking going on, and good sportsmanship and everything like that. I just think it’ll continue to grow because everyone plays, it’s amazing.

Reports say you’ve walked away from competitions with at least $500K so far. You haven’t spent it all in one place, have you?
I’ve put it in the bank, pretty much. I haven’t done anything crazy yet. I took my friends on spring break. I’m just trying to live a normal life, keep playing games and keep the Fatal1ty brand running.

What did Mom and Dad want you to be when you grew up?
My mom wanted me to work a 9-to-5 job just to have stability. Whatever I chose, she didn’t really care, as long as I had a 9-to-5 job, and I was getting paid. My dad also just wanted me to be a hard worker. [laughs] So, I’m definitely not doing the 9-to-5. Lucky for me, gaming became a big opportunity, and I took advantage of it. And so for six years now I’ve been a professional gamer, making a living by playing video games.

Say all video games were completely erased from existence -- what would you most likely be doing instead?
I would assume I would be working some tech job inside some major company, helping them run their servers or whatever. I would have tried to go for the top. Sounds like you’re a natural born overachiever.

What’s next for you?
Right now, I’m training for three weeks before I go to Louisville, Kentucky for the World Series Video Gaming competition, playing ‘Quake 4.’ Last year I played ‘Painkiller,’ and won the CPL World Tour Finals, and I took a break for a while. Now I’m getting back into my gaming regime -- playing eight hours a day, and getting ready for these big tournaments coming up.

And make your way to the top?
Yea, make my way to the top. It’s a new game, so I don’t start directly at the top, but it’s a work in progress. ... I’ve been able to do it before so I’m going to keep trying at it, try to make it into the finals and win these tournaments.

Good luck. Keep your game hand strong.