Jung is also into hip-hop (“It’s delicious.”) and occasionally makes beats — hence the DJ/Daniel Jung double meaning of his gaming handle. “One of the biggest stereotypes with video gamers is that they have no life,” Jung says, sitting on a folding chair he’s pulled out. “At least with professional games . . . it adds more meaning, I think: we have the better of the two worlds. You have that real life and that virtual life. You combine that together and you have a really good real life: you have pals, a car, and you get really good at video games — who can argue with you?”
The only time Jung can remember life without video games was during the short period when he lived in Korea. Growing up in Cambridge, he remembers playing Sega Genesis since he was three, and Sonic the Hedgehog with “instant nostalgia.” In Korea, Jung’s father “tried to get me into the action toys because he wanted me to separate from video games a little bit.” It didn’t work.
Jung returned and played Smash’s predecessors in elementary school and junior high. Starcraft (“Koreans dominate Starcraft like no other,” but “it’s just not my style”). Street Fighter. World of Warcraft. In his junior year of high school, a friend showed him smashboards.com. “It was like a magnet,” he says. “I was tired of doing the same thing. I wanted to be somebody, do something with my life — I had that type of revelation,” he recalls. About a year and a half ago, there was a Smash tournament near his high school. “I wanted to beat my friend Brian, who was the best in my town,” he recalls. “I just barely lost. Something in me just snapped and said, ‘You know what? Forget this! I’m going to beat him. I’m going to be the best in my town! The best in the state! The best in New England. The best on the East Coast! The best in the country! The best in the world!’ ”
Even though most people don’t consider playing video games an athletic activity — a perception that MLG is trying to change — gamers have developed athletic habits. Smash players warm up before each tournament. They travel to one another’s homes to train. And they study filmed replays, posted on YouTube, of each other’s moves.
They’re also determined to excel at anything they set their minds to mastering. KoreanDJ isn’t just good at Smash; he’s also amazing at Guitar Hero, able to play the toughest song at the highest level without the television. At a recent MLG event, “he played [Pantera’s] ‘Cowboys from Hell’ without looking on expert,” remembers MLG’s Sepso, with awe. “He literally turned around and faced the crowd without looking at the TV screen. And he got, like, 80 percent. It was at one of our playoffs, kids were winning $100,000 playing Halo and he was the talk of the tournament.”
Sepso’s point is that great gamers are versatile. They have to be, since games become outmoded so quickly.
KoreanDJ ended up competing at the pro level. He went to MLG Dallas in May, where he finished fourth. “With Smash, I can see a future.”