The next action sport

By CAMILLE DODERO  |  November 21, 2006

KoreanDJ is quick to say he doesn’t do it for the money. “I didn’t say, ‘I’m going to be the best so I can be a rich bastard when I grow up.’ No, who thinks like that? Come on. People who think like that never get good. It’s all about the motivation to get better.”

After Dallas came Anaheim, Chicago, and then Orlando — KoreanDJ’s big breakthrough. Though pitted against Ken, who’s been playing competitively for years and who’s widely considered the King of Smash, the kid who’d been playing only for a year and a half won. KoreanDJ told the MLG Web site, “In the second bout, I had to experiment with stuff I never did before, sort of like a freestyle rap battle. In that match up, it was pure improvisation that defeated Ken.”

But then KoreanDJ lost. Christopher “Azen” McMullen destroyed him right after he toppled Ken. “I beat the best player in the world; then I lost. It was kind of a weird feeling. I was not happy. The person who beat me, Azen . . . ,” he mutters, pounding his fist into his hand. “Oh man, I want to beat him so bad.”

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The next NASCAR?
Millions of bucks are being thrown around pro-gaming. Last June, Final Boss landed a three-year, one-million-dollar MLG contract. NBA All-Star Gilbert Arenas independently sponsors the team, even hooking up his pet-project players with Adidas. And Final Boss’s Derek Jeter, 22-year-old captain Dave “Walshy” Walsh, not only just launched his own clothing line, Kiaeneto, but has a lucrative deal with Red Bull.

Currently, there are more than 150 professional players in MLG. “Out of those 150, 35 are overseen by a management group, who represent them to sponsors, assists them with public relations and promotion,” explains MLG’s Sepso. And then, at the very top level, we have a premiere management group that has only five people right now, but it’ll be expanding as we go into the end of the season.”

When Boost Mobile Major League Gaming Pro Circuit airs on the second Saturday in November, two photogenic commentators call the action: host/actor Penn Holderness and MLG co-founder Sundance Giovanni. They say things about Final Boss like, “They are just too good at teamwork and slaying.” Or, with regard to Walshy: “Up close and personal, he will take your face.” The play-by-play is a little spooky, a little John Lee Malvo taken out of context. (“This is one of those things you don’t get to see all the time: one of the best snipers in the game just picking people off like it’s a shooting range.”) But the USA show treats virtual first-person shooting as a legitimate sport: slow-motion replays, match highlights, tips from the pros — more ESPN than MTV.

When the first episode airs, Smashers are disappointed that they’re ignored. MLG posts an explanatory note on its Web site the following morning that reads, in part, “This television show is the first of MLG’s many planned seasons and series. . . . Once we are better established in this new medium, you will certainly see a much more comprehensive view of what Major League Gaming is all about — including all of the games that are run on the Pro Circuit.”

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