The lights are on
Dennis "Thresh" Fong has been at the forefront of gaming for
nearly 2 decades. Under the name "Thresh", Fong helped establish pro gaming as
a viable career path during the late 1990s, and is still regarded as the
greatest pro player of his generation. He's gone on to similar success in game
industry, founding companies like Gamers.com, Xfire, and his current company,
the gaming social network and achievement tracking service Raptr.
However, his most unique accomplishment is one that will
never be duplicated: winning id Software legend John Carmack's Ferrari in a
gaming tournament. We recently spoke to Fong to get the story straight from the
[Note: This article originally ran in Game Informer Issue 243]
How did you become a
pro gamer? The circuit wasn't very established back then.
I'm in the Guinness Book of World's Records as the first pro
gamer. I used to play Wolfenstein and Doom back in the day with my brothers
Then, there was this online gaming service that launched called DWANGO. We all
logged on to that and I started to realize that I never lost. The first
tournament was a Microsoft tournament that they hosted through DWANGO. [They] flew the local winners to Redmond to
compete in the first big tournament of its kind. They had $10,000 or $15,000
for first place, which I ended up winning.
Right around that time, I think it was '95 or '96, in the
online circles I was very well known. Everyone knew Thresh, and they knew I was
the best player. The Wall Street Journal heard about it
somehow. A reporter asked if he could follow me around for a few days to see
what my life was like. I had no idea what The
Wall Street Journal was at the time, so I said, "Yeah, sure, whatever." He
followed me around for a day and a half. I think it was originally supposed to
be a story about online gaming, this whole new thing. But he ended up doing the
whole story on me because he thought it was interesting. That is what really
kicked it off. A bunch of CEOs of different companies called me up and asked if
they could sponsor me or asked me to consult on stuff. That's how it started -
it was by accident. From 1995 to 2001, when I retired, I never lost in a
tournament. I was the world champion of Doom, Doom II, Quake, Quake II, and
then I stopped at Quake III.
Were you able to live
off the proceeds of the tournaments at that point or did you have to have a day
Back then, the gaming was much more consolidated. There
wasn't Counter-Strike, Dota, League of Legends, and all that. Everyone played
the same game, basically. It was Quake and Quake II, period. Until
Counter-Strike came around. So, all the prize money and all the sponsorships
were in one game. Even though it wasn't nearly as big, it was all concentrated.
Also, it was a one-on-one game. That was where all the prize money was. Also, I
was sponsored. So, on tournament money alone, I wouldn't have been able to do
it, but I was making six figures just from sponsorships alone. That's how it
all started; it was really by accident. Because I never lost a tournament in
all that time, there was a very love/hate thing going on. I was the favorite in
every tournament. Half of the people wanted me to lose and half wanted me to
win. It was a simpler time.
How did you end up
winning John Carmack's Ferrari?
This online gaming service called M-Player decided to host
this tournament and John Carmack decided to put up his Ferrari as a prize for
Did that cause a big
stir in the community?
Yeah - it was huge! It would be huge even today. There were
online qualifiers for everyone who played Quake, which was pretty much everyone
who played games at the time. The online qualifiers whittled it down. Then, the
top 32 players in the country, plus a couple spots from Europe, were flown out
to E3 in 1997. E3 was in Atlanta that year. They did a round robin style
tournament and eventually it came down to a guy named "Entropy" [Tom Kizmey - Ed.] and myself. Everyone knew I was the
best player on the west coast, at least. Everyone said that [Entropy] was the
Thresh of the east and he was going to spank me.
So this was a "Clash
of the Titans" kind of thing?
Yes, everyone expected us both to make the finals. It just
so happened that we didn't face each other in the round robin up until the
final match. Basically, we couldn't really agree on a map to play. You have to
pick a map that you are going to play on and agree. He didn't want to play me
on the three most popular ones. So, we picked some random map and I ended up
winning 13 to negative one, which was pretty shocking because it's hard to get
negative in these games unless you blow yourself up. I remember that the
Ferrari was parked in the booth. It just so happened that, in the match, it was
parked behind me. So, when there was 10 seconds left in the match, there was a
countdown in the game. I remember this particular moment. I was up 13 to -1,
and there was no way in hell I could lose at that point. When I realized that I
was going to win it, I could see the Ferrari in the reflection of the monitor.
That was the first time I got nervous in the whole tournament, just because I
realized I was going to win.
When you won, did you
get the keys right then? Did you meet Carmack?
Yes, he was there. We'd met before, since I was the champion
of all his games. We knew each other and were friends. He watched the final
match and then he came up to me afterwards and handed me the keys and said,
"How are you getting this thing back to California?" I said, "I have no clue."
Actually, I didn't even know how to drive a stick. He said, "Okay, wait here."
He came back 20 minutes later and gave me a bunch of a cash to ship it back to
California. That wasn't even part of the prize, he was just like, "here."
Do you have the car
to this day?
No, I kept the car for about 10 years.
Email the author Matt Helgeson, or follow on Twitter, and Game Informer.