Dennis “Thresh” Fong was inducted into the eSports Hall of Fame during a ceremony at QuakeCon 2016 in Dallas on Saturday, August 6. Thresh is considered the first pro gamer, having risen to the top of the competition in Doom and Quake in the ‘90s long before Twitch and livestreaming were invented. He earned over $100,000 a year playing games through endorsements during the days of LAN tournaments in hotel ball rooms.
“It’s an honor to be selected,” Fong said. “For the guys that were early in eSports like Heaton and myself and others to come, the question is: how will we be remembered? League of Legends has a champion named Thresh named after me, but 99 percent of people I run into online playing Overwatch ask if I play League; they think I named myself after the champion and not the other way around. It’s cool to have others have pay tribute to the fact I made a tiny mark in the gaming world. And my contributions will be remembered.”
Thresh is known for his deliberate, control-based play style, where he would typically starve opponents of resources rather than rely on pure aim. His style of play led him to numerous victories, none more famous than the Red Annihilation Quake tournament in Dallas, where his first place prize was John Carmack’s custom modified Ferrari 328 GTS.
“The new generation who plays Dota, Dota 2, League, Overwatch or CS:GO aren’t familiar with history,” Fong said. “Even CS:GO players may not be familiar with Headon if he didn’t own and manage a team. I won the Ferrari in the late ‘90s and the vast majority of people today don’t know it.”
One reason is because there’s not much video that exists of Fong in his prime. Fong said one regret he has from competing in the early days was there aren’t a lot of recordings of the thousands of matches and tournaments he competed in.
“There are probably 5 or 10 demo recordings of me floating out there,” Fong said. “I have regrets that I didn’t record and share because I’d have an archive of how I played. That’s one of the biggest reasons I started Plays.tv—a service that makes it easy for people to record. People ask me what gaming was like, what the skills were like back then, and there’s not a whole lot to look back to. If Plays.tv existed back then, I would definitely have used it.”
The eSports Hall of Fame was founded by ESL and is dedicated to preserving the rich history of competitive video games. Inductees are selected through a nomination and voting process overseen by experts within each game community.
“History, in general, is interesting, whether learning from past mistakes or where things came from,” Fong said. “What is accepted as standard today like the WASD key configuration or rocket jumping or bunny hopping or resource control in an FPS and not being reliant solely on aim, has history. When you understand the back story of champion names in League it adds context to the world and makes you appreciate more. History does the same thing. ESports has blown up in the past few years, but it’s been around forever.”
After retiring from competitive Quake, Thresh founded GX Media, which built the popular web portal, gamers.com, and co-founded Xfire, an online gaming instant message client that was acquired by Viacom in 2006 for $102 million. He is currently the CEO of the gameplay sharing service Plays.tv and Raptr, Inc., a gaming-focused software development company.
“ESports is what got me interested in technology, computers and the internet, which all were pretty new in those days,” Fong said. “Gaming is the top reason why I’m still involved in internet-related tech and businesses today. Most of the products and technology I started was for me to solve my own frustrations. As most people know, I was making six figures when I was 17 years old as a pro gamer. I used a lot of that money to start my first company. That gave me freedom to pursue my own passion. And it happened to be a space that I loved.”
Fong also believes the mental and emotional part of gaming, which is required when you practice as much as pro gamers do, also helped him transition to business.
“You need to compartmentalize emotions so you can perform,” Fong said. “Part of my skill was being able to put myself in the other person’s shoes and see the game through their eyes in real-time, which is why they called me ‘Thresh ESP.’ I could predict what other people were going to do. That skill translates well to most people’s lives, and certainly mine. In a social setting to have emotional intelligence, and in business for partnership or marketing to users, it naturally applies to business.”
It’s fitting that Fong was inducted into the eSports Hall of Fame the same weekend that id Software revealed additional details about Quake Champions, the modern day incarnation of the game he played so well.
“Quake Champions looks fantastic, but I haven’t played it yet,” Fong said. “Folks who are into arena style duel games could care less about graphics. The game is going to be determined by how crisp it is and how it feels. The original Quake games has that crisp feeling, which is important. I’m excited to see another duel eSport emerge. We’ll see if the fans flock to it.”
Fong believes Quake Champions could be just what eSports needs.
“Some people tell me they’re getting a little fatigued with MOBA-style games,” Fong said. “And a lot of people pinged me after Quake Champions was announced. Most of the eSports games today are team-based, which is fine and great, but for first-person shooters, typically it’s a bit harder to follow as a spectator if it’s a team-based game. It’s harder to cast and to give context on what everyone is doing. Pure 1-on-1-style eSports in a game like Quake is easy to understand. It could be a really good change of pace, and a good thing for eSports.”
With the focus of the world on Rio 2016 today, and the Olympic Committee adding new sports like skateboarding to the Tokyo 2020 games, Fong believes that eSports becoming an Olympic sport is inevitable.
“It’s going to happen,” Fong said. “The question is just when, and how long is it going to take? Is it a legitimate sport? Curling is an Olympic sport. Why in the world should a virtual sport that fills stadiums, and has tens of millions of viewers watching the finals, not be in the Olympics? The Olympics is also about money and prestige, not just about sport. When you look at the young global fan base eSports has today, they’re going to find a way to make it happen at some point.”