When it comes to legends of eSports, the name Johnathan Fatal1ty Wendel is top of mind. One of the first eSports players to break through to the mainstream playing games like Quake III: Arena, Counter-Strike, and Unreal Tournament 2003. The 12-time world champion was able to parlay his success in pre-livestreaming days into coverage on MTV s True Life and CBS 60 Minutes. He also used his expertise as a gamer to launch Fatal1ty Gaming Gear, which creates and distributes PC gaming gear like mouse pads, motherboards, and sound cards.

While that business is still doing well, Fatal1ty is back in the spotlight as a coach in Legends of Gaming, the debut series of Endemol Beyond USA s YouTube channel, Smasher. The new online series pits popular YouTubers like The Jovenshire, Syndicate Project, Terroriser, and runJDrun in gaming competitions hosted by YouTube star Toby Turner. The collective cast of the show has over 43 million followers and is a new effort by Endemol Beyond USA to blend eSports with YouTube personalities. This concept is based off the UK Legends of Gaming series and has changed the format to focus on multiplayer competition instead of one-on-one competition.

Wendel talks about the new series, as well as the rise of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, in this exclusive interview.

How have you seen YouTube open up new opportunities for gamers?

Back when I played professionally you had to be best in the world to make a living playing games. Now gamers can find new ways to be pros through having entertainment personalities on YouTube without being the best game player.

Why did you always remain an independent pro gamer?

I was offered to be on teams, but I chose not to because of the value I saw in owning my own IP and owning myself. In 2002 I launched Fatal1ty Gaming Gear and today we still sell products worldwide. We have new Monster Headphones deal this year. I was on a different path than anyone else because I had a vision to make a brand for gamers.

When you look at eSports today, teams own the players. The players will join because of security of salaries. You don t see lone wolves any more like I was. The Syndicate Project is a guy who kept all his rights for himself. Even YouTube personalities own their likeness and their IP, but they re a different kind of entertainment property. For the gamers today, it s hard to break out in the pro circuit.

What impact has livestreaming had on eSports?

When I played in all the early tournaments, you could download the demos from those matches. The spoiler had already happened and you knew who won. It doesn t have the excitement of who s going to win and who s going to lose. In my era, I was able to capture MTV, 60 Minutes and Time and get my story told through video, which was the only outlet we had back then.

Pizza Hut is the primary sponsor for Legends of Gaming. What has eSports opened up for sponsors and advertisers?

Back then we had the eyeballs, but it wasn t as crazy as today with Twitch and YouTube and what we re doing with Legends of Gaming. It s opened up the door for the blue chip sponsors like Pizza Hut to connect with this audience.

What do you feel separates Legends of Gaming from anything out there?

It s a show that s very unique and has different people that specialize in different types of games. You have famous YouTubers competing against one another in an eSports platform. It will bring more eSports viewers. It ll show the competition side. League of Legends fans will be interested in this show for sure, but overall it s going to be entertaining and competitive for a lot of people. You don t know what s going to happen next.

When people watch Legends of Gaming they re going to be inspired by the action and the fun that they see, and they ll end up wanting to play and compete as well. This show is going to inspire a new generation of eSports players.

What games are you focusing on for this show?

We re focusing on a wide range of games from shooters like CS:GO and Doom 3 to FIFA 16 to Hearthstone to random games like #IDARB — games that are competitive, but not necessarily eSports.

What do you feel will differentiate your Fatal1ty Monster headphones from the competition?

I ve been selling headphones for over 10 years with Creative Labs and we ve been selling 10,000 to 30,000 headphones a month for a long time. All the stuff we invented for my headphones you see in other headphones now. We can bring something unique to that gaming space and bring that Fatality brand to gamers like we ve been doing now for over 12 years. This has been my business since 2002.

It s my legacy and my true story. A lot of these companies that are trying to get into eSports are suits who want to get into this space because there s an audience and money there now, whereas I m a gamer from eSports that started my own company. I was the highest paid gamer for 10 to 12 years. The brand became its own star. When you think Fat1lity, you think gaming. That s a credibility I bring to Monster. They wouldn t get into eSports by themselves. Monster doesn t have a gaming division or anything to give them credibility. I want to work with their engineers and designers and develop a Fatality product. I ve done all of my partnerships the last 12 years this way.

What are your thoughts on the $6.5 million the top team took home from the $18 million The International this year?

The prize money behind Dota 2 and League of Legends is amazing. I made like $110,000 in my first year and in 2005 I made over $200,000. Then DirecTV came to me and wanted me to be their Championship Gaming Series, so I left the pro scene to do that. The eSports scene died shortly after that. I made a smooth transition to promoting eSports. I ve been promoting eSports my whole life. We did deals with DirecTV to have Fatal1ty commercials and helped us get into Best Buy and other retailers.

What role do you feel TV will play in eSports with ESPN and TBS getting involved?

It s interesting because all of these gamers are fine watching their TV shows on the Internet. It doesn t have to be on CBS or ESPN. TV has been trying to dive into our world for a long time. But Twitch is our ESPN. We watch eSports on the Internet. The only reason for eSports to go on national TV is to get more eyeballs.

Where do you see eSports five years from now?

ESports is always getting bigger every year. Five years from now, I believe that gaming will become more recreational, much like what you see with other sports. For example, I m a tennis player and I play on a league. I believe we ll have rec leagues for gaming. Gaming and eSports will become more recreational and competitive, event for the casual player who just wants to be a part of a team. It s the evolution of what we do as eSports players. ESports really is the sport of the 21st century.