Leap of Faith

Marcus throws a hail mary in a moment of uncertainty

The largest failure in esports history, it needs no introduction. The Championship Gaming Series (CGS) was dead on arrival, by both idea and design. The only silver lining is that many names we know and love within the esports scene today emerged from the rubble of the CGS’ collapse, including both Marcus and Richard, as discussed here.

That brings us back to CGS, with HHGL wrapping up. Perhaps the worst crumbling of a large scale video game tournament ever.

CGS had a history in and of itself; it was piloted originally as the Championship Gaming Invitational, not Series. What that taught a very intelligent team, is that just because it’s a video game and just because you can put it to tape, doesn’t mean it’s any easier for workload.

The early philosophy at CGS was, taping three weekends with 20 shows, but failed to realize that it was done best live. Some games, easy to demonstrate that, while others more difficult, but it didn’t take long for Mike Burks, who had experience with the Super Bowl, with the Olympics, with Thursday Night Football. He was one of the first people to say that we couldn’t do it pre-recorded; it had to be live.

CGS happened twice; two pilots. That was a way to figure out how to make it a live league, that happened twice a week, for 8-10 weeks.

Warming up and checking over some notes during CGS NA Finals


Marcus and Johnathan “Fatal1ty” Wendel



Quick action shot

The crumbling of CGS brings us to the end of 2008, and the beginning of 2009.

I had a very important phone call with Jason Lake, you know who he is; he was apart of CGS at that time, and he ran that one team named LA Complexity for the CGS.

I spoke to Jason and he just asked me what I was going to do, and I told him I was unsure, but I was going to do the one thing I knew I had to do, which was leave Los Angeles because I couldn’t afford it.

No one was hiring game commentators, right? It wasn’t like esports was blowing up.

I spoke to G4, they weren’t looking for anyone. I was exhausted, and remembering that being an extremely stressful 2 months on my mental psyche; I was hustlin’, man. It was a ticking time bomb.

Find something, or move back to Nebraska, because you can’t support your 4-year-old kid or wife out here, or yourself [himself], right?

I’m really glad that it didn’t. I went back to Nebraska, and luckily my wife and I had bought a house back in 2003, and we just happened to still own it, because if you remember the housing market was really shitty during that time, so yet another lucky thing to happen. If I had sold that house, I don’t know where I would have moved back to. Being able to move back into an affordable place, there was comfort in that.

I’m going to tell you a couple of things I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone.

I had to take unemployment, no shame in that. I had to support my family; my wife went to work at the family restaurant, and she actually enjoyed that, and that was right next to the daycare, so it gave me kind of time to figure out what the hell I was going to do. I was looking for jobs, and I had reached out to some of my old contacts.

“Hey, I’m back in town, if anything comes up, let me know.”

I was unemployed from January until March [2009]. What that allowed me to do, was in February of 2009, I went to my community and I said to them, “Hey, I know you love EG [Epileptic Gaming], I know you love the other shows we used to do, and I really, really really, want to do this. I really would like to try and make this what I do full-time. Things are changing, CGS failed, yeah no more GGL.”

I don’t think Justin was public with it [Justin.tv’s rebrand] quite yet, not completely embracing the gaming part yet. So, I basically was like hey, if I can raise this much money, I’m going to start up all these shows, I’m going to create djWHEAT.tv, and from the community which I had been creating through esports and EG, I raised almost $5,000.

A lot of money.

For 2009? Hell yeah, man. That’s a lot of money.

That’s like a large prize pool at an esports tournament back then. Even more, probably.

I remember being incredibly humbled at that moment, and honestly, I remember saying to myself “I won’t let these people down” right? I’m going to do this.

That’s when I started EG again. That’s when LiveOnThree became a thing. That’s when Weapon of Choice restarted. That’s also when Call and Brawl came back. I was doing 4 shows, obviously the flagship show was definitely EG, but as esports was starting to grow, LO3 was kicking up. I started interviewing all of the exit contestants from Ultimate Gamer. SyFy even advertised it a couple of times.

In May of 2009, I got approached by my former boss at the bank and she was spinning up a new team which was deploying cloud backups for all of the banks for the company, and they wanted me to lead the team.

I was in 100%; I needed the job, I had to support my family. That was 2009, about May.

How do you deal with hitting your peak within esports, then being forced to pick up a 9-5 yet again. Does that mess with your mental?

It’s great to be in the gaming celebrity limelight and that level of recognition, but it’s also great to have the ability to take care of your family, and still chase your dreams and support your hobbies without having to sacrifice a bunch of other stuff.

It was kind of funny, because I came back to the bank as a semi-celebrity in a way. I didn’t feel like people were looking at me as if I failed. I was still very much involved with esports and it was just another part of the narrative.

“I did this, I did that, I was on television, and it was great, but it [large success] hasn’t happened yet, so I won’t give up, but I’ll still need to leave work at 4:00 on Fridays to do EG” and it was accepted.

People I worked with knew me enough already that they knew I had gone to Korea, that I had traveled to all these different places.

A certain level of respect.

Perhaps, yeah.
Evident was the amount of respect Marcus had attained within the esports scene. Rachel Quirico spoke on how Marcus mentored her, and how much his impact was felt across the scene:

There’s no doubt about Marcus’s impacts on esports and livestreaming and content standards for broadcasts at large…but I also want to shout out just how much one-on-one attention Marcus gives people.

Since I had the pleasure of first meeting Marcus a decade ago, he’s been a sounding board for some of the biggest decisions I’ve made in my career. He always found time to listen and to be sincere in his replies. I had looked up to him as a media figure for so long and then there he was sharing that wealth of experience with me, helping me make better choices and see things from new perspectives.

WCG 2005 Korean Finals


Marcus holding a PSP at WCG 2006 in Monza, Italy


Setting up some press releases in the press box, WCG 2006 in Monza, Italy

How to Rebound

For those who have experienced a similar situation while attempting to achieve their dreams, what would you say? To those who deem themselves as having failed.

Well, there’s two way to handle that.

You can either shrivel up and stop chasing your dreams, or you can reset and you can get right back to where you were. If you’ve done it once, you can do it again.

That was my philosophy. We were entering into a new era; we had Justin.tv, we had UStream, I didn’t have to pay for additional bandwidth. We have all these creatives and new ideas.

That eventually led to the creation of OneMoreGame.

OneMoreGame was more or less the same; my idea behind it was very simple. I was such an idiot I called it “djWHEAT.tv” because it made the most sense at the time, because it was just me hosting all of the shows, but then I thought… you know, I want to create something larger than me, and I can’t ever ask someone to broadcast on my network.

Imagine, “hey, come broadcast on my network, djWHEAT.tv” that was pretty fuckin’ stupid. If I had one regret in my time, it’s that.

Sure, for branding.

Right, to brand it differently.

So I created OneMoreGame.tv with SirScoots, GotShidosha, Justin Meter, Aaron Hassle. It was the same stuff I was doing, but we had a regular schedule, we had someone to help us book guests, we did social [media], and eventually it got bought by Good Game Agency, which was the company that owned Evil Geniuses and Alliance as well as other esports teams, and whatever else around it.

How did you and Sean [Plott] meet each other?

I met Sean in Singapore WCG 2005, my son was just born so I was not able to go to the WCG USA Finals that year. Sean had qualified, and Tasteless was on my commentary team. I had heard stories of his brother, the legend that was Day[9].

Then I got a chance to meet him, and my first impression was “Oh my god, this guy is a real life muppet; full of energy, silly, goofy” and it didn’t take much to be like “I love this guy, he’s great” — now it wasn’t really until 2009 that we reconnected. Partially through the content he was creating through Day[9] dailies and that we were doing similar things, and with StarCraft.

I would consider him a very, very good friend at this point. 10 years later.

During that time too, yes, I had fallen back in love with StarCraft.

Hail Mary

Let’s talk about that for a second.

How I got involved with StarCraft, actually, is a funny story. I knew Day[9], and wanted to get more involved. I remember watching MLG DC, the first MLG that had StarCraft II, and I just thought about how much I missed it.

I remember emailing Ben Balboa and Sundance DiGiovanni. Before I touch on the actual email, let me preface by explaining why I thought I could send this email. As I was leaving GGL, I had two options in front of me. Work for CGS full-time, or go work for MLG in New York, and that was a hard decision. I would have loved to have worked for MLG, but I was sure that my story would be a lot different if I did.

Marcus and Sean at MLG DC, 2010

Sundance commented on why he gave Marcus that shot:

When Marcus first reached out to us, he had already established himself as one of the most notable voices in esports. Live on 3 was the gold standard for in-depth discussion around esports, and his work with other esports entities was well known.

Having Marcus join our broadcast was essential to help us establish credibility and trust with the StarCraft 2 community as we worked to build an audience. His passion and commitment to esports was infectious and having that energy in the room made for a better event both for the viewers at home as well as for the live audience.

Finally, things were starting to click, and Marcus’ hard work up until that point was being recognized. He would be given a once-in-a-lifetime shot to prove his worth, and it would be among the largest stages which existed in esports. His experience was finally paying off. Marcus wanted to talk about what what the email said, and what happened after he hit Send:

I felt like I handled that situation really well, where I thanked them, and I explained to them why I made the decision that I did, and I always made a point to make sure they knew how much I respected what they were doing in the space.

I emailed them, both. Verbatim, I said:

“I love what you’re doing for StarCraft. I feel like I could bring a lot to MLG if you brought me to a competition. If you fly me out to the next event, I will work for free. I will be your commentary bitch, and I will do 15 hours of games if I have to, just to show you how serious I am about wanting to commentate at MLG.”

And there was a plane ticket waiting for me to go out.

I always tell people, sometimes you just need to take the initiative and go for it. I wouldn’t suggest giving up your hard earned time, but this was a period where you had to do that to get noticed.

Marcus and Sean would go on to become one of the crowd favorite casting duos of the early StarCraft II days

Was that MLG Dallas?

I want to say it was MLG Raleigh. I think.

So, I sent that email, and that’s how I got into MLG. I owe it to MLG for giving me a shot.

It was that very leap of faith that allowed Marcus to bounce back from the rut that he had been in. He had gone against the grain several times to go after what he saw as a path towards achieving goals, and it was this chance he decided to take that would flip the switch.

In the months following MLG Dallas, he would create long-lasting relationships which he still holds strong to this day. This would include Sundance DiGiovanni, the founder of MLG, as well as Justin Kan, the founder of JTV.

He’d also go on to develop a relationship with Sean “Day[9]” Plott, a figurehead revered for his content and casting within the StarCraft scene, and they’d go on to be regulars at several MLG events. Even becoming a crowd favorite casting duo, due to their natural chemistry. Sean commented on how much of an impact Marcus made on him:

Marcus is someone who I admire so much.

He’s deeply passionate and cares so much about what he’s doing. Fearless, in a calm way. A lot of times when you think of someone as fearless, it’s almost that they’re full of fervor and determination. Marcus is like “yeah, we’re gonna do it,” and he’s always very calm and poised. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him get nervous or anxious, ever. He seems absolutely unflappable. There’s this sort of fear that you think about when you have a piano recital, and you gotta stand up and play a piece.

“Ooh, I don’t want to mess up!” There’s that sort of fear, but then there’s a more basic one, which is… “Ugh, I don’t want to do this thing, this is going to be a pain in the ass.” Marcus was doing broadcasting long before there was a concept of live broadcasting. Long before a concept of it. The way he was able to do that was just say, “let’s do it and figure it out,” and how did he figure it out? Endless failure, which totally seemed not to bug him at all.

He just managed to make it all work. There were a lot of shows that he worked on which were a complete disasters, and he literally kept plowing forward, plowing ahead… and it’s one of those things where, when I first started talking to Marcus about 2009 and 2010, when I was starting my own broadcasts and it was starting to get big, I’d go to him.

Marcus and his son, James, at an MLG event

Marcus tends to see pockets of opportunities where others only see failure. When those around him viewed CGS as an utter failure, he switched viewpoints and viewed it as a net positive.

He had been successful when presented with situations where the odds were stacked against him thus far.

The challenge ahead would prove to be one of the most difficult in his life: tasked by Justin Kan and Kevin Lin personally to work on a secret project named Zarth, an idea to pivot JTV completely to video games.

The idea seemed ludicrous; gaming was operating at a 3% margin for JTV, but it was a long-shot that everyone in the crew believed in. Kevin commented on offering Marcus the position, initially:

He was on Ustream and I believe the biggest change to the business that happened during Twitch’s development was the number of customers we were talking to and reaching out to. Marcus was not super excited to hear from us in the beginning, I don’t think.

Understandably, because he didn’t know us; we were not good at customer-facing stuff for a super long time. Our brand was this generic brand, with little-to-no marketing around JTV. Eventually we got him [Marcus] on the phone and explained what we were trying to.

Out of everyone in the esports scene, or even video game scene for that matter, why Marcus? It was quite simple. There was no one alive that had more skin in the game when it came to broadcasting video games live on the internet.

Marcus obliged. Now, he had to deliver.