The Birth of ITG
Before ITG was created, Marcus took a trip to Daejeon, South Korea in 2002 for the World Cyber Games. A life-changing moment, it played a key part in the creation of ITG.
This would be the first large clash between him and TSN [Tribes Shoutcast Network], as he pushed back and wouldn’t take
No. for an answer when it came to attending. TSN acted as a driving force early in his career, despite having this fallout.
The South Korean esports scene was hidden in a shroud of mystery during the early 2000’s, for two main reasons: language barrier, and distance. Very few individuals within the esports community (stateside) at that time could speak Korean or make use of any translation, and being at minimum 12 hours away on a plane made it even more difficult to reach. They held what was seemingly the secret formula to esports, though; a well-structured scene with tournament atmosphere far beyond what the West was familiar with.
Making the most of this opportunity, he would go on to study Korea’s esport culture, structure, and execution. He would then utilize that for the blueprints that would become ITG two years afterward.
For everyone involved, Marcus especially, ITG was not merely a pivot from TSN—it was acting upon an idea and forming it into a reality. An all-in decision, it was either going to be successful or dead on arrival.
ITG, that was late 2003, maybe early 2004?
It was 2003 or 2004, yeah.
Around that era, 2002, you went to South Korea during the World Cyber Games.
For sure; that was one of the problems with me and TSN.
Expand on that.
TSN was trying to build a network, not individual talent. They had a really large problem that I was growing as a talent beyond that network.
They wanted to contain you.
They wanted to contain me, and I went against them, at risk of being fired, because the World Cyber Games reached out to me after Quake Con 2002, and said they loved my Quake commentary. Would I be up for Unreal Tournament? And I was like “fuck yeah, 100%” and they flew me out to Korea. They didn’t pay me anything, but I was in.
Well, TSN didn’t like that. They thought it only made sense if they brought the whole network over, and covered the entire event. I won’t name drop, but I notified a certain person that I did not agree with them, and that I would not give up this opportunity to go to Korea. It was a dream come true; I can’t give it up. If that means that they had to fire me or get rid of me, so be it. I ended up doing a post-WCG wrap-up show that became very famous. I realized two things. First and foremost, I wasn’t going to let a company contain me if I did have talent, and number two, I wanted to foster talent like me.
If someone was on my network and just blew up and became the next big thing for this game or that game, then that’s success. That is fuckin’ crazy successful, and to be able to share that victory… I just didn’t agree with TSN’s philosophies of growing network versus talent. I ended up taking all of that talent.
I took Tosspot, I took Tasteless. All the people; I told them they all have talent, and we can build us all up.
It’s about us becoming the storytellers. And us telling the stories of the amazing players … and how that’s going to help shape this industry.
In 2002, WCG was the peak of all video game competition.
Would you say at that point, from TSN to WCG, you considered this to be a lifelong journey, something you could look at as a real long-term career?
Let me tell you something. That trip to Daejon, South Korea, was one of those life-changing moments.
The Trip to Korea
That was peak Brood War as well. BoxeR 2-0’d YellOw in the Grand Finals.
Imagine a white kid, from Omaha, Nebraska of all places, getting this opportunity to go to Daejon, South Korea, to provide live commentary.
That was fuckin’ amazing.
I knew of StarCraft, I knew of the culture, but I got to experience it first-hand.
I saw an auditorium full of 5,000 people, go ape shit, with BoxeR playing YellOw in the grand finals that year, too.
That was life changing, because when I was done [with commentary], I went and watched other games’ finals. I realized something while doing that, though.
I thought, “I am such a bitch,” because in gaming you are a Nintendo kid or a Sega kid, and up to that point, I was like “I’m Quake for life! I’m going to cast this game forever!”
Well, look at the status quo. Look at where I would be if Quake was going to be the game that I would have cast for the rest of my life.
[thinks for a second]
One of the hardest thing to deal with in the world of esports is the constant trolls and insults of, “Yeah, djWHEAT chases the dollar, he doesn’t care about the games,” it’s like, no, dude.
I care about them so much, I was willing to learn every game I possibly could. I went home and learned how to cast Counter-Strike; I embedded myself in that game. I learned everything I could about Warcraft III, because that was just released. I would cast every single mod people for Quake. No longer would I be a snooty Quake commentator; I wanted to be an esport commentator.
For anyone wanting to get into the world of esports, you better be keeping an eye on every game; I would never put all my money into one game again, ever.
Rather than focusing on one game, it was at that moment that Marcus realized there was so much more out there.
This was larger than video games or esports, and Marcus knew that. It was an untapped powerhouse in the East, and a bridge needed to be constructed. Some way, somehow.
Would you consider yourself a broadcaster and commentator, that just so happens to cast esports? Or rather, someone from esports, that broadcasts and commentates. For instance, could you see yourself casting an NFL game? An NBA game?
At one point I was really into UFC, and thought I could commentate it, but at the end of the day when I thought about it… the reason I have been successful as a broadcaster, is because video games genuinely excite me.
You go back and watch every StarCraft match, every Quake match, every Counter-Strike match… that’s genuine excitement over what I am seeing. A lot of times people dismiss it as fake, but that’s really why I’ve been successful. When those games start, the world around me closes, and all I can think about is that someone is controlling this [the game mechanics] at a masterful level, and I am getting the opportunity to cast this, and I think about the importance of that to other people.
That was my adrenaline, my drug, for so many years.
I don’t know where that answer falls in what you asked me, because I was involved in esports for so many years where it wasn’t even called esports; it was just…
It was just gaming; they tried throwing labels and buzzwords at it for a few years there. Competitive gaming, cyber athletes, the lot.
So you come back from Korea, coming off of the WCG. Being a competitive person, are you wanting to keep pushing to a higher level or are you satisfied with what’s just taken place at that point?
At that point, it became more so of attaining that level, and questions arose immediately.
“How do we reach that level?”
“How do we become Korea [in terms of esports]?”
“How do we educate people and create awareness that this is a thing, and people should care about it?”
The video game industry back then within South Korea wasn’t ruling with an iron fist, but there was a buzz about seeing how well the game development outfits were doing in the West. It wasn’t until 2001 that things really started to roll, contrary to popular belief. Technology strongholds started to develop, and seemingly-immortal chaebols started investing money.
In 2001, Ragnarok Online was released, and a year later, MapleStory. At this point, video game companies began looking at this as more of a large business opportunity, and less of a niche. It was going mainstream, and fast.
Brood War tournaments were in full force, giving out prize pools larger than any other video game tournament sans the West. WCG had a Top 3 prize pool of $35,000, an unheard of amount. Lim Yo Hwan, better known as BoxeR, was teetering on the cusp of mainstream celebrity status, with a full-length DVD feature coming out two years later, showcasing his rise to fame within the Korean video game landscape coupled alongside his best in-game plays. The year after that, an autobiography was published, Crazy As Me. The following, an excerpt of KESPA president Kim Yungman, within the book:
E-Sports, with the representation of Starcraft, has increasingly expanded its territory and created at least 200,000 related occupations, completely rejuvenating the related industries.
Moreover, it has had extensive effects socially, economically, and culturally, enough for professional gaming to be the youth’s most desired occupation. The person who has played a crucial role in intensifying such love for Starcraft is the progamer Lim Yohwan [sic].
Championships were appearing, top players were becoming near-mainstream celebrities for their exposure in such a dense region. Saturation was at an all-time high, and just a few months after the World Cup’s success, NCsoft dropped one of the largest success stories in MMORPG history, Lineage II. The game was recognized at a presidential level for its impact on the country’s culture.
This was a glowing source of potential, not only for esports, but for the future of the video games industry as we would come to know it. South Korea was pulling numbers beyond anyone’s expectations, both in release volume and revenue.
By 2005, the industry in South Korea had reached a whopping $4.5 billion, for video games alone. It was not only something fun and cool within the sector of business, this was becoming a global phenomenon quicker than anyone could realize in the West.
Marcus knew what to do. Take advantage of it; funnel the energy into kickstarting esports-related content.
That’s when the infamous
GGL [Global Gaming League] Era started to kick off.
During all of this, the GGL era is happening, right?
Right, I was just about to get into that.
So following TSN and WCG, the GGL era was starting up.
GGL ended up hiring ITG to do a bunch of their events, and we met with them. We did Gravity Games. We met with them some more at ESWC, and I was sitting on a hill, literally, watching a concert after ESWC 2004, and Bret Hawkins from GGL was there. He came up to me and asked if I would move to Los Angeles and come work for him.
“Shit man, I’ll have to think about that one. What about ITG?”
He said he wanted to purchase ITG, as a whole, and make it so when we went to events, he’d be paying us. He wanted broadcast development. He wanted to keep the esports thing going.
What I saw in that was opportunity; up until that point, I kept asking how we could make this movement larger. The stuff aforementioned. This seemed to be the way to go about doing that.
I said yes in October of 2004, and in January of 2005, me, my wife, and our three cats were on our way to Los Angeles.
Who was on the active roster, of ITG?
- Chad “Blankz” Budd
- Darryl “SyN” Kucmerowski
- Darren “lun” Webber
- Allison “Trillian” Suttles
- Travis “trav” Carrero
- Stuart “TosspoT” Saw
- Paul “ReDeYe” Chaloner
- Jeff “smeagol” Dickinson
- Nick “Tasteless” Plott
- Christopher “MonteCristo” Mykles
- Tres “stunna” Saranthus
What year does this bring you to, with the acquisition? Where does Rod [Breslau] come into play?
I don’t even fuckin’ remember where I met Rod.
[grins and laughs]
When was it, dude? I mean, it had to be…
It was definitely at a Quake Con or something. During the GGL era, though, yes. I remember him leaving that era, in 2009.
Let’s touch on the gap between 2005, which is when you were in Los Angeles, and then leading into the disaster we all know as the CGS. Anything that hasn’t already been said?
So, CGS and GGL overlapped. I did a lot of stuff; HHGL, that’s when we were doing the Gravity Games in 2006.
Dude, I casted Quake 3, and this was in 2006, I casted Quake 3 in front of 50,000 people in Cleveland, right before Jane’s Addiction came on. How fuckin’ ridiculous is that?
That same night, I met Randy “Macho Man” Savage backstage; I was just sitting there wondering if it was real life.
A fever dream.
It just really, really… a lot happened.
For me, GGL era was an experimental era. There was a lot of things which I did not agree with but they let me do whatever I wanted, including experiment with things like video broadcasting. We can’t forget that’s where I founded Epileptic Gaming.
I challenge anyone to find me another daily video game show that was livestreamed over the internet at that time; I truly believe I was the first one, alongside Rance Costa, Hogan Carter, and Robert Summa to do it.
This was 2006, going into 2007.
Yes, I have a VOD somewhere talking about it all, but that’s basically the jist of it. We were doing audio a little while before the video broadcasts.
The Hip-Hop Gaming League
No one could predict what would follow. A video game tournament, hosted by Snoop Dogg, which would mesh hip-hop with gaming.
Depending how you looked at this on paper, this was either a recipe for disaster or about to become cemented as a legendary event.
The Hip-Hop Gaming League. The best video game tournament to ever exist, which no one remembers.
I have to ask, about the HHGL. You hosted this with Snoop Dogg, and you knew nothing about hip-hop.
Yeah, the only thing I knew about Snoop Dogg at that time was a few of his songs, and I knew that he liked to smoke a lot of weed, so we have a couple things in common, right on!
So, imagine this. I played a role at GGL similar to a role I play at Twitch today; they know that if they were to throw me into a situation, that I will handle it professionally, and with grace, and to the best of my ability. That’s what I did. I let those guys [the hip-hop artists] be the stars, I tee’d up the right questions, and you know I don’t even really know how I ended up with that role.
That was a really wild tournament, we need to bring that back in some form.
I know, I know.
It was wild and it was so incredibly ahead of its time.
It was seeing into the future, just the premise, it was hilarious.
Can you imagine, for 10 weeks on Twitch, starting next week, the largest hip-hop artists in the world are going to be playing games of their choice on their own Twitch channels, culminating in a huge finals with a hip-hop concert? That would be one of the most awesome and hilarious things to ever take place on Twitch.
I think it was just the interviews being so terrible along with the artists being sky high [on weed] the whole time, it just made it so good.
I was in a world where it was just great, I mean the people were so passionate about this, no doubt about it. At least that was common ground, you know? People are stoked about the video games, people were cheering, granted they were sports games, but that’s fine. It’s fine, because people got it. For that afternoon, people got it. For those 9 weeks, they got it.
I got to spend a fair amount of time with Snoop Dogg, and believe it or not, I learned a lot from that guy. So, Snoop Dogg was the commissioner. He didn’t actually play; he had two jobs. The first was to visit the studio, and shoot two hours of footage for the HHGL. The second job was to show up at the finals and be apart of it. Well, he was really into it. I think it was one of those cases where he signed the deal and agreed to be apart of it, then realized “oh shit, this is fuckin’ dope, I want to be part of this more” so he was integrated more than what was required, which was awesome.
Watching Snoop Dogg basically improv a bunch of promos for two hours, was fascinating. He made people laugh, he’d take breaks and get people involved, and there was a lot that I took away from that day.
When I’m around people I admire, I try to take away everything that I possibly can. That’s truly how we can improve in our own passions and just as humans.
It was an amazing experience, plus how many people can say they shared a stage with Snoop Dogg?
Sure, but did you share a blunt with Snoop?
[grinning with a short pause, laughing quietly]
So we have that on record now.
Basically what happened was, Snoop and the about 9 folks that Snoop rolled with, they had a room that was quite small.
Well, the time came where I had to notify them that I was the host, and let them know the run down of how it was going to happen live. Of course, I go into the room, and I have to like, do one of these [motions with hands as if he’s swimming through water, alluding to the room being hotboxed] and the first thing I hear is:
[looks left and right, then leans in]
“Well, this is going to be a much better meeting now!”
I did, right? No big deal, I can handle my blunts. So, I got a chance. Puff, puff, pass, thank you so much, cool, didn’t ask again.
That is a situation where you are offered, but do not ask.
A lifetime achievement.
It kind of is, it kind of is…
[recollects while vaping]
finally got his own twitted accout!— djWHEAT (@djWHEAT) September 26, 2008
Now armed with his own twitted accout, Marcus was finally prepared to face anything.
Being no stranger to rolling blunts in his lifetime, he was always sure to seal them tightly, making sure they wouldn’t unravel or fall apart.
However, the Championship Gaming Series would have a much different fate.