Over the years, competitive gaming has quickly transformed from breaking record scores in video games at Twin Galaxies [arcade] to big budget eSports tournaments like Major League Gaming (MLG). Many don't know about the players who paved the way for competitive gamers today. We had a chance to speak with the living legend and precursor to competitive gaming, Todd Rogers. Todd holds the titles of being the first professional gamer ever, a 2010 International Video Game Hall of Fame inductee and now the Guinness World Record holder for the longest standing world record in gaming. Todd hooked us up with quite a few gems on pro gaming's intense history.
Complex: As the first professional gamer in history, could you explain what tasks you had to perform for your sponsors?
Todd Rogers : The only real task, was just being the best that you could be at the game that you played. Always striving to do better than you ever thought that you could be. The real pressure was when your sponsors were behind you watching and expecting you to perform well for what they paid for. They paid me to display how to play their games and I had to showcase how well I could play it to entertain the live viewers. Then there is the media, that would ask you odd questions sometimes while you were playing or after. If you’re not careful they would take your answer out of context to make you look like a fool. I had to learn to switch from playing the game to focusing on a Q and A which added a level of professionalism to my work.
"Then there is the media, that would ask you odd questions sometimes while you were playing or after. If you’re not careful, they would take your answer out of context to make you look like a fool."
What would you say are the differences between pro gamers today and those of yesterday?
For one, the gamers of yesterday didn't work in teams as much as the gamers of today. No one got paid for team competitive play. I got paid to display the games, explain how they work and how to play them. I also got paid to represent the company's video games in magazines such as Play Magazine and more.
Video games are socially accepted today than it was years ago. Society always bashed anyone who put many hours into mastering their gaming skills as a profession. However, the billion dollar industry it is today has changed that. I understand from my recent exploits on my current gaming team Empire Arcadia, players don’t necessarily get paid for competing. They get sponsored to compete and what they win is what they earn. Despite certain changes it is all still relatively the same. You receive money if you play well.
You've held a video game world record for 30 years, which is half the lifetime of the video game scene as a whole. Explain to us how and where you officially achieved the world record?
I achieved my original world record in my living room upstairs in our house back in Chicago on December 1, 1980. My late brother Scott and I would go back and forth on many of the Activision titles. There came a time when it wasn't just about bettering each other scores it became me against. the world of gaming on scores. Back then, there was no internet as we know it and the only way you knew how good someone was, is if it was published in a popular gaming magazine or newsletter. That was the benchmark that you went to beat. It wasn’t until 1982 at the Consumer Electronic Show that Guinness officially recognized my record which was later published in the 1986 Guinness Book of World Records.
Since competitive gaming has evolved into what we now call "eSports"; the premise is relatively the same except now it's more so about head-to-head instead of breaking records.
What are your thoughts on competitive play vs. record breaking?
Competitive play brings out the best in one’s character but it's a huge category all by itself--regardless if you’re playing against live people in a tournament setting or Record Breaking. Record Breaking has a different mindset required to compete. Your focus is on a particular score, time and how effectively you can take it down and make it last as your own record. There is also the technique, strategy and pattern in which you have to master and keep to yourself. Letting someone else know could mean the difference between you keeping your record or losing it. In competitive gaming today, people share secrets because you still have to defeat your opponent that has a longer or constantly changing algorithm to his or her pattern of play.
You've been on only a couple of gaming teams (like the United States National Video Game Team and now Empire Arcadia) in a 30 year span whereas today, a lot of competitive gamers have been on 4 or 5 teams in less than 5 years. How important is it to you to stick with one team?
It’s very important to support the substance that stands behind you. I am not sure how the sponsors of today operate, since it's been some time since I’ve competed as on a team. I will say that if a gamer "Jumps" from one organization to another rapidly, that could mean one of two things. The company that they're with are not sharing the enough of the winning spoils and credit, or the politics of gaming get in the way. Some gamers have a need to be socially accepted by his or her peers. Peer pressure plays a big role in how one responds to the loyalty of the team, brand or sponsor that they play for.