Johnathan “FATAL1TY” Wendel became was the world’s first full-time professional gamer who became known in the ’90s and early ’00s for his high-level Quake skills, tournament wins and for having his own branded gaming products.
What advice would he give to upcoming pro players, organisations and other talent in esports in terms of them building their own brands?
“I was the first gamer to really brand himself, so I’ve always had a big passion for making hardware and products for gamers,” FATAL1TY said.
“Kids that have brands today are building their brand through Twitch or YouTube. People connect to you with your brand. There are tons of gamers that have a brand, a logo and following and are committed to it every day.
“I think some of them are doing pretty professionally, but there are a bunch of amateurs out there who aren’t doing it, but it’s hard. Fame and popularity don’t come easy.
“I was able to win a lot of tournaments and got a lot of good PR. I was able to maximise my potential every time something good happened.”
So it’s about practicing and getting good, but also having business acumen and marketing?
“Yeah,” FATAL1TY explains. “You do have to have something of a business mind to think of it, but you have to manage the two. You can’t do something in the deep end which makes no sense for the brand.
“For gamers today, the way they make most of the money off their brand is by their popularity from social media and Twitch and so on. It’s hard to do. I still don’t know of other gamers that have a brand and sell products worldwide.
“It’s easier to get sponsored, and I guess easier to create your own brand nowadays.”
While he’s retired from pro gaming today, FATAL1TY still has his own line of motherboards and gaming accessories, and regularly streams on Twitch.
His success in building a brand and a name for himself came down to his high level of skill, the number of wins and being the best. But it also came from his professionalism, the ability to spot a business opportunity and marketing success (he was the poster boy for esports in the late ’90s and secured interviews with big broadcasters and publications).
It’s harder nowadays to make a name for yourself in the world of esports, because it’s becoming a saturated market, and back in 1999 it wasn’t a huge thing, so FATAL1TY was able to carve out somewhat of a niche and build on it to grow his brand and presence.
But taking inspiration from his work and learning from his success can inspire future players and organisations to follow in his footsteps and make their own mark on esports.