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The Undertow                                            
A column dedicated to sucking you into the muck and mire of gaming.

PGL Finals Impressions:  All the truth . . . Without the Hype
Tuesday, February 3, 1998

Unless you've been sleeping under a rock lately, you've probably heard of the Professional Gamers League (PGL). 

You've probably also heard that the finals occurred this weekend (Jan 30-31) in the Emerald City...Seattle. Since I live just down the road from Seattle, I took it upon myself to journey up to GameWorks on Saturday morning to check out the action. Due to time constraints (i.e. work) I was unable to attend the preliminary rounds Friday night...but who cares about the prelims, right?

The PGLI'm no stranger to Seattle, so I'm not going to go off on how cool and hip it is. I'm not going mention rain, or coffee, or the music scene (which is almost dead), or Microsoft...well, yes I am going to talk about Microsoft.  Forget about the "media event", cyberathletes, and all that crap.  I'm going to tell you what really happened at GameWorks. But first let me peck away at my keyboard about the whole Dennis "Thresh" Fong, Gamers Extreme, PGL ranting that have been thrown around the internet. Without going into a large amount of verbiage, I'll lay it out for you in several steps.

PGL = Gamers Extreme?

1) Lyle Fong, Dennis "Thresh" Fong, Bryant Fong, et al. own the website Gamers Extreme.

2) Gamers Extreme "Events Division" (Thresh is supposedly not a part of this "Division") is forming and administering the PGL rules. Quoting the Gamers Extreme site:

Who wants to see organized gaming succeed and flourish more than we do? To promote this effort, the Gamers Extreme Events Division is forming the rules and administering the AMD Professional Gaming League (PGL) which is being hosted on the TEN online gaming service. The PGL is the first league of its kind in that it has already garnered over two million dollars in sponsorship revenues, and all sponsorship income goes right back into the operations of the league. (And prizes, too!)

Whenever you see PGL remember that Gamers Extreme is the rule administrators for the PGL...and I'm sure they're not doing it for charity.

3) Thresh didn't officially earn his way into the the final 256 players, but was given a bye by PGL who is having Gamers Extreme form and ADMINISTER the rules.

4) "...all sponsorship income goes right back into the operations of the league." Meaning: "...right back into the PGL and Gamers Extreme." Equation: Fong Family et al. = Gamers Extreme = PGL.

5) My opinion: very fishy smelling, and a huge conflict of interest. Companies endorsing the PGL (i.e. Gamers Extreme) should take a very careful look at what is going on. The PGL and Gamers Extreme are very young, small, close knit groups. Two million dollars in backing (and rising) from companies is a lot of clams.

Update:  6) Cabalist (one of the final 8 Quake players) pointed out to me that Gamers Extreme made up the brackets for the finals.  Apparently there is the feeling that the brackets were "rigged" such that all of the west coasters would meet in the finals.  Lo and behold!  Three out of the final four players were from the same Quake Clan.  Specifically the clan Thresh belongs to:  Clan DeathRow.  That fish smell is starting to turn rotten.

Microsoft assimilates Thresh.

You see, before the action even began at GameWorks, Dennis "Thresh" Fong made a little trip over to Yuppyville (Redmond) to sign an endorsement deal with the software giant. The Microsoft Mouse 2.0 is Thresh's favorite instrument of death, and the boys in Redmond are giving him a bunch of cashola to continue using it to destroy opponents. The irony of this showed up in game one of the Quake finals...I'll revisit this shortly.  Is this endorsement contingent on continued winning?  Who knows?

The Setting.

GameWorks, actually THE GameWorks...the first one ever built. I was quite unimpressed with the the whole setup. Don't get me wrong, GameWorks is VERY cool, the setup for the PGL finals was lame. There was a small area roughly in the center of GameWorks with a few tables. AMD K6 machines powered the event (duh, they're sponsors!!). Crappy 17" monitors were used. Hello!! "PGL Finals"! Does 21" monitors ring a bell?

The "press" were totally annoying. They insisted on always standing between the spectators and the players, blocking views, shinning their damn lights into the eyes of the players, and stepping in front of one another. C'mon! The whole reason for the finals at GameWorks was for the public to get out and see it and see the names of all the sponsors...NOT to see dumbass media stumble around blocking views. The overhead monitors where completely useless. The only good view was right behind the players, right up against the railing.

Update:  It has also come to my attention (through excellent sources) that GameWorks was footing the food bill for the players, organizers, and press.  That didn't last for long.  Reportedly within several hours of arriving on Friday night, $4,000 in munchies and swill were devoured by the ravenous gamefolk.  Talk about abusing a good thing!  Needless to say GameWorks quickly cut them off when they saw things were getting out of hand.

The Turnout.

When I got to GameWorks at about 11 AM on Saturday, no one was there...virtually empty. By about 3 PM GameWorks was packed, but don't let anyone tell you that they were there JUST to see the PGL. Most of the people didn't know what the hell the PGL was. GameWorks is always packed, especially on Saturday afternoon/evening. So, if we subtract all the normal patrons, media, groupies of the contestants, and organizers, I would estimate that MAYBE 100-125 people actually show up JUST to watch the finals. I was one of those 100, I played a few games between matches, and I had lunch at Planet Hollywood, but I was there to watch. All in all I was pretty disappointed with the turnout. And there were NOT 10,000 spectators from all around the country there to watch as reported on the Total Entertainment Network (TEN).  Of course TEN hypes it up, they help run the PGL!!

Where's the 3D acceleration?

GLQuake is a supported mode of play according to PGL (Gamers Extreme) rules. So I pose the question: Why didn't any of the players use 3D acceleration? Rendition and Jazz Multimedia were sponsors of the event, and the Rendition chipset has a mini-GL driver available. Anyone have an answer? Maybe it's because the players feel more comfortable in non-accelerated mode...I have no idea. The machine running the server was running in 3D mode, but what good is that? If I were Rendition or Jazz I would be very unhappy. That's like a NASCAR team taking on Quaker (hehe) State as a sponsor and running Pennzoil...doesn't seem right. Hell, I'd rather play in 3D mode anyway, things are SO much clearer. Too bad 3Dfx Interactive didn't sponsor the PGL. :-)

Red Alert Finals.

Okay, who's idea was it to have Red Alert in the PGL? The final game lasted approximately 5 minutes. There was no strategy involved (there IS no strategy in "real time strategy" game in my opinion anyway)...they both built up armies of tanks, smashed into one another, one player resigned, and Deep Blue earned $7500 and a new computer. Ooookkaaaaay...that was fun....NEXT!

Quake Finals.

Reptile beat Thresh in the Semi Finals. So Thresh made it through the losers bracket to meet Reptile again. But to be victorious he had to win two games against Reptile.  In the finals of the losers bracket (against Unholy) there were some very interesting developments (this is where the irony I mentioned before come into being).  Thresh, adorned in his new Microsoft hat, paused the game 3 times...maybe four.  Why, you ask?  Because the mouse from his new endorsement buddy Microsoft was skipping and not tracking correctly.  Unholy graciously waited through the entire mess while Thresh's entourage frantically switched mice until all was well.  There seem to have a limitless supply of them.  Also ironically, Unholy's and Reptile's mice performed perfectly.  They were both using Logitech...which sponsor the PGL....but Thresh abandoned the PGL sponsor and went for the dough.  Actually, I think it was egg...all over his face.  But hey, who's depositing the check...not me!

They randomly selected a deathmatch level...DM2. Hey nice pick guys. Probably the worst two player level among the six that come with Quake. No matter, they proved me right and played to an absolutely mind numbingly boring 5 to -1 game...Thresh being victorious. BUT, there were some boo's emitted during the match.  Only people watching Thresh's point of view could see it, but he picked a nice dark corner and camped for about 3 minutes of the match while Reptile frantically search for him.  More irony?  One of the reasons Thresh claims he didn't officially make it into the final PGL cut was because people were hiding from him so he couldn't rack up frags.  Okay, Thresh, whatever.

The second game was randomly picked as well...DM2!!   What!  Everyone in the crowd booed...it is such a boring two player DM level.   Thresh and Reptile agreed to play on DM6 instead.  This time Thresh did play a smart game, and Reptile the opposite.  Reptile went ahead quick with two frags, then Thresh took control.  He masterfully controlled the red armor while Reptile pretty much gave up.  He knew he needed frags, so what did he do?  He kind of cautiously poked at Thresh and would then run away.  All aggression was gone.   It was almost like he was afraid to make a bad showing if he were to lose...which he did.  So instead of possibly winning by going on the offensive, he went out with a 5-2 sputter.  The numbers look good, but the gameplay was sad.  To those there it was obvious he had given up.  To those who see the score it looks like a valiant fight took place.  Oh well, time to divide up the booty.

Did the cast of The Real World show up?

Rumors, rumors, rumors..aren't they fun. Many other sources report their presence, but I didn't see the cast of perennial losers at GameWorks to steal the "hype". I'm sure they were all asleep, tired from a long night of doing nothing except drinking, smoking, and bitching about each other and their Gen-X lifestyles. If they were there most likely they were outside fighting over who to throw out this season.

Wrap up.

I came away from the PGL finals with many feelings.   It was completely disorganized, period.  I don't think Thresh is the best Quake player in the world (that's the title given to him by the announcer).  I think he was in the right place at the right time like most fortunate people.  I think there are a lot of people out there that could whoop his ass.  I think if they replayed the final (no camping, more aggressive play by Reptile) that he could very easily have lost.

Is the PGL viable?  We'll have to wait and see on this one.  I think yes, if it's done right and it can go more mainstream.  I also think the PGL needs to be very careful about how it conducts business.  If they are not 100% legit it will be difficult for them to get the bigtime sponsors like Intel, 3Dfx, and Microsoft...oh yeah...they kind of have that last one already.

Thresh will be dethroned soon enough.  Possibly in the next PGL season.  It doesn't matter, he's made a name for himself and will be sought after by many people in the game industry:  books, consulting, level development, and possibly programming some day.

Me?  You won't see me playing in the PGL anytime soon.   Not unless turn based strategy games go big!  And I won't even claim to be anywhere near the guys I saw this weekend.  So good luck to the PGL (keep your nose clean), good luck to Thresh and all the others, and I'll see ya next year.

And that's the truth . . . without the hype!

~ Neal Ulen

Drop me an e-mail and let me know what you like and/or dislike about gaming, a particular title, or the industry in general.  As always, all (non-belligerent) criticism welcome!

The Undertow Copyright (c) 1998-99 Neal E. Ulen and GamesFirst!