Revolutionary Doom and Quake player Dennis “Thresh” Fong is the latest entrant into the ESL’s Hall of Fame.
QuakeCon 2016 closed with a phenomenal showcase of the world’s best Quake players, in both gameplay and legacy. Preceding the Grand Finals for both Quake World and Quake Live, the ESL recognized competitor Dennis Fong for his revolutionary efforts in Quake and Doom. An early competitor under the handle “Thresh”, Fong popularized map control and item-starvation gameplay tactics, and was one of the first players to introduce the now-standard “WASD” keyboard-and-mouse control scheme. Prior to his induction into the eSports Hall of Fame, ESL Gaming’s Kevin Kelly arranged for us to speak with Fong on his past and present gaming endeavors. Joining me was Brett Yanoski of The Inner Gamer, Windows Central‘s Paul Acevedo, and David Whitaker and Nick Edward of The Inner Circle.
(Note: The following interview has been edited for brevity.)
Brett Yanoski, The Inner Gamer: I’m Brett with The Inner Gamer, and we have Dennis here, who was inducted into the eSports Hall of Fame. How’s it feel?
Dennis Fong: It feels great, obviously. You know, I think the cool part is really just- my small contribution to the birth and growth of eSports will be remembered someday. It’s just obviously something really cool to have, especially with eSports growing as much as it is right now.
BY: How do you feel about the growth of eSports and it’s exposure? It’s starting to show up on ESPN, it’s starting to gain worldwide traction- how do see that? How do you feel about that?
DF: I remember, it was 20 years ago- I remember I dreamed that eSports and stuff would fill stadiums and sellout sports venues, and you know, it’s pretty cool to see it actually happening now. I think most of the growth seems to have happened in the last few years. There was a growth, and then it kind of died off a little bit, and now it actually seems to have a self sustaining, organically growing business and viewership, which is really, really cool. I think from that perspective, it’s pretty awesome. You know, the very first eSports event was in 1995- it was a Doom 2 tournament that Microsoft threw- and there were maybe 100-200 spectators by the end of the tournament? It’s obviously very different now than at least the beginning of it.
Paul Acevedo, Windows Central: How did you find out that you would be in the Hall of Fame?
DF: I think it was either someone from the ESL or someone from the eSports Hall of Fame just sent me an email, to be honest. (laughs) I think I heard of it very lightly when [Emil Christensen] “HeatoN” was inducted. It’s pretty new, so it’s not like I was holding my breath to be inducted into the Hall of Fame- there really was no such thing last year. When I heard about it and certainly the venue at QuakeCon, it seemed pretty fitting.
PA: You used to play a lot of Quake, but what do you play nowadays?
DF: The games that I’ve been playing lately…Overwatch? That’s actually pretty recent, probably in the last few weeks? It’s kind of like the amalgamation of all of the shooters and MOBAs together. Obviously the first [Hero] I played as was Pharah- that’s kind of a no-brainer. (laughs) And I’d like to think that I was pretty decent at it right off the get-go? And um…McCree kind of felt like a Quake 2 Railgun to me? So it also felt pretty natural. Outside of Overwatch, I also play Clash Royale- Pretty hardcore in that actually. I think I’m the 11th player in the world? The highest I think I’ve ever reached is rank 9 in the world? I’m pretty competitive when it comes to gaming.
I still occasionally play League [of Legends] here and there. I would say League was probably the game that dominated most of my game time for the better part of a couple years. It’s pretty casual in the way that I played it; I played a lot of ARAM (“All Random, All Mid”), played a lot with my friends at Riot…But yeah, that was pretty fun too. And that got me watching the LCS and following that part of eSports. League is always pretty funny because there’s a Champion- “Thresh”- that was named after me, which 99.9% of the players don’t know? (laughs) They were actually nice enough to give me the “Thresh” username, so when I play League, I play as Thresh, and I think I’m the only non-Riot employee that has a Champion username. It has pros and cons, because as an FPS duelist, Support is just not in my nature. And Thresh is a support champion, so I actually don’t play Thresh when I play League. So I always get trolled by people, like, “Why aren’t you playing ‘Thresh’, Thresh?” (laughs) Also I’ve made fun of my buddies at Riot, because this champion in League of Legends named “Tristana”, which has a rocket-jump, is a sharpshooter- I always rip them because I’m like, “Dude, come on. Thresh should have Tristana’s kit, not be a support”. (laughs)
Jordan Schilling, ThePlatformer: Shifting things back over to FPSs, you’re credited as one of the first people to popularize the now standard “WASD” control scheme. Did you ever think that would one day become the new standard for practically everything?
DF: (laughs) No, obviously not. When I was playing- in the early days at least- people were using some pretty weird, wacky, unusual configurations. In fact my brother, who was one of the top players, he was probably one of the first people to use a trackball-and-keyboard, which I used to make fun of him for all the time. Because you know, it’s pretty hard to aim with a trackball. And people used to use Arrow Keys or “ESDF” or just some weird funky stuff. I knew I had some impact on what people were doing, because even today, it’s always, “What’s your config”, “What are your settings”, “What’s your mouse and keyboard”- those are the pretty common questions that people used to ask me. At one point in Quake 2’s development, John Carmack at id Software…I think I was helping them do some multiplayer balancing? He knew that everyone used to always ask me what my config was, so as a way of thanking me for helping them balance Quake 2, he ended up building “Thresh.config” into Quake 2, which meant that I could sit down at any PC, and just type “Thresh.config” into the console and it would just load up my config. I think that saved me a lot of time having to answer people for any time they’d ask me, “Hey Thresh, what kind of config do you use?” I’d say, “Just type in ‘Thresh.config’ and you can get it,” which is pretty awesome. I think that may have contributed to its popularity as well.
JS: What are your thoughts on the upcoming Quake Champions, as it enters Open Beta in 2017?
DF: I’ve only seen the trailer so far- I was going to go check it out yesterday, but [Tim Willits] had just stepped out, so I didn’t get a chance to go play it. Hopefully I’ll have a chance to play it later today. For me, you don’t really know what a game is like until you spend at least 30 min. to hour of really playing it. For games like that, it’s really about “How crisp does it feel”, “Is there any input lag”, physics- you know, all that kind of stuff. “How fast is the weapon-switch”…All those small nuances you really can’t appreciate just by watching a trailer. Honestly, no competitive player really cares about graphics. So yeah, it looks beautiful, but within probably 30 min. of playing the game, I won’t notice any of it. Or I would have turned down most of them. (laughs) I think it’s TBD, but from what I’ve seen, from what I’ve heard, it’s like a throwback to the old shooters, which is obviously something that I appreciate a lot.