The lost djWHEAT feature

When most professional gamers think of Marcus “djWHEAT” Graham they will picture this vibrant, excited, talkative guy, commenting each match like it was the World Cup finals. Or they might think of the host yelling passionately about video games into a camera on the set of the show ‘Epileptic Gaming’. Graham lives in Los Angeles with his wife, 2 year old son and 3 very soft, abnormally affectionate cats. When I was at the Championship Gaming Series World Finals I was lucky enough to be invited to his house and get to know the guy behind the loudest voice in the e-world.

The Beginning:

How did djWHEAT discover professional gaming and tournaments?

Unlike most people who are introduced to professional gaming through friends or family, Graham discovered it simply through playing. “I think that when I was playing Quake 3 back in the day and I was trying to compete in the US in Q3 TDM. I think that during that time Europe had seen some success in pro gaming tournaments and we hadn’t seen anything.” Back in those days Graham was still playing ladders with his team and going to tiny tournaments where maybe the first place prize was something like $800. “I sort of just got into it through Quake 3. Quake 2 is what got me into a clan and what made me start clan 519 but it was between Quake 2 and Quake 3 is what made it for me. That’s when I got my prize for the first time or saw another team win money.”
Like with most professional gamers, once Graham had the taste of competition he wanted more; “They [gamers] smell blood and they go for it.” Today though, most people do see Graham as a broadcaster and only the true old school gamers knew him as a professional player. His humble beginnings came from the early professional tournaments.

Did playing in professional tournaments help djWHEAT with his game commentary? Graham doesn’t think so: “I don’t think it’s fair to ever say that if you’ve never played you could never shoutcast but I think it does help in certain situations, or at least break down certain situations better for spectators as a player.” His experience as a player really does bring you ‘inside the game’ as he can talk about how the players in those situations would be feeling as he would have felt the same thing himself during his time as a competitor.

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How djWHEAT fell in love with gaming
A lot of people just have this one game that they can pinpoint that made them realize that they were in an intense love affair with gaming. Like me for example, it has always been the original Unreal Tournament. For Graham of course, it’s a different story: “I think that quite frankly gaming for me has just been an addiction.” The addiction was present for as long as he can remember, “I think back to being in elementary school, middle school and high school and even my mom would tell you that when he would get in trouble we would ground him from video games because that’s where it hit him the hardest.” Of course, did that stop the determined djWHEAT? No way! Even when he was grounded he would find ways to play video games; “I would take all of my money and go to the arcades, I would buy everything that I could possibly buy… that’s just where it has always been a sort of an addiction and it still is today.” Of course, it’s not an addiction that’s a bad one, it simply meant hours of enjoyable entertainment.

How did “djWHEAT” come to be?

Many people always have interesting or amusing stories behind their alias and in my opinion (although it differs from his) Marcus Graham is no different. Back in the days of playing competitively, Graham used the nickname ‘Styles 519’; ”In the early stages of e-sports I sort of tarnished the name of ‘styles’ through gaming websites like cached.net where I was very vocal and I said things that today my mom would wash my mouth out with soap for. I even said things and wrote posts about the CPL and directly to Angel and this and that and I was totally fine with that.” The name of Styles 519 came to an end when the team was training for the Cyberathlete Professional League. A teammate (Bitchslayer) wanted everyone to practice under alias and Graham picked ‘WHEAT’; “I had a little Pikachu (yes the Pokémon) doll that was named wheat and there was no particular reason he was named ‘WHEAT’ other than the type of beer that I like (which is wheat beer).”

Most I guess would assume that the ‘dj’ was just tagged on to the front of his name once Graham started shoutcasting. Wrong! Actually, Graham used to do a lot of dj-ing (and had a large amount of vinyl in the closet at his place). When he spun he spun using djWHEAT. So basically, the alias went from gaming, to dj-ing, then back to gaming, all stemming from wheat beer!

Epileptic Gaming Studios

Going Full-Time

Life before commentating video games and hosting a gaming show for Graham still involved gaming. Before being able to get a full-time salary within the gaming industry, Graham managed around 250 servers for a company that managed bank sercurity and bank data storage servers. He was heavily into IT and managed 3 guys. They would go to 9 different states to manage banks. Graham actually got the job because of the Y2K bug. Doesn’t that bring back memories? “During that time they were just looking for people because they were like ‘Oh my God we have to update and patch everyone’s computers because it’s Y2K’. So I quit school and found a job because they were just everywhere. So I quit school, I was a sophomore on college (and all I was doing there was playing video games anyway) and found a job and worked my way up into a management position.” His day didn’t end there though, when Graham got home he would get online and broadcast some Quake III or Unreal Tournament. He couldn’t get enough of it; “I would sometimes do 10 hours a week (of commentating) back then just because I loved it.”

Family Support

To pursue your dreams, there is always some kind of risk involved. For the Graham family, it was moving from Nebraska to Los Angeles. Marcus knows more than anything that he has 100% support from his family, because if his wife thought he was crazy to do this, they wouldn’t be out there!

However if there was one thing that could be totally eliminated from the line of work it would be all the time away from home, travelling to various events. “Each situation is different: during the year there will be a lot of time off during this period and during another period there will be a shitload of time on and that’s really the hardest part.” Marcus also has a 2 year old son (who was napping angelically the entire time I was there) and he doesn’t really understand what happens when daddy leaves for a week; “then she’s got to deal with him for a week and she’s already going insane and with me not being here that part is really rough.”

Epileptic Gaming however doesn’t involve as much travel and all the other projects that Graham is working on that has come from game broadcasting, he gets 100% support from that; “I say things on the show and do things on the show that obviously I’m not doing in my own home but they support it because I think that they know that that’s always been my dream.”

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The ups and downs of video game broadcasting

There hasn’t really been anything super surprising about being a video game commentator to Marcus. To him, the most surprising thing is where we are with professional video gaming today; “There are like 5 or 6 guys that can say they are fulltime broadcasters but I think that each of these 5 people do that still have some other role or responsibility in gaming. I think that’s great to see”. Another thing that is surprising to him is the politics that exist in gaming behind the scenes, not just in broadcasting but in everything. Other than that though, for Graham it has been nothing but pure, unadulterated fun.

To Graham, the most satisfying thing about commentating professional video game tournaments is when you get to really see an awesome game; “For me broadcasting and video game commentary… it’s just really what I’m thinking in my head anyway if I would be watching it by myself. So for me commentary is just like, I open my mouth and it comes out. Exactly what I’m thinking is everything that comes out. The biggest satisfaction is just being able to express that.” Anyone who hasn’t heard Graham cast but has ever watched the show Epileptic Gaming can agree with that, he simply screams his thoughts into a camera.
For Graham another thing to provide job satisfaction are the people in gaming. “Some people don’t understand how great the people in gaming are. Some of my best memories, whether it be with clan mates or rival team members, or other gamers, or coaches, or managers, some of my greatest memories have been at events and in gaming”. He has made so many friendships over the years that Marcus could literally travel all around the world and have someone to visit in almost every place! All the friendships he’s had the opportunity to make and all the friendships he knows will come in the future is a fantastic thing for him about working in gaming.

Breaking into the CGS

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With a lot of things in e-sports they simply happen by chance. Graham got involved with the Championship Gaming Series also by chance. He happened to be in the right place at the right time and that was the World Cyber Games event in the Kodak Theater – the qualifier for the 2006 season. The tournament itself was actually really poor; there weren’t any spectators at all. But of course, in typical ‘djWHEAT’ fashion, that didn’t matter. Graham was there with Jeff “Smeagol” Dickinson and they were casting some Counter Strike. At that time it just happened that Mike Burkes came by (the producer for the Championship Gaming Series). Graham met with him and at the time didn’t really know who he was but all he did know was that Burkes was impressed and wanted to get involved with gaming; “What you guys did there was just the fact that the room was empty but we could have put u guys in front of thousands of people… that’s the kind of energy you were bringing. I have dealt with people who could do that for sports but I never thought it could be the same thing for gaming.”

Well within three weeks Graham received an email from Burkes about a project called the ‘Championship Gaming Invitational’. A week later, he met up with some of the other people involved with that and went on to do the first two CGI’s and then moved on to the Region 1 season of the Championship Gaming Series. We didn’t see him however at the CGS World Finals but Graham didn’t want to comment on it in the hope that it would work out in the future.

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The future
In the foreseeable future, you will not see Graham take a bow from the gaming scene. In fact, he plans the very opposite: “I actually see myself doing a lot of things. First off as much, if not more, than broadcasting Epileptic Gaming is really my biggest project right now. Just because I’ve been doing the shoutcasting and broadcasting for a while and it’s not necessarily something I could on a daily basis anymore.” This does not mean that he is stopping it completely though; “that’s not because I personally can’t do it it’s because the face of gaming has changed a lot. You really now have to focus on what you want to do, you have to pick and choose.”

So with that said, he believe that with Epileptic Gaming he can change the face of gaming journalism “I really think that gaming journalism in general (specifically in consoles) is really in poor shape right now. We are trying to bring a more honest and real opinion on that so I want to do more programming that follows that same line. It’s no different than sites out there that report on music, TV and the various aspects of that. I think that gaming journalism is really losing focus. At the same time I really like doing everything from making all kinds of content. I think that web content is huge and I think that it’s really the future, less people are watching TV and more people are watching shit on the web”.

Graham has many things planned for gaming in the future and his ultimate goal is to create an ESPN style “Sports Center” for gaming; “Everyone’s thought of it, everyone wants to do it, people have attempted and tried to do it and I don’t want to speak for the competition out there but I’m sure they’re all in their secret laboratories trying to figure out how to make it work”. I’m sure that if anyone can make it work it would be Marcus “djWHEAT” Graham.

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“It’s hard to think that when I’m 50 years old I’ll still be broadcasting but I’m 30 years old now and I’m still doing it so why the fuck not? I don’t see any reason why, just like some of the guys who are the great broadcasters in sports of today are older guys who have just been there throughout the years.” To Graham though, the future of video games commentating looks a little bleak; “One of the things that scares me about the future of broadcasting is that you haven’t really seen a whole lot of talent. It’s really awesome to see Paul “Redeye” Chaloner, Stuart “Tosspot” Saw, Jeff “smeagol” Dickinson… these guys who really start to take it to the next step and get jobs doing what they love but where are the new guys / girls? Back in the day I used to get demos upon demos and so many ‘I want to do this’ emails and now it’s just crickets. It scares me because there’s got to be new blood. Just like in gaming, there’s got to be new players that come in and challenge the top dogs (and that’s why gaming continues to be exciting).”

In closing, Marcus has some last-minute advice for all of those that would consider commentating video games: “All I can say given in terms of advice is fuckin’ get off your ass and do it”. You heard the man. The future of competitive gaming doesn’t solely rely on players, there’s more people involved in it than that. Let’s see some new faces at events. Like Marcus and other figures in the e-Sports industry, you have to take a risk. You’ve got nothing to lose from simply trying.

Links:
djWHeat.tv
@djWHEAT
@HelloLiefje (let me know what you think via twitter!)

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13 Comments

  1. Liefje says:

    This interview was made at the CGS World finals (2007 or 2008 I can’t remember) and was intended to be published in the 3rd issue of Pro Gam3r Magazine which was never released.

    Since the closure of the CGS, dj Wheat has moved away from LA and continues to run several gaming shows which you can find more about on http://www.djwheat.tv

  2. frequency says:

    Great article 🙂 Good advice at the end too 🙂

  3. Liefje says:

    Yeah I think he’s right!! Without people taking risks and just doing it, gaming won’t grow… so go for it! 😀

  4. Nemesis says:

    Very well written and insightful article! Always fun to learn about the man behind the legend 😛

  5. eagle says:

    It’s always fascinating to read how these guys got to where they are.

    If anyone feels like doing some casting of their own after reading this I can tell you we could use a lot more commentators at H2kTV.
    Click my name, use the contact page and you might be on air before you know it.

  6. Liefje says:

    Eagle, thanks a lot for that! I also know that QuakeLive.tv are always looking for people too 🙂

  7. JFW says:

    No mention of the man that formed DJWHEAT as a Quake player, the inimitable Jack Wilson? Disappointing.

  8. fnatichancu says:

    Nicely written and insightful material. I’m glad I came across this website through esportspress, great stuff. keep it coming 🙂

  9. XtjE says:

    Great article Liefje. I think djWHEAT is the on of the most ispiring persons in gamig. Like I even remember days back when i started to watch Epileptic Gaming and then, after djWHEAT’s ps3 fanboyism .. i just needed a ps3 for myself, just because “his” show.. And yet again, I also really love watching Quake games with his voice over the top… That always feels like watching sports on TV.. and sometimes it is just better.

    Thanks for great posts, good stuff.

  10. XtjE says:

    Great article Liefje. I think djWHEAT is the on of the most ispiring persons in gamig. Like I even remember days back when i started to watch Epileptic Gaming and then, after djWHEAT’s ps3 fanboyism .. i just needed a ps3 for myself, just because "his" show.. And yet again, I also really love watching Quake games with his voice over the top… That always feels like watching sports on TV.. and sometimes it is just better.

    Thanks for great posts, good stuff.

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