Story Highlights• Johnathan Wendel has been gaming since he was 5
• Wendel, better known as Fatal1ty, has won $500,000 in prizes
• He also has corporate sponsorships and a clothing line
• He's been home only 13 days in 2007
By Peggy Mihelich
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(CNN) -- It's a battle that parents have fought with their kids since the dawn of "Pong" -- too much time playing video games and not enough time studying.
Parents think twice before telling your kids that playing video games will amount to nothing.
Today, blasting virtual baddies can be a full time job that pays big bucks.
What? Gaming as a career? Well, yes.
Meet professional video gamer Johnathan Wendel.
Better known in the gaming world as Fatal1ty, Wendel is one of the most successful pro-gamers in the world. He's won $500,000 in prize money, has multiple sponsorships and his own 'Fatal1ty' brand where he sells computer hardware and clothing.
Wendel sees himself as the ambassador of gaming -- traveling the world competing in tournaments and making media appearances in an effort to gain his sport mainstream acceptance.
Gaming a sport? Like tennis or golf? Yep.
"I think the mainstream still has the idea that it's not a sport in the traditional sense," says Kevin Pereira, host and producer for G4's "Attack of the Show."
"You don't have to be in shape, you can be kind of a nerd, anti-social, hanging out behind the monitor, but the reality that's come about over the last 5-10 years is that these guys train harder than any professional athlete I've certainly ever met."
Pereira says top gamers like Wendel devote 12-16 hours a day practicing. They keep themselves in shape mentally and physically so they can compete in tournaments that can go on for days.
"When I first met John he was the guy that seemed to understand that before everybody else," says Pereira.
Wendel, 26, got his first video game at the age of 5. His dad started him on PC games and then Nintendo. When he wasn't playing games he was playing sports -- tennis, football and golf.
"From age 13-18, when I was playing games and sports I was in total heaven. I was in a competitive environment all the time and that's what I really like the most -- competition," Wendel said.
In 1999, at 18, he entered his first professional gaming tournament in Dallas, Texas, taking third place and a check for $4,000.
"I was like 'wow' I could make a good size income from playing video games. I was thinking it would be a good side thing and then I got invited to a tournament in Sweden," he said.
In Sweden he won 18 games in a row, losing none. He became the number one ranked "Quake III" player in the world.
It was then he decided to give up college and make pro-gaming his career.
"My goals were to travel overseas to play video games and become a world champion," Wendel said.
And that's just what he did. He's an 11-time World Champion, with titles in 5 different games. In 2005, he took home the largest cash prize in competitive gaming history -- $150,000 at the Cyberathlete Professional league World Tour Finals in New York City.
"I told my friends if I won the $150,000 I'd take them all on spring break. I kept my end of the bargain. I took my friends to Cancun, Mexico, and we all partied like crazy," Wendel laughed.
Shoot him, if you can
Wendel plays PC-games -- first person shooters like "Doom" and "Quake." They require excellent timing, aim and prediction -- he has all three in spades.
"The man has the fastest twitch reflexes I've ever seen," says Pereira.
At a tournament in China, Pereira witnessed first hand Wendel's Zen-like focus and killer aim.
"He was down three games to one ... and I was doing interviews with him and I said you've got to be sweating and he said, 'Nope. I'll go back to the hotel room practice up and I'll take this one.' And sure enough he went back, stayed up all night, practiced with his friends, came back the next day, I've never seen somebody so focused. He had tunnel vision. He demolished the competition, it was just incredible."
Wendel loves to win, but he knows to win he must practice, and practice hard. He plays for hours, studies strategy and constantly tests his skills against others.
"I fly gamers in from all over the world to come and play with me. I make sure that I'm well prepared and ready to compete at the highest level," Wendel explains.
Gamers want a shot at him, says Pereira.
"This is a world-wide deal, where people are gunning for Kobe [Bryant] that's pretty much America, this is international, and this is everybody in the world knowing who Fatal1ty is and wanting to gun for him and that's why he needs to stay on his game," he said.
Wendel's style is best described as aggressive. "I'm the kind of guy who likes to fight straight up," he said. "If you open the door for me, if you let your guard down for a second I'll make you pay big time. No mercy."
Most who get the opportunity to play him are humbled quickly but appreciate the chance.
"It's the same as saying 'I played basketball with Lebron James.' You're not going to beat him but you're going to have fun doing it," says former pro gamer Scott Thomas.
Wendel has worked long and hard to make gaming his career and he wants to keep playing professionally, in order to do that the industry must grow.
He recently signed a deal to provide exclusive TV commentary for the Championship Gaming Series, a new international video gaming league that will air on satellite television.
Like pro athletes, gamers will be drafted by team franchises and paid salaries as full-time pro gamers.
"These guys are competing for jobs -- its really exciting stuff. Never been done before in gaming...and if they keep winning and go to the playoffs and finals they'll get bonuses."
For Wendel gaming is his life and he sees Fatal1ty as the lifestyle brand for gaming.
He helps design products for gamers -- like mouse pads, keyboards and headphones. He's looking to expand his clothing line. What Quicksilver is to surfers, Wendel wants Fatal1ty to be to gamers.
So what's a career in pro-gaming like?
Very similar to being in a rock band, Wendel says. "You're always on the road." Traveling all over the world competing, signing autographs and constant practicing. He's been home only 13 days in 2007. But he loves it.
"We play games at night but we do everything else, play sports, watch movies, we have girlfriends, for the girls they have boyfriends -- the lifestyle of a gamer is endless," Wendel says.
Johnathan 'Fatal1ty' Wendel has made a career out of playing video games. He wants to see others do the same.
FACT BOXFATAL1TY FACT FILE:
Born: Johnathan Wendel, February 26, 1981
Career: Professional gamer since 1999
Games played: Quake I, II, III, IV; Aliens VS. Predator 2; Counter-Strike; PainkilleR; Call of Duty; Doom 3; Return to Castle Wolfenstein; Unreal Tournament 2003
Records: Winner of 12 major championships, 10 world titles in 5 different games
Big prize: Took first place at the 2005 CPL World Tour Championship in NYC winning $150,000
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