The Web is a great place. It can turn two twenty-something slackers from Toronto into underground heroes. All it takes is some videos and viral word-of-mouth marketing. Meet Jeremy and Kyle, the stage names (or whatever you call them) of the guys behind the PurePwnage.com video series on what the life of a “pro” gamer is really like.
The duo, who are RL (that’s real life for you noobs out there) roomies, got the idea a little more than a year ago when Kyle borrowed a camera for a film school class assignment and “was looking for stuff to film and wanted to try out some editing software.” He began shooting a “pilot” with some test footage following around Jeremy and a day in his life. The video was so well received (at least, according to the duo) that they went on to make seven episodes, and more are in the works. Each episode, which last about 10 minutes, are better and more sophisticated (at least, according to my taste) than the previous one.
Jeremy in his usual garb. Kyle doesn’t appear before the camera,
The shows have amazingly good production values for something done on the cheap. “We use Adobe Premiere to edit the videos, and it shows that you don’t need a lot of money to make short films on the Internet. Our startup costs are only a few thousand dollars, and most of that went to buying a camera,” says Kyle. And that is dollars Canadian, which is even more impressive given what you can buy there.
I spoke to the two guys, or at least two people that sounded like the guys in the videos, last week. Unlike most of the interviews I have done, the guys didn’t give me their real names, phone numbers or other identifying information, but I had fun interviewing them none the less. Part of the fun was doing real-time translation of leetspeak (the gaming lingo that Jeremy uses both in the videos and for the most part in RL too) and trying to not appear like the old fart that I really am. But that is the wonder of the Internet: you can always appear to be something that you yearn to be.
The videos are entertaining slices of life, mostly following Jeremy around with a hand-held camera as he slacks off, “owns noobs” (that means trounces unsuspecting opponents) with his game of choice, Zero Hour, and his advanced “micro” (meaning keyboarding) skills. They are funny and sad at the same time. The last episode 7 sees Jeremy in some hospital ward as he tries to break out of a catatonic state, and is jump-cut with scenes from a game where his character is being interviewed by a nurse, mirroring the actual RL scene shot in the movie. Hollywood SF could do no better, and what is impressive is how these guys have accomplished some great storytelling on a less-than-shoestring budget. It helps if you are familiar with gaming lingo but you can still enjoy the flicks for what they are, a romp around a brave new world where gamers rule.
The duo has started a cottage industry to be sure. The first month they released episode 7 more than 300,000 people downloaded it, and the audience has been doubling from episode to episode. They are using a variety of technologies to distribute their videos, and are looking to get more sophisticated by using an RSS feed and other improvements. “We don’t know where it is going to saturate,” says Kyle. “No one has ever done this before and had a reality TV show that has been this viral and spread this quickly.” And unlike the more expensive reality shows that are on broadcast TV, it is done without script doctoring or any visible writers.
Does Jeremy talk leetspeak all the time? “What are you saying?,” he asked me. “If you watch the show, well, yeah. I own, and yeah. When I meet fans in RL they seem kinda shocked when they meet me – they thought the show might not be real and when they meet me and then they are in total awe of how much I own and its good.” You dig?
Kyle is certainly more used to talking regular English, even though in the videos you rarely hear from him. The concept is similar to that of Penn and Teller, for those of you geeks old enough to remember them before their TV shows.
The guys are actually big Tom’s Hardware readers. “It is something we read whenever we are buying new hardware pretty much,” says Kyle. “But not a regular thing we read. Jeremy was looking at Tom’s when he was looking to buy a new video card.” Jeremy then piped up “Well, Kyle that was a year ago so it isn’t exactly new, but I got my 5950 and lots of stuff thanks to Tom’s.”
Jeremy builds his own PCs “Because I don’t have a job and like, you can get a lot better performance for your dollar if you build your own PC. If you are not a complete noob it is completely easy.” He doesn’t overclock that much. “I just make sure my rig is good enough to run games at like decent resolution because you don’t want to be totally noobing at 800×600 or something. I keep most of my hardware kinda default.”
The guys get lots of fan letters. “Jeremy gets a lot of marriage proposals over email. It’s actually kinda interesting. Supposedly from women. Some women send their pictures but it probably the guy’s sister or whatever. But no one is emailing me with their pictures,” Kyle says a bit peevishly.
“Obviously I am going to get most of [the proposals] because of my sexiness,” says Jeremy modestly. Indeed, one of the more humorous bits is in one episode with a series of interviews of some girls. The girls talk about their interests in guys who are gaming addicts and their reactions to some of the gaming lingo. Kyle actually has a steady girlfriend in RL, or so he says. “As for Jeremy, you have to watch the show to see what is going on.” Jeremy obviously doesn’t want to disappoint any of his potential suitors.
“Most of my time is actually spent playing games, because I don’t have a job,” says Jeremy, reinforcing the cinema verite of their ouvre. “Pure Pwnage is actually turning into a job,” says Kyle, where he spends his non-studying time answering reading inquiries, sending off swag and editing the videos. He actually is in his last year at film school and promises that more episodes are on the way when he can get the time to produce and finish them.
Where do they get the idea for the videos? “Kyle comes over and, like he says be real funny and I’ll film you,” says Jeremy. “And then he comes back later and we watch the show. My life is pretty interesting. Most people would be shocked at how close to our real lives the show is, really. Well, some of it is exaggerated a bit.”
What does Jeremy’s real parents think of these efforts? “At first my mom was kinda embarrassed,” says Jeremy. “I don’t think she liked the idea much that all these people were watching me own, she was never too proud of that. She always thought that school and like, good jobs were like, the way to go. She is kinda traditional. She would tell me to play sports and throw a football around and like. And I would try to explain to her that mom, you would rather have me owning games all day and that I get some skills that would be applicable. As times have gone on, and both of my parents have seen what has happened, they are very supportive and looking back they are glad that I didn’t play football and instead play e-sports.”
A big part of the gaming lifestyle is going for long stretches of time without sleeping or eating. “It was like 54 hours was my longest single session,” says Jeremy. “I ate once, a couple of bathroom breaks, playing Zero Hour. By the end I was kinda seeing stuff, I decided that I should probably sleep. But don’t tell my mom that because I told her it was only 36 hours and she was pretty mad. She thought I went to school that day, but I didn’t leave my room for like two days. It was good times”
Jeremy in RL plays more than Zero Hour, which is what he is known for in the video series. “To be honest, I own most games that I have played. But typically anytime I pick up a game, I seem to just own anybody at it. Enough to make a show I guess. Everyone takes a couple of losses here and there – you are tired, you had some drinks, I don’t know.” His confidence is both charming and cute, without being a big ego trip. I think that is part of why I enjoy watching the series so much.
“I have been playing games my whole life, it is all I have really done as a hobby. Pong was my first game, I picked it up when I was about two years old, all the adults were laughing at me,” said Jeremy. He got his first Atari when he was 4 or 5. What about Kyle? “Some of it has rubbed off on me. I like Civilization, played a lot of that, but don’t have the passion that Jeremy has for games.”
I asked Jeremy what the stupidest thing a noob has ever done to him, and he was quick to reply, “Besides entertaining the notion that he has a chance [at winning]?” Many of you might think that his braggadocio is bigger than his actual RL scores, but Jeremy maintains that he has real skills. “I never hacked myself in the game to make the world think you have skills that help you in the game. If you got the skills, you don’t need the hacks. That is what noobs do, they can’t accept the fact that they don’t have skills.”
Of course, trying to prove that he does deliver the goods may not be easy, even for this reporter. Jeremy doesn’t use the same identity in each of his games, even though he goes by the tag the_pwner in the videos. “I never used the_pwner tag in an actual game. Don’t want to break any hearts. I usually switch my names, if you get crazy stats people don’t want to play you when they see your record.”
Any suggestions for the noobs out there who are just getting started with RTS games? “Focus on your micro – make sure you use the keyboard shortcuts, don’t use your mouse,” says the pro gamer. And also watch plenty of replays of other pro’s sessions too.
Better yet, download the videos from their site.