A fighting game legend with more than 10 years of pro-gaming experience. A 17-year-old wunderkid who is only allowed to travel to tournaments if he can keep his grades up. Brothers in their early 20s who are attempting to find the right balance between the world of gaming and the world outside of it. A 33-year-old student of the game with a wife and two children who uses his brains to topple much younger competition.
"Chasing the Cup," produced by Machinima, follows these five contrasting Mortal Kombat X players as they attempt to qualify for ESL's MKX Pro League and compete for a prize pool of $100,000. The finale of the series will be broadcast on The CW in a one-hour special on Feb. 15 at 8 p.m. ET.
Carl "Perfect Legend" White can be considered one of the icons when it comes to the fighting games scene. White, who has participated in tournaments for more than a decade, originally began his career in the Dead or Alive series. An avid gamer since he first laid his hands on his sister's Gameboy as a child, the now veteran is one of the biggest names in the Mortal Kombat circuit.
"I probably am," White told ESPN when asked if he was one of the few MKX players who was able to compete full-time. "There are probably people that are trying to, but they don't know what they're doing. I mean, I still don't know what the hell I'm doing. ... People are telling me I'm a good businessman, I'm a good marketer, and I'm just like, 'Dude, I have no clue what I'm doing. I'm just hitting my head a bunch of times [and seeing what works].'"
Unlike other esport titles like League of Legends or Dota 2 -- where hundreds of players are able to compete full-time, with some making hundreds of thousands of dollars in salary -- the MKX scene hasn't developed to the point to provide full-time money to even some of its best players. For White, he has been able to build a brand from his outgoing personality and deep-rooted connections in the scene, and by allowing himself the opportunity to play esports full-time while learning about the business side as he goes along.
White wants to play games professionally as long as it's viable, but he sees the bigger picture when it comes to esports and the other avenues. "I'd like to be a [esports] player as long as I can, but I'll still be doing other stuff as well. I wouldn't mind commentating. ... I'll do [it all]. I don't know see why I'd have to stop anything to do something else."
Another gamer who can play Mortal Kombat X for a living is 17-year-old Dominique "SonicFox" Mclean, the game's undisputed best player. He has won more than $180,000 in prize money in a little over a year, and has anointed himself the "LeBron James of Mortal Kombat." Mclean possesses a vibrant personality in and out of the game, wearing his signature neon blue fox hat during tournament matches and is never afraid to speak his mind.
"There's a lot of people that can take me down, but [in terms] of result-wise? There's nobody close to me," Mclean said about his current competition in the community.
When talking about whether his supreme confidence in himself could be a thorn in his side at times, the high schooler said his self-belief only made him better. "It's always helped me out, actually. As long as I believe in myself, I can always win. ... I never try to get too cocky, but you know, can't help it sometimes."
Mclean's biggest supporter -- well, as long as he doesn't bring home a failed test -- is his mother. At first, she was opposed to the idea of her young son going off to tournaments, but that all changed when he brought home a hefty amount of prize money. "After she saw me win my first tournament where I got like [$2,000], she was like, 'Oh my gosh, keep doing this, then.' And eventually it just grew, and as long as I keep my grades up, she's OK with it."
Brothers Timothy "Honeybee" Commandeur and Matthew "BioHazard" Commandeur have been competing with each other their entire lives. The Canadian-born pair doesn't have the years of experience and brand power like Perfect Legend or the cash winnings of Sonicfox, but it doesn't stop them from attempting to make the esports dream a reality. BioHazard pushed the 17-year-old world champion to the brink in the ESL Pro League Season 2, but came up just short by a scoreline of 2-3 to miss his shot at the grand finals.
"You can play [MKX] at a high level but you don't always need to be playing it 24/7," Matthew said about the differences between practicing at Mortal Kombat and other esport titles. "Lots of times [me and my brother] end up playing an hour or two with each other, or we go to our local scene and practice with them."
The biggest difficulty for the brothers, who are in their 20s, is the pressure of finding a stable job -- something White and Mclean don't have to deal with. White is able to be a full-time pro-gamer through his longevity, streaming and brand, and Mclean's making enough money to support himself while preparing to go to college next year. Although the Commandeur brothers would like to be able to play the games they love for a living, it's currently not viable with the amount of tournaments and smaller viewership numbers for Mortal Kombat streamers.
"In five years, I'll be 28, so by then, I'd like to definitely have a stable job and definitely move out of my parents' house by then," Timothy said about where he'd like to be in the near future. "Yeah, stable job, moved out, and hopefully settled down in a relationship. ... Maybe esports as a whole will be a lot bigger, and maybe I could actually consider just playing the game [for a living]."
In five years, Timothy hopes to be where Brant "Pig of the Hut" McCaskill (33) currently is in his life: settled down with two kids and working as a video/audio engineer for various big television companies while also being one of the best MKX players on the planet. McCaskill has to juggle being a father, husband, engineer and a pro-gamer at an age when many people think it's impossible to be a successful competitive player.
How does he handle it all?
"Sometimes I ask myself that very question," McCaskill told ESPN. "I have two kids now, a five-year-old daughter and a one-month-old son, and I've been married for almost six years. So I've been married longer than I've been doing esports. [I also have] a full-time job, so I'll tell you -- not too much sleeping."
McCaskill luckily has a flexible work schedule that allows him to give due diligence to all the different sides of his life. If he's on the road and has a couple of hours to kill, it allows him to play Mortal Kombat or review old matches that he needs to download into his consciousness. The former musician-turned-family man, television engineer and pro-gamer prides himself on being able to break down any opponent he steps into the ring with.
"It's almost like a boxing match," McCaskill said. "If you look at [your opponent and] he blocked three jabs, then you see him expect some kind of blow to the stomach. Whereas, you keep jabbing him because he's expecting that one move."
When it comes to playing Mortal Kombat or any fighting game, the match starts hours (and maybe even days or weeks) before the actual combat. McCaskill will take notes, write down a player's tendencies and pick on the weak spots a player doesn't even know they have until he exploits them.
The stars of the MKX scene come from all different walks of life. The Commandeur brothers practice a few hours a day compared to McCaskill, who seemingly never turns his brain off from matchups and practice. White has been around since 2005 and has carved a full-time career out of playing video games, while the young Mclean, who has yet to graduate high school, is already on top of the Mortal Kombat world.
Hobby. Full-time. Part-time. A way of life. It doesn't matter. All of them differed in their opinions on their focus and purpose, except in one aspect: They all want to play video games as long as they can. Because regardless of how much money they make or how often they train, there's nothing more fun than sitting down and settling their differences in the bloody carnage that is Mortal Kombat.