Dave Walsh doesn’t feel like a pioneer. Or a legend. Or a role model. But as the most consistently dominant player in the professional league for the world’s fastest-growing sport – pro video gaming – he’s all three.
Best known by his gamertag, “Walshy” has led his teams to multiple Major League Gaming (MLG) championships with masterful strategies, thrilling gameplay, and outside-the-box thinking. Gamers commit his tactics to memory the way chess addicts study the masters of old. Walsh helped set the bar in this emerging sport, and he continues to amaze, maintaining his chops in an environment where competitors frequently burn out and fade away.
Born in Michigan in 1984, Walsh seemed like a typical kid who loved sports and played video games on the side. The teenager’s sometimes outrageous strategies in traditional contests offered a hint of his ability to innovate – like the time he was losing in a tennis match and decided to switch things up by sending every single shot back to his opponent as an easy lob. “I didn’t know if it would work,” Walsh shrugs, “but he got so frustrated that I won the match.”
As a member of his high school wrestling team, Walsh would work off post-match adrenaline by playing video games all night. When he was a senior in 2003, he heard about a video game tournament and decided to see what it was like. Out of a field of some 300 competitors, Walsh finished fifth.
Still, it didn’t seem like a way to make a living. Walsh spent the summer working 65 hours a week in the post office to pay for business classes at Grand Rapids Community College. But he kept on entering tournaments. By the time the next summer rolled around, Walsh realized that he could make as much money playing video games as he could at the post office. “It was a no-brainer,” he states.
“I never feel like there is nothing else I can learn.” -Dave Walsh
When Major League Gaming, the largest organized league and international sanctioning body for professional video gaming, launched its first season with Halo 1 play in 2004, Walsh and his teammates won the final four rounds, including the National Championships.
As the 2005 season began, Walshy and the Ogres (Ogre 1 and Ogre 2) welcomed a new teammate, Saiyan, to officially form Final Boss, which became the most successful Halo 2 team the game had ever seen, at one point boasting a winning streak of a year and a half.
After two more national championships and a runner-up finish with Final Boss, the team split, with Walsh taking a spot on the Instinct team for about a year before moving on to his current home with Carbon. In both cases, the team’s results dramatically improved – in fact, Walsh has never finished out of the top three in national championships since MLG began.
Even so, Walsh, who typically assumes the role of team captain, is quick to give recognition to his teammates. “I don’t look at it like I make all the great decisions,” he states. “I try to encourage them to help me and help each other – to use each other’s strengths.”
When it comes to Walshy’s strengths, the gifts he brings to the group are undeniable. Called a “human highlight reel,” he is widely touted as the circuit’s most brilliant tactician, known for possessing a level head packed with innovative tricks and strategies. While his competitors pack plenty of talent, his aversion to complacency keeps him one step ahead. “I never feel like there is nothing else I can learn,” he says. “I’m always trying to improve as a player.”
That drive keeps Walsh and his teammates focused on the game, putting in up to 40 hours of practice time every week. Their sessions range from actual gameplay to in-depth strategy sessions; they dissect archive footage like a football team shooting for the Super Bowl, studying replays to assess their own strengths and weaknesses and gain insight into the strategies of their opponents. It takes full commitment to craft new moves and stay at the top in this highly competitive arena, and Walshy and his teammates are all-in. “It’s all about having fun – and showing that you’re the best,” says Walsh.
“To be known as the main icon of the sport – that’s a dream of mine. That keeps me motivated and driven.” -Dave Walsh
Being the best has brought Walsh many spoils, including tournament winnings, a lucrative MLG contract and endorsement deals. Perhaps the most gratifying benefit, however, is a legion of adoring fans. “I have an amazing fan base that I get to see and talk to at every event,” he says. No doubt many of them will be sporting gear from Kiaeneto, the clothing company he and a friend launched in 2006, aiming to bring stylish threads to the gaming community and beyond, the same way that boardsport industries spawned brands now entrenched in the mainstream. Walsh is looking ahead to bring more awareness and exposure to his sport, and he’s re-investing to help make it happen.
Speaking of giving back, Walsh sits on the Board of Directors for the Gamers Outreach Foundation, a non-profit with several gaming-related initiatives, including his favorite, supplying GO-Karts – mobile gaming stations – to children’s hospitals. Walsh works to promote the Foundation’s vision, and his star power draws many supporters to the group’s fundraising events.
From early tournaments – where he had to put his name on his own Halo disc to make sure he’d get it back – to today’s televised events where he’s signing his autograph on just about everything else, the Walshy name has become synonymous with gaming. “I would love to be at the top and be recognized as the one who brought more popularity to the sport,” he says. By all accounts, he’s well on his way. “To be known as the main icon of the sport – that’s a dream of mine. That keeps me motivated and driven.”