Bryan Stooksbury ranked first among online qualifiers for the 6th annual World Championship of Big Buck HD, a high-definition bar and arcade game. He'll head for Chicago with fourth-seeded Ben Perkins Nov. 8 and 9 to try to win $15,000.
Does your No. 1 rank scare competitors?
I've qualified three straight years in a row, and this is my second time going—last year I was on vacation in Hawaii instead. The recognition is wild. There's a group on Facebook of the top competitors and people you've never met in person will hear your name and know you. I was on a cab ride in Chicago and someone was like, "Oh my gosh, Bryan Stooksbury!" And this is all over a video game I play while drinking with my buddies.
What's the appeal of Big Buck HD?
I would say being able to connect with people across the United States while drinking beer and killing virtual animals. One of the cool things about it is the camaraderie—talking to players in Minnesota and Wisconsin, where you don't drive more than a couple of bars and someone will have Big Buck HD. It's much bigger there than down here, although we've got roughly 15 bars with the game in this area now; it used to be just a handful. And the online tournaments pay me good money, every day—I play almost daily, like a part-time job.
Where do you play?
I've been playing about seven years and I used to play at Rooster's, but then I moved to be not as far west and I wanted somewhere closer. Corvette's Bar-b-que & Sports Bar in Powell got a game in and I called the owners and said, "I'll play here." They were like, "I have no idea what you're talking about." Now we've arranged where they gave me a key and an alarm code so I can play whenever I want—4, 5, 6 in the morning against people on the West Coast.
Are you unbeatable?
Um, definitely in this area. There's a handful of players across the country that can beat me.
How come you're so good?
I have good hand-eye coordination and an almost photographic memory.
Does it require an ability to handle alcohol?
Oh, yeah. Drinking beer is part of the game. To be like super-competitive, you can't be snookered—under the table. I don't have a problem with nerves; people that do might drink more when they play. But I don't know anyone that plays it sober.
Can you play all year?
Yes, and I can win 363 days a year, playing from here. But the two days a year of the tournament, the others have a chance to beat up on me. The nationals, you play with somebody in a double gun game, and I don't play that way in the daily tournaments. I have one guy that plays with me, Ben Perkins, and he qualified fourth for this same championship. But although we do play two-person some, once you learn what each other does, it doesn't help that much for the nationals.
Are you and Ben competitive?
Oh yeah, oh yeah. We're also each other's biggest fan.
Do you go to the nationals for free?
Yes, Corvette's sponsors me and also Baxter Entertainment. It's a fantastic event—all you can drink, all you can eat. ESPN will have someone there to emcee. It's super-cool—the owners and programmers and developers are all there, all taking shots.
How'd you start playing?
A buddy of mine talked me into it. I'm super-competitive, and the first time I played I lost. So in my off-time I'd go back to the bar completely sober and practice. This was before it became an online tournament option, and I just wanted to be the best in the bar and the best in town. I got where I could beat everyone, and the next thing you know you're playing in a tournament.
How do the tournaments work?
You pay to enter. How it's set up, the tournaments are going 24 hours, and it takes a certain number of entries to start—10 for a "mini," and you each pay $2, and 25 for a "mega," and you each pay $4. You double your money every time you win.
Are you part of the video game generation?
I grew up playing Nintendo and Sega, and moved into Playstation, but as far as Halo and all that, no. I'm part of the online gaming generation.
Is it strictly adults playing?
We always joke that we're playing against kids staying out of school, but it's probably adults. There are some Big Buck HDs that are in a Gatti's, or a Chuck E Cheese, though. You don't know exactly who you're playing a lot of times. We will make trips to other bars to play, and even though you try to look the bar up you never know what it will look like until you get there. Sometimes you get there and people will know me by sight, which is a really cool experience, but it's insane. Someone will say, "Golly, I hate you!" The people who play—it's a giant melting pot, a Crayola box of players with different lifestyles, from different regions, and they all come together for the nationals.
Do you have a competition screen name?
We don't do it like Golden Tee, we use our own names. You need to for tax purposes, because you're getting checks in the mail. There are probably about four people that profit substantially in the tournaments, and I'm number one. It's an insane concept, getting paid to play video games. My wife thinks it's hilarious, but we both like how it's paid for vacations and bills and school for my son.
Does your day job resemble this part time job in any way?
Not at all, no.
Do players trash-talk?
Absolutely. But trash-talk doesn't bother me. And I try not to be arrogant, and try to be respectful to everybody—of course, it's easy to be nice when you win. But I have a wife and son at home. And at the end of the day, this is a video game. That's what I always go back to.
Corrected: Quote regarding how Stooksbury moved to not be so far west--not "further west."