Long before livestreaming helped turn eSports into a $748 million business, according to marketing group SuperData Research, Johnathan “Fatal1ty” Wendel reigned supreme.
The pro gamer racked up 12 world championships and over $450,000 in cash prizes over nine years playing games like Quake, Unreal Tournament, and Counter-Strike. He became the face of eSports at a time when events were held in hotel ballrooms, rather than sold-out soccer and NBA stadiums.
At CES 2016, Wendel debuted two headphones from his new partnership with audio company Monster. The Fatal1ty FXM 100 by Monster ($70) and Fatal1ty FXM 200 by Monster ($100) were designed by the gamer and Noel Lee, founder of Monster. “Noel Lee is a man who knows sound better than [sic] most anyone in the world; and I know what gamers need to compete at the highest level,” Wendel says.
Long before social media and video channels like Twitch and YouTube (GOOGL) allowed anyone to become an online personality, Wendel parlayed his eSports fame into a video game brand in 2002 called Fatal1ty Gaming Gear.
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He started by selling mouse pads and sound cards, but in 2006 he partnered with Creative to launch the Fatal1ty Gaming Headset. It was the first headset to introduce a removable microphone, which has since become the standard for all gaming headphones. Wendel says he still sells thousands of those headsets every month, which can be found at online sites like Newegg.com.
“The Fatal1ty brand has sold a ton of things with the core and mid-mainstream gamers over the years,” Wendel explains. “Now with Monster we can jump into the mainstream. We’re going to be able to reach a much bigger demographic. I see these headphones being used by young kids 7-10 years old all the way up to 50-year-old gamers.”
With his first two Fatal1ty by Monster headsets, Wendel has kept price point low in order to compete with gaming audio brands like Astro Gaming, Turtle Beach, Mad Catz, Logitech G, SteelSeries, and Polk Audio.
“Not every gamer has $200 or $300 to spend on a headset,” Wendel says. “My goal is to offer them something they can afford, and still give them that same rich experience with sound clarity and versatility with a product that works with mobile devices, PS4, PC, Xbox One, and other gaming devices.”
Wendel has spent the past nine months working with Monster to hand-pick every item in the headphone kit, and even traveled to San Francisco and Hong Kong to develop the product.
“I’m constantly trying to meet the gamer’s pocketbook because when I was a kid growing up in Kansas City, I was living paycheck to paycheck and I couldn’t afford a headset that was more than $100,” Wendel says.
The first two headsets available don’t offer Dolby 5.1 surround sound or noise-canceling technology on purpose. The headsets will instead offer FX 720 sound, which Wendel says can be used by professional gamers today to compete in real eSports competition. “These headphones are better than anything I had when I was competing,” Wendel says.
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With the first two headphones scheduled to hit retail shelves in Q1, Wendel is already thinking about what’s next in his headphone line. He says he plans on creating some high-end headphones in the future.
“Noise cancelling technology is possible down the line for the higher-end headphones, and I have some other ideas as well for future products,” Wendel says.
In addition to marketing these headphones to the eSports audience, Wendel points out Monster already has relationships with athletes from sports leagues like the NBA, NFL, and MLB.
“Monster opens up a lot more doors to do creative marketing and bring Fatal1ty to a more mainstream level,” Wendel says. “A lot of people know me, but I want to build the brand so that Fatal1ty means gaming.”