Have Gun, Will Travel

How far can a video-game champ go? Ask Matt Leto.

But in individual sports, he controlled everything. Individual sports, he loved. That's why he swam at Allen High, even though Allen didn't have a pool and practice was held in McKinney at 5:15 every morning, which meant Leto had to be out the door at 4:45, a gruesome hour by any account but made worse by his closing Chuck E. Cheese's every night at 10:30.

"He never missed a practice," Rhonda Leto says. Her son was a three-year letter winner in three events.

School bored him. Yet Karen Bradley, house principal at Allen High, says he was "one of the smartest kids I've ever come across." And Brent Mitchell, Leto's swim coach, remembers Matt more as an intellectual than a swimmer. He memorized the book on school policy, Mitchell says, not because he had to but because he wanted to. "He made a game of it," Mitchell says, every morning explaining to the swim coach what he could and couldn't get away with, testing Mitchell to see if he knew the rules as well as he should. If Mitchell doubted him, Leto'd say, "Look in the book."

The legions of Matt Leto's fans across the world are never more than a message board away.
Mark Graham
The legions of Matt Leto's fans across the world are never more than a message board away.
Above: Leto at work (or is it play?) alone in his room. Below: the tools with which he makes his money.
Mark Graham
Above: Leto at work (or is it play?) alone in his room. Below: the tools with which he makes his money.

"Verbatim," Mitchell says. "To the tooth and nail of it exactly. It always drove me crazy."

It would be pretty amazing, too, if the next story could contrast Leto's love for knowing the rules in the real world with his love of breaking them in gaming. Leto knew his games so well, he knew where to find glitches in the programmer's code. That's when he got really good at gaming, because every game has glitches. When he properly exploited them, Leto's finishing scores were among the best in the world.

At 17, Leto broke the world record for points in a game called Crazy Taxi. Elated, he snapped a photo of his score and mailed it to Twin Galaxies, the official scorekeeper of all video games and publisher, every few years, of a book on gaming world records. But Twin Galaxies said Leto's photo wasn't good enough. It needed video proof. So Leto plugged the VCR into his Sega Dreamcast and broke the record he'd taken a picture of. Then, because he "always wanted to be the best at something," Leto says, he spent a year breaking as many scores as he could.

"He probably holds over 800 world records," says Walter Day, the chief scorekeeper and founder of Twin Galaxies. Day doesn't have a definitive count because, three years later, Twin Galaxies is still combing through Leto's tapes, more than 30 of them. "Matt Leto may be the premier video-game player in the world," he says.

Most guys hold world records in racing games or shooting games; never, Day says, in both racing and shooting games. Leto holds records across the video-game spectrum. Any sort of game--ones based on the most kills, the best time, the highest points--on any sort of console: GameCube, Xbox, PlayStation, the old Nintendo Entertainment System. Leto has world records for them all, some for an entire game, some for an individual level. "No matter the game, he will be among the top 2 percent at it in a matter of days," says Robert Mruczek, the chief referee of Twin Galaxies.

And the glitches he knows. Maybe the second story will mention them; hell, it could be about nothing else. Here, one example will suffice: In Crazy Taxi 2, Leto found a glitch, or, as he says, an "exploit" that's invisible--traditionally, these are very difficult to find, Mruczek says--and it's in the sky above the road.

"Less than five people in the world know where this is," Mruczek says.

Yet he's humble about this and all those records, and maybe the next story on Matt Leto, if it needs a telling anecdote, will highlight how he never told his parents of the many exploits he knew or the records he held.

"Really?" Rhonda Leto says. "Oh, my gosh. I had no clue. I had no clue."

Never told Major League Gaming, either.

"No," says Erik Semmelhack, MLG's senior vice president, after a pause. "I didn't know that."

At first, there were two of them, Mike Sepso and Sundance DiGiovanni, playing Halo in the summer of 2002 in DiGiovanni's downtown New York loft, the one with the projection screen that made the play larger than life and all the more addictive. Betting on their matches, where each was a soldier trying to kill the other, led to friends stopping by to place their own bets on who would win. Which led to more friends stopping by to gamble. Which led to still more friends, some of whom just wanted to watch. When are you two doing this again? the friends would ask at the end of the night. This is fun. Which led to an epiphany.

When will we watch the best in the world on a projection screen?

Sepso had been the co-CEO of Gotham Broadband, a nationwide broadband service, and DiGiovanni was the company's creative director. But they left Gotham to answer that question. Over the next year, they flew across the country, hitting up every local video-game tournament they could find. They took notes, talked about the passion the gamers had, how they played for the competition of it, because the cash prizes handed out--when they were handed out--were often less than advertised. They talked about a professional gaming league, a league that would organize tournaments across the nation, where each tournament was open to any competitor, provided the competitor paid an entrance fee. They talked about a league that would draw sponsors to hand out cash prizes unseen in any local tournament, a league that would take the best players from each game and help the players find endorsements in exchange for wearing league memorabilia. They talked about a league, like NASCAR, that would highlight the personalities of its players over the intricacies of its game.

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