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Top Gamer Shoots for Vegas Win

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Suddenly, his right elbow bursts forward, driving his palm ahead, fast. And … Whack!

This is Golden Tee, a brand of video-game golf. "It's basically the No. 1 video bar game in the country right now," says Allums, owner of Baja Bean Co.

Video bar games are the 21st century answer to billiards and darts, and enough of a cultural tic to be spoofed recently on "Saturday Night Live," featured on "Good Morning America" and explored on an MTV special.

PacMan is a mere ghost.

Quarters are out. Checks are in.

Leader, 24, received his first one in the mail about this time last year, he says. As a former bartender and part-time manager at Baja, he'd been playing the arcade-sized game since the bar put one in a year ago. He signed up on the Internet, mailing a photo I.D. and his Social Security number to the game-maker. In return, he received a "Gold Card" to swipe in the machine when he played. It keeps his "life stats." Soon, he was scoring high. He won $50.

Today Leader is one of the top 30 players in the country. "I've always been good at really precise things — with hand-eye coordination — my entire life," he explains.

On Feb. 21, Leader learned he qualified for Golden Tee's national tournament in Las Vegas April 12-13. (It will air a week or two after on ESPN2 and the Fox Sports Network.) He's received $800 to cover the trip's expenses and will at least win $500. But if he takes home the top prize, he'll be $10,000 richer.

Of course, he's spent money, too. Each nine-hole game costs $3. Leader estimates he's laid out about $15,000. But he's won back $4,000 to $6,000, he guesses, in prizes and in betting on tournament games. "It's an investment kind of thing," he says. "It's a hobby that gives you something back."

During the national tournament, Allums plans to hold a "Not in Vegas" competition at Baja for players who didn't make the cut. And he'll cheer Leader on. "He's a natural," Allums says. — Jason

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