Thresh: The First Professional Gamer

You’ve heard about gamers like Ninja or ppd or Fatal1ty furiously tapping on their high-end keyboards and shaking their mice, their ears in their headphones and their eyes dancing on the high-end screens. The world watching them battle in the arenas of the esports championship for that top position and that fat cash prize.
Have you ever wondered who the first professional esports cyberathlete was who not only won the 1997 Quake tournament’s prize money, playing on a CRT monitor and a WASD-modified keyboard, but also drove away with a jet red Ferrari 328 GTS, which he actually didn’t just drive away; he had to had it insured first. Which was taken care of by the owner of the car.
His name is Thresh.

Threshold of Pain

Dennis “Threshold of Pain” Fong used that pseudonym while playing Doom (link) back in ’93. He said it its meaning referred to his knack of withstanding enemy fire and suffering.

Born in Hong Kong, Dennis migrated to USA with his family and was raised in Los Altos, California. His interest in videogames started with him playing the old age text-based MUD games on his PC. He attended a community college in Cupertino but dropped out after a year to focus on his gaming career.

He had mastered himself in online “deathmatches” with other competing players who observed a unique quality about his playing style.

Image source: Wikipedia

Thresh ESP

The players noticed how quickly and easily Dennis would know exactly where his opponents are and what would be their next move. And he’d be ready to shatter them into goblets using all the resources he could stockpile.

Dennis didn’t have an accurate aim or had any fast reflexes which is a cyberathletic’s natural ability. But he almost naturally knew the next move of his enemies. The spectators also watched him reading the entire game map and rob other players of all the rocket launchers and armours from all the locations in the map.

Like advancing and knowing the next move of your enemy in a game of chess, the other players would call this skill “Thresh ESP”.

Dennis would also mention in an interview that he didn’t like to leave his opponents with a sliver of hope.

From “Threshold of Pain” to “Thesh” : There are 2 reasons why Dennis opted to call himself “Thresh”:

  1. The player Id limit of using a max of 8 characters only.
  2. Dennis later liked the meaning of the word ‘thresh’, which means to strike repeatedly.


Before Quake, video gamers were only allowed to play games on a computer using a joystick or a single keyboard. The mouse was not yet utilized. But it was very tedious for the gamers to move around the world of the games only using the arrow keys. There was clearly a limitation to test their skills in an ever changing gaming environment.

Then with the introduction of player movement control modification option, games like Quake and Castle Wolfenstein (link) let players customize their keyboards key config within the game settings. Helping them to extend their remaining fingers of one hand to press other keys to move forward, move backwards, jump, collect weapon, etc. while their other hand on the mouse controlling their view, looking up-down and sideways.

This option gave Thresh a chance to get to his comfort zone and move around more freely in the interconnected maps. And his comfortable setting was the WASD config.

Consequently everyone would start copying the WASD config and the future games would have this as a default setting for its players.

Road to Annihilation

Thresh’s journey to fame & fortune begins with him competing at various videogame competitions and beating his opponents with such an unmerciful and stupefying approach that the others would throw an outrageous fit. It all started at DWANGO deathmatch tournament in 1995. Considered as one of the first esports events, it was sponsored by id Software. Players from Europe and United States participated in the tournament out of which three players emerged in the last stages:

Thresh vs Merlock

Thresh reached the semi-finals and met his chief rival Ted ‘Merlock’ Peterson. Thresh destroyed Merlock to such an extent that according to the former the latter ‘slammed his keyboard on the desk and threw his chair off-stage.”


Thresh vs Stoney

After defeating Merlock, Thresh entered the finals and was head to head with a gamer named Stoney. Their encounter was on the game: Hexen: Beyond Heretic. Thresh defeated Stoney and became the DWANGO champion.


Thresh vs Entropy

In May 1997, top 16 players from all US states were flown to Atlanta where they battled on the maps in the game Quake, running on the vQuake engine, a newer version of the game specifically designed to be played on Intergraph PCs. On the judgment day, two players came face to face on the map called ‘Castle of the Damned’. This would be Thresh’ life changing moment. He obliterated Entropy that the latter accidentally offed himself in confusion. The final score: 14-1. Thresh became the Red Annihilation Champion.

Watch Thresh obliterating his enemies in the map “Castle of the Damned”

Quake, John Carmack & his modified Ferrari 328 GTS

The Red Annihilation tournament was so big in terms of sponsors and audience that the final tournament was covered by NBC and Wall Street Journal. It was also an expo where spectators got to watch the players compete with each other and check out the latest games and hardware exhibited there. From that day everyone came to know about Thresh.

The final battle was played on Intergraph PC computers equipped with Rendition V1000-based Intense3D graphics accelerators. The whole tournament was organized by Intergraph (along with other partners) who introduced new maps of id Software’s Quake, and in that arena observing the players was the legendary videogame developer from id Software, John Carmack

John Carmack, with all the cash he’d earned from developing engines for Doom, Wolfenstein and Quake, bought Ferraris and modified them into effin’ rocket ships (well almost). At the Red Ann finals, Carmack upped the ante by giving away his customized red Ferrari 328 GTS to the winner of the deathmatch.

Thresh in the Ferrari he won and John Carmack (second-place finisher Entropy is in the background above Thresh.)

After Retirement

According to Rolling Stone Magazine, Dennis concedes that the searing carpal tunnel pains that had begun to shoot up his arms after intensive practice sessions may have also been a factor in his retirement.

Dennis ‘Thresh’ Fong retired right after the Red Annihilation Event. He is currently a business man. The prize money he accrued leveling his enemies in the dungeons and tunnels, was, after retirement, invested in several Internet ventures that included two social networking sites for gamers called Xfire and Raptr, and a social customer relationship management called Lithium Technologies.

In 2016, Thresh was inducted in the ESL Hall of Fame. He is recognized by the Guinness World Records as the first pro gamer.