Few among us have what it takes to compete at the highest levels of athletics. But how about a virtual athlete?
“Everybody wants to rule the world,” goes the chorus of an old song. “There’s a room where the light won’t find you,” goes another lyric from the same track.
When we combine those two, we come close to the ethos of competitive video gaming. Whether discussing the latest in esports live streamers or the early days of arcade gaming—with records judged by people who watched endless hours of VHS tapes from would-be Donkey Kong champs—professional competitive gaming has always held up a mirror to mainstream success, making a mockery of traditional forms of accomplishment.
To that end, we’ve put together an enjoyable collage of glory and absurdity from the history of competitive gaming.
The Youngest Professional Gamer (Victor “Lil Poison” De Leon III) (2005)
For obvious reasons, professional gamers can begin their careers earlier than professional athletes: one’s physical body does not need to reach maturity to wreck one’s elders at Super Smash Bros. However, most pros take longer than Victor De Leon III, AKA Lil Poison, who entered his first Halo tournament at age four and competed in Major League Gaming just a year later in 2005. Lil Poison went on to compete in hundreds of tournaments. Now 25 and still pro-gaming, Lil Poison requires no antidote.
Fastest Super Mario Bros. Speedrun (Niftski) (2023)
Video game speedrunner Niftski made news last September with his superhuman completion of Super Mario Bros. in 4 minutes and 54 seconds (4:54.631). His time—just a fraction of a second faster than the previous record holder (himself)—nearly matches the “tool-assisted speedrun,” meaning the best AI attempt, or what we might have previously assumed meant the fastest technically possible. Niftski improved upon his old time by mastering the “Lighting 4-2” technique to benefit from a glitch in the map, and he now trails the machines by just 22 frames.
Most Consoles Played in One Minute (Ryan Sullivan) (2012)
At a convention in Ohio in 2012, a man named Ryan Sullivan set out to beat a competitive gaming record held by late-night television host Jimmy Fallon: the record for most console games played in one minute.
With an array of consoles arranged on buffet tables, Sullivan raced along like an ADHD berserker, throwing as many punches, kicks, and bowling balls as he could before the time elapsed. The champ pulled off the impossible on his first try, making it through 13 consoles—a destabilizing loss for Fallon, who only made it through 10.
Longest PlayStation Network Chat (Liam Pile) (2016)
Australian man Liam Pile, who presumably worked from home long before anyone else did, made history in 2016 when he and his friends broke the record for the longest PlayStation Network chat, logging a jaw-dropping 8,709 hours, or 362 days. Admirers of Pile can only hope he gets out more nowadays.
Fastest Pac-Man Perfect Game (David Race) (2012)
Classic arcade competitive gaming records count among the most competitive of all gaming titles, and Pac-Man ranks high on the list of those games.
In 2012, using an original arcade machine, David Race broke the record for the fastest, perfect Pac-Man game in a speedy three hours and 33 minutes, racking up 3,333,360 points for his troubles. In the ensuing years, Race reprised this feat for audiences, demonstrating it in 2020 for record-keepers Twin Galaxies as well as again in 2021 for the patrons of a well-frequented bar in Columbus, Ohio.
Longest Atari Domino Chain (Theodore Harris) (2012)
The world changed on July 24, 2012, when Theodore Harris of Winona, Minnesota, etched his name into gaming history with a new record—toppling the longest domino chain of Atari console games ever to get painstakingly assembled on Mom’s kitchen table. Harris managed to line up 98 Atari games in his historic chain, which fell in one clean go when he gave the first push, though the legend lingers.
Lowest Score in a Completed Super Mario Bros. Run (Bryan Singh) (2007)
Competitive gaming records come in many forms, including not just the highest but also the lowest scores of all time. One such reverse record, Bryan Singh’s 2007 title of lowest score in a completed game of Super Mario Bros., actually entails more than meets the eye: to receive such a low score, the player must avoid taking any power-ups, meaning they have less protection as they race through the levels.
Highest Dance Central 2 Score on a Song While Blindfolded (Elizabeth Bolinger) (2012)
Elizabeth Bolinger, AKA Kitty McScratch, broke a coveted competitive gaming record without the full use of her senses in 2012. In a game of Dance Central 2, the then-child Bolinger earned 1,605,387 points during one song while blindfolded. It remains unclear how she pulled off the extrasensory marvel.
Fastest Completion of Two Rubik’s Cubes While Playing Guitar Hero (Julian Aguirre) (2009)
Los Angelino Julian Aguirre did something bizarre and gobsmacking in 2009—he solved not just one but two Rubik’s Cubes faster than anyone had ever done while playing Guitar Hero. Strumming along to Ozzy Osbourne with his left hand, Aguirre solved the cubes with his right. Moreover, going by the low-res 2009 video, it doesn’t seem like Aguirre needed to look.
Scoring 9,999,999 on the Most Classic Arcade Machines (Lonnie McDonald) (2013)
Lonnie McDonald, AKA the Joust Master, posted scores of 9,999,999 points on 100 classic arcade machines across the United States in 2013, setting the competitive gaming record, one assumes, by some distance. That glorious moment amounted to a mere side quest in McDonald’s main adventure: posting 9,999,999 scores on every classic Joust machine in the country. The journey took the Joust Master to all 50 states, where he conquered 250 machines.
Most Zombies Crammed in 1×1 Minecraft Hole (Jacob Genlikan Yoon) (2014)
In 2014, high in the sky above a Minecraft board of rolling hills and lakes, Australian gamer Jacob Genlikan Yoon set out to achieve a very particular dream: fitting the most zombies ever into a 1×1 hole in that game. As the digital day turned to the digital night—and as many zombies spilled off into the clouds—Yoon recorded the time-lapsed proof of his accomplishment, persisting until he reached a sensible level of zombie incarceration at 2,123.
Fastest Completion of 50 Mouse Clicks on Super Click Tester (Nabi Khan) (2016)
For anyone who has ever wondered how fast they can click a mouse, the answer is probably slower than Nabi Khan of the United Arab Emirates, who, in 2016 on Super Click Tester, clicked a mouse 50 times in 0.22 seconds. Khan, the truest athlete on this list, sets the speed limits for us all when it comes to competitive gaming computer peripherals.
Highest Missile Command Score (Victor Sandberg) (2013)
Classic arcade game Missile Command, which dates back to 1980, has tested the twitch reflexes of generations of gamers. In the world of competitive arcade gaming, it ranks up with other classics like Donkey Kong and Pac-Man. In 2013, Victor Sandberge of Stockholm, Sweden, earned the current record with an effort that took him nearly 72 hours.
Highest Donkey Kong Score (Robbie Lakeman) (2020)
Perhaps the most iconic of all classic arcade games, Donkey Kong, has a current record held by Robbie Lakeman, who scored 1,260,700 points in four hours in 2020. However, two previous record holders, heroic everyman Steve Wiebe, and his rival, diabolical mullet man Billy Mitchell, deserve honorable mention for their faceoff captured in the extraordinary documentary The King of Kong: Fistful of Quarters.
Most People Playing Arcade Games Simultaneously (Doc Mack) (2014)
In August 2014, at the Galloping Ghost Arcade in Brookfield, Illinois, 123 people crashed into the competitive gaming history books, most of them without even realizing it. These nameless gamers unknowingly merged to form the world’s largest-ever group playing arcade games at the time. Doc Mack, who recorded the pivotal moment, put the previous record at 106 in his video testimony, though we know little else of that earlier historic episode.
Fewest Lines to Max Tetris Score (Matthew Buco) (2012)
Some games can go on forever, such as the retro classic Tetris, which never ends—the tetrominoes keep coming faster—though the player can get a maximum score. Matthew Buco of Larchmont, New York, pulled down the highest possible score in Tetris (999,999 points) while completing the fewest lines, meaning he nailed the most efficient Tetris victory ever.
Highest Clay Pigeon Score in Duck Hunt (Robert C.) (2016)
Readers of a certain age may remember the game Duck Hunt for the original Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). For the uninitiated, Duck Hunt unpretentiously delivers on the premise of its name: the player holds an orange toy gun, fires at the television, and hopes to take down maximum mallards in the shortest timespan; sometimes, the targets switch to clay pigeons.
The current competitive gaming champion, Robert C. of New Hartford, Connecticut, broke the clay pigeon record with 2,518,000 points in 2016.
Biggest Cash Prizewinner in Individual Esports Tournaments (Kyle Giersdorf) (2019)
American professional gamer Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf made more money in one go than anyone else has in an esports tournament.
In 2019, Bugha won the first Fortnite World Cup, held in Queens, New York, at Arthur Ashe Stadium, also home to the trad-sporting event the U.S. Open Tennis Championships. The gamer won $3M at the event, which paid out more in prizes ($15.3M) than any individual e-sports tournament in history.
Biggest Video Game Collection (Antonio Monteiro) (2019)
Texas man Antonio Monteiro, who needs to learn about the cloud, has piled video games to the ceiling in his home than there are years since the last ice age ended. The compulsion earned Monteiro the title of biggest video game collector in the world, which probably won’t help him if those shelves start tumbling in an earthquake. His impressive assemblage features the complete runs of many video game systems, from first to eighth generation, with 20,139 games collected.
Largest Arcade Console (MadLab) (2022)
Spanish industrial design company MadLab built the world’s largest arcade machine with a massive Tetris console. The machine, measuring nearly five meters tall and two meters wide, requires a staircase to play. Weirdly, the screen only takes up a limited portion of the space, with the rest devoted to wallpaper.
To the skeptical observer, it might seem like this design company just wanted to get into the Guinness Book of World Records, to which we would say: watch King of Kong before you judge.