Robbie Lakeman doesn’t have millions of fans on YouTube or Twitter. He isn’t sponsored by Red Bull and he doesn’t have a lucrative contract with any professional gaming teams. What the 27-year-old New Hampshire native does have is the current world record for the highest score in “Donkey Kong,” a game that launched 33 years ago – before Lakeman was even born.
Competitive video gaming has become an internationally recognized industry, and professional players are earning well over six figures exploiting their favorite hobby. What’s not so well known is that world records are still being set in classic games that are more than three decades old, without the glamour of high-end stadiums, sponsorships, live-streaming and millions of online viewers.
“As a kid I owned Guinness World Record books, and was obsessed with world records. When you have a world record on any kind of talent, that means you’re the best out of everyone in the world, and that always appealed to me,” Lakeman, who works at a Scottsdale, Ariz. golf course, told IBTimes. Lakeman set the world record for the highest score in “Donkey Kong” in September, beating New York-based plastic surgeon Hank Chien’s champion score of 1,138,600 by 3,200 points.
On Sept. 6 this year, Lakeman streamed the four-hour long session on Twitch. His record was verified by Guinness World Records the next day.
Yes, the niche industry of classic, competitive gaming – which often includes arcade games from the 1980s and 1990s, is still alive and well. It’s no “League of Legends”-type tournament, which often feature dozens of players, famous rock bands and millions of online viewers, but the competition is fierce, and the players are serious.
While he’s received massive amounts of attention for his recent victory with “Donkey Kong,” Lakeman is a player of many talents, and holds other video game records in “Death Race (1976),” “Buggy Challenge (1984)” and “Stratovox (1980).” Other classics that are making a comeback on the vintage games circuit include “Asteroids”, “Pac-Man”, and “Mortal Kombat”.
“Seeing e-sports take off the way it has is really exciting. People who may not have the athletic build or ability to play sports still have the opportunity to excel and professionally play a game for a living,” Lakeman said. “The winning team for the ‘DOTA (‘Defense of the Ancients’) tournament won a million dollars per person. Classic gaming is a niche hobby that appeals to a small community, so that kind of prize money would likely never happen.”
New York City-based Major League Gaming, a North American professional e-sports organization, regularly hosts competitions for games like “Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare” and “Injustice: Gods Among Us.” The winners of these modern gaming tournaments can pull in anywhere from tens of thousands of dollars to hundreds of thousands in rewards.
Lakeman broke “Donkey Kong’s” world record after playing the game for three years, so there's no telling how successful he would be if he entered the realm of modern e-sports -- a young industry where some champions are still in their teens. “With that kind of prize money, the thought has certainly crossed my mind. If I find a highly competitive modern game I like, I would consider it in the future for sure. At the end of the day it's more about just playing games you enjoy,” Lakeman said.