My Earliest Memory Got Me Into Esports

I’ve been gaming for 27 1/2 years. That’s kind of insane. I’ve been passionate about gaming for longer than anything else I’ve worked at by a mountainous margin.

Since I was three years old I’ve play Mario and Sonic, Doom and Quake, Wolfenstein and Metal Gear Solid, Oregon Trail, Yukon Trail, Number Munchers, the pinball game on Windows 95… my first online muliplayer experience was Counter-Strike 1.6. My first MMO was City of Heroes. I recall getting frustrated at Sigma in Mega Man X4 and blasting the brains of zombies in Resident Evil 2. Remember when PlayStation games had multiple discs for big games? Parasite Eve does.

I have a great memory of my dad and I playing four games, all fighters: Mortal Kombat 3 on Sega Genesis, Killer Instinct 2 in the arcades, Bloody Roar on PlayStation, and Dead or Alive 2. We still quote a lot of the lines from DoA – I would play Leon and he would play Kasumi, and we would play for long stretches of time where we were pretty even. MK3 wasn’t even ours – we rented the Sega and MK3 from the Ben Franklin’s (a sort of Hobby Lobby chain) down the road. I kind of never returned it because I played it so much, and we were so late on bringing it back that we just ended up buying it.

I even played Chex Quest, that game that came with the cereal Chex.

All good memories, but there is one that stands out specifically, one day in particular because something horrible happened. A scar upon my psyche that is also a catalyst that propelled my life in a direction towards gaming, and eventually, esports. In retrospective, it’s a good example of the butterfly effect.

In short, I was tricked by my two older sisters.


Us then. Look at them… totally scheming, even in this photo.


Us now. Less scheming. 

December. Winter, 1988, Green Bay, Wisconsin. Snow gently and slowly consumes the ground, covering up the old, dirty snow to create a fresh blanket that will, inevitably, turn ugly again. On a relativity busy street there sits a typical 80s ranch duplex – it’s the carpet you’re thinking of, the couches you remember. My mom had brought over a Nintendo Entertainment System as a gift from her side of the family (mom and dad had split I think at that point). My sisters and I, Heidi and Cindy, thought it was the coolest present and set it up post-haste.

The system came with Duck Hunt and Super Mario Bros. The oldest sister, Heidi, put in SMB and hit the power button. The NES was new, so no old-school tricks were needed to get the game working. We punched the buttons on the old CRT, you know the ones like you were launching a space rocket?


“Sir, we are ready for lift off… just need to let the tubes warm up first… it’ll be a little while, wanna get lunch?”

To turn the power on – *kaCHUNK*

To find the right channel, you needed leverage to get the thing moving, and if you went to far, you might as well just keep going all the way around.*CLICK. CLICK. CLICKCLICKKCLICK*

Heidi hit start on 1-player.  World 1-1 planted itself on the CRT. The iconic theme song preceded the grand entrance of Mario and the Goomba.

She announced:

“We get two lives. You get one, Darin. And you go last.”

Whatever, look at that cool stuff on the screen, the music, the majesty of 8-bit, just PLAY THE GAME. We sat as a trio, the oldest on the far left, me on the far left, and the middle sister, Cindy, in between,  I sat cross legged, studying.

Heidi falls once, then twice. She doesn’t make it to the end. Cindy grabs the controller, and does a little better. But she also fails.

It’s my turn. One life. I saw the tricks. I saw them do it. I watched their moves. Where they perished. The jumps, the warp tube on World 1-1 to get some extra coins, the fire flower HOLY CRAP HE THROWS FIREBALLS NOW?!

I move from a cross-legged position to sitting upright on my knees. I lean forward, ready. I take a breath. I start.

I slaughter the Goomba. I miss the mushroom. I get to the first jump. It’s an easy task – just jump over the hole while having a slight run.

“Darin,” one of the sisters say. “If you jump down that hole, you get an extra life.”

Oh, I didn’t know that. I only have one life since they said so, so I guess I’ll just—




Mario bounces up on the screen as if to look at me before he vanishes. “Why, Darin? Why did you make me jump down the hole?”

Determination is born as they swipe the controller from me.

Determination to be… good at games? I don’t know. I was hooked, though. The flashiness, the sounds, the exhilaration of the gameplay. In the end, it didn’t matter I only got one life because it kickstarted another.

While it’s probably a little dramatized, this is my earliest memory. My sisters remember it, too. So it’s there – the birth of my passion for gaming. Without this experience,  I may not have taken a path into esports years and years later.

We played more as time went on – Tetris, the NES Ninja Turtles game, complete with that dam level and the underwater electric seaweed. My grandma taught me all the tricks of Super Mario Bros. 3 – we bonded over that.

Side note – Cindy, Heidi and my dad played the new Killer Instinct on Xbox One back in late February. I had played it prior, but we all got our butts kicked by Cindy (we all had combo assist one and she still beat us all).

In the end, that memory.. I guess that’s my my origin story. Gaming is core to who I am, and some of my best memories with my family include gaming. And it started 27 1/2 years ago.


Rumble, young man, rumble

Like many, I often draw inspiration from larger-than-life characters, both fictional and non-fictional. And while others can give you more detailed synopsis of his history or recount all the dates of his greatest moments (ESPN actually did a great 10 minute video here), Muhammad Ali was one of two people I was, and will continue to be, inspired by.

When I was a kid, my dad introduced me to Ali like many of us probably were.

“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.”

We were horsing around, rough housing like father and son do, and he was doing the “rope-a-dope” and tossing out quotes. He introduced me to Ali through some books and magazines, and from there, I simply read about him. The Thrilla in Manila. The Rumble in the Jungle. His title stripped for refusing to fight in Vietnam. His return, his interviews, his drive.

My favorite story surrounds the famous underwater photo shoot.


The photographer, Flip Schulke, went to take photos of Ali in Miami. He was told by Ali (Cassius Clay at the time) that training underwater was something a former trainer had taught him. Inspired, Schulke pitched it to Sports Illustrated, who though the idea silly and rejected it. Life took the shots instead, and we got some of the most iconic imagery in sports history.

The thing is, Ali couldn’t swim. No trainer told him to train under water. It was all a ruse, and Schulke didn’t find out until three years later and he was tricked.

It’s one of many beautiful anecdotes about Ali. It shows how far he would go to put on a show, something to obfuscate the truth to confuse or trick his opponents or critics. Can you imagine the talk in boxing clubs around the country? I wonder what it was like, if he actually fooled anyone.

Who trains underwater? No one does. Except Cassius Clay.

Except he doesn’t. To me it was an incredible portrait of how to tow the line; it’s just crazy enough to where you’d believe it. And when you think you know your opponent, that’s when they surprise you.

When I was wrestling in college, I pulled very heavily from this quote from Ali:

“I hated every minute of training, but I said ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.'”

While I never took first at a tournament in college, I did achieve my goal of placing in the top 8 in the nation to become an All-American. All thanks to the power of a few words.

Only it wasn’t just words, was it? For all the talk, Ali was the living embodiment of “Actions speak louder than words.” Both out of the ring and in it, if he was talking tough, be was backing it up with blows against his opponent. If he was talking peace and love, he was backing it up with charitable work.

He was the epitome of Descartes’ philosophy of “I think, therefore I am.” It’s an intense and powerful mindset; it’s not enough to want to be the champion, you have to think, you have to know, you’re a champion. And you take the steps to achieve that championship. You back it up with action. You execute, and when you’re done you say “what’s next?”

He was a man of conviction and principal. He said it, he meant it, and then he went and did it. When he was supposed to be drafted to fight in Vietnam, he essentially said he won’t go fight a war for a nation that won’t even fight for his basic human rights.

Everyone has heroes. The world lost the greatest, but his ability to inspire will live on for a very, very long time.

It’s a small gesture, but I’m grateful and honored to have walked the same Earth as a legend.

Thank you, Muhammad Ali.

Rumble, young man, rumble.








A Safe Bet

*Originally published in the UWM Post, 2008

The half cobble-stone, half paved alley way looks daunting with the sun still setting. It doesn’t help the nerves to know that you’re about to be humiliated for others enjoyment, either. If you’re going to get into the safest place in town, however, this is the way you’ll need to go.

I take a few steps down the alley and look at the first door to my right. Well, it’s not the right door. I look further down to the second, and wrong, entrance. Finally, I see a slightly old looking door frame with door that has seen better days. It creaks open and closed as I step inside. I might as well have stepped through a time machine.

Continue reading

The Best Haus in Town

*Originally published in the UWM Post, 2008

Mazen Muna’s energy and ambition isn’t only palpable, it’s electrifying. Have one simple chat with him you’ll find out that his commitment to bringing something special to Milwaukee is unparallelled. With his contagious smile and upbeat attitude, he’ll make you a believer in his cause, and that cause is hot dogs.

Continue reading

The League of Legends eSports Weekly Recap – 10/25 – 11/3

Roster updates, banned players, and pre-season changes … it’s been a busy week for League of Legends and eSports. In case you missed anything, you’ll find all of the major news that occurred over the last eight days below. Let’s get to it!

Continue reading

Who Is – Julian Collins, Manager for XD.GG

Originally published on Leaguepedia on 10/25 (click to see pictures!)


Julian Collins is spelling out his middle name for me over a good old fashioned phone call. We were originally scheduled to have a Skype call, where the call clarity would most likely be superior, but his mic decided to be uncooperative. Also unfortunate is the speaker phone quality on my Windows phone, making the answers Collins supplies sometimes difficult to hear. My Sony IC Recorder, a little gray rectangular brick that looks as if it predates me, is up for the challenge of documenting what Julian has to say, though.

Continue reading

Season 3 World Championship Semifinal Preview – NaJin Black Sword vs. SK Telecom T1

Published on Leaguepedia by Darin Kwilinski and William Turton on 9/26

In the chats of Leaguepedia there have been many people torn on who they think will win the semi-final matches. So, we decided to show both sides of the story in our predictions, with one staff writing simply who they think will win and why. The first match we will look at is Najin Black Sword vs SK Telecom T1. 

Continue reading

Tagged , , , ,

League of Legends Season 3 World Championship Preview: Cloud 9

Published on Leagupedia on 9/15

NA … plays too slowly. Now if they go into the mid-game at their own pace, their power can be recognized …”

Kim Dong Jun, OGN Shoutcaster

It’s fitting that the stereotype of the North American League of Legends scene matches the stereotype of Americans in general. We’re big, loud, and a little slow on the uptake, but if we catch you, you’re in for a fight. It might not be the prettiest scrap you’ve ever seen, but it’ll be a brawl nonetheless.

Continue reading

Tagged , ,

Season 3 North American LCS Super Week Preview

Published on Leaguepedia on 8/12

It’s a mess.

Let’s be honest, the North American LCS standings are a mess. Currently, there are no 4th, 5th, or 7th place teams. Instead, three teams sit at 11-12 and two teams at 9-14. Some teams who have consistently beaten higher ranked teams still sit behind those teams in the standings. What does this all mean?

It means it’s a mess, and from the looks of it, it’s not going to get much better after this week. Let’s take a look at the teams participating in Super Week who aren’t named Cloud 9.

Going into Week 9, the standings are Team Vulcun in 2nd place, with Counter Logic Gaming, Team Dignitas, and Team SoloMid sharing 3rd place. Sixth place is held by both Team Coast and Team Curse, and Velocity eSports makes the caboose.

Continue reading

Tagged , , ,