Marcus 'DJ Wheat' Graham is the John Madden of gaming – San Francisco Chronicle

Growing up in Omaha, Neb., Marcus Graham didn’t fit in with his sports-crazed family. He didn’t enjoy football — most unusual in Cornhusker country — or basketball. He liked some niche sports, like bowling and track and volleyball, and his true love was the video game Quake III.

Decades later, Graham is most often compared to one of the all-time great NFL coaches and broadcasters. The video game commentator is known as the “John Madden” of e-sports.

“I’d never really connected with sports,” Graham, 40, said recently during an interview at Twitch in San Francisco. “I get it now. I actually understand my family more having done this.”

Graham, whose professional name is “DJ Wheat,” was the earliest and most influential “caster,” doing play-by-play of video game tournaments in the late ’90s.

“Marcus really was the first,” said caster Sean “Day[9]” Plott. “If anyone else says they were, they’re lying, because he was first by a considerable margin. And he started in an era when there was no such thing as video streaming. He was trying to figure out the technology, and then he’d share the technology, cobbling programs together and getting them to work. He was doing a daily gaming show long before even YouTube.”

Gaming is a billion-dollar industry, but it was not lucrative 20 years ago. Graham started as a competitor and made a total of $1,500 playing Quake III while spending about $15,000 attending events. Then one day, unable to attend a competition in Sweden with his Quake III team in 1997, Graham provided updates via RealAudio, reading texts from his squad to a tiny audience of friends and family listening online.

After graduating from the University of Nebraska, Graham had to find a “real” job, so he went into IT, managing a staff of nine.

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