Nadeshot

Nadeshot (April 1, 2014)

It’s game over, but Matt “Nadeshot” Haag keeps staring at the TV monitor with a haunted, distant look while his teammates unceremoniously pack up their Xbox controllers.

This is not the face you’d expect from someone who just won $120,000 playing video games, but Nadeshot consistently faces a Derrick Rose -level of scrutiny from the enormous world of professional “Call of Duty.” In the three years since he won the world title in 2011, Nadeshot has leveraged his charismatic personality and social media wizardry to emerge as the most famous pro gamer in North America. His YouTube channel has racked up more than 80 million views and he’s got 528,000 Twitter followers.

But with the extraordinary celebrity comes the weight of great expectations. Many of his countless fans (whom Nadeshot calls “The Green Wall”) expected him and his three OpTic Gaming teammates to waltz into L.A. from their team house in Chicago’s northwest suburbs to snatch the annual “Call of Duty” World Championships crown without breaking a sweat. More than 90 percent of viewers chose OpTic to beat a team called CompLexity during Sunday’s semifinal match, even though they technically were the underdogs.

All the pressure seemed to turn Nadeshot into something of a nervous wreck leading up to the tournament—and even, at times, during gameplay.

“I’m stressed out 24/7 about 70 million different things,” he told me just before a match Saturday. “You gotta deal with the people watching your stream online, you deal with the negative comments on social media, deal with having entertaining thousands of people while also trying to be professional, and while trying to beat another team, also while trying to get along with your teammates. It just ... so many things pile on.”

Nadeshot says even his own dad doesn’t get what his son deals with—he sees Nadeshot making good money by staying home and playing video games. That’s part of the reason I was unabashedly rooting for this Chicago team to beat the 30 other squads from around the world to take home the $400,000 first prize. For the sake of Nadeshot’s blood pressure and sanity.

For most of the weekend, it looked like that was exactly what was going to happen. OpTic’s trigger fingers settled down after an early loss to a pro British outfit and outgunned their next several opponents—guaranteeing a third place finish. Things also began swimmingly in Sunday’s semifinal match. To cap off a win in Round 2, Nadeshot spun his soldier around a virtual freight yard and killed two opponents as the crowd packed into the nearby bleachers roared with delight.

But with a 2-1 lead in their best of five series, it all fell apart for Nadeshot and OpTic. CompLexity roared back with two consecutive victories to send them to a loser’s bracket match. With one last shot at the championship at stake, OpTic stumbled in a hotly contested battle against North Carolina-based EnVyUs.

I thought this might finally send Nadeshot over the edge, but eventually he yanked his eyes away from the screen on the main stage. He hugged his three teammates and—to my relief—his expression gradually softened. He picked up his smartphone and immediately tweeted this out to his 500,000 followers:

“So proud of my team, we played one hell of an event. Placed 3rd at Call of Duty Championships, hope you enjoyed the show.”