Across esports history, there have been few players that have had such an illustrious career that they've been given a nickname that immortalizes their legacy. Dave "Walshy" Walsh, known by many of his fans as Capt. Clutch, is one such player. Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok, who's been called "the unkillable demon king," is another example. These are players who revolutionized their respective games.
So who is "The Wizard"?
The year is 2004. The original Xbox is on the cusp of getting a flagship title that would pave the way for online console gaming for years to come. After the remarkable success of Halo: Combat Evolved, Halo 2 was released and immediately became the most popular game on Xbox Live. At the time, a small unassuming 11-year-old boy ventured across the street to his neighbor's house to see what the fuss was about. His name was Justin Deese.
"[My neighbor] was three years older than me at the time," he chuckled. "I probably wasn't even supposed to be playing the game at that age."
Justin's first foray into Halo was a less-than-pleasant experience. Because he had a lack of exposure, he was predictably disposed of quickly in play -- but his competitive nature was a staple, even at that age.
"I had to be better than that guy," he said.
Justin begged his mom for an Xbox and eventually got one so he could play the only game he cared about: Halo 2. Like most people, Justin's main exposure to the game was playing his friends in the area and online matchmaking. His drive to be better and a fateful channel surf early one Saturday morning proved to be the catalysts that took him from Justin Deese to "iGotUrPistola."
"I was flipping through channels and randomly saw Halo 2 on the TV and thought -- what the heck is this?" He said. "This is awesome!"
Justin became fixated on the storylines in the competitive space. He continued to climb the ranks and found himself gaining the attention of professional players. Although he began to see the spotlight, his age was still an obstacle. At merely 14 years old, Justin decided that if he had any chance at making something of his promising start, it would have to be at the first event of the Major League Gaming Pro Circuit in 2007: MLG Charlotte. As fate would have it, the location was nearby, only an hour away from where he lived at the time.
Whether it was his ignorance of the pressure or the fact that he was a wizard from the very beginning, Justin made the most out of his first crack at the national spotlight. He finished third in the Free-For-All, which netted him $800, a fortune at the time for a 14-year-old kid. His strong performance and the payout enabled him to travel to the next tournament, MLG Meadowlands, two months later. He made the most of his second time on the national stage and shocked everyone with a first-place finish.
Everyone but himself.
"At that time, I knew I was individually talented," he said. "I knew that if I kept at it, I really could make something of this. It was really all thanks to Mike 'Strongside' Cavanaugh. He was really positive and was sure that I could come on to the scene and do well. He was there for me from the beginning."
As strong as his individual performance was throughout Halo 2, Justin was met with a hard decision at the beginning of the 2008 season. The MLG Pro Circuit made the transition from Halo 2 to Halo 3, and with that change came the dismissal of the Free-For-All portion of the event. Tournaments were still expensive to travel to, and his first Halo 3 outing left him on the outside looking in. If Justin was to continue his meteoric rise, he was going to have to start performing on the biggest stage Halo esports has to offer: the 4 vs. 4 bracket. Once again, he silenced all the doubters, himself included, and broke into the Top 4 at MLG Orlando, taking down household name Str8 Rippin in the process.
Proving that he was capable of adjusting his raw talent to the more strategic 4v4 play, Justin eventually landed himself a spot on Triggers Down, a team that already snagged two first-place finishes to their name. Alongside Jacob "Hysteria" Resier, Justin "SK" Mann and Richie "Heinz" Heinz, Justin reached the pinnacle of Halo with a first-place finish at MLG Meadowlands in 2009. After that, Justin would go on to win 24 tournaments and cups, three of them against what many considered the best team to ever play the game, Final Boss.
It was during his historic Halo 3 run that he was dubbed "The Wizard."
"It was actually Joe Fries who started it back at The LAN Network. ... He saw my fingers and noted that they were skinny and long, and called them wizard wands," Justin chuckled. "My play then took wizardry to a whole other level. I started doing things in-game that people didn't think were possible and staying alive in situations where I really should have died. People started saying the stuff I knew was magic, like a wizard."
But Justin's career was not without its difficulties. Halo 4 marked a low time for the community. The game wasn't very well received by players or fans -- tournaments for the game were scarce -- and there was no major circuit that was supporting the competitive space. That all changed when Halo 2: Anniversary was released. The community came back to life, and Justin found himself on a promising roster to kick off the first event of the Halo Championship Series Season 1. On Evil Geniuses, Justin made his way to the grand finals against Counter Logic Gaming.
All of the promise, the excitement, took a turn for the worse.
"We lost in the grand finals after a bracket reset, and I became emotionally compromised," he said. "I got really frustrated and there was a lot going on personally at the time. Furthermore, I felt like I didn't play at my best and let my teammates down. I took that very hard, because that's just the kind of person I am."
"After the loss, I punched the ground and gave myself a Boxer's fracture," he added. "That was probably the hardest part of my career. I was dealing with personal loss, then the tournament just made it worse. It was even harder because it was something I did to myself. Nobody did that to me. Nobody thought I had something like that in me, but I'm just a human who had a lot of emotions at the time and I let that out the wrong way."
That broken bone had a lasting impact on Justin's career. He had to quit Halo, leave Evil Geniuses, and fell behind the skill curve as he went through physical therapy. EG would go on to win all but one LAN tournament in the lifespan of H2A, including X-Games Aspen, while Justin could do nothing other than sit back and watch. Even in the beginning of Halo 5: Guardians, his nagging hand injury took a toll, which eventually led to him not even qualifying for the first Halo World Championship.
"That was really hard," he said. "That was one of the most depressing moments of my life. I didn't touch Halo for almost a month. I found myself in a situation where I had nothing to play for -- and that was a first for me."
Justin eventually found himself competing for first-place at the second iteration of the Halo World Championship, where he placed second. Now, he's heading into Seattle for his third crack at the international stage. Although he has his eyes set on a first-place finish, his legacy has already gone far beyond his placings.
"Regardless of how I perform from here on out, I think that I've established myself as one of the greatest of all time," he said. "I hope that I leave behind some inspiration to do what you love and have a good time doing it. Try to be the best, but try to be the best person you can be while doing it. People may forget a few moments here and there, placings, whatever. But they won't forget how you made them feel."
Over the years Justin has amassed major tournament wins in five different Halo titles, and has taken home first-place 27 different times. Taking home first-place on the international stage this weekend would be the ideal end to a historic career.
"I've known from the beginning that I can't do this forever. It has to end sometime. 'What am I going to do after this?' is a big question, one that I've wrestled with a long time," he admitted. "I've thought about retiring before. But, for now, I'm just going to keep doing it. I'm sure the time will come, likely sooner rather than later."