On a recent podcast, Elon Musk, the richest man in the world, claimed that he was also one of the best Quake players in the world during his time in college.
The early days of esports are more or less inaccessible. A lack of record-keeping, low-stakes local tournaments, and the relative anonymity of internet handles keep a veil between the public and an understanding of who was truly excellent at video games during that time.
As for Quake, the first tournament of note in the history of the esport was Red Annihilation, won by Dennis “Thresh” Fong. He also won id Software co-founder John Carmack’s 1987 Ferrari 328 GTS for taking first place at the tournament.
While many doubt that Musk was ever a high-level Quake player, Thresh himself seems to remember him.
Apparently, Elon Musk’s handle was Zip2, and they played on the Stanford servers quite a bit. Musk founded a “Zip2” company with his brother in the 1990s, and apparently used a handle named after the company.
So, it’s probable that Musk not only played Quake, he played Quake in a tournament and won a bit of scratch. However, that’s not the claim that Musk made. He says he was maybe one of the best players in the world.
Musk’s claim feels like the bluster of a man who did well in a couple of local tournaments and thinks that made them relevant at the international level. The 1990s and aughts are full of this type of guy: the dude who placed third with his team at a Halo local and thinks that made them relevant worldwide.
The statement is vintage Musk. Take something empirical, like, “free speech is the foundation of a free people,” a statement so true it’s almost unarguable. Take that statement, veil it and market it until it gets to the point of “free speech is the foundation of a free people, and I’m the only one who can truly provide it,” and you get what Musk is attempting with the husk of Twitter.
So, no, Elon Musk was not even “maybe” one of the best Quake players in the world. He was probably pretty good and won some money. “One of the best in the world” is a truly ludicrous statement in an era where esports was not nearly what it is today, like claiming you could tackle Derrick Henry because you played football for the Philadelphia Eagles in the early 1940s. If it is true, it’s true because no one else was playing Quake at the time, but a win by default isn’t actually winning.