Life Outside Poker: Griffin Benger – Professional Video Gamer (Part One)

griffin-benger-professional-video-gamer-part-oneGriffin Benger is one of online poker’s true superstars.

He has earned close to $5.5m in live tournament earnings where he plays under the pseudonym Flush-Entity. He is the top ranked Canadian online poker player and a former world number one.

Benger has also started to make waves in the live tournament scene with over $1.1m in live tournament earnings, that include victory in the EPT Berlin High Roller of April last year, and he is currently in fine form making three final tables in side events at EPT Vienna.

His performances both on and off the felt have attracted none other than Phil Ivey, who has chosen Benger to be a member of Team Ivey at IveyPoker.

But long before Griffin was cracking skulls on the poker table, he was doing likewise in the world of professional video gaming and that’s what I have invited him on the show to speak about today.

What was your favorite game as a child?

Definitely Mario. I never saw, touched, played, or even still know what the Atari is; Nintendo was the first gaming system to me and I adored Mario and Duck Hunt. I think the contrast between those two early Nintendo games was a great way to show people how different games could be. In one you were a sharpshooting hunter with an overeager hound and the other an Italian stereotype plumber that ate mushrooms that gave him special powers to save a princess that probably wouldn’t even date a plumber.

So your first electronic video gaming system was Nintendo. How did this change over the years?

I got pretty into Sega Genesis, but never PlayStation in the early years. It’s weird, now that I think about it, I feel like PlayStation is like the PokerStars of gaming, and for whatever reason I was stuck on Full Tilt (Nintendo, pre-black Friday) and 888 (Sega). I think I’m seeing the comparison because last night I was talking to my good friend and mentor Shyam Srinivasan about how crazy it was. He simply wasn’t on PokerStars until like 2011. He was far and away the highest stakes tournament winner on Full Tilt, one of the best players in the world, and wasn’t playing the Sunday Million every week!

The only job I ever worked was at a little comic book/gaming store down the street from my house. It was predominantly a comic book shop but the owner wanted to transition a bit into gaming because it was really starting to boom in the late 90s. Once they started selling games I would go in there and talk to him and he offered me the job since I was so passionate about gaming, and I told him I would bug everyone I knew to pre-order games. I think I got like 50 pre-orders on Perfect Dark (the original title from RARE the people who made GoldenEye).

I didn’t even care about having money, all I wanted was to move up to the big leagues and own a PlayStation. But my father was very anti-gaming. There was no chance he would spend a few hundred bucks to get me a PS2, even at Christmas or my birthday, and I had pretty spoiled holidays. So I told the owner I didn’t even want to get paid, just to keep a tally of how much I’d earned and once I’d made enough, to just give me a PlayStation 2.

I was a pretty cute kid, and I could talk to adults and feel like I could outsmart them and kind of play dumb. The owner saw this in me, and being a bit of a hustler, had this idea that the games that didn’t sell, for me to take them to Wal-Mart all puppy eyed and say my grandmother bought me a game for the wrong system but had lost the receipt. And if they said that they wish they could help but couldn’t without a receipt I would start crying; not in an obnoxious ‘give me what I want’ way, but in a, ‘I have this terrible game for Nintendo 64 but I don’t even own an n64 and I’m going to walk out of your store with a tear rolling down my face sniffling all the way home’ kind of way.

Without fail the store clerk would say “I’ll see what I can do” and call a manager, and every single time they would give me the credit for the absolutely piss poor Nintendo game, and I would get a copy games like Metal Gear Solid, or something for the store that had no problem selling. I did it probably about half a dozen times… it was like my first real poker experience, just tricking and deceiving people and I knew it was wrong, but it was kind of fun, having this secret from my parents and my friends where I was hustling my way to a PS2

Then one day, the owner claimed I lost a key to an important vintage comic book glass box, and said the stuff was so important he had to replace the lock and key which he claimed cost like $250 so he was saying I wasn’t getting a PlayStation, essentially and that was the last straw, I instantly ratted him out to my parents, told them all about our little Wal-Mart trips where he’d wait outside in the car and I’d come back and he’d be like “you get anything good?” Like I’m robbing a convenience store. So my parents got in his face, I left the job obviously, and the guy refused to pay me the money, and I never got my PlayStation.

What have been your favorite games and why?

Milestone games for me were Mario, Sonic, GoldenEye, Metal Gear Solid, NHL 93, Resident Evil 4, Uncharted, The Last Of Us and The Walking Dead: Season 1.

GoldenEye was the first real multi-player experience I had. Yeah you could take turns being Mario and Luigi in the first Mario, but GoldenEye I was actually shooting my best friends! It was so much fun with sleepovers every weekend and staying up all night. Setting up little sound traps so we could hear my parents trying to catch us staying up all night playing video games, building pillow forts. I loved being a kid. I still am to be honest. The Peter Pan Syndrome is strong in me.

NHL93 was the first game I ever played a full “season” of a sports videogame, and I remember how heartbreaking it was when my best friend’s younger brother overwrote our game save when he created his own. I’ll never get over it, and I’ll never forgive him!!! It was devastating.

Metal Gear Solid was so special simply because I remember every single detail of where I was in my life when I played that game. I didn’t play it until like over a decade after it came out. It was this gem I was waiting for the right time to play. It represented everything I missed out on when I got hustled out of my PS2. By this point the PS3 was already out, but I picked up a PS2 just so I could smash through all the games the 12-year-old version of me missed out on.

I remember which girl I was trying to sleep with on MSN while I was playing, what we were talking about, who were the important people in my life at the time I was playing it – everything from that time period is so vivid.

It was an incredible gaming experience. Really stood the test of time like 12 years after it’s release. The whole thing with Psycho Mantis blew my f**king head off. I really wish I didn’t cop out and look online for how to beat him.

For those unfamiliar, Psycho Mantis is a psychic bad guy boss and you can’t beat him unless you unplug your controller from the #1 slot and put it into the #2 slot; metaphorically switching brains so he can’t read yours anymore.

Who f**king comes up with that shit? Are you kidding me? It blew my mind.

Uncharted was a milestone game because it was just the ultimate adventure game ever, and I loved the characters. I think it was the first gaming experience that was so cinematic that I realized I liked games more than movies, and I f**king love movies.

Then The Last of Us took it over the edge for me; an adventure game that had such a profound effect on me as a story (both games are made by the same company, Naughty Dog).

Resident Evil 4 because it was just so awesome and different from the rest of the series and I think at the time in my life reignited my love for games.

And finally and most recently, The Walking Dead Season 1 took the element of choose your own adventure like in those old R.L Stein books and perfected it. Creating this cinematic, intense experience, but you decide where it goes? You’re the f**king screenwriter…the director…incredible.

Also, check out the Life Outside Poker: Griffin Benger – Professional Video Gamer Part 2.