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History

Tracing down the history of the U.S. National Video Game Team® has been simultaneously my favorite research topic and my most frustrating. I was heavily inspired by the USNVGT in the late 1980s, only to watch them slowly fade away as the 16-bit console wars raged on. Curious about their fate, I started to seek all the information I could about the Team, only to be met with conflicting information at every turn. At different times, the Team was seen as different things, from one of the first competitive teams to a consumer marketing tool and all sorts of definitions in between.

People who were part of the early days disagree on the origins of it all. Those part of the first era of the Team constantly omit the accomplishments of the later versions. Who was and wasn't officially part of it all as the 1990s rolled in is subject to debate. Frustrated with it all, I held discussions with numerous USNVGT alumni, which led to teaming up with early member Tim McVey to obtain the trademark for the U.S. National Video Game Team® name. The move has proven to be polarizing, but making the move was necessary to preserve this history properly.

Why?  Because in today's booming world of eSports competition along with a greater acceptance of video game culture than ever before, it is beyond important that this story is told in full with as much of an objective point of view as possible. There are a great many lessons and historic firsts in the history of the U.S. National Video Game Team® that modern video game competitors can learn from. There is still a lot of research to be done and context to be added, but for now, here is the quick version of notable events spanning the full history of the USNVGT. 

A constant work in progress, I'm very open to additional context, information and discussion from any and all who were involved in the past. Feel free to Contact me directly as the effort to fully lock down the full and accurate history of the U.S. National Video Game Team® continues. 

- Patrick Scott Patterson, 

  Co-Owner

The Electronic Circus

March 1983

The origins of the U.S. National Video Game Team® in both name and concept start with the Electronic Circus tour. In March 1983, Boston event promoter Jim Riley approached Twin Galaxies co-founder Walter Day with the idea of a travelling tour of expert video game players. Day's efforts with Twin Galaxies had gained a great deal of media exposure, making it clear that he could provide Riley connections with expert players right off the bat.

Riley appointed Steve Sanders the first team captain, asking him to form a lineup of expert gamers to form the U.S. National Video Game Team®. Among the first members were Eric Ginner, Darren Olson, Todd Walker and Bill Mitchell. The name was dropped before the Electronic Circus tour launched on July 15, 1983, with the players instead being promoted as the "Superstars" on posters and in the press. Things for the tour itself fell apart quickly, and the Electronic Circus folded just five days after launch.

However, the concept of the team would survive as the first version of the team regrouped from the Circus' failure.

The Walter Day Era

July 25, 1983 - 1987

Just days after the fall of The Electronic Circus, Walter Day announced he was re-introducing the concept with five players. The U.S. National Video Game Team® name was revived as the moniker for the project. In his 1998 book, Day explained that he felt what he described as a publicity stunt was the key to helping his financially strapped Twin Galaxies arcade, and that the "angle" of a professional team was the way to go. 

 

Day appointed himself Team Captain, with Ben Gold, Jay Kim, Steve Harris, Tim McVey and Bill Mitchell as the players. Previous members Eric Ginner and Todd Walker re-joined shortly thereafter, along with Jeff Peters, Tom Asaki and several others.

The USNVGT loaded up a 1953 GMC bus with several arcade games for a cross-country tour, where it was hoped their game playing skills could draw media attention. This tour led to the first of several Video Game Masters Tournaments, with the idea that the tour would find enough skilled players to form various state teams for future competitions. The efforts also included fundraising efforts for Cystic Fibrosis. 

The tour was marred by constant mechanical problems, and while the efforts did manage to gain a fair amount of media coverage and gain the Team access to the headquarters of companies such as Nintendo and SEGA, Day's high hopes for the idea failed to gain the traction he'd hoped. Visits to the White House and the Japanese Embassy in efforts to kick off a U.S.A. versus Japan contest fell flat.

Starting in 1984, the Team began holding events to name the players of the year along with a series of annual continuation of the Master's contests, with the results going into the annual Guinness Book of World Records. The team also began to appear at industry trade shows such as the annual AMOA and in the pages of trade magazines such as Play Meter Magazine. A relationship also began to blossom with Atari, where USNVGT team members would play test upcoming arcade releases for the company, suggesting ways to improve gameplay and discovering programming flaws. However, it wasn't enough for Day, who stated in his 1998 book that he'd hoped to gain major sponsorship for the team, a dream that "died a quick death" as he worded it.

 

By December 1985, many USNVGT members were helping operate Day's briefly revived Twin Galaxies arcade. However, feeling the team had grown stagnant, plans went into place to move on from Ottumwa and run things under new leadership. Walter's participation was phased out and the U.S. National Video Game Team® went in a new direction under the direction of the Team members themselves, first with Steve Harris, Brent Walker, Perry Rodgers, Jeff Peters and Gary Hatt before moving to California under the guidance of Harris and Peters.

The APA International Scoreboard

1985/86

Before ending their alliance with Twin Galaxies, the Amusement Players Association was born under the U.S. National Video Game Team® banner. Once the Team officially picked up and headed West, they took the additional step of obtaining the rights for the Twin Galaxies scoreboard and incorporating it into their new efforts.

The result was the Amusement Players Association (APA) International Scoreboard, which continued Day's high score tracking efforts. APA members would receive the Top Score Newsletter, a publication exclusive to APA members published by the USNVGT.  In the wake of the North American Video Game Crash of 1983, this newsletter served as one of only a few publications that still covered the video game industry, and the only known one that was still tracking the achievements of competitive gamers. 

 

Top Score would even receive a plug from Nintendo during their first push of the Nintendo Entertainment System in North America. However, with the rise of the NES came the indication of new opportunities that would see Top Score phased out in favor of something more grand.

The Choice of the Experts

1987

The new era of the U.S. National Video Game Team® brought in fresh opportunities, including the first time the members of a video game team appeared on television to advertise products. 

In 1987, Donn Nauert and Perry Rodgers were introduced to television audiences in commercials for the Atari 7800 console. Touting the graphics, low game prices and backwards compatibility of the console, Donn and Perry's commercials aired heavily during afternoon cartoons and children's programming ahead of the 1987 Holiday Season and into 1988.

Some of these commercials can be viewed in our Video Archive section, along with other USNVGT media appearances that will be covered below. 

Electronic Game Player Magazine

1987/88

Electronic Game Player Magazine debuted with the January/February 1988 issue, featuring the Nintendo Entertainment System on the cover. This USNVGT publication was the first multi-platform video game magazine in the United States following the massive market crash that took place just years before. Throughout, the U.S. National Video Game Team® would review new and recent games and post secret gameplay tips. 

The APA International Scoreboard would also maintain a presence in EGP, with a list of both new and old high scores found in the back pages. 

The magazine broke a lot of ground, but the challenges attached to publishing the book resulted in low circulation, especially for the second issue, which may only have been distributed at a trade show. Single issues are difficult to locate and full sets of all four issues are rare. 

The Player's Seal of Approval

1988

By 1988, it was clear the video game industry in North America was returning to form. Nintendo's growing success with the NES caused SEGA to follow suit and even saw Atari return to the hardware business. However, there were still concerns in the marketplace over the quality of video games and associated products by both consumers and retailers. 

Recognizing this, the U.S. National Video Game Team® introduced the Player's Seal of Approval during Electronic Game Player Magazine's run. While champion gamers had endorsed video game products in the past, this seal marked the first time a video game team had done such a thing. The Seal would be given to certain products in USNVGT publications and would appear on the packaging for various games in stores. One NES game - Lee Trevino's Fighting Golf - even made mention of the U.S. National Video Game Team's Seal on the cartridge label. 

Among the games that received the Seal of Approval were Tengen's versions of Tetris and Pac-Man for the Nintendo Entertainment System, Tradewest's port of Double Dragon for the console and a series of third party video game controllers. 

The Seal wouldn't carry forward for too many years, but in it's wake came a deeper interest in game and product reviews by those who truly enjoyed the world of video gaming. 

Incredible Sunday

Fall 1988

In 1988, Incredible Sunday - an attempt at reviving That's Incredible! - made it's television debut. On one of the earliest episodes, the show hosted a video game competition between three youths from the Midwest. In a change from previous That's Incredible! video game competitions from 1982-1984, the contest was not held on arcade games but rather the Nintendo Entertainment System. 

Super Mario Bros. 2, Rad Racer and Ice Hockey were the three games making up the competition, with players competing to be the first to complete specific objectives in all three. The games were played on the same units that Nintendo used for NES store kiosks at the time, one for each player. U.S. National Video Game Team® captain Donn Nauert was on hand, announced by co-host Tracey Gold as the official for the contest. 

13-year-old Jason Reynolds was the winner of the event, receiving a spot on the USNVGT and an official jacket from Nauert at the event of the television segment for his win. Some historians see this event as a pre-cursor to the 1990 Nintendo World Championships and other Nintendo contests that used a similar three-game set-up.  Video of this contest is available in our Video Archive section.

Electronic Gaming Monthly

Holiday 1988

At the end of 1988, Electronic Game Player was phased out in favor of a new publication called Electronic Gaming Monthly. The 1989 Buyer's Guide issue saw a wider release than the previous publication and is considered Issue #0 of publication. This first issue mixed new reviews with content from the final issue of EGP and sold well enough to put EGM into publication in 1989, featuring Mega Man II on the cover.

The first several issues of EGM touted it as U.S. National Video Game Team's Electronic Gaming Monthly on the cover and continued to feature the APA International Scoreboard. Shortly into EGMs run, however, these elements began to be slowly phased out. Steve Harris took the publication to Illinois in 1989, splitting up the Team in large part while the APA Scoreboard was eventually replaced with a console-centric list of high scores under the EGM name itself. 

More focus went onto the Electronic Gaming Monthly magazine as it grew into the largest multi-platform video game publication on the market, one that still exists in online form to this day. The U.S. National Video Game Team ® name would continue to live on in the EGM masthead well into the 1990s. 

The USNVGT name would also live on infamously in appearances in a different form of media as well. More on that below. 

The first Let's Play Videos

1989

In 1989, a series of videocassettes featuring the U.S. National Video Game Team® were released entitled Secret Video Game Tricks, Codes & Strategies. In these videos, various USNVGT members and associates guided players through a variety of secret codes, glitches and tips on Nintendo Entertainment System game titles.

While production quality was lacking, these tapes are noteworthy as the first Let's Play videos in video game history. They also spawned a variety of copycat tapes from other sources and publications in the years that followed. 

Today, these corny-yet-historic videos are Internet famous, with a clip from one featured on an episode of The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon in July 2016. While the USNVGT name would be relegated to the Electronic Gaming Monthly masthead in the years following these cassettes, some of the most popular videos on YouTube and Twitch today contain similar content. 

All three videos can be viewed in our Video Archive section. 

Modern Day Efforts

2015 to present

As the 20th Century came to a close, the legacy of the U.S. National Video Game Team® faded all too quickly from the memories of the mainstream. Portions of their accomplishments would appear in various written content, but all too often as incomplete snippets of the larger story or as the subject of ridicule. Even as the world of competitive gaming began to fill arenas and become a television fixture, the many historic firsts brought to life by the USNVGT seemed destined to be forgotten.

In 2008, video game historian Patrick Scott Patterson - a fan of the USNVGT when younger - began to look into how and why a group with such a storied history was seemingly being lost to time. In 2015, he conducted feature interviews with Jeff Peters and Donn Nauert for NBCUniversal in an attempt to learn more. The sounds in their voices when discussing how so few remember their achievements planted the foundation for Patterson's next action. After a discussion with his friend and USNVGT pioneer Tim McVey, they partnered up to legally obtain the trademark so that the full story could finally be shared.

Patterson filed on August 7, 2015 and announced the news along with McVey at the world premiere screening of Man VS Snake: The Long and Twisted Tale of Nibbler in Austin weeks later. After a lengthy series of research sessions, the United States Copyright and Trademark Office registered the U.S. National Video Game Team® trademark in Patterson's name on March 22, 2016. The only previous trademark filing of the name was in the name of Jeff Peters in 1989.

The short-term goal is to use this filing to re-establish the full historical narrative of the Team while re-forming a modern group of players with the same kinds of ideals, values and skills are those who came before them. Several USNVGT Alumni have joined back up to lend advice on this quest. The hope is that modern competitive gamers can learn more about everything the Team did in the earliest days of the sport, paving the way for the legacy to continue with future generations.

Take a look around this website to see more about where we've been, and check back often as more archival is done. Stay tuned as well to see the next step, as the U.S. National Video Game Team® moves forward once more.

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