NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

September 20, 2012

Gamer puts video-playing skills to test on reality show

By Mac Cerullo
Staff Writer

---- — SALISBURY — After spending his whole life perfecting his aim on Xbox, one local gamer recently got the chance to trade in his controller for a real-life weapon as part of a new reality show debuting tonight on YouTube.

Justin Saboo of Salisbury, a 22-year-old professional gamer and one of the top Halo players in the world, was one of four contestants chosen to appear on “The Controller: Medal of Honor Warfighter.”

The reality show takes the four gamers and teams them up with four elite military men.

“The idea is the gamers use real weapons and blow stuff up,” Saboo said. “And in return, we have to teach the military guys how to play the game.”

Saboo, who is better known in the gaming community by his Xbox Live gamertag “Spikemouth,” said he was taught how to fire an automatic shotgun, a 12-gauge Remington shotgun and an M14 sniper rifle during the course of the filming. He said the weapons were naturally a lot different than their video game counterparts.

“I’d never really fired a weapon before,” Saboo said. “The first weapon I got to use was the Remington shotgun and that had the most kick to it, so I didn’t know what to expect until I fired it and it really pushed me back.”

Saboo said he never got knocked over, thanks to some advice he received from his military partner — a special operations reconnaissance Marine sniper at least three times his size. While the military guys were intimidating at first, Saboo said they were all nice, and the experience took a humorous turn once they had to try their luck at the video games.

“Once they picked up the controller, it was a completely different story,” Saboo said. “They were in our world and they were the ones nervous not to disappoint us.”

“The Controller” was created by Mary-Ellis Bunim and Jonathan Murray, the team behind “The Real World” and “Keeping up with the Kardashians.” It’s in its second season on the Machinima Prime YouTube channel.

Saboo initially found out about the show after some of his friends participated in the first season. After going through the audition process, he wound up being one of the final four chosen for the new season. One of the other gamers, Tommy Oliveria, is from Haverhill, while the other two are from Pennsylvania and Chicago.

Originally from Amesbury, Saboo dedicated his life to video games at a young age, playing anywhere from 12 to 15 hours a day. That fact did not go over well with his with parents, who didn’t see his passion as a productive use of time.

“They were not supportive,” Saboo said. “They see their kids growing up and they’re always playing video games, no parent is really going to be supportive of it, but over the past two years it’s grown to the point where people can make lives off of it and have full-time jobs off of it.”

At a certain point, Saboo started entering local tournaments, where he might win $500 to $1,000 in prize money, Over time, the tournaments started getting more prestigious and the prize money more lucrative.

Now, Saboo and his team are under contract with Fnatic, one of the world’s top professional video gaming outfits. He travels across the country competing in tournaments against other professional gamers, who might earn anywhere from $50,000 to $500,000 a year.

Ultimately, Saboo said he’d like to go back to school and earn a degree in business. But for now, he said he plans to continue focusing on gaming, especially given how the eSports industry is proving to be one of the fastest-growing sports in the country.

If nothing else, he does already hold an associate’s degree in game development and visual simulation from New England Institute of Technology, and after “The Controller” airs tonight, he’ll have a reality television credit to his name, too.