It was at the age of three when Leon Green got his first video game that he and his mom played together. The game was Mario and Luigi, and Green was already hooked.
Green’s mother, Jo Ann Green, started buying him games at a young age to help him feel better about himself when he was at home.
“Although he had an older brother and sister, he was kind of like an only child,” Green’s mother said. “So video games kept him company, and he enjoyed them.”
“It kept him from being bored and lonely, so that was fine with us.”
“His dad and I could easily see him being a gamer.”
From using Mario to rescue the princess from the castle, to using him and a list of other characters to brawl it out with other competitors for prize money, Green has worked his way up the ladder far enough to be considered a professional gamer.
It’s hard to guess his profession at first glance, however. At 6’1 with an athletic build, Green is often mistaken for one of the athletes on the University of Mississippi’s campus.
They tend to have a look of shock once he shares that he doesn’t play basketball or football, but rather competes professionally playing video games.
It’s then that the Sonic the Hedgehog hat, shirt and sneakers start to make a little more sense. In fact, the Senior psychology major’s closet consists mostly of shirts with either Sonic, Super Mario or Final Fantasy characters on them, with the flat-bill hats to match.
Green has grown to love surprising people with his passion for gaming, among other pastimes.
“It blows a lot of people away a lot of times,” Green said. “Not only do I like video games, I’m really into stuff you might classify as nerdy.”
“I’m a huge fan of Star Wars; I like comic books, I’m huge into to anime and I like reading manga too.”
Being African American, Green often gets asked about the sports games he likes after telling people about his gaming, only to throw them off again by explaining how he doesn’t play nor like sports games.
The game that the seven-year veteran has made a name for himself in and won over 50 tournaments in is Super Smash Brothers for the Wii U.
The brawler game consists of numerous characters brought in from other games and genres to have an all or nothing fight set on different small stages.
“Smash Bros” as Green calls it, has become a very popular choice in the world of Electronic Sports (Esports).
It’s also the game that convinced Green he would be able to play professionally back in 2010.
After getting bored with continuously beating his friends in the game, Green started to search for a challenge when a friend approached him with an opportunity to compete with other skilled players.
He pointed Green towards a small tournament with a $5 buy-in in Lafayette, Louisiana and convinced him to give it a try.
Green placed 25th in his first ever tournament, which he considers neither a good or bad finish, and was not able to win any cash prize.
It was then a competitive fire was lit under Green, and he decided he wanted to get better. So he continued to practice and enter tournaments until he finally won his first tournament just a few tries later.
While the prize money was not a lot, Green considered the experience to be priceless. His confidence was boosted and everything started to come into perspective for him.
If he can win these small local tournaments, then he should be able to start winning regional tournaments. Once he starts to win regional tournaments, then next stop is winning nationals, and after that is winning majors.
Before he knew it, Green had a goal in front of him. Now it was time to practice.
But like any kid who tries to spend his days playing video games, he got the inevitable talk from his parents about how not a lot of jobs would pay him to play games all day.
“Yep, I have indeed had that talk more than once actually,” Green said. “But if it’s something you truly want to do, nothing anybody can say can deter you from that.”
It then wasn’t long before Green started traveling farther from home for tournaments offering more prize money.
As more time passed, the more of the country he covered playing in tournaments, sometimes driving and sometimes flying to places like Florida, Arkansas, Virginia, Texas and Michigan, just to name a few.
His biggest highlight of going to tournaments across the country however, will always be when he was invited to compete in California.
“That was the most fun I ever had at a tournament,” Green said. “It was my first time being in California, so that was a really great experience.”
But before long, Green ran into a serious problem if he wanted to continue to make a name for himself everywhere. He needed money.
Traveling isn’t cheap, and Green found himself competing to place high enough to pay for his gas money, or if he won, it would pay for his next trip.
“I don’t have a sponsor right now, so money is definitely an issue,” Green said.
He hopes to be just a few more wins away from finally getting some help with going to more tournaments.
To Green, the money is only a necessity in order keep doing what he loves.
“It’s not even about the money for the most part,” Green said. “I mean, the money is good to be able to travel, but I do it because I enjoy doing it and meeting new and different people, honestly.”
Green’s former roommate and gaming/workout partner Ricky Bojorquez has no doubt that his friend of four years will get there eventually.
“I think he’ll definitely be able to do it,” Bojorquez said. “With how well he’s mastered his character, he’ll get there.”
The Computer Science major also gives credit to Green’s calm demeanor as a reason for his success.
“He’s very quiet when playing,” Bojorquez said. “He doesn’t pop off.”
A calm personality has proven to help Green many times in the surprisingly intense world of professional gaming.
Green has experienced everything from the tense environment, ranging from crying and banging heads on tables to flipping tables and punches being thrown.
“The way we play video games is the same way athletes play sports,” Green said. “They put their heart and soul into it and they want to be the best.”
“Sometimes emotions take over when you underperform.”
“I just try to stay friendly and remember it’s just a game. Like it’s literally just a game.”
Green’s current goal is to crack the top 50 in rankings for the best Super Smash Brothers players in the world posted by Panda Global Rankings. Once he accomplishes that, his sights are on that number one spot.
“I don’t just look up to those players,” Green said. “I want to be better than them.”
“I want to take their success and amplify it for myself.”