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'UltraDavid' at Law: Courtroom Heavyweight

David "UltraDavid" Graham, commentating at the Evolution National Championships.
David "UltraDavid" Graham, commentating at the Evolution National Championships.
Next in line is David "UltraDavid" Graham, a prominent player and commentator in the competitive Street Fighter IV circuit who has taken his gaming knowledge and applied it to his DPG at Law firm, which specializes in gaming and entertainment law.

Tell me a bit about yourself.

My name is David Philip Graham, aka "UltraDavid." I'm pretty proud of my gaming history, because I'm one of the rare people my age who are second-generation gamers. My dad and uncle used to play in the arcades in the late 1970s. My first console, a Commodore 64, was actually my dad's, and for years we played video games together the way other fathers and sons might toss a ball. I played a ton of different genres but was always very interested in fighting games. I didn't actively realize when I was young that they were such deep and interesting strategy games, but I knew there was something I liked about outsmarting my friends that kept me coming back.

When did you start playing fighting games seriously?

I went to college at UC Berkeley in 2001. The Berkeley campus had an arcade, the Bearcade, that was located really close to both the student center and my political science classes, so I began to pop in there in between classes to play. It turned out that Northern California was one of the big centers of American fighting game culture, and one of the region's main meetups was the Bearcade, so I quickly went from thinking that I was pretty good to losing almost every match. And that didn't turn me off. For the first time I began to realize that there was a lot of strategy, lots of fun tricks, and lots of variety in games like Street Fighter, and it bugged me that I was bad at it.

But it wasn't until after I finished law school that I really became well known. The fighting-game scene had begun to atrophy a little when Street Fighter IV was finally released in 2008 just two weeks after I took the bar exam. Since I couldn't work for the few months it took to find out whether I'd passed, I had a lot of free time to explore the new game. And I got really good, at one point winning or placing in the top three in eight consecutive tournaments.

When did you start commentating Street Fighter tournaments?

UltraDavid in action
Unfortunately, I had to stop playing at a high level due to a nerve problem I developed soon after. It's fairly minor, and I don't really notice it in my day-to-day life, but a compressed nerve in my spine makes my brain's commands to my hands a little less dependable than they used to be. That makes playing video games at a high level--which can be very manually intensive--effectively impossible. I still play for fun, of course, but I can't compete as well as I used to.

Luckily, around the same time I began commentating at tournaments. As I said, I'd developed a reputation as a man of details, knowledge, and analysis, and with that in mind I was asked to begin offering my insight on tournament matches being streamed over the Internet. The viewers liked me and wanted more, so I obliged. I'll be one of the main commentators at the biggest open tournament in the world, Evolution 2011, in late July.

Did your legal studies affect your interest in gaming?

It sounds weird to most people, but I credit law school with turning me into a good video game player and commentator. In my experience the biggest lessons in law school were not factual or legal, but mental. I learned to think well at Georgetown. That's not to say I was bad at it before, but law school is when I really became a good, fast critical thinker with a strong memory who could quickly identify and analyze issues, spot good and bad situations, and come up with creative plans and solutions.

And as important as that is in the legal profession, it's just as important in competitive video gaming. Like the practice of law, they're full of issue spotting, good and bad situations in need of analysis and creative responses, and an extremely large set of facts and rules to remember. And like the legal profession, commentating on those games requires a quick wit, the ability to quickly and accurately recall facts and previous situations, and the ability to clearly and succinctly articulate ideas. I think there's a direct relationship between my developing those tools in law school and my ability to think and speak well about games.

What about the other way around? Has your interest in gaming affected your legal studies?

I also credit video games with my interest in law. Although I'd decided on law a decade before going to law school, my decision to practice intellectual property, entertainment, and Internet law is a direct consequence of my interest in video games. After so many years of playing games, I grew interested in legal issues such as copyright, trademarks, and contracts that surround game development. And after so many years of friendships and activity in the video game community, I wanted to help the community grow and prosper.

So for me, video games and the law have been very closely linked for a long time now. That I'm now working as a lawyer in the video game community and doing video game commentary both for fun and as advertising for my legal practice is about as intuitive and awesome as it gets for me.

Who does your law firm serve?

Among my clients, the sole commonality is that they're almost entirely members of the competitive video gaming community. My clients have included app and video game developers; app and video game publishers; professional video gamers looking for sponsorship; merchandisers creating game-related products; video game tournament organizers; video game media and stream broadcasters; apparel companies creating game-related clothing and bags; someone who received a complaint for file sharing; a musical artist; and a screenwriter. It's great! I get to help people in my community in ways that, in many cases, lead to great goods and services for the community at large. And at the same time, I'm constantly running into new legal and business issues, so there's no chance of getting bored.

How do your clients find you? I can't imagine they just type "Street Fighter Lawyer" into Google.

Street Fighter IV
Clients have found me in a few different ways. One is by previous acquaintance. Some of my clients knew me before I opened my practice, and knew that I had a reputation for being intelligent and knowledgeable both in games and in other things, so they asked me to help them as soon as I started. Another way is through my commentary. I routinely get tens of thousands of live viewers and literally millions on recorded videos, which is a lot of exposure. Sometimes during downtime on a stream, I'll talk a bit about myself and my work, and all I really need to put food on the table is for 1 out of 10,000 or 20,000 viewers to contact me about it. The last way is through the articles on video game law that I write for Shoryuken.com. Shoryuken is the central fighting-game website, one of the top 5000 sites in the country, so it gets a ton of views.

That said, I'm not very well plugged in to video game communities outside of fighting games yet. There's definitely some crossover between players and fans of competitive video games of different genres. For example, I watch StarCraft a lot, and I know that some StarCraft fans watch Street Fighter. But in the near future I'm going to try to branch out into other communities as both a fan and a lawyer.

What I absolutely do not want is to come in as some outsider trying to take advantage of someone else's community. It's very important to me that I be a part of whatever I'm working with, for a couple reasons. The first is that I just like it. I love being in the video game community, making new friends, playing new games, and so on. The other is that gamers demand it. We're an insular, screw-authority, screw-outsiders sort of people, and I'm no different.

I'm always suspicious when I see non-fighting gamers try to come in and work with us. Like, what's your angle? What are you trying to pull? I have credibility in the games and the scene, and people feel more comfortable coming to me with their issues because I know the industry and community so well. I'm sure other attorneys outside the player community know the letter of the law as well as I do, but they don't have that personal and community expertise that counts for so much to people like us.

Steven 'Destiny' Bonnell: Playing for the Crowd

Steven "Destiny" Bonnell II (Photo by EdwardStarcraft)
Steven "Destiny" Bonnell II (Photo by EdwardStarcraft)
Rounding out our group of gaming professionals is Steven "Destiny" Bonnell II, who has used his live-streaming StarCraft II channel on Justin.tv to build a decent pro-gaming career, a StarCraft II coaching business, and a devoted fan base. Check out his stream (warning: language is often NSFW).

What does a normal day in the life of Destiny look like?

I generally wake up, play games, take breaks to eat, and play more games. It's pretty much all I do.

What did you do before becoming a pro gamer?

I was a professional carpet cleaner.

How much do you charge for lessons?

Right now, I do $50 for one hour and $90 for two hours!

What does a typical lesson look like?

It really depends, based on the player's skill level. If they're in a lower league, we may spend the entire lesson drilling basic mechanics or techniques to improve them. For midlevel players, it's general coaching on economy and production, and for high-level players, it's usually nit-picking and getting into specific strategic problems.

Who is a good candidate for pro lessons?

Anyone who feels overwhelmed with stuff to work on, and isn't quite sure where to focus their efforts.

Any remarkable success stories for players you've coached?

I've coached a few players who have gone from Bronze to Diamond or from Silver/Gold to Master's league. No GSL winners yet, however.

StarCraft II
Tell me a bit about your stream--it kind of catapulted you into the limelight. How do you make money from it?

Justin.tv splits the ad revenue with you from video ads 50-50, so every time I finish a game I run a commercial to make some money!

Any tips for aspiring streamers hoping to make it big as you did?

Always remember that the one thing you can offer viewers that no one else can offer is your personality. There will always be a better player, or someone with higher APM/better music/better stream quality/etc. Your one selling point is your personality.

Patrick Miller covers HDTVs, how-tos, and the occasional game for PCWorld. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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