By JR Valrey
The Information Age has made the world that we live in, a very fast moving and different place than it was 35 years ago, when we saw the invention of the first home gaming systems: Atari and Colecovision. Competitive gaming used to be about Frogger and Pacman, then it moved up to Tecmo Bowl and Double Dribble, then Madden and NBA 2K came out, and that is where we are in gaming history. What was once a fun pastime in the neighborhood, has turned into a full blown- multi-billion dollar gaming industry that includes people from all over the world competing online, from every facet of life. It doesn’t matter where you come from, what matters is how well you can control your digital avatar, and respond to the changing environment created by your opposition, within the game.
The Ultimate Gaming League is the brainchild of Oakland’s native son, Charles “Big Chuck” Johnson. After years of hammering out and perfecting his vision, alongside his business partners, one of which is a former NFL quarterback, Covid 19’s shelter in place mandate has given The Ultimate Gaming League an opportunity, like no other, to capture the attention of gamers and semi-gamers, who otherwise would have been occupied, the opportunity to mentally dive into digital sports tournaments, while the society is forced to survive on social house arrest. Organized gaming has been around for decades, but it is now officially making its entrance into our world, locally, through visionaries like Charles “Big Chuck” Johnson. The future is here. The future is now. Check out Charles “Big Chuck” Johnson as he explains to Black New World Media, how this Ultimate Gaming League world works. Stay tuned.
JR Valrey: How did you become one of the founders of the UGL world? When did y’all start? And what’s the story behind this venture coming together?
Charles Johnson: I came up with the concept back in the day when the homies used to get together and listen to the latest albums, smoke something, drink something, and play Tecmo Bowl and Double Dribble. If you thought you were hella good we would bet on the games. We would play for eight hours easily. Then after a while, I realized we got so much money and competition in our circle, that we should take this on the road. So me and a few homies would enter tournaments. The tournaments were clean and professional, but boring. So I combined professionalism with the culture. I knew I couldn’t do it alone, so in 2015 I mentioned the concept to Brad Flewellen, my business partner in a video production venture. It resonated with him because when he did the same thing in San Francisco, growing up and more importantly, he saw the future in gaming.
With his business acumen and passion, I knew we could build something special. So for the first two to three years, we built the infrastructure and identity of the company. We started off doing Madden Football tournaments at the Halftime Sports Bar in Oakland. It was a $100 entry fee for a chance at the grand prize, which was $1500. We would get a few dudes from around the Bay Area to come through, but not everybody had the confidence, let alone the money, to bet that much. So we had to come up with some other strategies. Meanwhile, I started realizing we needed that athlete touch to solidify our identity. Enter quarterback and entrepreneur Josh Johnson. At the time, he was working to get back in the NFL, but also was up on the gaming culture. So I threw the idea to Brad to bring Josh in as a partner/ professional undertaker. Not only was he dope at games, but he also had relationships with the athletes. The rest is history.
JR Valrey: What exactly is a gaming league?
Charles Johnson: A gaming league provides a space for gamers to compete, either casually or for incentives such as: prizes and bragging rights. The UGL is modeled after competitive leagues such as the NFL, NBA, MLB, PGA. The UGL recently announced four founding franchises that will compete in a regular and postseason. The franchises are owned by current or former NFL players QB Josh Johnson, WR Chad Ochocinco, DE Maxx Crosby, and CB Sidney Jones. We just completed our inaugural draft where the franchises selected the semi-pro and pro gamers players for their teams and will host free-agent tournaments for future players to earn roster spots – similar to what goes on in any of the major sporting leagues.
JR Valrey: What makes the UGL world unique? Who selects the games that will be used in the tournaments?
Charles Johnson: What makes UGL unique is our “Pros Vs Joes” concept which allows us to expand on the gaming experience, to include opportunities for fans to play with or against their favorite pro athlete, pro gamer, rapper, social media influencer – you name it! This concept established our motto that we are “all the same on the sticks.” Just because you’re an NFL athlete doesn’t mean that a kid from Anytown, USA can’t hand you an L – a narrative we have seen played out time and time again. “Pros vs Joes” began as a term we coined as the “Undertaker” who is the pro athlete and/or gamer that would challenge the winner of an eight to 16 player tournament. That concept evolved into our Pros vs Joes 64 player qualifier and pro challenges, to what it is now with athlete-owned franchises. Throughout all phases, what makes us unique is the full access to the culture off the field or off the court, with the athletes and artists.
JR Valrey: How do you get the pro athletes involved?
Charles Johnson: The athletes are the franchise owners. We get professional athletes involved with our relationships and business models. We bring them in with sponsorships and platforms who understand the opportunity in entering the gaming culture.
JR Valrey: Can you gamble? And is there a cost to become a member of UGL World?
Charles Johnson: In The UGL, anyone can pay an entry fee to join tournaments and receive cash prizes and giveaways. You know, betting has always been a part of my gaming experience, so don’t be surprised if wagering is in UGL’s future.
JR Valrey: How has UGL World been affected by the covid pandemic? Has the league grown faster because of it?
Charles Johnson: Because of COVID-19, we reassessed everything we were doing. Before the pandemic, people showing up to our experience and having a good time drove our model. With this no longer an option, we went back to the lab and built a stronger website, stepped up our streaming game, and started focusing on content development in order to keep the eyeballs with us. Also, with the concept that Josh brought to the table, we developed franchises for the athletes and artists.
JR Valrey: What exactly is your role in the UGL World? What are you responsible for?
Charles Johnson: My role as a founder/owner is to do whatever is required. If that’s hosting a show, finding a sponsor, or investing, we do whatever it takes. But my main role is managing the Music/Artist division of the company. I court artists to bring their music in, to be played on our platform, as well as have them participate in tournaments. After all, this is what artists and athletes do together all the time anyway! We facilitate and manage the events for them.
JR Valrey: Where do you see gaming as an industry, in the next five years?
Charles Johnson: In the next five years depending on what happens post-COVID, the gaming culture will be the most dominant space in the world when it comes to entertainment. It’s already happening right now. The video game industry is already a beast, valued at $60.4 billion a year as we speak. (Statista)
JR Valrey: How can people get tapped in? How can people contact you?
Charles Johnson: To get more information on us go, to www.uglworld.com or check us out on all social media platforms @uglworld. We are also on Twitch and Discord.