Billionaire and omnipresent main character Elon Musk has declared he was once one of the best Quake players in the world, to the tune of winning money for his skills. This obviously sounds like the kind of thing your mate would say after their third pint, but the revelation came during an interview with podcaster Lex Fridman during which Musk was expansive on his wider gaming habits, and particularly his Diablo 4 druid’s inability to beat Lilith.
“Killing the demons in a videogame calms the demons in my mind,” begins Musk’s digression on his “primary recreational activity”. He adds “and yes, beating Hatred in the Eternal Realm is the hardest battle in life and in a videogame.” We’ll return to Diablo 4 in a moment but this is where the flight of fancy really takes off, as Musk reminisces about his days playing Quake.
“I am 52 so my reflexes are not what they used to be but I have a lifetime of playing videogames,” says Musk. “At one point I was maybe one of the best Quake players in the world. I actually won money in what I think was one of the first paid esports tournaments in the US, we’re doing four-person Quake tournaments and we came second.
“I was the second best person on the team, and the best person… we were actually winning, we would’ve come first but the best person on the team, his computer crashed halfway through the game so we came second. But I got money for it and everything. So basically I got skills. Albeit, you know, no spring chicken these days.”
You would be forgiven for choosing the ‘doubt’ option at this point, and indeed the internet is not short of people mocking Musk for his claims of grandiose Quake skills. But while there’s no doubt Musk is somewhat exaggerating here, it is undoubtedly true that he did play a lot of Quake, and with very good players. And some do remember him.
Below is a DJWheat interview with Dennis ‘Thresh’ Fong from three years ago. Fong is an esports pioneer and can fairly be described as the best Quake player of the ’90s, most infamously winning John Carmack’s Ferrari 328 at a 1997 tournament. This guy is as legitimate as it gets. And around 32 minutes in, Fong says Musk was there.
“Elon Musk, he’s known as a huge gamer, we used to play on the same Quake server, almost every day I’d see him on: Zip2 was his username.”
DJWheat interjects to ask if Musk was any good. Fong laughs and says “he was OK. Uh… he wasn’t very good, but he’s still an OG, he’s legit, when he says he’s a gamer, I saw him every day on this Quake server and a good buddy of mine ended up being the CIO for every one of his companies.”
Fong more recently took to X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, when this Musk clip surfaced, to re-state the above. “FWIW, I can confirm Elon Musk played a lot of Quake so it’s legit,” wrote Fong. “We played on the same http://kitty1.stanford.edu servers often […] Our mutual friend Branden Spikes might be the good player he was referring to.”
Spikes for his part has kept schtum, while the news tempted one id veteran into a little bit of chest-beating. “I’m 52 also, Elon. I’ll play against you in Quake any time you want” thundered Tim Willits, former studio head at id Software. “Elon knows John Carmack but he doesn’t know me. I’d definitely beat him in Quake.”
Well. A bunch of middle-aged men arguing about how good they used to be at videogames is worryingly relatable for me. One of the issues here is that the 1990s is not a great era for record-keeping in competitive videogames, and when people want receipts for something like this they often just don’t exist.
What certainly seems to be true is that Musk played a hell of a lot of Quake in the 1990s and, if he was playing near-daily with the likes of Thresh at certain points, had to be pretty good at it. The whole thing about being one of the “best Quake players in the world” does just seem like braggadocio but these were days when the world wasn’t as interconnected as it is now, and it was somewhat easier to be a legend in your own lunchtime. As for the tournament where his team allegedly won money, no trace remains.
Despite the number of people on X now trying to tempt him into a 1vs1 match, Musk doesn’t play Quake these days anyway. He’s still on a Diablo 4 kick “and to be totally frank it’s driving me crazy trying to beat Lilith as a druid [laughs] Trying to beat Hatred Incarnate in the Eternal Realm… it’s really vexing, let me tell you. I would not recommend playing a druid […] right now I think the most powerful character is the sorcerer with the lightning balls… sorcs have huge balls in the seasonal. They do! Huge balls of lightning.”
Elon Musk on Diablo 4 and video games – clip from Lex Fridman Podcast #400 with Elon Musk. Guest bio: Elon Musk is CEO of X, xAI, SpaceX, Tesla, Neuralink, and The Boring Company.