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Lil Poison's got mad game: Victor De Leon III has been playing video games since age 2. At the ripe age of 8, he's a world-class professional
[September 03, 2006]

Lil Poison's got mad game: Victor De Leon III has been playing video games since age 2. At the ripe age of 8, he's a world-class professional


(Orlando Sentinel, The (FL) (KRT) Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) Sep. 3--His shirt hangs on him like a tent and falls well below his kneecaps. And when Victor De Leon III sits down, he positions himself on the edge of the chair so his size 2 feet can touch the ground.



He's 8 years old and very much a little boy -- cherub face and all.

But put a video-game controller in his hand, and Victor becomes larger than life. He becomes Lil Poison.


Known internationally as the world's youngest professional video gamer, Lil Poison has become a bit of an icon.

It's the last weekend in August, and Victor is in town for a Major League Gaming event at the Wyndham Orlando Resort. Fans corner him, watch his every move and point him out to friends as they would a big-time celebrity.

"I think he's awesome," says 19-year-old Jeffry Marculaitis.

Lil Poison -- standing 4 feet tall -- eats it up.

Following in dad's footsteps

Many people don't believe it when Victor's father, Victor De Leon Jr., says his son has been playing video games since age 2. It started as a way to keep the boy from crying when his mom went to work: He would hand little Victor a controller to keep him quiet.

But soon the boy realized the controller's movements corresponded to action on the television. He watched what his dad did and mimicked him. Then came his curiosity.

"What does this button do? How do you do this?" Victor would ask.

It was clear he was starting to catch on. The elder De Leon, 30, attributes it to his son's incredible memory. At 3, he says, the boy could name the 50 states.

"I'm going to have his IQ tested this year," the father says proudly.

When the video game Halo came out, the boy was nearly 4 years old. It was a defining moment in his life.

"I didn't know how good he was until he started playing other people," his dad says. "And then a light went on in my head."

He would sign up his son for tournaments.

Dad says the tournaments have never been about money. In his eyes, it's just for fun -- and completely up to his son. "I hope he does well," De Leon Jr. says. "I just don't like it when he feels pressure because there's no reason to feel pressure."

Lil Poison, who lives on Long Island, games about two hours a day but not more than five days a week. He's expected to finish schoolwork before fixing his attention on the Xbox.

His teachers support his gaming endeavors, his father says. Occasionally, he'll miss school, but he always makes it up and is tutored on the road, the elder De Leon adds.

Funding his own college account

Inside the noisy Wyndham convention center, Lil Poison doodles on paper as he waits for the next competition. He looks tired, as though he might be coming down with a cold.

A man stops and asks for his autograph. Lil Poison signs his name in little-boy scrawl on the shoulder of the fan's T-shirt.

His dad jokes that Victor has charged for autographs before, making $60 in one afternoon.

"I asked him, 'Where did you get that money from?' " De Leon Jr. says.

Those earnings, along with prize money from the tournaments, have gone into a college account for Victor, who will start third grade after Labor Day. Well, that's minus the cash he used to buy his hamster, Cortana, named after a character in Halo. And minus the money he has donated to charities, including one for Hurricane Katrina victims.

He has taken first place in six events and placed many more times. At 6, he was signed as a professional gamer by Major League Gaming. Gaming sites 1UP.com and Gescrow .com have sponsored him. And Lil Poison offers his tricks and tips -- for a price -- at Gaming-lessons.com.

That's in addition to his own Web site, lilpoison.com, and a MySpace page that lists him as 18 years old.

Ask Lil Poison about his gaming skill or celebrity status, and he just shrugs.

But ask about his pets and he lights up. He has a dog named Rocky.

"I like to play with him," he says in a tiny voice.

A taste of his own poison

Lil Poison and his teammates -- Taylor Phelps, 16, of Georgia; Nick Montoya, 13, of Arizona; and Sam Winstein, 15, of Virginia -- gear up for the next round of Halo 2 competition by taking their seats in front of side-by-side TVs. The group met face-to-face for the first time in Orlando. Before then, they had only known each other online.

As the game begins, one of their competitors, 20-year-old Darryl Waddy, walks over to shake hands. Waddy's so tall that Lil Poison comes to his hip.

"His shot is just as good as anybody else's," Waddy says. "I just treat him like another player. I use my experience and age to try to outsmart him."

A young woman producing a documentary films Lil Poison as he plays and shouts strategies to his teammates.

Lil Poison's team falls in a best-of-three match. Waddy and his three teammates jump from their chairs, high-fiving each other. But they're quick to demonstrate a sense of sportsmanship, shaking hands with their competitors.

Outside, in the convention center's hallway, Lil Poison's eyes well up as if he's going to cry. De Leon Jr. whispers reassuring words in his little boy's ear.

"I told him not to worry about it. Just have fun," his father says.

Sarah Langbein can be reached at slangbein@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-5352.

First photo ran on page F1.

Copyright (c) 2006, The Orlando Sentinel, Fla.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.
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