You don't challenge one of the world's top professional video-game players to a one-on-one death match - or a seat-belt race - and come out with your dignity intact.

EVER WONDERED what it would be like to take on Michael Jordan in a game of one-on-one? Or perhaps man the goal as Wayne Gretzky smacks a 90-mph slap shot toward the bridge of your nose? Or maybe even step up to the plate to stare down a near-100-mph fastball from the baseball monstrosity that is Randy Johnson? Well, this was worse. Much worse. Taking on the world's most renowned and feared video gamer (don't let his baby face fool you) in a one-on-one death match of Quake 4 at the 2005 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas was nothing short of an annihilation of the nuclear kind.

I would have had a fleeting chance against Jordan, Gretzky, or Johnson - I've played a little ball in my day, I can stand up on a pair of skates and pray, and I've been known to make contact with a fastball here and there. But under no circumstances could I even fathom what hit me when 25-year-old Johnathan Wendel - a professional video gamer from Kansas City, Missouri, known as Fatal1ty - pummeled me into a shamed and hapless mess at CES in front of a whole lot of people who, unlike me, already knew that anyone who stepped up to the keyboard against Fatal1ty would be handed such a humiliating defeat as to never want to play a video game again.

My only saving grace was that I didn't kill myself - though that's probably due more to the fact that I was so clueless, I didn't even know enough about the game to manage that. Final score: 24-0. Which means that during the course of the four-minute Sound Blaster X-Fi Fatal1ty shoot-out challenge, Fatal1ty killed me 24 times and I killed him a whopping total of zero times. I'm not sure I ever even hit him with my Marine-issued energy blaster. In fact, I'm not sure I ever even saw him.

Here is a sampling of play-by-play commentary, courtesy of announcer Kimli Welsh, which could be heard over the PA by anyone within earshot. "Fatal1ty and Kevin have begun their match up, and already Fatal1ty has taken the lead with a nice rocket-launcher kill a few seconds into this match." Or there was, "Kevin is hiding underneath the risers, trying to take a shot. He gives up and tries to go over the edge, but, no, he decides to stay, and because of that, he is now dead … once again."

Never mind the fact that I have never played Quake, Quake II, or Quake III (might have helped), or any other PC-based, first-person shooter game, which is what ­Fatal1ty specializes in. In fact, like many thirtysomethings, I haven't touched a video-game console since I wasted away countless summer days mastering Pitfall on Intellivision in the '80s. It turns out that was a mistake.

Fatal1ty, however, didn't make that same error in judgment, though his rise from suburbanite video gamer to worldwide professional gamer, phenomenon, entrepreneur, and international brand was as much about luck as skill. I mean, if you had told someone 10 years ago that you planned on playing video games for a living, said person would've chuckled a bit and waited for you to grow up. ­Fatal1ty's case was no different, except for the small fact that he's the one chuckling now. In his seven-year professional gaming career, he has earned more than $500,000 making electronic mincemeat out of anyone who dares step up to the computer against him. Along the way, he has competed on six continents and in an estimated 40 countries.

"I had three goals when I started this: I wanted to travel overseas playing video games," he recalls. "I wanted to become the number one gamer in the world. And the third was when I became number one, I wouldn't become the stereotypical, arrogant jerk that you'd think number one would be. I was able to accomplish them all in about six months."