The Loneliness of the Junior College Esports Coach

Madison Marquer was playing a show in a converted garage in Denver when he met her. It was 2014 and Marquer was a junior at the University of Wyoming, a baby-faced Eagle Scout from Cheyenne who’d become a fixture in Laramie’s college-town punk scene. That night he was on guitar for a band called Medicine Bow, earning his reputation as a magnetic performer—a blur of flailing limbs and sweaty, close-cropped hair as he tore through songs about SpongeBob SquarePants and ecological collapse.

In the crowd was Katherine Landvogt, a petite and pale-skinned 20-year-old who wore cat-eye glasses. After the set, she went up to Marquer (pronounced “Mar-care”), and they eventually got to talking about music. Landvogt was a guitarist, too, though she was earning her living as a house cleaner. She was dying to join a band, but none of the acts in Denver’s macho punk scene would give her a shot because she didn’t look the part. Marquer thought she was cute, with her curly black hair and off-kilter wit, and he hated that no one was giving her a chance.

This article appears in the July/August 2022 issue. Subscribe to WIRED.Photograph: Jessica Chou

Within a few months the two were living together in Marquer’s basement apartment. Landvogt wasn’t just a guitarist, it turned out, but a fluent and ferocious one. Medicine Bow soon slimmed down from a quartet to a power duo: Marquer on drums, Landvogt on a Fender Telecaster with a phosphorescent pick guard. 

When they weren’t making music, they were often side by side in front of their PC, clobbering dragons and druids and amassing hoards of gold in Dota 2, a complex fantasy-themed video game. The game had long been one of Marquer’s grand obsessions—he was among the top 7 percent of players in the world—and now he loved that it was theirs together. They lost themselves for hours on end, oblivious to the outside world, as empty liquor bottles accumulated on the floor and kitchen counter around them.

In February 2016, as Marquer was finishing his last semester at the university, Medicine Bow recorded a cassette that channeled the couple’s romantic hopes. I see an end to any sadness, one of the songs went. Let’s drink some tea and explore the country / The future is more than it seems.

Three months later, Marquer and Landvogt got married in a tiny chapel near Elk Mountain. Soon after, the newlyweds packed up their Subaru Impreza with Medicine Bow’s gear and embarked on a 41-day concert tour. They crashed on fans’ sofas, played a show at a Pastafarian church in Oklahoma, and reveled in the neon-lit chaos of Times Square. They were so blissed out that every excess and hardship of the road felt like a delight—all fodder for the amusing stories they’d tell their kids one day.

The giddiness faded after they got back to Laramie. Marquer, who’d majored in education, couldn’t find a teaching job with the local district. So to pay the couple’s $575-a-month rent, he took a mind-numbing gig sorting mail at the post office. Landvogt toyed with the idea of pursuing a degree in chemical engineering, but she could never follow through. While Marquer had largely reined in his college drinking, she had started making trips to the liquor store at 1:45 am—she didn’t want to run out of vodka after it closed at 2. Her addiction gradually stripped away her creative energies and robbed her of the ability to handle even routine tasks. Marquer got used to taking her to the hospital when things got bad. Then he’d be left wondering how and when each spell of sobriety would reach its messy end.

The couple’s main remaining source of joy was Dota 2. They found refuge in the game’s sprawling map, an expanse of dark forests and medieval fortresses. As they played, Marquer started to get a notion in his head: What if he sought out a job in the industry that had emerged around Dota 2? Maybe he could find work with one of the companies that stage the game’s massive tournaments. (The 2017 edition of Dota 2’s preeminent event, the International, in Seattle, had offered almost $25 million in prize money.) If Marquer could make that happen, maybe he could get Landvogt involved, too, and that would give her the structure to make a lasting recovery.

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