The Beer Pong King, with a microphone peeking from his front pocket, ascends to his throne - otherwise known as the DJ booth at the Union in Roseville, Calif. Below he sees four long tables stacked with red plastic party cups, a crowd of 20 thirsty teams vying for a $100 purse, and wayward pingpong balls popping around the floor like bacon splatter.
"Welcome to Tuesday night beer pong at the Union," said his royal highness, his microphone now live. "If you're here for beer pong, come see me at the DJ booth. And we've got $5 pitchers all night. Anyone looking for a partner?"
How cool it would be to sign bar tabs simply as "Beer Pong King"? But for that he uses his real name: Hector Rivera. He's 30 years old, living fit and single not far from the Union, a popular hangout for those recently of drinking age in Roseville.
Rivera looks a little like the comedian Pablo Francisco, but beer pong is no laughing matter for the young entrepreneur. It's the gas in his Acura TL, the roof over his Roseville home, the Burberry watch on his wrist.
Beer pong is Rivera's full-time job, where punching a clock means promoting and organizing tournaments, obsessing over a "Beer Pong King" documentary and pitching high-powered reality TV show producers.
Beer pong, after all, has emerged from its party game origins with plastic cups to high-stakes $50,000 tournaments, official merchandise and music videos. Rivera's mission: to get some of that money.
The Beer Pong King isn't so much a feared competitor as a CEO type with PowerPoint presentations about this party game's commercial potential. He aims to build a beer pong empire, to transform this time-honored party game into a lifestyle and a profitable bit of pop culture.
This might sound like crazy talk, but Rivera is banking on a beer pong bonanza, either through a "Pong Kings" reality TV show, his documentary, mass merchandising beer pong equipment - or, preferably, all of the above.
"You've seen the pictures of Justin Bieber playing beer pong, right? said Rivera, who often speaks with an unmodulated confidence, like life is one giant pitch meeting. "Beer pong is ready to explode. I'm trying to find someone who does it better than me. I'm not only keeping up but I'm setting the trends."
The life of beer pong royalty sounds charmed, like a forever fraternity party or someone who plays co-ed softball for a living. The perks have been plenty: hanging with hip-hop stars and a Playboy Playmate; rubbing elbows at the beer pong table with Sacramento Kings players and actor Tommy Davidson; no early-morning alarm signaling it's time to rush to the cubicle.
Before Rivera crowned himself the Beer Pong King, hip-hop was his hustle. Rivera, a graduate of Roseville High School, started promoting concerts at age 19, working with the rap stars Too $hort and E-40. He also held a couple of average-Joe side jobs, including managing a company that provides maintenance services for apartment buildings.
But, as it did for many of us, the year 2008 fizzled like the last bit of foam in a keg. Rivera was laid off from two jobs when the Great Recession hit and meanwhile felt burned out from promoting rap shows.
Then, it all came to him ... beer pong. Bingo!
He remembered the days of hanging with friends in Tempe, Ariz., home of Arizona State University, and seeing how much the college kids loved playing beer pong. Rivera listened to his intuitions as a promoter, noting how unorganized the typical college beer pong tournament was run. He would do better.
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