Video game aficionado Eric Brunner: "I'm a nerd, I have no shame in saying it"
The real Eric Brunner is the tall, lean center back wearing the number two shirt and making plays at the heart of the Dynamo defense. The virtual Brunner is "broomsweeper", a hardcore online video-gamer who challenges players from around the world.
Like plenty of professional athletes, the 27-year-old does not stop competing when he steps off the field. Some players take up golf; Brunner channels his competitive instincts into computer games.
"I'm a nerd, I have no shame in saying it," he told HoustonDynamo.com. "I've been gaming my whole life. Twitch.tv is a website that I stumbled upon and basically people can stream their video games. You can stream it on your computer or on your console, people watch online and you can socialize and chat with them."
Brunner hails from Dublin, Ohio, and is in his first season in Houston. Through gaming he connects with fans from across the country and the globe, who can watch him take out bad guys in the likes of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. He sometimes issues invitations via his Twitter feed, @EricBrunner5.
"I get people following from all over the world, from the UK, Australia, South America, and fans of rival teams – Vancouver, Portland – come and watch every once in a while. It's fun for me," he said.
"It's kind of a release for me. Soccer's business; I'm completely different off the field than I am on the field. I hate losing ... Games are more like entertainment. I've been starting to tweet it out a little bit because I go on podcasts every once in a while to talk about new games. It's a cool little community, no different to going to a chess club or something like that &ndash it's just online."
His teammates have noticed. "Some of the guys are actually coming onto the stream and giving me razz. I kind of figured it out because they'll start making fun of me. Only a few guys come on. Andy [Driver]'s come on a few times, Anthony [Arena]'s come on, Cam [Weaver] every once in a while," said Brunner. "I do it mostly on my days off. If I'm injured I usually try not to do it, I'm going to be in a bad mood anyway so I won't want to be social with people."
When not working or spending time with his fiancee or their new dog, Brunner plays on an XBox 360 and a PC, taking his MacBook for flights to road fixtures. His hobby has reached the next level as he is an informal advisor to a start-up called OverDog, an app which allows fans to challenge athletes in the video games of their choice.
So you might be able to play Madden, for example, against a current NFL star during his free time. It was co-founded by Hunter Hillenmeyer, formerly of the Chicago Bears, and advisors include David Price, the Tampa Bay Rays pitcher, and John Thorrington, the D.C. United midfielder.
"I've been helping everyone out with that and giving my input on that stuff. I talk to them about once a week. I'm not financially involved in it, I just think it's a really cool idea so I just help out with that, giving them ideas on their stream, how I think they could improve it," said Brunner. "It's still on Beta phase, it's still brand new."
He has partnered with SteelSeries, who make peripherals and accessories such as headphones and keyboards, to organize giveaways for charity. "Last year I did a charity stream where you just play for 12 hours," he said." We raised about two grand for it, which went to Child's Play to give kids video games in hospitals."
Of course, Brunner plays soccer games. In the past he has unleashed his inner Dominic Kinnear through Football Manager, the managerial simulation that is as close as you can get to actually barking orders from an MLS dugout.
And, like plenty of other professionals, he enjoys EA Sports' FIFA Soccer. "I used to play a lot at Columbus with my old roommate, we'd have half-an-hour games," he said.
The obvious question: does he play as himself? "Everyone asks me that. No, my rating's too bad," he joked. "Right now I like Dortmund, I don't play as five-star teams – I think it's too easy – but I like playing with Dortmund, the way they play the game suits my style."
Tom Dart is a contributing writer to HoustonDynamo.com. Former editor and reporter for The Times of London, Dart currently freelances for The Guardian and SI.com.