Boom! Newport Beach teenager becomes youngest Madden video game champion

Newport Beach resident Peyton "Dez" Tuma, 17, a competitive gamer, won his first Madden Championship Series title.
Newport Beach resident Peyton “Dez” Tuma, 17, a competitive gamer, won his first Madden Championship Series title in a Thanksgiving tournament that ended on Nov. 16.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Peyton Tuma’s favorite football player growing up was Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant.

Peyton would wear Bryant’s No. 88 in Pop Warner football games, had his Cowboys jersey and would even go as the flashy Bryant for Halloween.

“The Cowboys were my favorite team, and he was by far the most explosive player on the team,” said Peyton, now a senior at Newport Harbor High. “It was an easy attraction for me.”

It was also an easy choice to use “Dez” as a gamer tag while playing Madden NFL video games.

Bryant has not played in the NFL since 2020, the same year that Peyton seriously began playing Madden for hours on end once the coronavirus pandemic began.

Now there’s a new Dez at the very top of his craft. The Newport Beach resident is one of the best at video game football in the world.

Peyton won the Madden Ultimate Thanksgiving event on Nov. 16. At 17 years, 3 months and 11 days old, he became the youngest EA Madden Championship Series winner in history.

His Cowboys beat Dwayne “CleffTheGod” Wood’s Buccaneers by a final score of 41-28 in the title game, with a late interception by a virtual Troy Polamalu sealing the deal with less than a minute remaining.

“Dez,” who had beaten Wesley Gittens 27-22 in the semifinals, won the championship belt and the $75,000 first prize.

“That was insane,” he said. “I was so locked into the game, I wasn’t thinking of the aftermath. Not until that final pick, when you knew you won, then [the emotions] just start rushing. You know, you just won a belt, $75,000, youngest belt winner ever. It was pretty wild. Exhilarating.”

After his tournament win, he said Bryant himself started following him on Twitter and sending him direct messages in congratulations.

Peyton also earned automatic entry into the Ultimate Madden Bowl, which will take place in-person in Redwood City next month. The prize pool there is even bigger, with $1 million total and $250,000 awarded to the champion.

So how has he done it? Hard work.

Peyton said he now plays the video game about four or five hours a day, or about 30 hours a week. He’s been able to juggle that with going to Newport Harbor full time ever since the family moved from the Bay Area nearly a year ago.

Newport Beach resident Peyton Tuma's gamer tag of "Dez" is based on former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Still, the victory seemingly came out of nowhere. He was ranked No. 20 in the Madden Championship Series rankings headed into the Thanksgiving event. After winning it, he has shot up to No. 3.

“Dez” lost to West Virginia University student Noah Johnson in the fourth round of the season-opening Ultimate Kickoff event; Johnson is ranked No. 2.

“I was disappointed, but I barely lost to one of the best players in the world,” Peyton said. “I wasn’t really that sad, but I knew I was so close to what I wanted. After that loss, I just locked into this next tournament and worked really hard.”

Gamers can use their Madden Ultimate Teams that they’ve assembled in the tournaments, with a mix of past and present players. Peyton had legendary quarterback John Elway as his signal-caller, Chris Johnson as his running back and Cooper Kupp as a top receiver.

He uses the offensive playbook of the New Orleans Saints and the defensive playbook of the Kansas City Chiefs.

His parents, Kerry and Chrissy Tuma, were understandably a bit skeptical of Peyton’s new hobby early on.

“I don’t necessarily want him to play for money, but at the same time, I want him to be happy and do something,” Chrissy Tuma said. “We originally thought, the misconception is, that there’s just pedophiles online and they’re just good-for-nothings playing games. But really, now that I understand it, it’s a chess game and he’s really smart. He’s using his love for the game. He knows every offense, every defense, every playbook for every team.”

Peyton wants to go to college next year, preferably one with an esports program. Johnson, who is a member of West Virginia’s varsity esports program while also a professional at Madden, is a good example of someone doing both.

“Some of these big esports programs have resource centers, they have tutors, coaches keep track of you,” Kerry Tuma said. “We like it as parents, because it does keep them accountable.”

Kerry noted that his son is also learning entrepreneurial skills. He’s part of the Top Dog Madden online crew, which sells things like subscriptions and playbooks. “Dez” also streams on Twitch.

His phone started blowing up after his Thanksgiving tournament win, he said, with messages from both Madden community members and “real life” friends alike. Some of those friends made posts on their Instagram and Snapchat stories.

“They all think that it’s dope that I play Madden for money,” Peyton “Dez” Tuma said.

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