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Just curious as to where "for the win" (commonly abbreviated FTW) originated?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 14 down vote accepted

Numerous internet sources, including a hotforwords video, claim that FTW, "for the win", originated with Hollywood Squares, a 1966-1981 US television show. It's likely that Hollywood Squares popularized the phrase, using it in show after show for 15 years, but I believe the true origin of it is in football or rugby. For example, after making a touchdown in football, a team faces the choice of kicking for 1 extra point (PAT) or running the ball in for 2 points. This can make the difference between tieing the game, vs. winning it; in the latter case, the team is said to "go for the win" (or to go for broke), both usages which far predates Hollywood Squares.

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Thank you, a very detailed and intriguing answer! :) –  Mr_CryptoPrime Dec 2 '11 at 23:39
5  
It should be mentioned that in order to win, the Hollywood Squares contestant was required to use the phrase "for the win" when selecting the square which could meet the three-in-a-row criterion for winning. Hence the phrase was used repeatedly on that show. –  mgkrebbs Dec 3 '11 at 4:55

For the win originates in the Hollywood Squares television show. But how did this take off as FTW on the internet, and actually gather momentum? Let's trace the origins of FTW on the net.

tl;dr

FTW appears to have started in FPS (first-person shooter) computer games such as Half-Life just after or around the turn of the millenium, then spread to MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) such as Dark Age of Camelot ("DAoC") and on to World of Warcraft around 2003-2005, and from there to the rest of the net at large.

2006 DAoC and Half-Life

Here's a post on a 25th January 2006 that claims FTW pre-dated Dark Age of Camelot and came from a Half-Life modification:

I saw FTW used way before DAOC ever came out.. Memories of playing TFC (thats Team Fortress Classic for the non-Halflife guys) and seeing someone spamming "Snipers FTW" everytime they got a headshot. I think that was my first exposure to it.

2005 definitions and Usenet

The earliest definition in Google Books is in Scott Jennings' 2005 Massively Multiplayer Games for Dummies:

FTW (For the Win): Sometimes spelled For Teh Win to emphasize its l33tspeak nature. Used to denote that you're successful in doing something, usually in a sarcastic tone. “Camping that spawn FTW!” Believed to originate on Dark Age of Camelot message boards.

Its earliest mention in the alt.games.warcraft Usenet group is from 2nd May 2005:

insomniax ftw!

It is later explained in alt.games.warcraft on 2nd September 2005:

FTW means "for the win".

...

About half the time that it's used, it's extremely sarcastic. "Something exceedingly retarded just happened, but it seemed to work." "Priest tank ftw!" Or, something exceeedingly retarded just happened, and I hate my life. Murlocs ftw!

The earliest archive of this internet slang page from 26th October 2005 says:

FTW — "For the win"; Indicates the end of the game, it is often used to reference the object responsible for victory. Also sometimes shown as 4tw.

2004 Usenet and DAoC

It was used in novell.community.chat on 5th August 2004:

> My friend, what you need is a MMORPG. Might I suggest FFXI? I barely
> have time for anything since playing that game. So much fun~ ^__^

DAoC ftw!

Again, DAoC is the Dark Age of Camelot game, and the following appeared in a forum for the game discussing "VN Cliches (Or just DAOC in general)" in June 2004. One poster claims the term had been in use in "every single FPS [first-person shooter, such as Half-Life] on the net for the past four or five years or so":

Things that make me gringe every time I see them.

For teh win (Notice the spelled wrong ON PURPOSE)
I WIN BUTTON
Easy Mode
FOTM
wtfpwn

I swear I had more but those are worst, and people EAT THEM UP and use them all the time. The whole PvP aspect of DAOC brings out the l33t dude in people I guess.

...

It's not so much l33tness as it is DAoC culture. Things like wtfpwn, ftw etc. are almost never used in any other game. I'm not a l33t dude and I say em all the time, hell, even in real life I'll say them...

...

heh yeah, except every single FPS on the net for the past four or five years or so. on top of a great many gaming-related message boards, sites, other mmorpgs, etc.

in other words, not really DAoC culture at all (unfortunately).

...

Do a google search for "wtfpwn". Half of the entrys are related to DAoC or the VN boards. Meanwhile, "ftw" brings up nothing about for the win. While I played Everquest, there was almost no talk of pwn or wtfpwn. Face it, these words have nothing to do with l33tness, and everything to do with DAoC's online community. Even if you were to expand it, it'd expand to online video games in general.

2003 DAoC, Urban Dictionary and Half-Life

Here's some early posts in DAoC forums. 14th December 2003:

EchoEcho: blades it teh suc go with blunt or pierce ftw!

Haley: I have trouble following the advice of someone that can't even write a coherant sentence.

And 15th October 2003:

Norway FTW!

The first Urban Dictionary definition with this meaning is from 27th November 2003, again referencing Half-Life:

for the win, used in half-life games, often sarcastic.

My team is full of stupid newbies, for the win!

Source: Patro
11/27/03 09:14:21 PM

1999 red herring

Finally, here's the earliest FTW I could find in Half-Life Usenet groups, posted 27th August 1999 in alt.games.half-life.tfclassic:

Cootey[TiT]:

hehe since Zippys gotten back from sturgis he has been on a rampage.
What happened to that kind hearted Engineer we loved so much ;)

ZipPy[TiT]:

It's probably the new "FTW" tattoo I got across my forehead ;>

j/k

Unfortunately, I suspect this may be the older alternate meaning "fuck the world" and not our "for the win".

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Given jwpat's answer I have to assume that everything you wrote was a red herring as to the true origin. While gamers certainly used FTW, I think the origins were earlier. –  ErikE Mar 1 '12 at 0:55
2  
Yes, the origins of for the win are earlier. But how did this take off as FTW on the internet, and actually gather momentum? That's what this answers. –  Hugo Mar 1 '12 at 12:04

I am unsure as to whether or not FTW originated with Football or Rugby, but as someone who watched Hollywood Squares in the late 70s and early 80s, and then again in the late 80s (I mostly skipped the Whoopi version in the late 90s, early 00s), I can guarantee you that "For the Win" was used long before the times of MMORPGs and FPS. If you are not familiar with the show, 9 celebrities would sit in small booths 3 stacked on the left, 3 in the middle, and 3 on the right. 2 contestants, 1 playing as X and one as O, would choose what booth or celebrity they wanted and the celebrity would be asked a trivia question. If the celebrity got the question right, that celebrity would be award the X or the O. The goal would be to get a straight line of 3 celebrities to all have Xs or all have Os. If the contestant chose a celebrity that would win the game f they got the question right, they would say "(Celebrity name) for the Win".

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