I went prowling with London’s pick-up artist boot camp

Three men are huddled together in a busy spot on Oxford Street in London, said to be trodden by a high volume of attractive young women. Every now and then, the leader of the group—a sprite-like figure named Jordan Brown—points to a glamorous woman, and one of the others dashes into the crowd to woo her.

While we’re on the prowl for women, my three companions notice a trend. Before they’ve tossed out so much as a generic compliment, a lot of the women have already been approached. 

“Oh no,” Brown says. “There’s other guys gaming—other guys in the community. It’s awful. They can be really creepy.”

Ten years ago, Neil Strauss brought pick-up artists (PUA) mainstream attention with The Game, a bestselling memoir that detailed how he became a professional ladykiller with the guidance of a failed magician turned professional seducer. The book helped spur a movement that, due to its controversial techniques and general creepiness, has been slammed as manipulative, predatory, and downright corny. 

In recent years, the movement has been emboldened by the Internet to further extremes. It’s commonly linked to the so-called men’s rights movement and was recently tied to Elliot Rodger, the 22-year-old student who allegedly killed six people in Isla Vista, Calif., last month. 

Now a new breed of younger pick-up artists claim to have evolved PUA away from “routines” and into a more natural—and more ethical—blueprint for seduction that’s so smooth ladies won’t even notice.

Pick-up version 2.0

On his website, Robert King, a second-generation pick-up artist, says his “Authentic Natural Game” combines elements of classic PUA methods with transcendental meditation and Zen Buddhism. The banner image on the home page depicts a naked woman lying belly down, faking carnal pleasure. The image fades to a picture of King, posing in the Far East with a Buddhist monk.

I met up with King, a.k.a. “Kingy,” for his weekend boot camp to see what his game was really all about. 


Pick-up artist Robert King in a recent BBC documentary 

When I arrived in early April for the theory class at the Tiger Tiger nightclub, a latter-day pantheon of loose morals, it was still light outside. Waitresses with iPads weaved through the club to the sound of pulsing Euro pop.

King wore a black shirt with the sleeves rolled up and beads from an early-20s spiritual journey draped around his wrist. Huddled around the table with him are five “students.” The first thing that struck me was how normal they appeared. One was tall, with a chiseled jaw, and clearly in his early 30s. He looked like he could be a contender on a TV dating show.

Chris, meanwhile, was a fairly short but far from ugly 22-year-old student from Leeds who said he hasn’t had a social life for the last six years. “My usual day was wake up, go to whatever education I was in, go home, and sit on the computer until I went to bed,” said Chris, whose name, like the rest of the students featured in this story, has been changed. “Or if I had work, go there, get home, and go on the computer.

“It all became too much, and I realized I needed to change. I couldn’t keep living like that. I would die alone, and the only people who would realize would just assume I’d stopped going online.”

A few months ago, Chris read The Game and thought it was “too good to be true,” so he signed up for King’s crash course. Chris seemed to fit the bill for what Strauss described to me as the typical PUA novice—a dude not looking to manipulate women or compete with friends but simply “to get comfortable socially.” 

“We’re going natural,” King announced early, beaming at the students. “I can look you all in the eyes and say I was in a worse position than you.”

Wise men cometh

The students took out their notebooks and began writing down an easy-to-memorize acronym: VOAQCS, which—if you remember how to spell it—stands for value, opener, attraction, qualification, confidence, and shag.

“Anyone who has worked in sales will be familiar with these kinds of terms,” King said, doling out advice that cost the students £597 ($1,000) to hear.

Like a good salesman peddling a low-quality product, King reminded the class that the evening was all about quantity over quality. The main aim was for the students to get over their “approach anxiety.” What they said was less important than having the confidence to say it. Once they’re comfortable approaching, the trick is to just keep on talking.

“Do not stop talking,” King says to the students like a mantra. “You need to wear them down. Break down that barrier. Just keep talking.” At one point he suggests using characters from the long-retired HBO show Sex and the City to break the ice. 

“Then you want to ask them, do you know who I am?” King says, pointing downwards to his crotch with his thumbs. “Mr. Big.”

Before heading out into the wild, the students played a game in which they practiced the art of talking continuously. It’s meant to give them conversational stamina.

King claimed he was such a fine long-distance talker that he could carry conversation from a nightclub in central London to his parents’ house an hour and a half away in Surrey. “And then it was a 15-minute walk from the station,” he added for emphasis. 

In such a situation, King said, you’ve got to have plenty of game. It’s no good losing her interest halfway between Waterloo and Vauxhall, which he did at the beginning.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves: How do you get the woman to agree to come back to your place? Simple—tell her anything. Make something up. Lie.

“Come and see the view from my bedroom window,” King suggested. “I live in a basement flat. But it doesn’t matter.”

Field drills

With two hours of intense theory over, it was time to get out in the field to practice “night gaming.” The field’s a nightclub with a cocktail on the menu called the Porn Star Martini, and the game’s a form of shooting practice.

Most of the interactions between the students and their targets lasted less than a minute. I asked Chris which approach line he’s using.

“Hi ladies, what’s the occasion?” Chris replied. That’s one of King’s go-to lines, apparently. 

Considering it was a full club at 10pm, King was disappointed that the recruits weren’t engaged with intense seduction. Still languishing in approach anxiety, they spent a lot of time hovering around nervously, as if waiting for an alarm to go off.

Approaching a two-set (that’s PUA lingo for two human females) in the smoking area, I asked a young Australian woman if she knows what a pick-up artist is. She didn’t. Her friend just walked away. 

I was in for a long night. 

The morning after

King doesn’t work alone. He has a team around him, instructors with distinct personalities and strategies. 

One, an Italian named Jordan “Adriano” Brown, met me at a pub off Oxford Street on a Sunday afternoon. He was wearing a gray hoodie and trousers like a weightlifter’s belt, slightly too high up his torso, and carried a plastic bag from Tesco. He told me that he takes herbal aphrodisiacs to increase his libido and that he hasn’t masturbated in seven years. 

Pick-up artist Jordan Brown
Pick-up artist Jordan Brown

“I’m horny. Every girl I approach—I’m very turned on,” he told me, his reedy voice ascending in a joyous cackle. “I only touch myself when I’m with a woman. If you know you can go home and relieve yourself, you’re not going to put much effort in.

“I’m not a pro,” he clarified. “I don’t have a 10-inch cock. I’m average size. But now, when I’m with a woman, they go wild for what I do for them.”

As a teenager, Brown said he felt so lonely and depressed that he came close to taking his own life. “I started building confidence at 18 or 19,” he recalled. Reading books about how to converse, Brown discovered seduction forums in the early 2000s, around the same time as Neil Strauss, but the popular routines of the day didn’t work for him. 

The Mystery Method, for example, instructed men to wear something distinct—even if it was slightly embarrassing or out of fashion—to stick out from the crowd and make oneself more memorable. 

“I’d go out peacocked, with a hat on,” Brown recalled. “It just looked stupid. I looked like a fucking clown. Imagine a sad clown, really depressed-looking. That’s how I looked.”

Graduation 

These days, Brown and his students win with style. 

Case in point: Chris arrived a few minutes late to the pub on Sunday because he was out shopping with a personal stylist. He’s wearing a navy blue bomber picked out just for him. He’s recently started weight training and has also stopped masturbating. 

“I’m fine approaching, but I don’t know how to carry on the conversation,” he lamented. “Three seconds of silence and I give up.”

“You’ve got to learn when to escalate and just push,” Brown instructed. “I like to get to know a girl and seduce the hell out of her. I talk about sex as soon as possible.”

He continued: “If you’re very close to the woman’s face, and she suddenly looks down at your lips, she is subconsciously imagining herself kissing you. So as soon as she looks down to your lips and back up to the eyes, make the move and say, ‘What would you do if I kissed you right now?’”

Brown also suggested as a catalyst for escalation: “I’m going to have to stop you there and say, ‘Your lips are so f**king kissable. Anyway, carry on.’”

After nearly two hours of lectures, Brown shifted his focus back to the students. They took out their notepads and read the three bullet points they were supposed to use as their openers.

Andrew, a middle-aged man from Liverpool, goes first. “What brings you to Oxford Street today?”

“Good!” Brown said.

“I’m into martial arts and working out. How do you stay in shape?”

“Brilliant!”

“I like girls who dress well and have a good personal style.”

“Good!”

Chris read from his notebook. “I’m going to introduce myself, then try to pick up their accent to see where they’re from, and ask if they’re in shape.”

The students tried their lines on Oxford Street as Brown observed. In the thick weekend crowds of the city’s busiest shopping street, I couldn’t hear what Andrew was saying, but his target didn’t flee. Andrew turned to her and lightly touched her elbow before turning to face her. Two minutes later he was accompanying the woman back in the direction we came from, toward the pub.

“Andrew’s on an instant date!” Brown yelled in a helium pitch.

Chris had trouble lasting more than a few seconds in conversation. “I lost my momentum,” he reported, retreating red-faced from another brief encounter. “I forgot my bullet points.”

It’s the same game—just new players. 

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the name of the city in which Elliot Rodger killed six.

Illustration by Jason Reed | Photo of Jordan Brown by Lewis Parker