Former Professional ‘Call Of Duty’ Gamer Explains Why A Career In eSports Is ‘Not All Glitter And Gold’, Even When Making Millions

Two years ago, right around the time Activision launched Call Of Duty: Advanced Warfare, I wrote the following headline about NaDeSHoT.

For a lot of young millennial gamers like myself, that headline is the living embodiment of the American Dream. Fresh off an endorsement deal from Red Bull, NaDeSHoT a.k.a Matthew Haag was making seven figures annually for simply being himself and playing video games while vlogging on YouTube and Twitch to millions. Over the course of a few years, he became one of the biggest names in eSports, especially in the Call Of Duty tournament world.

It’s interesting to revisit that post now because so much has changed for Nadeshot.

Later that year, I saw him play in person with Team OpTic at the annual Call Of Duty Championship in downtown Los Angeles. After a disappointing performance and early elimination, he announced his retirement from the team to focus simply on his own content efforts for YouTube and Twitch. For the 2015-2016 Call of Duty season, he stepped into the ownership seat with a new team called 100 Thieves. It didn’t go so great —  They didn’t place in the championship tournament and released their whole roster.

Like other pro sports, eSports teams have seasons like the Jacksonville Jaguars too.

Now 24, Nadeshot is is taking it easy and refocusing his career. He is officially retired from eSports and, after talking to him for 20 minutes last week, doesn’t have much interest in jumping back into the pro gamer life a la Michael Jordan returning to the NBA from baseball. That said, he’s more successful at 24 than most can ever dream of — He’s living full-time in California and recently inked an endorsement deal with G Fuel. Tonight he’s hosting a Twitter chat with Slim Jim about gaming.

“It’s not all glitter and gold,” he explained to me on the phone last week. “With other titles like Counterstrike and League Of Legends, those leagues have been a lot more organized and a lot more formal in the sense that they’re getting compensated for what they’re doing. And they have an opportunity to make it a full time thing, whereas Call of Duty, even though we have great viewership, it’s been lagging behind in making sure people have security with what they’re doing.”

 

Let’s jump in and talk about what you’ve been up to in the past year. It’s been a super eventful year for you, man, a lot of big changes, a lot of different directions. So curious to hear in your own words what that’s been like.

Yeah. You don’t realize that while it’s happening you have to stand still and take a look back at what’s actually been transpiring. But this has probably been one of the craziest years of my life just because there has been a lot of changes. I’m no longer in OpTic Gaming. I’m doing my own solo thing out here in California.

So really, what I’ve just been doing is trying to find a healthy balance in my content. And truly the one thing that I’ve been truly focusing on is finding a good way to supplement my YouTube channels out with a good balance of gaming, and then also just sharing the insider look at my personal life, and bringing the camera around everywhere I go. I think we’ve been doing a pretty good job.

It’s something to do. Because a lot of things with gaming come along with a lot of long hours, basically, in my dungeon. And then I have to find a balance trying to go outside. So for me, that’s been the hardest part for me is really trying to figure out how to spend my time throughout the day.

But yeah, a lot of changes. Like I said, no longer in OpTic. I’m actually with a new sponsor. G Fuel was just announced a couple days ago. So for me, it’s been a lot of fun. I think change is always good. I think it’s important for growing as a person in general and just experiencing life in a different way.

So I just have a really good outlook on it, a lot of positivity, a lot of good people out here in California.

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Yeah, man. What was the reason why you wanted to leave Team OpTic last year?

I don’t really think that it was more of a reason. It was just a lot of things between the organization and I, it didn’t align anymore. I never wanted to be in a situation where I wasn’t in OpTic. I just happily just go on my way and exit from the team. It was more of just a– things really just weren’t panning out the way that we all wanted to.

So we leisurely and maturely decided to go on our different paths. It was just a fork in the road and time to head in different directions. I’m still best friends with all the dudes.

I know it’s a big deal to a lot of people. But it’s really not as complicated as from the inside looking out.

Then you started another competitive CoD team — 100 Thieves. What’s it like having a stake at the ownership level? What are some of the challenges? What do you enjoy the best about that? 

So for me, I wasn’t really involved with anything related with management with OpTic Gaming. I was more of just a player. It was lot of hours and creating content to supplement the organization — the YouTube channels and stuff.

There’s a lot of misconceptions about 100 Thieves. It was supposed to be more of a lifestyle brand.

But, honestly, I never really wanted to own my own eSports team. If I’m going to be transparent, that was never really on the horizon for me. The only reason it transpired the way they did with 100 Thieves is because it was a once in a life opportunity to get into competitive CoD on the ground floor and be involved with them once again.

It was something that I had to make a decision on within 72 hours. With the support of my manager’s team and a lot of other people in my life around me, I just went for it, not really knowing what to expect.

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It didn’t really perform well and the season ended. They didn’t qualify for the final. So I just decided to part ways with them. So now we’re in a phase where we’re trying to navigate and plan out our next point of attack, because eSports itself has become an industry where the barrier of entry is very high. You need a lot of money and a lot of relationships to even crack into a lot of these leagues with different games, like Counterstrike and League of Legends.

So there are a lot of decisions that need to be made over the next year or so. I’m not really rushing myself. It’s definitely on the back burner right now and a lot of people have been asking about it. It has to be a strategic entry. It’s has to be something where everything makes sense financially. And that’s just the nature of it.

So for the upcoming 2016-17 season you’re not necessarily saying that you’re committed to A Hundred Thieves or anything like that right now?

Yeah. I’d say that you hit the nail on the head right there. It’s actually been one of those things where I’ve had this inner struggle, this inner battle. When I make a decision, it’s only me, and I only have to worry about me and the repercussions of that, right?

But it’s very hard to sit back and have hundreds and thousands of people who judge your every move, your every decision. I think a lot of people take a lot of weight with those decisions that I make. It’s heavily-debated every single time.

Not to hit you with the cheeky Slim Jim, but there’s always beef — I think. It just always seems like there’s beef with anything that I do, any decision that I make. So I need to be more weary of that with anything that I do. But for me, this is all just a learning experience.

I’m not perfect. I’m not always going to do the right thing. I’m not always going to do the best thing. I’m still pretty good and half young, I said. I’m 24. And I’m in this on my own. And I’m trying to find the right people to work together. We have a fantastic Call of Duty presence with the streamers. His name is @NICKMERCS. He actually used to be a Gears of War pro, and now he’s a Call of Duty streamer.

This guy is the most charismatic, down to earth, and genuine dude you’ve ever met. He represents the team every single night on Twitch — every single day, six days a week, eight hours a day. He’s representing A Hundred Thieves, streaming to like 7,000 or 8,000 people concurrently.

So we still have a presence within Call of Duty. But I think you did a pretty good job of nailing that on the head. We’re not exactly committed to a plan for 2016, 2017. But we’re working on it. And that means right now we still have somebody representing the brand. So moving forward, we’ll figure it out as we go.

The comeuppance of eSports has been well documented over the past few years. The New York Times profile about you a few years ago was a big cultural moment. I think that really pushed eSports and especially with Call of Duty and what you do into this mainstream area. How did your life and day to day change after that?

For me, honestly, it’s been a whirlwind. My life for so long was competitive gaming. And it just seems like every single year there’s something new that propels me back into the spotlight, whether it’s good or bad.

But things have just been great, honestly. People in eSports are so much more mainstream, and not just with Call of Duty, but with other games. Like League of Legends —  they have millions of viewers every single tournament. What I’m just grateful for with everything is that I’m relevant within people’s mind when it comes eSports because it was such a big part of my life.

I’m so grateful that I’ve been able to have the platform to voice my opinion, to share my life with everybody, because it’s then given me incredible opportunities, like this campaign I’m working on with  Slim Jim.

I think moving to California and living by myself has really given me an opportunity to appreciate everything that’s happened. Because when you’re working every single day and you’re doing these things, sometimes it just seems to normal and to take it for granted.

But California has really brought me back to being more humble and really understanding how fortunate I am to be living the life I’m living, and having the opportunities to work with companies like Slim Jim. And every single day I’ve just really appreciated everything I have. So I’ve been really excited about everything that I’ve been doing in the last year. It’s really, really a new chapter for me. It’s been awesome.

You mentioned work-life balance and about how you’ve been focused on being offline and finding yourself outside of YouTube, and Twitch, and your following in eSports. I’m curious. How big of an issue of that is it in eSports? What have you done to really take your mind away, refocus, re-energize, etc?

Yeah. Honestly, the life of a content creator and the life of a competitive gamer in the world of eSports is really insane. It’s really, really, stressful.

It causes a lot of long nights just because there’s so many different aspects of what you do. And you need to do it so well if you want to find any type of success. Call of Duty is probably for me, in my opinion, one of the hardest places to make a living from eSports in general.

I’m ahead of the curve. I got really, really lucky with the time in life. Everybody asks me, how did you get to where you are? I think I just have a really good timing. I hit the right wave at the right time. But there’s all these other guys that I’ve known for almost a decade are still trying to find their place in Call of Duty as a career.

With other titles like Counterstrike and League Of Legends, those leagues have been a lot more organized and a lot more formal in the sense that they’re getting compensated for what they’re doing. And they have an opportunity to make it a full time thing, whereas Call of Duty, even though we have great viewership, it’s been lagging behind in making sure people have security with what they’re doing.

Because there’s really not that much time for anything else if you’re in any competitive game. If you’re trying to be professional, there’s really not much time for anything else because you have to practice eight hours a day. If you have teammates, it’s even tougher because you’re making a commitment to three other people an their livelihood.

On top of that, while you’re practicing every day, you got to worry about these tournaments that are coming up. And if you don’t place well in those tournaments, then your future is even more up in the air, and you really have no idea where your career is going to head. So it’s a very volatile place. It really, really is.

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I don’t think other people understand the stress of it. A lot of people see that it’s the glory and the fame of it all. You have thousands of people watching you. You get to do it everyday. But it’s not all glitter and gold. I’m super fortunate being in the position I’m in because I have something that can supplement my income.

I can create content that people watch day in and day out. And even then, even though I’m doing well, it’s still a stressful thing to deal with. What if one day people just don’t find it interesting anymore?

So it’s a really cool place to try and make a living and make a career out of it. But it’s also something that’s just not easy to do. It’s a lot of long nights. It’s a lot of uncertainty. It’s a lot of stress. It’s a lot of anxiety.

And I think you get the world that we live in with competitive gaming. I think the players need more help in having resources available to them that help guide their futures so that they’re not spending time doing the wrong things when they could be spending that time doing the right things, spreading themselves correctly, and giving them more opportunity.

So I’m just really grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to work with Slim Jim on the things that I’m doing. It’s very clear that they understand the gaming world, and they understand that they need to support the people within the gaming phase.

Gaming is a stressful world. And you definitely need the right people working in the space to try to navigate this whole crazy world that we’re living in.

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Brandon Wenerd avatar
BroBible's publisher and a founding partner, circa 2009. Brandon is based in Los Angeles, where he oversees BroBible's partnership team and other business development activities. He still loves to write and create content, including subjects related to internet culture, food, live music, Phish, the Grateful Dead, Philly sports, and adventures of all kinds. Email: brandon@brobible.com