BRICK – Electronic sports, or competitive video gaming known as “eSports” is a fast-growing international phenomenon that is projected to generate over $1 billion in revenue this year, with over a third of that coming from the North American market.
It’s a whole other world familiar to Generations Y and Z, but maybe not as familiar to those who didn’t grow up playing video games in their living rooms every day.
Township resident Nick Jobes, 27, was one of those kids who was “highly into video games,” starting from age 6 or 7, until he had to focus on other priorities as a full-time student at Monmouth University while working a full-time job.
Jobes, who recently became a professional gamer in eNascar Heat Pro League for Hendrick Motorsports Gaming Club, explained how eSports is helping to increase viewership for sports like NASCAR racing.
“NASCAR saw [eSports] as an opportunity to grow the sport, because generally speaking, over the last five to 10 years, there has been a decline in viewership among the younger generation,” he said.
“Nearly every young kid plays video games, so NASCAR wanted to come up with a way to connect the two,” he explained.
Jobes always watched NASCAR races growing up, but realized early on that those who drove race cars either needed to have money or a connection.
“So this was my outlet, playing the video game,” he said.
Every year, NASCAR comes out with a revised and updated video game. In December, they had the first-ever qualifying period to find the best online racers for a new eSports racing league, so for 40 days Jobes played, and got ranked each day on 30 different tracks.
Out of 589 races ran, Jobes won 214, and made the cut when it was narrowed down to the top 100 U.S. players.
There were 28 players selected – 14, two-person teams – and Jobs was contacted by three racing teams and drafted by Hendrick Motorsport for their team.
“Prior to this, I hadn’t played for a couple of years, so during the qualifying period I didn’t know anybody,” he said. “I reached out to the top guys to ask for help because I wanted to be more competitive.”
In the realistic video game, each player has to adjust 50 to 75 car settings before the race even begins. The top gamers made suggestions to Jobes as to tire pressure, shock settings, gear ratios and much more, saving him hours in building his car, he said.
“My lack of experience really hurt,” he said. “The car settings are very important in this game in order to make the car perform better.”
After the qualifying period narrowed the racers down to 100, 25 at a time competed against each other in “showcase” races. Jobes performed in the top five for each race, which he was happy about since he came in as an underdog, he said.
Two weeks ago, Jobes flew to Charlotte, N.C. by Hendrick Motorsports for the gamers to compete in the first race of the season on a stage next to the track where a real-life NASCAR race would take place two hours later.
The gamers were streamed live, and it had some 95,700 total views.
Jobes came in ninth place, and he got to meet and spend time with some of the drivers after the race.
Jobes explained how gaming works and how income can be generated by gaming.
A popular video game called Fortnight (a survival game set on modern-day Earth) has about 45 million active players all over the world, and many people tune in just to watch others play on streaming sites like Twitch and YouTube. Viewers get to see the player in real-time, and also see the player’s screen, Jobes said.
“Most people ages 10 to 25 either play Fortnight, have played Fortnight, or watch people play Fortnight,” he said. “It’s fun to watch because it is a very skill-driven game.”
A well-known Fortnight player, “Ninja,” commonly has 100,000 to 200,000 people watching him at one time, and when the singer Drake came to play with him, there were some 600,000 viewers, Jobes said.
“I can’t replicate what ‘Ninja’s doing, and when some people don’t have the skills to replicate the best, they’d rather watch,” he explained.
Jobes said there is a personality component involved with some of the more successful gamers. “Ninja” does a funny dance when he wins or when his viewers egg him on, he said.
Gamers primarily make money in two different ways, he said. First, through sponsorships. “Ninja” is sponsored by Red Bull, and while he’s playing there is always a Red Bull refrigerator in the background.
The second way is through advertising revenue where viewers have to watch a 15 or 30-second ad before you see the gamer live.
“‘Ninja’ is making stupid money,” Jobes said. “Like $5 to $6 million a year, and he’s only about 25 years old.”
People are highly driven to watch eSports, and sports industries are starting to realize the revenue potential by bringing more fans into the industry, he said.
Jobes said he is making some money from gaming, but has no plans to quit his day job as a tax accounting supervisor at a CPA firm in Toms River.
The gamers in eNascar Heat Pro League aren’t being streamed live yet because the league wants their viewers to watch the official stream on Facebook or Twitch, but they’ll start soon after the initial growth period, Jobes said.
“A lot of people wanted to get drafted,” Jobes said. “I saw this opportunity and I put in a lot of hard work behind the scenes. It’s not always visible, but my results have spoken for themselves.”
Jobes said he’s had to work hard for everything he has. “I know if I want something, I’m gonna go get it,” he said.
There will be a total of 12 eNascar Heat Pro League races, which are held every other Wednesday at 8 p.m. To watch the live stream of the next race on June 26, visit eNASCAR.com or at 704GamesNascarHeat on Facebook.