One of the most prominent figures in esports, and one of the original founders of Major League Gaming, has left the company after 15 years. A prominent figure in CoD esports, he leaves Activision Blizzard just ahead of franchising.
As the Call of Duty league heads towards a franchising model, with franchise slots valued at $25 million, and expected to rise to near $40 million in a couple of years, it’s important to remember how the scene got to this point. And there’s no question it’s due to Major League Gaming, and its fearless leader Adam Apicella.
After working on close to 60 games and 100s of live event programs, I have decided to leave Activision Blizzard. More importantly, after 16 years my time as a member of the @MLG family has come to an end.
On August 30th, Apicella announced via Twitter that he was leaving his position with Activison Blizzard, and thus, would be leaving his position with MLG after 15 years. MLG was acquired at the beginning of 2016 for $46 million, as Activison Blizzard began their plan to “create the ESPN of esports.”
Apicella thanked numerous members of the MLG and Activision Blizzard organizations, giving special consideration and thanks to the organization that he spent fifteen years with, saying “thank you for giving me this life.”
He also made an attempt to instill confidence in the future of Call of Duty esports despite his departure, and assured fans and followers that he’s never too far away:
Be nice to those trying to build something new and great. Change can be good, help them, and even though I’ve decided to leave, I love Call of Duty, I love this scene, and I love the players. I would be thrilled to help in any way I can, my line is always open. pic.twitter.com/b45XgPoImF
There have been many twists and turns as CoD heads towards the franchising model, and it’s been a shaky start as the model has fielded many complaints from pros, a prominent org in 100 Thieves have decided not to participate, and now a founding father of the scene has left the company.
Apicella was the first hired employee of MLG when it was founded in 2003, and he quickly went to work planning events, acquiring sponsors, and laying the foundation for proper tournament organization.
As Apicella took on more responsibility, MLG grew to even greater heights, including a relationship with ESPN that led to esports appearing on the X Games for the first time ever.
MLG held events for Starcraft, Smash, Halo, and even dabbled in League of Legends for a time, but their bread and butter was competitive Call of Duty. Under Apicella’s leadership, MLG became the home for competitive Call of Duty for years before the acquisition.
Best of luck to Adam and whatever challenge he takes on next.
Nerd Street Gamers are on a mission to make esports accessible to all, and their newly-announced subscription service is the next step in making that dream a reality.
The Philadelphia-based company has been working towards serving amateur and semi-professional gamers for years, creating a network of esports facilities, events, and content. Now, with a subscription service officially launched, they’re making all of their core pillars available to everybody for a very fair fee.
Nerd Street+ is described as giving gamers, no matter their skill level, a “gateway to a curated library of competitive opportunities” through access to high-end equipment and the ability to compete with others on a consistent basis.
The service provides subscribers with unlimited access to live and digital competitions on a weekly basis, discounts on larger tournaments, and monthly training time at esports venues across the United States.
Nerd Street Gamers have partnered with discount store chain Five Below to open more esports venues.
The program initially provides nationwide access to Nerd Street Gamers’ Localhost facilities in Philadelphia, Denver, Austin, and St. Louis, as well as partner venues such as Esports Stadium Arlington, HyperX Esports Arena Las Vegas, Axis Replay in Atlanta, Balance Patch in Boston, Digital Battlegrounds in Orlando. More affiliate centers are set to be announced in the coming months.
Nerd Street+ will cost subscribers $20 per month and provides all of the aforementioned perks. A more basic package is available at $5 per month, which is a digital-only option that allows players to compete in the company’s online tournaments.
John Fazio, CEO of Nerd Street Gamers, spoke with Dexerto in an exclusive interview to explain how this new service is leveling the playing field in esports — making it more viable for budding professionals to get regular practice, no matter where they are in the country.
Open to all
With the global health situation resulting in most esports events either being canceled or moved online, now may not seem like the most opportune time to launch a service that is heavily reliant upon physical venues. However, Nerd Street Gamers think it’s more timely than ever.
“When we shut all our venues down, we saw a lot of our consumers didn’t have access to equipment at home as others do,” Fazio told Dexerto. “Some could stay at home and compete in our events, our digital platform saw exponential growth, but still a lot of our customer base didn’t have access.
“We saw school districts like Philadelphia and Detroit find out that a major percentage of their students didn’t have access to the internet at home for remote learning. As we eventually come back to normal, we wanted to launch this subscription service to answer ‘Where do I get access to technology to participate?’”
Nerd Street Games announced plans to open the first esports campus in September 2020.
Creating a network of esports centers and gaming facilities means that, now more than ever, aspiring competitors across the country have access to high-end, up-to-date technology that puts them on the same level as their peers. It’s a play to create consistency across the board for amateur esports, where many of the future gaming stars are to be molded and discovered.
“Our subscription offering takes a curated library of events, that we’ve built a really good reputation for ourselves running, and allows you to connect to the equipment necessary to participate,” he said. “It’s not just our venues you have access to, it’s all of the renowned venues in the country. Taking these partners and putting them in the same offering means we get to reach many more consumers to give them access to the industry.
“If you don’t live near one of the venues or you have a good set-up at home, you can sign-up to the digital-only version and still compete in our events. However, there’s a lot of consumers who don’t have that equipment at home — especially now new consoles are launching and somebody playing on a PlayStation 5 is going to have a competitive advantage at double the frames per second as somebody on an older model — things like this have widened the gap so our service is meant to help address that.”
Physical venues in a digital industry
Esports has received more spotlight than ever in 2020 because of the industry’s collective resilience, swiftly moving to online play when LAN events were no longer viable. Despite the digital-first nature of video games, Nerd Street Gamers and partners such as Esports Arena believe that competing in person is necessary for the scene to continue growing.
“I watched where this industry went for two decades and the biggest issue on the venue-side is that we focused on internet cafes and LAN centers, it’s the wrong model,” said Fazio. “The right model is event-driven where it scales a lot better. We’ve started to shift what a venue could look like, and so have our partners that are part of this subscription.
“There’s this myth in the industry that because video games are software we can use software to scale them, but that’s not true. Video games require people to compete and when you compete, you need other people to manage it just like in traditional sports. You can’t run a basketball tournament with software; you need coaches, administrators, court facility managers, and so on.”
Hyperx Esports Arena Las Vegas at the Luxor Casino is part of Nerd Street Gamers’ new offering.
The importance of physical venues doesn’t mean that the digital experience can be an afterthought or all-out neglected, however, and that’s why it’s a huge component of the company’s new service. Without being able to monitor players in-person during events comes a threat to integrity, and there are instances of cheating taking place at even the top level of competition.
“Right now there’s an amazingly-wide reach of competitive opportunities online — there are tournaments running by the thousands every day — but it’s very hard to find professional, quality events where there are no cheaters or people manipulating the game. With the way that we curate and spend a lot of time investing in the programming, you always know a Nerd Street event has that integrity and equal opportunity.”
Competitive platforms coming together
To complement their matrix of esports venues and facilities, Nerd Street Gamers utilizes many of the competitive tournament platforms in the market for their own events. This area of the industry is crowded but lucrative, with G-Loot and Challengermode securing $56m and $12m investments respectively in the past few months alone.
Battling it out to obtain a larger market share than their competition, it would be fair to think that these companies would not want to be listed among their rivals in a single place. That’s the opposite of the truth in the case of Nerd Street+, Fazio explained.
“As far as the competitive events that we offer, what we do that is unique is run them across a variety of platforms and make a decision based on what’s best for the consumer,” he said. “You get a truly professional experience as an amateur.
“We have really good partnerships with each of these platforms because we’re investing a lot of resources and capital to run and produce events that ultimately drive users to their platforms. While I understand there’s a competitive nature between the different platforms, we’re just going to choose what’s best for the consumer or what a publisher may mandate to us.”
Nerd Street Gamers have plenty more tricks up their sleeves to unveil in the coming months, but it’s already evident that their goals and ambitions are far-reaching and even selfless in nature. Making esports accessible to all won’t come easy, nor overnight, but they’re committed to the cause.