Nick ‘Nickmercs’ Kolcheff wants to be the games industry’s first business tycoon

The 32-year-old gamer is on a never-ending quest for more profits, more deals and more money, even as viewership drops and exclusive streaming deals disappear.

A sort ofAnyone who still thinks gamers are antisocial nerds living in their parents’ basements has clearly never met Nick Kolcheff. At a meet-and-greet just a few blocks from TwitchCon in San Diego in October, the 32-year-old influencer “Nickmercs” arrived with traditional celebrity swagger—a black SUV, sunglasses, a gold chain, an entourage. He bought Down the entire sports bar, offering free food, drinks, personalized t-shirts and other goodies to the more than 1,000 fans who called themselves “MFAM” in attendance.

As gaming continued to penetrate the mainstream, Kolcheff was at the forefront of first-generation gamers like Ninja and PewDiePie, for whom millions of online fans translated into millions of dollars. His video and live-streaming content revenue, platform exclusivity deals and growing brand sponsorships will net him $15 million by 2022, a massive but not-record-breaking figure.

In his view, this is just the beginning. He admits to having what he calls an “addiction to more.” That’s why he paid $500,000 of his own money to attend the San Diego event, an unusual move among creators that he hopes will deepen his relationship with the community he relies on to support his entrepreneurial ambitions. If Conor McGregor can transcend his sport to become a business mogul, Kolcheff sees no reason why he couldn’t be the first to do the same in gaming. “That’s how you go from $10 or $20 million a year to $100 million,” he said Forbeswithout a hint of irony.

Confidence and candor have been Nickmercs’ calling card since he first started broadcasting his war machine Gameplay on Twitch predecessor in 2010. Since then, he’s built a bombastic yet personable on-air equivalent of a Big Brother who’ll lock you over your head while asserting his dominance and reminding you of his love. Best of all, he’s never boring.

During the Covid-19 lockdown, the demand for gaming content surged – total watch time on Twitch increased by 80% from March 2020 to March 2021 – and exploded across platforms such as Twitch, YouTube and Facebook bidding wars to secure exclusive contracts with top streamers. These deals quickly topped the multimillion-dollar mark, and that’s not counting other basic payments such as channel subscription cuts or viewer donations.

Korchev signed his latest two-year deal with Twitch in October 2021 at the height of his influence, when his day-to-day Call of Duty: Warzone The stream regularly draws over 50,000 concurrent viewers, and several other high-profile creators have just made the switch to YouTube. One doesn’t need to do much math to figure out how important this deal really is. Korchev’s overall revenue stands at $8 million in 2021 and $15 million in 2022, with sponsorship and licensing revenue remaining flat, and ratings have dropped by nearly half over the past year, by Korchev’s own admission.

The platform exclusivity bubble has almost certainly started to burst. Last September, Twitch saw another wave of streamer departures. A few weeks later, Twitch announced that it would reduce the share of subscription revenue that top creators retain from 70% to 50% starting in June 2023, which could herald a potential strategy shift away from paying outsized fees to its biggest stars. This change alone is costing Kolcheff more than $50,000 per month. Twitch did not respond to a request for comment.

Tyler “Ninja” Blevins is perhaps the best example of volatility in this industry. 2020 Forbes He earned an estimated $17 million, thanks in part to a massive exclusivity deal with Microsoft
Microsoft Corporation
Supported streaming service Mixer. Less than a year later, when Microsoft shut down Mixer, Blevins got a lump sum but returned to Twitch with a fraction of his previous viewership. In September, he lost his Twitch partner status and announced he would stream on all platforms simultaneously.

Kolcheff is one of Blevins’ successors to No. 1 in the gaming category. He’s the relatable, midwestern average guy and the masculine, aspiring dude during the pandemic — and he’s as likely to talk about football on-air as he is on-air. fortnite Making him the perfect bridge between gamers and the mainstream brands trying to reach them. Over the past two years, he’s signed contracts with Under Armor, UFC, Beats By Dre and more, totaling $2.7 million in 2022.

Justin Miclat, Kolcheff’s manager, said: “It sort of hit this plateau, where there’s been a ton of interest and growth, and now we have to justify the continued investment and continued marketing dollars flowing into gaming and esports. .”

Kolcheff’s lifeline will always be “MFAM” or “The Mercs Family”, a community that is the envy of the creator world. That’s why he’s invested heavily in making sure his fanbase is connected not just with him, but with each other, thus developing an audience that will mobilize in support of his various causes, whether they play the game or not.

“Nickmercs is probably one of the few creators who really embodies what it means to cultivate a community,” said Ali “SypherPK” Hassan, a popular fortnite Streamer and old friend. “Nickmercs watchers and part of MFAM, they really feel like part of a larger group.”

The 2021 live event in Florida cost Colchev $500,000, as did the San Diego event, and more than 6,000 fans from around the country showed up to meet him and each other. One such fan was Beau Tiongson, who traveled from Austin, Texas for the event. During the pandemic, he said he watches Kolcheff streams for hours a day, and even now estimates he’s watching four to five hours a week. He said he met some of his best friends in the channel’s live chat, which he likened to a cult.

“He’s still the stupid, dumb guy he’s always been, but I’ve seen him become a multi-millionaire now,” said Tiongson, 32. “He’s shown me that we don’t have to go beyond the game.”

It’s time for Kolcheff to take the plunge, while his pockets are still full of Twitch cash and his premium sponsorship deals. Kolcheff and Miclat believe they can use MFAM to create new businesses that are less dependent on market conditions. Revamping a previously neglected merchandise business, which brought in $600,000 last year, is low hanging fruit, but in the future, they’re eyeing bigger ventures like Nickmercs-branded tequila.

“I can go up and say, hey, this is shit, but it’s our shit,” Kolcheff said. “And there’s going to be a lot of people who actually believe that. It sounds crazy, but it’s true. So We’ve done the harder part, in my opinion, and we have a huge community who believe in whatever steps we take.”

Still, corporate ownership has not come easily. In 2019, Kolcheff publicly divorced esports organization 100 Thieves, claiming he verbally Offer 5% equity Among the upstart companies started by founder Matthew Haag, the numbers received at the time of drafting were much lower. Haag has never shared his story publicly, and Kolcheff says the two will never make it up. in May, Forbes 100 Thieves is valued at $460 million.

Rival esports organization FaZe Clan signed Nickmercs in 2019, and CEO Lee Trink said Kolcheff had “meaningfully participated” in the now-public company’s stake. However, since FaZe’s stock plummeted in September, those shares have lost more than 90% of their value. Another investment Kolchev has made so far is a small stake in Hyperice, a maker of fitness recovery equipment.

At 32, Kolcheff is old for gamers. He started noticing the damage to his hands from the long hours of gaming, and the way his knees clicked when he walked to the fridge. Additionally, he and his wife are expecting their first child in April. But he’s not ready to give up. In fact, lately he’s leaned more towards more competitive games.he lost interest in it Call of Duty: Warzonethe game that skyrocketed his ratings, but he found a passion in a far less popular game he hadn’t had in years pinnacle hero. He played hours on the sidelines just to hone his skills, reaching the top rank of “Apex Predator” in a matter of months. In July, he received an invitation to the Apex Legends Global Series, the game’s professional circuit, where his top notch The team ranked 18th in the world throughout the fall season.

Often, there is a clear distinction between esports athletes and content creators. Competitive players spend a lot of time for relatively meager prize pools, treating creators like circus acts for the masses. Committing to professional gaming means sacrificing ratings and possibly sponsorships. Regardless, Kolchev made it through. As expected, his concurrent viewership for both streams and videos declined significantly, but held steady at around 25,000, making him 13th among Twitch’s English-language streams; his 50,000 active subscribers remained fourth across the platform.

“Everyone is making fun of him like you’re a streamer and you can’t compete,” said Phillip “ImperialHal” Dosen, considered by many to be the best pinnacle hero players in the world. “He was taller than a lot of people, even me, thought he would be. He did prove a lot of people wrong.”

Kolcheff has reached a level of success where he can take his foot off the pedal. But it’s not his way.

“More,” he said when asked what’s next.

As an example, he tells the story of buying a $2 million house in 2019 because he wanted to be closer to his family in Michigan, “because I fucking can,” he said. It’s tangible…you earn the shit. He and his wife call it their “forever home”, imagining the room where they raise their kids and play football after football practice.

“Then we sold it, then we bought three or four times as much in Florida, and now it’s our forever home,” he said. “But five years might go by, a couple of kids this and that, we might have a new home. So the goalposts are always moving. I always want more.”

If someone asked him his goals for the coming year, he would say first and foremost to be the best top notch world team. But he also wants to be the world’s biggest streamer, highest-paid gamer, best entrepreneur, and best husband and father. So what happens if after a few years he only makes $10 million instead of $15 million?

“I’m not mad about it, but I’m not happy,” Kolchev said. “It sucks if you can’t sit back and be happy about shit like this. But I’m competitive, and I’ll sit and think damn, how do we get to 16.”

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