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It pays to play: Local Esports team Vanguard is finding success through Fortnite

Mitch Hooper

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In 1972, a game took the country by storm. It featured three simple elements: two lines on opposite sides, a dot ricocheting from wall to lines, and a scoreboard. It now stands in the Smithsonian as a relic to the past and a connector to the future. The game is Atari’s Pong, and not only is it the first-ever commercial success in video game history, it sent waves that eventually led to competitive gaming as we know it today.

While competitive gaming of new seems light-years away from what Pong started, it’s really not far off. Pong is a multiplayer game where only one winner can be crowned a champion. It sucked away people’s lives, too; when, in 1975, consoles were released for at-home gaming by Sears, Atari sold 150,000. It was one of the best-selling products of its time in Sears’ history.

Throughout the following decades, the trend continued. From the 1980s into the early 90s, Nintendo and Atari were hosting nationwide gaming tournaments, where players were tasked with setting high scores in games like Mario or Pac Man, competing for prizes such as new cars.

In other words, the craze to game has always been there. Today, competitive prize pools reach upwards of $25 million. The hype might be at its all-time high.

Photos: Olivia James

The current landscape of gaming is—for lack of better words—absolutely bonkers. Modern competitive games, or esports, include big-name titles like Call Of Duty, Overwatch, and League of Legends. Top players can earn cold hard cash. These players, better known as e-athletes, have broken the mold of what it means to be a professional gamer.

Game streaming services like Twitch and Mixer have seemingly made folks overnight gaming celebrities, meaning the only gatekeeper of growing an audience is your skills and personality. And while games like League of Legends have followings large enough to fill sporting arenas, it seems no game has gained as much attention as Fortnite.

Does Fortnite even need an introduction? It’s past the point of mainstream—it has become an incubator for pop culture. Amid all the pre-teens flossing on Tik Tok and online memes, there is a growing culture in the esports community that perhaps should be taken more seriously. While on the surface, it may look like young folks spending too much time in front of a television screen, that image is a disservice to the work professional e-athletes are putting in. Just ask Columbus’ Jonathan “Yung Calculator” Weber—a member of the newly-formed gaming team Vanguard—who has already racked up $200,000 by playing Fortnite for more than 4,000 hours over the last two years.

Owned by Justin Kogge, an avid gamer and also the owner of the Game Arena in Hilliard, Vanguard is a Hilliard- based esports team that formed in 2019. In addition to Yung Calculator, its e-athletes are Kalvin “KEZKD” Dam, 19; Vinh “Phung” Phung, 24; Kerry “iKerry” Callander, 24; Brendan “Jaomock” O’Brien, 21; and Colin “Colinies” Landals, 20.

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Phung, who is also balancing a full-time gig outside of gaming, sees an advantage to being on a team. He explained that Vanguard commits to supporting players during and after their competitive careers. “Whether that be a management position within the organization, referrals to other organizations, or assistance with resume building and acquiring a full-time job in the workforce, […] Vanguard will be there to help where they can.”

For Weber, and the other members of Vanguard, gaming is their full- time job. Their days are spent just like most employees; they have a schedule, expectations, meetings, and a boss. The biggest difference between the nine-to-fivers of the world and Weber? He’s only 14-years-old.

Weber attends school three times a week, but takes most of his classes towards earning his GED online. Don’t worry: his mom approves. He’s not the only one focusing his efforts on Fortnite— Dam dropped out of college to pursue this career path.

The young ages of these athletes presents both benefits and challenges. On one hand, they are still developing their hand-eye coordination, reaction times, and critical problem-solving skills. Kogge said if a gamer possesses high levels of these skills at a young age, their chances of being successful are higher, as their trajectory is still rising.

“We’re looking at a period where his reflexes and brain are still developing, so he’s not even on the downhill of gaming yet. He’s only going to get better,” Kogge said, referring to Weber.

But in that same breath, young folks are, well, young. Many of these e-athletes are streaming their games to audiences of 300,000 viewers. One unsightly comment from a gamer could cause long- lasting impacts that could cost them an audience and a platform. Gamers of all ages need guidance, but especially young ones. And that’s where Vanguard comes in.

For example, Yung Calculator has a somewhat shocking-but-humorous personality online. He’s also becoming one of the premiere gamers in the Fortnite scene, with 35,000 Twitter followers and counting. His high visibility rate, combined with his talents, caught the eye of a potential advertiser, but his social media posts ultimately cost him the deal. Since then, he’s worked with Kogge on ways to keep Yung Calculator’s personality preserved, while also maintaining a relatively professional presence online. For his part, Kogge uses players’ mistakes as chances for learning opportunities.

“He wants to be an entertainer; he’s actually, specifically, trying to entertain people,” Kogge explained. “When you get to meet him in person, he’s very well-spoken and intelligent. That’s the first thing you realize about him; he’s not this toxic kid that doesn’t know anything.”

The role Vanguard plays in these e-athletes’ lives goes beyond gaming. Just like football and basketball, the athletes are expected to maintain healthy lifestyles. Vanguard’s staff includes a physical trainer and a nutritionist to ensure diets aren’t the typical gaming cuisine of Doritos and soda. Kogge said he doesn’t want his athletes spending all day in front of a screen in the same room to avoid isolation and burnout. Kogge has also hired financial advisors and legal teams to Vanguard to ensure that e-athletes are protected in sponsorship deals.

Helping athletes take care of themselves isn’t just an image move, it’s for their general well-being. “We want them healthy and working out more than we want them streaming,” Kogge said.

But don’t get that last line twisted—it’s also an image move. Past gaming tournaments across the world have both exceeded expectations and also confirmed stereotypes. From the chest up, players look formal and professional with matching uniforms and even team logos. However, once some of them stood up to take home the highly-coveted trophy, their Crocs and sweatpants came out from under the table and onto the mainstage. If gaming is to be taken seriously as a sport, it needs to consider its image, just as other sporting leagues have done.

As for the future of Fortnite and Vanguard, things are promising. Kogge predicts Fortnite will eventually become the largest competitive game, citing that it has more users and viewers in its second year than League of Legends, which boasted more than 80 million users in 2019. As of now, there is no official league or tournament for Fortnite, and that’s something he sees changing soon. Until then, the e-athletes at Vanguard will be doing what they love most: gaming down, snagging victories, and stacking cash. If you want a modern day version of The American Dream, look no further.

To keep up with the team, follow them on Twitter at @vanguardwins.

millennial | writer | human

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Lend A (Washed) Hand: 5 volunteering opportunities available this week

Mitch Hooper

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It's time like these that many folks are looking to help but unsure where to start. Luckily for Columbus, the Point App is here to help.

The Columbus-based Point App is a tool that both volunteers and nonprofits can use to connect and work together on projects. It's easy-to-use interface makes signing up as a volunteer a breeze, and with its connections throughout Central Ohio, many nonprofits are utilizing the app; especially during the COVID-19 outbreak.

"We see the needs of nonprofits skyrocketing," said Madison Mikhail Bush, founder of the Point App.

The Human Service Chamber and The United Way gathered data to show what nonprofits are facing during the outbreak. The reported stats found that 24% of responding agencies have reported layoffs of employees, 41% of nonprofits are reporting financial losses of 10%, and 66% of nonprofits have canceled or postponed major fund raising events.

"Nonprofits rely on those events to function," Mikhail Bush said. "It's going to be very important that we meet the needs of nonprofits swiftly and efficiently. So when they post those needs on Point, it's because they really do need people to respond to them."

If you are healthy and able, consider donating your time, resources, or finances to one of the many nonprofits in Columbus. Point recently added a donate feature where users can donate money, rather than time, to promote social distancing. And if you are unsure if you are able to help, Point designed this handy flowchart to see if you are considered "low risk."

https://www.instagram.com/p/B91vzbngHJ-/

And to help you out, we put together five different ways you can get involved. As always, remember to wash your hands frequently, avoid touching your face, and keep a six foot distance between you and another person—even while volunteering.

1.) Drop Off Supplies For Family Care Kits to South Side Early Learning | All day | Wednesday to Friday

These supplies can include non-perishable food items, educational items, diapers, and cleaning supplies.

2.) Produce Give-A-Way with the Hilltop YMCA | 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. | Wednesday | *27 spots available

At the Hilltop YMCA, volunteers are needed for tasks such as sorting and bagging produce items, directing traffic, and assisting with clean up.

3.) Packing Food for Homebound Deliveries with the Worthington Resource Pantry | 1 p.m. to 2:15 p.m. | Thursday | *Only two spots available

Many folks during this shelter-in-place are unable to leave their homes. Here, you can help out by packing food to distribute to families in Worthington and North Columbus.

4.) Delivering Groceries to Homebound Families with the Worthington Resource Pantry | 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. | Thursday | *Only one spot left

If the 1 p.m. start time on Thursday doesn't fit your schedule, they will be delivering the groceries starting at 2 p.m.

5.) Donate For COVID-19 Relief For New Americans with Riverview International Center | Ends April 30

In addition to financial gifts to provide gift cards to affected new Americans in Columbus, you can donate working laptops and tablets, art supplies, and educational supplies.

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Columbus Does Good: The COVID-19 edition

Linda Lee Baird

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The people of Columbus are always finding ways to up their game when it comes to giving back. We’re a city that’s continually building a virtuous cycle: a non-profit with a new idea solves a problem; a business builds the concept of social responsibility into its mission; a neighborhood bands together to accomplish a task—and then others are inspired by these efforts. The question here, to paraphrase JFK, is not what Columbus can do for you, but what you can do for Columbus.

On second thought, maybe those aren’t the right questions. A city, afterall, is nothing but buildings without the people who live there. The question, then, is what can we do for each other? And during times like this, we’re finding out.  

Following Fred Rogers’ advice to “look for the helpers,” we’ve been keeping our eyes out over the past weeks to see how the community is adapting. It turns out that even when we’re required by law to socially distance ourselves, the community is still there—maybe standing six feet away—but never far enough to forget what it means to be part of something larger. Here are just a few of the many awesome resources and examples of doing good that caught our eye. Remember, though, things are changing rapidly, so please reach out and confirm efforts are still underway before showing up to help! 

Food

One of the greatest concerns that came when Gov. DeWine closed schools was for the kids across the state who rely on daily free breakfast and lunch, including the 50,000 students in Columbus City Schools. Luckily, the school district continues to provide free breakfast and lunch to any child under the age of 18 who needs it—even those not enrolled in CCS—at 15 “grab and go” sites across the city. The Mid Ohio Foodbank and the Parks and Recreation department even teamed up with the schools one morning to offer free, pre-bagged produce at a Grab and Go site in addition to the meal. A list of the Grab and Go sites is available at ccsoh.us/Page/7560. 

Kids, of course, aren’t the only ones who need to eat. The Clintonville Beechwold Community Resources Center has partnered with the Clinton Heights Lutheran Church for a sack lunch drive offering food to all ages. The CRC has also assembled and distributed “necessity boxes” for older adults in Central Ohio. The CRC plans to keep giving, and is requesting monetary donations to support its work at this time. Visit clintonvillecrc.org/updated-crc-services-for-covid19 to learn more. 

COhatch has proven to be more than just a coworking space during this crisis. It partnered with Vaso and the Point App to make and deliver meals to those in need across the city. Reach out for help if you are in need of food or supplies to [email protected]; or contact [email protected] to support their efforts. 

Make-A-Day is seeking funding to send food trucks to low-income areas of Columbus in order to feed the homeless, children home from school, and other residents. Support their mission with a donation at makeaday.fun. 

Gear and supplies

A key ingredient in the hand sanitizer that you can’t find anywhere on shelves these days is good ol’ ethyl alcohol. Luckily, some local businesses including Middle West Spirits and Watershed Distillery have an abundance. They are making hand sanitizer to provide first responders, hospitals, and homeless shelters. The Columbus Foundation purchased the first $50,000 worth of product from Middle West, according to a report from The Dispatch

Meanwhile, Bespoke Salon Studio is collecting PPE to donate to area hospitals while the salon is closed. Send them a message on instagram at @bespoke_salon_studio_columbus to donate.

Caffeine Karma

The Roosevelt Coffeehouse is collecting donations of coffee for first responders, because, let’s face it, they’re going to need it in the coming weeks. The community can help in two ways: by purchasing $9 healthcare worker bags that the shop will give to first responders, or buy a bag of any coffee for yourself and they’ll donate another bag to a healthcare professional. You can also leave notes of encouragement on the bag. Grab your joe and help a hero at 300 E Long St.

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Arts & Culture

Virtual Experiences bring culture to our couch

614Now

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Now that we're all stuck at home for the foreseeable future, we could use some entertainment beyond hours of Netflix bingeing. And yes, Carole probably did it*

WOSU Public Media has come to the rescue by putting together a list of local, virtual experiences to enjoy from the safety and comfort of your bunker. Here's a list of just a few upcoming events ranging from music to the arts.

Sunday, March 29
Columbus Symphony’s Russian Winter Festival – The Columbus Symphony broadcasts its Russian Winter Festival ll concert, featuring masterpieces by Prokofiev, Borodin, Rimski-Korsakov, and Tchaikovsky at 1 p.m. on Classical 101.

Columbus Goes Live – The Cyber Festival –  A virtual entertainment experience streaming across different pages to support local performers who are directly impacted by the critical shutdowns of venues during the COVID-19 outbreak. Join in and make history by supporting your favorite bands, comedians and performers in the Columbus area.

Why not a virtual bar?

Brewdog is even getting in on the act with its upcoming, Brewdog Online Bar. They plan to "open" for business at 6pm on Friday, March 27th. The bar plans to feature live beer tastings with our co-founders James and Martin and other beer experts, homebrew masterclasses, live music & comedy and more.

Brewdog will be sharing further details soon and a complete schedule of the events on their Twitter and Instagram accounts.

*Carole, as in this Carole.

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