Vinton entrepreneur hopes to make it Reign with video game team
Brent Beckner stopped playing in professional video game competitions years ago, but that hasn t kept him out of the industry altogether.
He s now the founder and CEO of The Roanoke Reign, a national video game organization that he runs remotely from his Vinton home.
The rest of Reign s managers and 16 professional players are scattered across the country. There s FluxWolf, a Super Smash Bros. player from Minnesota, and Murdastick, a Counter-Strike player in Maryland. Reign recruits the players, organizes teams and sets a tournament schedule. The organization also brings on sponsors and pays for portions of player travel expenses and tournament fees. If one of Reign s teams wins, the organization takes a cut of the prize and the players get the rest. The business, which was founded as Virtue Gaming in 2015 but recently changed its name, is part of the booming yet often underestimated world of professional gaming known as eSports.
Top players range from teenagers to those in their early 20s. They can earn well over $1 million in prizes each year, not including sponsorship deals or what they get paid to live stream practice sessions for fans. The sport quietly grew a niche following for years and only recently has started to receive mainstream attention. Competitions now routinely sell out arenas all over the world. In 2014, more people watched the League of Legends championship on television and online than watched the World Series or NBA Finals that year. In 2016, ESPN joined the craze and announced a major push to expand coverage of video game competitions.
There s a stigma about it that you can t make a living off gaming, that it s just a guy sitting in his basement at his mother s house, Beckner said. That s just not the case.
Beckner, 24, demurred on questions about exactly how much his players earn, but he did say no one with Reign is anywhere near the elite class of gamers who bring home seven-figure salaries. Even for Beckner, the business is a side gig he works as a security guard for a private company during the day. Beckner first discovered his passion for video games in 1999, when he would play with his older brother and hand the controller off whenever he reached levels too difficult for a 7-year-old.
Being 10 years apart, it was always kind of difficult to find something we had in common, Beckner said of his brother. But gaming was one of the few things. He bought his own Xbox in 2004, playing Halo with his girlfriend under the screen name RoaPD. (Beckner said he s always wanted to be a Roanoke police officer.)
It started as casual games after school, but soon he was playing for 14 hours at a time. Most of the tournaments back then were online, so Beckner said they were easy to fit in around his schedule.
I wasn t making enough to solely survive off tournament income; granted, back then I was in high school, Beckner said. I was definitely making more than an average $7.25-an-hour job.
Beckner switched to Call of Duty, a war-themed game, while attending Virginia Western Community College a few years later. That s when he took things to the next level, signing sponsorship deals and traveling for tournaments. By 2011, Beckner said he was playing video games for about 12 hours a day, seven days a week. That s when he decided it all had become too much.
There were times when you were just burned out, but that s with any job, Beckner said. For the most part, you still have that passion behind every match. I, personally, just sucked at time control. That s really what it boiled down to. Beckner took a few years off before rejoining the industry on the management side of things.
Reign is still a young organization, but it s slowly building a name for itself. Over the past two years, Reign s teams have placed within the top 10 at more than 20 competitions. Next, Beckner said he hopes to recruit more content creators, or gamers who record themselves playing for fans to watch. Beckner says he s also found a better balance for his own life in his new management role. He has a 15-month-old son and is expecting another early next month. Most of his video game gear has been moved to storage. When he does play, Beckner said it s usually so his son can sit on his lap and pretend to control the game.
My Xbox is still at the house, but it s used for Netflix only anymore, Beckner said. It went from Call of Duty to Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. Which, you know, I m not complaining.