This retired soldier is teaching consciousness warriors how to fight on their computers.
Mark Nees, a former Army intelligence sergeant, teaches people how to play the video game “League of Legends” — the most popular game played competitively around the world.
While eSports is gaining traction — even being eyed as an Olympic event — the pool of coaches is still small, and the 33-year-old Virginian jumped at the chance. He estimates he made $700,000 last year.
“I’m one of the first video game instructors, so I don’t really have to fight to keep clients, as silly as that sounds,” said Neese, who did a tour in Afghanistan during his four-year military career. “If a fitness trainer were to hear this, they’d be like, ‘That’s amazing,’ because it’s a competitive industry and everyone on Instagram these days is a fitness influencer.”
Charging $250 to $300 for 90-minute online sessions, Neace trains more than 1,000 clients a year — including 49ers defensive tackle Kalia Davis; Glassdoor founder Robert Hohman; and popular YouTuber and world-class gamer Richard Blevins, also known as Ninja.
Nees became obsessed with gaming during the days of dial-up Internet access, when his father let him play the military strategy game Command and Conquer. Eventually he became so good, no one tried to beat him.
While in high school, Ness competed in the Halo 2 tournament at the University of Maine, serving as the team’s ringer. They won the competition and won first place, but Nees was unable to collect his $100 prize when the judges discovered he was not a student there.
“It was a one-of-a-kind moment for me — just to have the chance to win something from gaming,” he said. “I started thinking, ‘There’s more I can do to this.'”
In 2010, at the age of 21, he enlisted in the US Army. While serving in the 3rd Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, his job mirrors the games he played — gathering massive amounts of data and preparing warfighters how to best accomplish their mission — only with a lot more at stake. Although he never saw combat, his work directly affected the lives of his fellow soldiers.
“When I was deployed, there was little sleep, there was a lot of stress and there was always a sense of responsibility — was I doing enough for these guys to make the right decisions on the battlefield?” he said
Nice’s 10-year journey to becoming a successful gaming coach was a 10-year fraught with financial hardships, hours of YouTube content and humility, especially when he and his wife had to move in with her parents.
He felt like a friend in a new garage band who should have given up on his dream of making it big years ago.
“Even my own parents were like, ‘When are you going to get a real job?’” he said.
His wife encouraged him to start his own website where he initially charged $100 for a coaching session and it quickly took off. With overtime and a steady flow of customers, he was able to triple his prices.
Nees said he wouldn’t absolutely recommend that people follow in his footsteps.
“I put all my chips in the middle on this thing, and it worked, but it wasn’t easy,” he said.