MIAMI COUNTY — Sometimes following your dreams involves creating something that didn’t exist before.
That’s how Brandon Freytag did it.
Freytag, a Troy resident, left his longtime day job doing marketing for Speedway and a lucrative job at video game streaming site Twitch to create his own company, Loaded, a talent and marketing agency that represents the biggest names in live-streaming and eSports today, including gaming influencers like Ninja, DrDisRespect, DrLupo, LIRIK and many more. And while Freytag’s company, of which he is the CEO, now has a staff of more than 20 people working to represent roughly 40 gaming influencers, it was frightening at the beginning, as nothing quite like it had existed before.
“About three years go, I left Twitch to start this company, and it was a big risk for me,” Freytag said. “My wife, Stacey, was pregnant with number three … but you have to take those big risks to get big rewards sometimes.”
It all began like most dreams do — playing video games with friends.
“I’m originally from Wapakoneta, and in high school, a buddy of mine was really good at video games, especially ‘Counter-Strike,’” Freytag said. “He got to the point where he was so good that he was playing on teams and traveling and winning money. We used to have LANs in my basement to play ‘Counter-Strike’ and watch him play in his high-level matches — we were never good enough to play in those — but hundreds of people would watch him play, and I thought, ‘Man, this is a cool thing. How do I stay involved in this scene?’ So I started thinking about how to get a sponsorship or endorsement just like any other athlete.”
“On a whim, I decided to make a phone call,” Freytag said. “The first call I made at the time was to Razer, back when they had the Boomerang mouse — this was around 2000 or 2001, and they were just beginning to have laser mice. I called them, and they said they’d send us some mice. They sent us a box of five mice for free, and we were sponsored. That was a really big accomplishment for me when I was younger. I just called this company, and they sent us free product and sponsored us. So that clicked, like, “Man, I can take this to the next level.’”
Freytag graduated from Wapakoneta in 2004, and attended college at Bluffton University, where he studied business administration. He also played for Bluffton’s baseball team and is a survivor of the 2007 baseball team bus crash in Atlanta that killed seven people. Through everything, he continued pursuing his dreams and graduated Bluffton in 2008.
“What I enjoyed the most … I was a little different from other students in high school and college,” he said. “When they had time, usually they’d go out and play or whatever. But outside of sports — I played baseball at Bluffton and was on the bus that crashed — my hobby was gaming, and specifically, cold-calling and trying to get sponsorships for these teams.”
Freytag worked with a number of teams, including compLexity and CEVO before creating an eSports team of his own called Loaded. He ran that team as CEO for a team before seeing an opportunity to merge it with a large established team called Evil Geniuses.
“I called their CEO, Alex Garfield, and said we have a couple teams and sponsorships that could be beneficial to EG,” Freytag said. “From a stability standpoint, EG was a big organization at that time, so I sold our company into EG, and it was my home for about eight or nine years. I helped introduce Monster energy drinks into the gaming space with them … and again, this was just my hobby. I worked as a district manager for Speedway at the time.”
That was when Freytag moved his family to Troy to work in the Speedway corporate office in Enon.
“I’d do beverage marketing for Speedway, go do work every single day, then I’d come home and do work on gaming,” he said. “It was a passion of mine. I enjoyed trying to get deals done. When deals happened, that was a rush for me.”
After his successful deal with Monster and bringing other companies like Papa John’s and T-Mobile into the gaming space, Freytag and his Evil Geniuses cohorts saw huge opportunity after opportunity come their way.
“At a point, EG got so big they could have been considered the New York Yankees of gaming, so we created an agency called Good Game to manage a large number of teams,” Freytag said. “About five years ago, we sold that company and everything with it — including ourselves — to Twitch. That was a big-time offer, I wouldn’t have to move to California to work in their San Fransisco home office, I could just work from home, so I left Speedway to pursue my passion full time.”
But again, Freytag was ahead of the curve.
“I worked at Twitch for two years, and during that time, I realized that eSports and the gaming teams have all these endorsements — and individual streamers and influencers could have that same opportunity,” he said. “It was starting to happen a little bit but not to a big scale, so I started a relationship with LIRIK and summit1g by sending them donations to get their attention. Those were the first two guys I ever started working with, who both happen to still be some of the biggest streamers on Twitch.
“I started selling endorsements and sponsorships for them, making them additional revenue outside of streaming. To this day, they’re still with me, and I’m forever grateful to those two guys for giving me a chance. We started there and built this business, and after about two years, I left Twitch. I left on good terms and still love Twitch, but I saw the opportunity to work with and manage influencers.”
And even though the move was a scary one, being unemployed while forming a new company in a field still in its infancy, Freytag had his own representation to help him through.
“The greatest thing about my wife is that she’s been supportive every step of the way,” he said. “We started dating when I was a junior in high school, went to the same college, and when I left my day job at Speedway, she supported me through that. Then when I left Twitch, she was pregnant with our third baby — and she said to me ‘Do what you want to do. If it’s what motivates you, you will succeed.’ She is a big part of how I got here.”
And the big rewards just keep coming.
At 2017’s The Game Awards, DrDisRespect won the award for Trending Gamer. And this year, that award has been changed to Content Creator of the Year, and two of the five nominees — Ninja and DrLupo — are represented by Loaded.
Tyler Blevins, also known as Ninja, however, continues to be the arguably most recognizable influencer, with almost 20 million subscribers on YouTube and more than 12 million followers on Twitch. He has been featured on the cover of ESPN The Magazine’s eSports issue, and he has appeared on the “Ellen” daytime talk show multiple times, including a charity livestream on Friday where, according to a tweet by host Ellen DeGeneres, he helped raise $52,000 for the Ellen DeGeneres Wildlife Fund.
“I saw potential in how he grinds and what he does,” Freytag said of Ninja, whose popularity rose as he streamed the popular battle royale game “Fortnite.”
“He used to play on EG’s ‘Halo’ team, and I’ve known him for six or seven years. We’d always talked about working together in some fashion — and that’s the goal for Loaded. We don’t just go after the big people. We go after the people we see opportunity in. We want to grow gaming as a whole, and part of that is helping people on the cusp of making it bigger. We began working together, and then ‘Fortnite’ happened and the stream with (rapper) Drake happened, and from there everything’s taken off for him.”
Now there are plans for a New Year’s Eve stream, as well as a soundtrack album called “Ninjawerks” as a partnership with Astralwerks Records, as well as many other opportunities for Ninja and all of Loaded’s influencers.
And it all began playing video games with friends back in high school.
“You have to be passionate,” Freytag said. “I enjoy every single day, getting on my computer and going to work, being a part of this scene. We can shape and mold the industry to some degree. We can set the trends.
“And for me, I started by coming home from school and staying up late at night cold-calling companies, and I got a thrill out of that. I’d get on a phone call with a random person and ask if they were interested, and what really drove me was getting that one person to answer me and say ‘sure, let’s talk through it.’”
Contact Josh Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.