This retired soldier is making a mint teaching pretend warriors how to fight on their computers.
Mark Neace, an ex-Army Intelligence sergeant, coaches people on how to play the video game “League of Legends” — the most popular game played on a competitive level around the world.
While E-sports are gaining traction — even being eyed as an Olympic event — the pool of coaches is still small, and the 33-year-old Virginian has seized the opportunity. He estimates he earned $700,000 last year.
“I’m one of the first video game coaches, so I don’t really have to fight to retain clients, as silly as that sounds,” said Neace, who served a tour in Afghanistan during a four-year military career. “If a fitness trainer heard that, they’d be like, ‘That’s amazing,’ because that’s such a competitive industry and everybody on Instagram is a fitness influencer these days.”
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.
Neace became obsessed with gaming back in the days of dial-up internet access, when his father let him play Command and Conquer, a military strategy game. He eventually got so good, no one bothered to even try beating him.
During high school, Neace snuck into a Halo 2 contest at the University of Maine, acting as the team’s ringer. They stomped the competition and took first place, but Neace was unable to collect his $100 prize when the judges discovered he wasn’t actually a student there.
“That was the a-ha moment for me — to even have an opportunity to win something from gaming,” he said. “I started thinking, ‘There’s got to be something more I can do with this.'”
In 2010, at 21 years old, he was enlisted in the US Army. Serving in the 3rd Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, his job mirrored the games he played — combing over massive amounts of data and preparing combat soldiers on how to best carry out their mission — only with much more at stake. Though he never saw combat, his work directly affected the lives of his fellow soldiers.
“While I was deployed, there was a loss of sleep, a lot of stress and there was always that feeling of responsibility — was I doing enough for these guys to make the right decisions on the battlefield?” he said.
Neace’s journey to becoming a successful gaming coach was a 10-year slog full of financial hard times, long hours making YouTube content and humility, especially when he and his wife had to move in with her parents.
He felt like the dude in a fledgling garage band who should’ve abandoned dreams 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. Overtime and with a constant flow of clients, he was able to triple his prices.
Neace said he wouldn’t fully recommend people follow in his footsteps.
“I put all my chips in the middle on this thing, and it worked, but it very easily couldn’t have,” he said.
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