- The Jacob Wolf Report
- Why I'm Taking a Role Outside of Journalism, and What's Next
Why I'm Taking a Role Outside of Journalism, and What's Next
When one door closes, another one opens.
For once in my career, I don’t know how to start writing a piece.
I guess I’ll open with the news item: Friday was my last day of being a full-time journalist. Yesterday was my first day of being a solutions engineer at beehiiv, the rapidly-growing and fantastic newsletter platform that is sending you this email and/or hosting the site you’re reading this on.
But this isn’t the end of my journalism journey. In fact, I’m thankful that beehiiv is encouraging its employees to have side hustles and that we’re aligned that I will continue to do the journalism and production work I’m actively doing outside of my regular job. My podcast, Visionaries, will continue, this newsletter will resume its regular cadence of two-to-three times a week, and mine and Mikhail’s Patreon will still provide the same premium, exclusive content on the gaming industry and its players.
But, that said, I wanted to write a little bit more personally today about why I’m taking on a role outside of journalism for the first time in a decade, how I feel about it, and the process that led me here—and the unfortunate nature of what’s happening in gaming and media right now.
I. The Beat
I’ve spent much of 2023 chronicling how esports is dying. It’s almost exhausting writing about it at the cadence I was. Layoffs every week, leagues significantly downsizing or closing up shop, and every day on Twitter, some new discussion about how we can save the industry.
The thing is: We can’t.
Esports as we’ve known it for the past six or so years is going away, and what is replacing it is a community-driven hobbyist industry much similar to 2014. The investors and platforms like Twitch who artificially propped up the industry in times like 2018 to 2021 are no longer here. Thousands of jobs have already been eliminated in our industry, and I foresee thousands of more going away soon enough.
All of this boils down to engagement in esports being extremely low, and the goal of monetizing this consumer is nearly impossible. Viewership on many of the major leagues is down, sponsorship dollars are shrinking and many direct-to-consumer subscription models haven’t proved viable.
Over the past six-or-so months since we launched our Patreon, my team and I have spent a significant amount of time identifying who our power readers, listeners and watchers are, and targeting them with direct outreach.
Unfortunately, what we’ve learned is that many of these people are struggling financially—a lot due to layoffs—and even though they want to support our content fiscally, they can’t. Many others have told us that they’re just not at a stage in life where they can afford any subscription, be it because their job doesn’t pay as much as they’d like, or because they’re in school and aren’t working.
Esports takes a lot of time to get into, from playing the games to keeping up on the meta to watching and consuming the tournaments. So, the audience that gravitates toward esports often consists of people with more free time—which can, and I’d argue frequently does, correlate inversely with their disposable income.
I’ve heard a lot of arguments about how youth esports, in middle and high schools and colleges, is creating a groundswell movement, which I don’t disagree with. But in the short term, it doesn’t fix the problem. Those students don’t have the income to pay for content.
And this isn’t just a problem plaguing me, an investigative reporter who tends to be a little loudmouthed on social media and isn’t exactly universally beloved. Far less controversial colleagues are experiencing this difficulty, too.
Some of the most devoted readers I’ve had aren’t even active in esports anymore. I tend to have a good memory for names and profile pictures on social media, and when I’ve looked up some of these people who were around early in my career, I’ve noticed they’ve moved on in life.
They’re doing the things that most late-20- and early-30-year-olds are doing: Advancing their careers, keeping themselves busy; getting married and family planning; and taking up other hobbies outside of gaming and esports.
I’m happy to see people I’ve been so appreciative of have great lives, but I’ve also spent the past six weeks mourning a little. The beat I helped establish is basically dead.
I’ve asked myself if I should’ve pivoted to more mainstream gaming and the creator economy sooner (answer: yes). I’ve thought about if I should’ve had different priorities in 2022 and 2023 (answer: yes). And I’ve wondered what I could’ve done differently.
The last one I’ve beat myself up a lot over.
I’ve spent entire days feeling totally depressed, cycling through my entire career, asking questions about certain points. Thankfully, my wife and some good friends have shut down this negativity really fast and tried to help me frame my decade-long career as a learning experience. I won’t say they’ve been entirely successful, but it’s a work in progress.
That said, I’m 26. I’ll be 27 in two months. It’s easy to hit the 10-year mark in journalism and start thinking existentially, but I started this when I was 17. I’ve done more in a decade than many journalists do in a lifetime. I should be proud and I should be thankful for the lessons learned. I’m working on that.
II. Media at Large, Entrepreneurship and Fundraising
You might’ve seen this past week the news about The Messenger.
If not, here’s a quick recap: A successfully-exited media entrepreneur in his 70s fundraised $50 million from his rich friends to launch an apolitical news site. He made huge promises about revenue—$100 million in 2024!—and hired 300 people, including some very prominent and successful journalists, to work in the newsroom.
Less than a year later, it’s dead. The Messenger was plagued by overspending ($8 million on office space?!) and couldn’t draw eyeballs en masse, because issues like domain score on Google, which is how you surface in search and Google News, take time to build. Three hundred people out of jobs just in a snap.
I read The Messenger news and immediately thought of VENN, the now-defunct media company that once proclaimed its goal to be the “MTV of gaming.”
VENN raised $38 million from a who’s-who of investors interested in gaming, from the co-founders of Riot Games and Blizzard to sports magnates like the Kroenke and Wilf families. Like The Messenger, VENN overspent on all the wrong things, and within a year of its launch, it was dead, too.
I mention both because, for the past two years, I’ve spent a lot of my time trying to fundraise, and I can’t get through a call without VENN coming up. It automatically puts a sour taste in most investors’ mouths about what gaming media can be.
It doesn’t matter that we’ve tried to raise significantly less than VENN—$4 million, compared to $38 million—or that our expenses on things like a studio don’t even exist. VENN’s failure soiled outside investors’ thoughts on a market opportunity that to me is not only blatantly obvious, but also extremely lucrative.
I know entrepreneurship is about marathons and not sprints, and that fundraising, in particular, is something that requires a ton of self-confidence and letting rejections roll off your back. But I’m not just talking about facing “no’s.” I’m talking about weeks, even months, of due diligence, only for things to fall apart at the one-yard line for reasons out of my control. I’ll give you an example without saying which company I’m referring to.
In May 2022, a major media company reached out to me, seeking to really build a big name for itself in the gaming industry. One of its writers had recommended me for a staff position, and one of its lead editors contacted me.
For the next five months, I spent time with three senior leaders—in person and virtually—and I felt like at the end, we had a good deal. The company would hire me full-time as a reporter, make an investment in Overcome, push our audio and video work out to the masses, and collaborate on major TV and film projects. It was perfect.
Then I got into the final meeting with the executive who’d have to sign off on this whole plan. He showed up 18 minutes late. The meeting was scheduled for an hour, which he later questioned (even though his assistant scheduled it). We spoke for 13 minutes total, and he made a series of remarks that functionally discredited the nine years of work I had done in journalism.
Yeah… I wish I could say that was the only time something like this happened. It wasn’t.
I think what we want to do—a subscriber-backed media company in gaming, nerd culture and the creator economy—is absolutely possible. But I’ve spent so much of the past 18 months worried about how we’re going to pay the bills rather than being able to actually realize that vision. So it feels like it’s time to put it on the backburner for a bit.
As you might be able to tell from this post, I’ve spent the past six weeks rapidly going through the five stages of grief.
Financially, it’s been really tough. I’ve gone into debt trying to make Overcome work. I’ve not paid myself a salary since October. And due to a series of untimely and unexpected expenses, we’ve had some issues with payroll that I wish I could’ve adverted sooner with the hindsight. I’ve also neglected my health significantly while trying to find solves for all of this.
At some point it became really clear to me: My next full-time job couldn’t be in journalism.
I feel confident that I could go work at just about any of the existing gaming news sites, but the pay is abysmal at almost all of them.
Right now I’m the primary provider for our household, and that means that I can’t take a pennies sum to continue doing what I want to do. And, frankly, I didn’t want to have to write a bunch of meaningless, SEO-focused bullshit just to maintain a job. I know so many friends who do this, and many hate working. I don’t want to hate my work.
So I thought a lot about what would be next, and how I could continue to do my journalism work as a side hustle, while maintaining steady income and enjoying what I do for a living.
At Overcome the past six months, I’ve become really enthralled with the technical side of some of what we were doing. So when the role at beehiiv opened up, to help enterprise customers—like many of the big media companies I’ve worked around my entire career—migrate to its platform, I jumped at it.
I’m happy, too, that this won’t be a goodbye to journalism per se. Like I said, we’re still going to keep writing, and Visionaries is still going to continue. The little amount of money I was paying myself is instead going to go to cleaning up any past debts and then paying contract editors to maintain the work we’re doing.
I want to prioritize myself in 2024, because in 2022 and 2023, I neglected myself a whole lot. I want to be more active and I want to be able to take a real vacation (I haven’t since 2019). I want to feel like I’m making a significant change outside of just chronicling the demise of an industry.
I’m still not fully through those five stages, though, and I think this year, there will be a lot of mental health work to be done to get there. But I’m confident in myself, and I’m excited for this next stage in my life.