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A Student, A Dad, and A Dream: A Syft Interview with Crimz and Dave

“What part of Long Island is your dad from?” Dave asks.

“Plainview, Old Bethpage area,” I reply.

“I’m from Roslyn!”

Several minutes of Jewish Geography later, and we’re all still laughing. This story sums up our conversation: Fortnite pro Jordan ‘Crimz’ Herzog, founding member of COPE and his father David ‘Dave’ Herzog, and I, writer Isaac ‘Izzy’ Salant, spent an hour-and-a-half discussing life, gaming, college, and their story. While none of us could see each other, I know they were smiling.

Because I was grinning ear to ear.

A Student, A Dad, and A Dream: A Syft Interview with Crimz and Dave 4

An Origin Story

The interview kicked off like one would expect: we hopped into a discord call, exchanged pleasantries, and I found out that they live right near where I went to college, standard stuff. Then, in true father fashion, Dave started to tell me how proud he was of his son.

“He has so much to be proud of,” Dave says, beaming brighter than the green discord audio light surrounding his square. “He’s done fantastic!” And it was in that moment I knew, before asking any more questions, that one thing would ring true: Crimz and his father shared a bond, one full of support and love.

I was right.

Dave describes himself as a “unique dad.” His own father was a radiologist and was in tech, so Dave had “the first everything.” The first computers, the first home systems, PCs, TVs, etc. He also had brain surgery.

“My mind was focused not just on school, but also on having fun. For me, it was all about gaming and sports, though the sports took a backburner after surgery.” This left the former as an outlet, something he’s been doing his whole life.

So, when Crimz told me he’d been playing video games since the age of 4, it was all too easy to think, “Like father like son.”

Since starting at 4, Crimz’s video game journey has only grown. He began playing games on his Xbox, “never a PC game.” It just wasn’t his element, though that would soon change. As he continued to play, Crimz consistently found himself in the FPS genre, with CoD and Halo, adding that one of the biggest draws to the games was their online capability.

This origin story is one which could be applied to many streamers as well as those who aren’t professionals, but there was one thing which set Crimz apart from others: he was good. Really good.

“He started doing really well in games,” recalls his father. “At a young age he started destroying me even though I taught him. I would go to the biggest conventions across the country, and he would win the tournaments at age 11 and 12. He’d never picked up a mouse, except in his computer classes, and still did amazingly.”

It was then I learned of another aspect which allowed Crimz to reach the heights he’d attained in Fortnite: Dave not only supported his son’s choices, but made sure he had the resources to go pro.

Going Pro

“[That’s] one true advantage Jordan had,” continued Dave. “To see some of these kids with their parents who were totally against them, and to see them do very well despite not being appreciated, that’s even more to be applauded, but he had less stress there. I’m applauding my son.”

Crimz elaborated.

“My dad was very supportive,” he said. “He was always supportive of me playing video games, and supported me going pro, which was my dream!” The excitement was ever-present in his voice. His father, while touched, made sure to add this note:

“I knew if I gave him the resources, he would do well!” started Dave. “And he did it all on his own. He researched everything, what to enter, what tournaments to compete in, and I didn’t need to help him through all of it.”

David Herzog posed for a portrait with his son Jordan.
Image Courtesy of The Boston Globe

When he decided to become professional, Crimz had transitioned to Fortnite. As mentioned, he had always been a fan of the FPS genre, and Fortnite was a place he was able to truly shine. In fact, Crimz is one of the few players in the world who’s made every FNCS and Fortnite World Cup.

“There’s probably 10 people who have made every FNCS, but that number is cut in half when we talk about people who have also gotten to the Grand Finals,” he added.

“Wow,” I said, still trying to fully grasp how much skill is required to pull something like that off. The followup question should’ve been, “How did you manage that?” but it wasn’t. Because I knew, while it’s always touching to hear a father-son story, this extended even further.

Dave took Crimz out of in-person school.

A Fight for Education

Now, I knew this going into the interview, but hearing it again really made the impact sink in. Dave believed in his son enough to pull him out of regular school so he could pursue his dream. It wasn’t as if Crimz was struggling; far from it. He was doing incredibly well in school, and as he discussed his class schedule with me, I reminisced on my own experience with AP courses. His father made sure his homework was completed, and after a single conversation with Crimz, it’s clear he’s a brilliant student.

The problem lied in balancing time. Going to school for 8 hours a day then doing homework for honors and AP classes means grind and practice time can run until late into the night. His father thought, ‘If he’s good enough to be a pro, and is clearly able to hold his own in school, why not take online classes?’ This way, he would continue to get an education while still having time to hone his craft. Everyone wins: seems like an easy thing for a school district to agree to.

But nothing is easy.

“We wanted to pull him out and they argued with us,” Dave recalled. “They had him tested, they called us to meetings, they wanted to show every which way possible that he shouldn’t leave.”

It was a continuous battle, but they refused to back down. Crimz was even put in a part-time special private school actors and olympians attend when they need special accommodations for their schedules. Even so, it still proved to be more stress on Crimz’s career, so Dave made the ultimate decision to pull Crimz out of both.

Then, the school district sued.

“They said we were crazy for going to online school and pursuing video games. They weren’t suing us for the money, they were suing us for his education,” said Dave. “When [students] are actors or olympians, they said it would be fine, but for video games they didn’t allow it, it was foolish!” Dave wasn’t mad, however; he’s told this story a thousand times. His tone reflected something different, almost disappointment, that people still don’t see the value of professional gaming, how much work goes into it, and how much it matters.

However, it seems the law did, as the suit was thrown out by the courts a few days later. Now, over $100k in tournament earnings later, it’s clear this was the right decision.

Enter Bryan Hummel

The day before I spoke with Dave and Crimz, I had the opportunity to talk with Bryan Hummel, a Massachusetts native who is an Esports Business and Management professor at Emerson University and the Director of Esports at Bay State College. For those unaware, Bay State is a college in Boston, and one where the only collegiate sports team is in esports.

It’s also less than two hours away from my alma mater, UMass Amherst.

After bonding for over half of what was originally supposed to be a 30 minute interview, Bryan broke things down for me.

“For the people who don’t think esports is a thing, I have this to say to them. You don’t just have to look at the superstars like Ninja or Tfue, you can look at the little guys with 50-100 viewers, and are doing content creation, and they’re making more than what their parents are making. There are more job offerings in the esports industry than other jobs.”

Bryan paused, knowing that while this speech may fall on some deaf ears, mine were primed and 100 percent in agreement. He continued. “It’s a whole new industry that is booming, and if you want to be skeptical about it, then you’re going to miss out on making an honest living or holding back from it.”

It’s this message that Bryan explores in his classes and reiterates when coaching collegiate esports: the industry is only growing. What’s more, Bryan doesn’t just see gaming’s future; it’s also ingrained in his past.

“Back in 2001, when the first Xbox came out, my uncle bought it for me, and with it, Halo and Counter-Strike,” Bryan said, recalling the memory as if he was experiencing it live. “I remember, they used to have these local Halo events, and I was beating everyone at like 7 or 8 years old. People at the local high school would challenge me to ‘show me who was boss.’” He also told me that when he was little, his mother used to take him to a store in his hometown to buy Pokemon cards every week.

After expressing my admiration for such a feat, I shared that I can count on two hands the amount of times I’ve played Halo, and to say I’ve improved each time would be a lie.

He laughed in a way I hope was genuine rather than sympathetic, and we continued on.

Much like Crimz, this early entry into the gaming world was just the start. After dominating the game and reaching level 50 in online play, Bryan entered other avenues within gaming, staying within the community he loves so much and finding ways to make a living doing it. In fact, he was able to put himself through college by playing Destiny. He started the esports club at his school, was a top competitive PUBG player, and helped his friends at other colleges create their own esports spaces. To list all of his accomplishments would make this article one of the longest on the site by itself, so Bryan, I hope you can forgive me for capturing your origin story in a few paragraphs.

With a huge background in gaming, it makes an enormous amount of sense he would pick a career which not only allowed him to stay within the world of gaming, but also help the next generation of players enter it.

Especially at Bay State.

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Image Courtesy of Bay State College

“I’m making sure that this school is the school to go to for esports on the east coast,” he said. “I’ve made 20 people’s dreams come true, and I am looking to try and keep it going.”

It’s All Coming Together

So where does this leave us? Where does the story take our heroes, a doting and supportive father, a Fortnite champion son, and an innovative esports coach?

It brings them together.

In recent months, Crimz hasn’t been streaming often, though I did convince him to play in our Rocket League tournament, in part because the Fortnite scene has turned toxic, and also in part because Crimz is looking towards the next stage of his future: college.

When we brought up the topic, even though I couldn’t see them, I could feel Crimz’s eyes light up. He tells me that, since he was online for most of his high school career, he’s really looking forward to “the college experience,” (COVID-pending) should he be accepted to his top school.

That school? Bay State.

“I remember when I was talking to Dave and Crimz about it,” Bryan recalled. “Dave told me, ‘This is the first time he’s seen him this excited, other than going to the world cup.’”

And he has many reasons to be excited. Following the completion of Crimz’s graduation and acceptance requirements, if admitted to Bay State, under their current scholarship model he would be eligible to receive a full scholarship. Also, if Crimz attends, he’d be playing on the same team as his friend, “Dictator Connor,” who introduced Bryan to Crimz in the first place. Connor and Bryan met through Connor’s twitch stream, and after Bryan brought up the idea of college, “four months later, he was on the team.”

“Connor asked me if I knew about Crimz and I said of course I did, and then he asked if I wanted to talk to him. I said, ‘No way he wants to come here and talk!’ and next thing you know I’m speaking with Dave, Crimz, and his mom,” Bryan said, his excitement on par with Crimz and Dave themselves.

So, they started talking. And all sides tell me the same thing. There was an instant connection. Crimz sees an opportunity to play with a friend and on a team that truly wants him to reach a high potential while also giving him a college education. His Dad sees a chance to not only see his son go to college, but also support him in doing what he loves. Bryan sees a spot for an amazing player on his team and a dream he can make come true.

It was amazing to see all of their excitement, but Bryan breaks down another story for me, which shows this was truly a trio Crimz was fated to enjoy.

Bryan’s had a connection to Crimz and his father for years. That store he used to go to to get Pokemon cards? It was owned by Dave.

“I talked to Dave before I had talked to Crimz, and he brought up this store nearby where I used to live,” said Bryan. “I probably met Dave, even Crimz, like 30 times when I was kid, not knowing our paths would cross again.”

Should Crimz be accepted to Bay State, Bryan will not only have crossed paths with Crimz, but shaped them.

“[Crimz] is not giving up on Fortnite, but wants to go to college for his future!” Dave excitedly tells me. “This is an important stepping stone.”

Looking Forward

Until Crimz has finished his application and receives official acceptance from Bay State, all of this is still speculative, though truly desired nonetheless. In the meantime, Crimz will continue to play and practice while also focusing on finishing high school and fulfilling other necessary college acceptance requirements.

This story isn’t over; in fact, it’s just beginning.

And we can’t wait to see where it goes next.

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