“There’s actually kind of a crazy story,” Bailey ‘Klemm’ Klemmensen begins. “They had a haircut place at Walmart, my mom’s at Walmart getting groceries, she said, ‘OK… Your hair looks raggedy, you can get whatever you want.’ So, being the little 12-year-old kid I was, I was like, ‘Well, I’m getting a mohawk if I get to choose.’ And so I cut my hair into a mohawk.”
“She absolutely has a heart attack, she flips out. And so she’s [says], ‘No, now you’re going to have to buzz it off,’ so I go back in and they buzz it off. We get home and she’s looking at my head and there’s this really weird spot on my head. It’s abnormal size, it’s elevated off my scalp, it’s got some… weird coloration to it.”
“I go to the dermatologist, they take it off, they send it away, it comes back as stage one melanoma.”
In the seven years since his cancer scare, Klemm has become a pro Fortnite player, won one of the first ever Fortnite college scholarships, pursued a medical degree, and founded his very own company. And, every now and then, he visits his dermatologist, too.
“Actually, I’m lucky enough,” he explains, “My dermatologist up in Chicago is the same one for the Chicago Cubs.”
From 12-year-old baseball standby to 19-year-old esports superstar, Klemm has had his fair share of ups and downs, and not just on his head. We at Syft had the opportunity to talk to the driven student and entrepreneur about his gaming history, his intersections in medical study, and his future as a CEO.
Klemm explains that back then, he had been “Playing baseball pretty much 24/7 since the time [he] could walk.” Before his melanoma was discovered, he was “Playing for a really stacked baseball team” and “Had [his] eyes set on playing division one baseball at some point in college.” But soon, that plan fell apart. Forced to sit out for eight weeks in recovery, separated from his former passion, Klemm grew restless while trapped in his room, struggling with his mental health. At least, that was before he transferred his energy to a new hope: gaming.
While he couldn’t spend time with his friends on the baseball diamond, he could spend time with them in Modern Warfare lobbies.“That’s kind of what really, I guess, got me to fall in love with games,” Klemm adds. “People think, ‘Oh, we’re being antisocial,’ but a lot of the time, like, we’re really good friends, like genuinely good friends with the people we’re playing with.”
As Klemm spent more and more time with friends online, his mental health skyrocketed. What’s more, he established a personal link between his long-held dedication to studying medicine and his newfound excitement for gaming. “School is very important to me… I’ve known I’ve wanted to be a doctor for a long time,” Klemm explains. “There’s just all of these interconnected, you know, personal issues.”
Despite his passion for medicine, Klemm had a rough time in high school, as he resented the way it circulated institutionalized, narrow lines of thinking. He reveals, “I hated high school, I hated everything about high school, I hated the environment, I hated the classes I was taking.” That’s why, for college, he knew he had to go all-out.
At that time, he was practicing Fortnite almost religiously and had achieved moderate success on a national scale. This made him a perfect candidate for select universities across the nation which were offering Fortnite scholarships for proficient players. The only catch was, all those universities required gameplay clips from players as proof of proficiency.
One fateful night, Klemm explains, “I was playing solo squads [and] practicing, and I ended up 1v4ing a squad that was like not terrible in Tilted Towers with 20 HP. And it was by far the best clip I’d ever hit in my life and honestly probably still would be the best clip that I’d hit today.”
Soon, he was recruited by Illinois Wesleyan University, and after a couple successful scrimmage sessions with the team, he was brought on board with a max offer.
Klemm loved playing Fortnite with his university, but the lifestyle soon presented its own strand of unique challenges. “My schedule at school was kind of crazy,” he explains, “I was going like 8AM to 2AM every single day… I got done with class around 2 or 3, at the latest 4, and then I’d go play Fortnite until probably like 9, and then at 9 I’d do 5 or 6 hours of homework.”
What’s more, he found himself gravitating more towards the space in-between health and esports than towards the competitive scene. Talking about the unexplored pathways of “seasonal affective disorder,” he lights up. “We see a lot of seasonal behavior, it’s called a seasonal affective disorder, which is essentially seasonal depression, but it has to do with fluctuating melatonin levels,” Klemm explains. “Serotonin levels, dropping dopamine levels… And you’ve seen a ton in esports. It’s actually something I’m doing research in right now.”
As he thought of what challenge to take on next, Klemm also reflected back on the time he’d spent convincing his parents in the first place of esports’ positive effects. “There’s such a big socialization aspect of esports that I genuinely don’t think that parents understand,” he says. “It’s a balance, right, and… Some parents don’t care at all… Other parents are very overly structured.”
With his studies ramping up and his attention prioritized elsewhere, Klemm made a difficult decision that would change his life’s trajectory. He retired from competitive Fortnite to pursue a new goal: founding and operating his own company, Balanced Esports.
“One of the things that’s lacking in esports is the connection between mental and physical health and games,” Klemm explains. Balanced Esports seeks to bridge that divide by connecting players to helpful resources on all things gaming and health, including tips on time management, advice on managing anger and frustration, and steps on “Overcoming the parent block.”
What’s more, the organization seeks to benefit from Klemm’s competitive background. “Most of the people that are doctors now… Haven’t really been inside of esports… 99% of those people have never competed, they don’t understand what that grind looks like,” Klemm says. “I do really think it’ll take somebody like me who’s played professionally at some point in their life, who understands what it takes to get to that level, but then also has the educational background to say, ‘Hey, this is a serious problem.’”
Because of Klemm’s rich competitive background and medical history, he can target individualized, specific problems affecting gamers’ health such as poor sleep schedules. He explains that some of the biggest players in the game are tweeting out things like “‘I can’t sleep, I can’t sleep… I have a terrible sleep schedule. Well, that’s all circadian rhythms. So, one of the things about esports is it’s very circadian rhythm-disrupting, which— a circadian rhythm is just a fancy word for your internal clock. And it’s directly connected to the blue light waves emitted from your monitor. You know, those excite neurons that kind of make your hormones fluctuate.”
“There’s all these scientific processes in esports that are just kind of overlooked,” Klemm furthers. “One of my goals over the course of the next couple years is to get on a panel with people like Ninja… like Tfue or TimtheTatMan and just talk about it. And just bring awareness to an audience, because I think a lot of it is just a lack of knowledge.”
”The real reason Balance was born was in an effort to progress esports farther into society,” Klemm finishes. “We’re there to help people and support… And we’ve got big things coming.”
If 12-year-old Klemm could see what his older self was up to, he’d have a much easier time convincing his parents to let him stay online. Everything in Klemm’s history— the heartrending cancer scare, the trials and tribulations of competitive Fortnite, the grind of medical study— has brought him to where he is now, and the future looks bright.
Maybe someday, a little kid trapped at home with a melanoma scar on their head will tune into a stream with Klemm, Ninja, Tfue, and whoever else has put in the work, and they’ll feel a little more balanced.