feature written format done by kary, Interview by Drexxin
The journalism industry is a bubble of huge magnitude and standing out is relatively the most difficult accomplishment — a dream only a few have been able to achieve. Such is the story of Jacob Wolf — reporter extraordinaire. Today, we take a look at Jacob’s journey in esports.
Many are unfamiliar and are quite often confused while trying to decode Jacob’s age. A reporter of his caliber, publishing breaking news across different game titles such as Overwatch League and Call of Duty, breaking roster moves and franchise news in North American and European League of Legends, to breaking some of the most confounding scandals in the space — one can definitely assume that he must be a veteran — but don’t let it fool you. Jacob’s been in this industry for around six years and has established himself amongst the elite at a young age of 23.
He started writing at 17 while studying Computer Information Systems after graduating high school early. Initially aspiring to be a feature writer or analyst, akin to the likes of Kelsey Moser, Emily Rand, etc, Jacob was quickly drawn to reporting — a job that has its own unique set of pressures wherein trust and credibility are factored in heavily — and slowly expanded to appearing on four different talk shows on ESPN, per week, including his own, “The Eco”, a weekly Counter Strike: Global Offensive show.
Jacob mentions, “Reporting is hard — it’s hard to build trust with people when you’re new to something, much less when you’re super young and there are people much older and much more successful doing this than you.” His aim was clear; never degrade a fellow reporter to get an advantage, and beat them by outworking them.
One must be thinking that being successful at such a young age is lucky? Perhaps, but being successful this young comes with its own set of challenges. Jacob is quick to add, “Part of being young is being really impatient, which has been both an advantage and a disadvantage for me.” An advantage because at a young age a person, in pursuit of something, is able to grind out his/her work in an increased capacity without risking as much burnout as someone older. The big disadvantage, however, is learning to adapt to a corporate system like ESPN where one has to go through many layers to start working on projects. As Jacob further states, “There’s a very glacial process to get big ideas done, although when they’re complete, they’re very good.”
Jacob Wolf joined ESPN in 2016
Jacob has encountered plenty of people over the course of his career discounting his work not just because he writes about esports, but also because of his age — a factor which further fuels his drive to show people that he’s capable of being as good as any 40+ year-old journalist in his 20s —at least that’s his belief.
A reporter has to go through a smorgasbord of emotions and factors such as fear over their career, lack of comfort, financial temptations – to name a few. Jacob attributes his success in esports journalism to fearlessness. He believes in putting himself out there, trusting his sources and breaking news, no matter the recourse. That said, it is also a reporter’s job to question themselves and the credibility of the news they’re about to publish, and failing to do so might lead to catastrophic and damaging consequences. “You know, I’ve had times where I’ve straight up had threats of blacklisting or career recourse at the hands of a story,” Jacob continues, “but I’ve felt empowered — particularly after my reporting around the disbanding of the ROX Tigers and the way the community has uplifted me since — that reporting the truth will always be the right move, no matter what”.
Similarly, some stories of sexual misconduct by certain individuals or in the case of his story on the Jacksonville shooting a few years ago, and having to report on trauma shortly after its occurrence, has been really challenging and difficult for Jacob to handle. He is quick to add, “Yes, it would be easier to not discuss or work on that stuff, but it’s more important those stories are told to me than it is what adverse effects they could have on my career.”
Speaking of which, many are coming out as of late with their stories on sexual misconduct, and we couldn’t help but ask Jacob about his thoughts on this sensitive topic, ways to become better role models and keeping people safe at events, and whether he’d encounter a similar situation.
He recounts his previous experiences at events where he had to pipe up when someone else was making someone else feel uncomfortable — sometimes unknowingly by the person in question — and having a T.O. or someone else pull them aside and bring to their notice.
“If you see something, say something”, Jacob is quick to chime in, “If you notice someone being predatory towards someone else, you should both bring it up to the attention of the person running the event or someone else who is there to help.”
However, Jacob also mentions that people with a natural tendency to behave that way shouldn’t be allowed to be around at all. He believes that acknowledging these issues and discussing them openly is really, really important and is glad so many people feel empowered right now to speak up as he believes that it’s a discussion that needs to be had for the betterment of the esports industry.
“Sexism, misogyny and sexual abuse isn’t new in esports, nor was it ever a secret, but it’s always been hard to get people to speak on-the-record against powerful abusers in fear of recourse, especially professional career impact”.
To the uninitiated, Jacob Wolf also wrote for our very own publication, Esports Heaven, prior to moving to other avenues. How can we not ask him about his fondest memory at a company that has nurtured legends, ones like himself, in esports?
A career-defining report from Jacob Wolf
Jacob is more than happy to share his fondest memory, and it is none other than the Kori / MeetYourMakers story. He states, “I’ll still never forget the process of breaking the Kori / MeetYourMakers story. That was really a turning point for my career.” Although he doesn’t think fondly of the reporting because what happened to Kori was horrendous but in terms of the process, that was the story that made him want to be a reporter more than a feature writer. “The rush of racing against Richard Lewis, someone I admire, for the same story was pretty invigorating. That adrenaline rush was something else.”
Breaking the Kori story also showed Jacob the reluctance or lack thereof of other outlets that didn’t have the backbone to break that story before Esports Heaven did, an unsurprising but disappointing fact. Jacob attributes this story towards his devotion to good journalism, one that has taught him so much over the years, without which it wouldn’t be the same.
Working for a scoop versus other journalists really satiates Jacob’s competitive drive and is something that he really loves doing. He also enjoys the dopamine rush in winning games and being better than someone else in player-vs-player competition. This is where we sense a hint of contrition — an unfulfilled wish to further explore the opportunity in Call of Duty — a game that he excelled at.
Hailing from a lower middle class family that couldn’t afford to send him off to events to compete in opens, and in part, his family not being comfortable for the same, Jacob had to forego this dream of his due to the high uncertainty of having a high financial upside of a playing career nearly a decade ago. In the end, CoD’s loss was the esports journalism industry’s gain.
Speaking of journalism, we got the chance to discuss how true work ethic has always been a gigantic weak point in esports for newcomers and veterans alike, and whether there was any visible shift for the same, in the last few years. The first thing Jacob does is acknowledge the fact that he has been fortunate enough to get a headstart in building working relationships with people who now work for the business moguls, prior to the influx of hungry and young journalists flocking the industry, seeking to do work similar to that of Jacob’s.
“When I first started there weren’t millionaires or billionaires writing player checks. There are now.”, he adds, “I think getting in touch and building relationships with the people atop the business of the industry now is really difficult because they’re not easily accessible to the average journalist.”
Related: ESH Podcast Episode #0 – Interning in Esports
Furthermore, he keeps encountering younger journalists either having a preconceived notion of the backlash that comes with this job, or unwilling to deal with conflict or controversy. For example, when Jacob breaks a story on a big team or organization, given the moment, it is natural for them to be frustrated.
However, most are aware that there is no mal-intent behind publishing the story as they will always get a phone call from Jacob asking for a comment, before publishing. This is the part where Jacob excels at — doing his job correctly and with respect — all the while maintaining a healthy relationship with his contacts. He continues, “You have to be willing to stand up for yourself in these types of situations and I think the need of that sort of backbone is scary to younger or less-experienced journalists, so they’d rather just not even try.”
Most of us know Jacob through his work in journalism, but many are unaware that our boy wonder has a broad, historical experience outside of esports. He grew up as a musician, learning to sing as well as play the piano and guitar, all thanks to his grandmother. His interest in music encouraged Jacob to set up a record label, with the help of his granddad, for EDM artists that he would run.
The record label came to fruition when Jacob, along with his closest childhood friend, had been DJ’ing smaller events in Atlanta and producing in their spare time and saw that a lot of smaller record labels or lack thereof in that space weren’t doing what Jacob and his friend thought they should.
He ended up learning a lot on the fly through that experience, understanding how to write copy for tracks and albums, animating and creating both static and motion graphics and learning how to deal with an array of personalities.
He adds, “I often remark that learning how to brand musicians helped me understand how to brand myself.”
From the first record label, he went on to acquire another, so he was in charge of two brands, and eventually had shut both down after having a really difficult time with some artists and growing frustrated with how things were going. At the time, Jacob started managing some of the artists he worked with on the side and wanted that to be his focal point. “I pivoted into artist management and although we found moderate success there, there was a moment I snapped and deleted an artist’s account on Soundcloud.”, continuing further, “I was 15, but that doesn’t excuse it. I can’t tell you how many times I regret that decision, even to this day.”
Jacob also sang in the Atlanta Boy Choir, a world-famous touring choir that’s very difficult to get into and held in high prestige. He ended up touring with them in Alaska for a couple of weeks, and I quote, “it was an awesome experience.” However, he ultimately left the choir as he was trying to find a balance between his record label aspirations, his athletic commitments at school (wrestling & football) and his actual academic work.
Little did Jacob know that his decision to continue to work in the music industry would eventually get him introduced to the world of esports. One of the people who worked for him on the first label and became a partner of his in the management agency introduced Jacob to League of Legends in 2012 and that eventually led to his interest in writing about esports, so in the end, it all worked out.
We also asked Jacob to give some words of wisdom, for the aspiring people getting into esports, but to give it a more unconventional spin. His immediate response is self reflection. “For me, the biggest thing is self reflection. I take a lot of time to just ‘think’ and do a mental review of what’s happened in my week and what I want to do, review my goals and set up intermediate goals along the way.”
It may sound silly but it’s effective and has been tremendously useful to Jacob as he has tried to expand his personal life more than solely being focused on his professional one. Having both planned out as best as possible is super important for him. His final words of wisdom before signing off, “Have lots and lots of coffee”.
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