Adam Rymer — CEO at OpTic Gaming on 1980’s Internet Nerds, Adapting to Napster, and the Future of Esports

July 6, 2022 by  Chris Erwin

Today we publish our 24th podcast episode with Adam Rymer, CEO of OpTic Gaming. Links to listen and full transcript are below.

We discuss what he learned from running Harvard’s campus store, adapting to Napster at Universal Music, why entertainment doesn’t value innovation, being on Universal Pictures’ greenlight committee, scaling Legendary Digital and working alongside Chris Hardwick and Amy Poehler, how to create communities for gamers, why he plays Fornite with his son, and how to follow your own roadmap.

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Interview Transcript

The interview was lightly edited for clarity.

Chris Erwin:

This week’s episode features Adam Rymer, CEO of OpTic Gaming. So Adam was born in Fort Lauderdale and it was a self-described ’80s internet nerd. That meant hanging out on internet bulletin boards and attending internet meetups at bowling alleys. His online passions paid off and he ended up going to Harvard after writing an admission essay, comparing entertainment dollars versus grocery store dollars. Adam’s early career included Universal Music where three months after beginning his new role Napster was launched. And Adam had to figure out questions like, “What now? And who do we sue?” After rising up to the exec ranks at Universal Adam then struck out on his own to co-founder production company that worked on projects like the Rover and sci-fi hit arrival. He then became president at nerd and legendary networks where he helped build a multi-platform media business alongside stars like Chris Hardwick and Amy Poehler today. Adam is the CEO of OpTic Gaming, where he is helping to grow and scale one of the world’s most exciting companies operating at the intersection of gaming and entertainment.

Chris Erwin:

Adam, thanks for being on The Come Up Podcast.

Adam Rymer:

Great to be here, man. Good to see you.

Chris Erwin:

Yeah. So where are you calling in from?

Adam Rymer:

I am in Dallas, been here about two years now.

Chris Erwin:

Are you in the Envy offices right now?

Adam Rymer:

We are. I moved here in the middle of COVID and we’ve been, believe it or not, working mostly in the office since I got here.

Chris Erwin:

Like to hear that people getting back to the office environment. Well, we’re going to talk about Envy more, but actually want to rewind a bit, Adam. So going back a few years here, I want to hear about where you grew up and a little bit of what your childhood was like to see if there’s any kind of glimpses into this media and digital executive that you’ve become.

Adam Rymer:

I am a Florida man. I grew up in Fort Lauderdale. Born in Miami, grew up in Fort Lauderdale, ’70s and ’80s which whatever anybody thinks about Miami and south Florida now is not what it was like when I was there. It was retiree paradise. And then the occasional spring break debauchery but of course, I was too young to really understand and appreciate any of it. So I just saw all these college kids coming in and thinking that would be awesome. And then by the time I was actually old enough to enjoy spring break, that it all gotten kicked out of south Florida and moved to Daytona and Cancun and wherever else. So missed out on all the benefit of all of it. But Florida was an interesting place to grow up in the ’70s and ’80s. Left at 17, never really went back, but definitely helped shape my desire to stay someplace warm for the rest of my life.

Chris Erwin:

Okay. So I have to ask you, what was your household like growing up? Were your parents into the same things that you’re into now, media entertainment, digital gaming, gaming, what that looked like back in the day was very different, but what did your parents do and what were some of your early inspirations?

Adam Rymer:

My dad was a physician. He was an immigrant. My mom helped run the household. I had a younger sister who was six years younger than I. And so we were not overly close partially because of the age difference. And partially because we were just into different things, I was probably what you would call a quintessential nerd back in the day when it was very, very uncool to be a nerd. I got an Apple 2e when I was, I don’t know, probably like eight or 10 years old and was goofing around on that with floppy discs and playing Zork and all the text base games and whatever else I could get my hands on. I remember connecting to BBSs back in the day. That was how I spent a lot of my free time.

Chris Erwin:

But BBS?

Adam Rymer:

Yeah. BBS was a bulletin board system. It was the modern, the old precursor to, I guess what you’d call like a social media network today. It was dial-in multi-communication platform where you could type and talk to other people and play games with people online, text-based games for the most part and south Florida, believe it or not, was actually the hub of some of the biggest BBS companies in the .country every now and then we’d go to meetups with people who were on these, these services, but you’d get online and play trivia and you’d play just chat with each other. And I guess back in the day, you’d consider it pretty weird. And today you just call it WhatsApp.

Chris Erwin:

So question, you said we would go to meetups. How old are you and who is we? Are you going with your parents or friends?

Adam Rymer:

Yeah. I was like 13, 14, and I’d have friends that would drive me around. We’d meet at like bowling alleys and family entertainment centers like arcades and mini golf places. And there’d be people from 14 to 40, but everybody was just connected through these online environments of being… At the time, I guess we were outcast and ostracized. And like I said, we were big old nerds.

Chris Erwin:

Were your parents supportive of some of your interests here with these meetups and the BBSs?

Adam Rymer:

Yeah, I mean, they didn’t really know what was going on. For me, it was just a way to meet people and make friends and met some really interesting folks. Met some really odd, strange folks through it. Some people went on to greatness and do some pretty cool things. Some people faded off into obscurity. I think it definitely helped define and set my career in motion from being part of something that was just on the cutting edge of interactivity and technology. And ’cause there was a lot of steps to it, right. We had to, you had to get a 300-baud modem. You had to connect a phone line to it. You had to pay for time on the service by dropping off some money at a house or sending something in somewhere else. And I mean, it was really complicated, but we made it work. It was a weird time. It was like during the days of war games, if you remember the movie War Games, it was like that sort of universe.

Chris Erwin:

I’ve known you for years now. This is the first time I’ve really asked about your upbringing in your childhood. And within one minute, learn something completely new, but it makes sense. Everyone nowadays talks about how do you build community? How do you build fandom amongst different media brands, participants, creators, and users, et cetera? And you have now three to four decades of experience of building fandom on the internet. It’s all becoming much more clear. So as you go to high school and then you’re applying for college, what did you think that you were going to do?

Adam Rymer:

It’s funny so we used to go to Disney World a lot in Florida, right? Because it’s only about two-hour drive from where I lived. And I was always, I guess, kind of a weird business-focused kid at a certain level. I remember writing my college essay about Disney, but not about the cool entertainment factor of Disney about the business of Disney and how I found it super interesting that when you would go to someplace like Disney World, that you would be totally open to spending $8 on a Mickey bar ice cream that if you were just at a grocery store, you would totally freak out about highway robbery. You would just never spend that kind of money. And, I wrote my essay about like entertainment dollars being different from regular dollars. I did, I guess-

Chris Erwin:

So precocious.

Adam Rymer:

… I was a weird kid and at the time I was like, “I want to be Michael Eisner.” Michael Eisner was my idol at the time not knowing a whole lot about anything, but knowing Disney and seeing how that was working, I was like, “That’s my aspiration.” Right? So went off to college. And at the time I was focused on engineering because as a nerd, geeky kid, I thought I was going to be an engineer, but within a year of college, I shifted over to being an economics major and really focusing more on business and really put most of my efforts into pursuing kind of game theory and business and economics.

Chris Erwin:

You went to Harvard up in Cambridge, right?

Adam Rymer:

That’s the one. Yeah.

Chris Erwin:

So your essay must have been something special to get into that school. Right?

Adam Rymer:

God. To this day, I don’t know how I got in. I’ll tell you, I mean, it’s my 25th reunion this year. I look around and I see other people from my class and I see kids today and I mean the quality of students and applications is just phenomenal. And to this day I count my lucky stars that I went there and got in there and survived. It was the hardest experience in my life. I can’t even tell you, I felt overwhelmed half the time, lucky half the time. I mean, it was something.

Chris Erwin:

Well, if you’re going to a reunion, my dad, I think is Harvard ’70. And I think he’s going to his reunion this year as well. So maybe you guys can bump into one another there. So you’re at Harvard, you’re feeling overwhelmed, but feeling lucky and grateful. And do you think you get more clarity on what you want to do when you’re graduating?

Adam Rymer:

Yeah. Well, look, while I was there, I had my first real work experience. So we had this thing called Harvard Student Agencies. And what that is a bunch of student-run businesses on campus that are sanctioned by the university. And they let students sort of operate businesses through a platform that the university puts together. And I started out running something called the Campus Store, which basically sold futons and refrigerators and class rings and all the stuff you need for dorm rooms. And then my second year I became vice president of the organization. And one of the things that organization also did was produce the Let’s Go Travel Guides, which might be a sign of another era, but it was books that you would use to go travel abroad and low-budget travel through Europe and other places around the world.

Adam Rymer:

And it was a team of hundreds of students that would write these books and go out and travel and run these businesses. And I did that for two and a half years of my time at school. And I found my time working and helping to run these businesses to be maybe the best education that I got over my time there. So by the time that I was graduating, I was pretty dead set on being in the business world, operating, trying to figure out some way to be an executive in some way, shape or form. Didn’t necessarily know exactly what type of business to run. So I ended up going into management consulting, coming out of school because to me that seemed like the best landing spot, where I could get a sense of a bunch of different industries, bunch of different businesses, try to solve some problems for different companies and then figure out what I wanted to do from there. Or just do that for the rest of my life. Because from what I heard, that was a pretty cool thing to do.

Chris Erwin:

Got it. You go to L.E.K. Consulting in the late ’90s. Was the experience what you expected it to be?

Adam Rymer:

So, so late ’90s, I got to take you back a minute. I mean, at the time computers were still relatively, they weren’t new, but they were not as useful as they are today. Everything was hard. The internet was slow. The amount of data that you had access to wasn’t quite there, Google wasn’t quite there. So I was building a lot of financial models. It was hard to do the research. We were printing things out on overhead projector slides for client presentations. PowerPoint was not as user friendly as it is today. I think I, when I started there, we were using Lotus 1-2-3, not even Excel. I was working probably 80 to 100 hours. I found the work interesting. I found the rigor interesting. I found the type of things we were doing interesting. I did not find the clients. I was working on overly exciting, and that was a big epiphany for me.

Adam Rymer:

I found it really hard to stay focused working for industries that I didn’t have a passion for. At one point I was no joke… People say these things as jokes, I was working for a vacuum cleaner manufacturer, literally a company that made vacuum cleaners and I was helping them reallocate their sales force across the country. It was just hard. I was on the road and I was looking through maps and I was looking at different DMAs and I was trying to help them figure this out. I also spent a lot of time working in the biotech space, trying to look at different drugs that were coming to market and how they should be priced and talking to a lot of doctors and physicians about whether they would use the product and whether they would get approved by the FDA.

Adam Rymer:

And look, it wasn’t my background. I mean, I purposely stayed away from anything pre-med I don’t think I took any biology classes past ninth grade. The work was fun. The hours were rough, but not being passionate about the day to day subject was a real challenge for me. So about a year in, I was trying to figure out what was next.

Chris Erwin:

I hear you. I mean, I was a banker, right when I graduated from school undergrad. I think from like 2005 to 2010. And yeah, we were able to pull down 10-Ks and SEC filings, from the internet and able to get a bunch of financial information using Excel to create models. And I just remember all my MDs being like, “We used to have to get the 10-K’s physically mailed to us.” They didn’t have Excel and they were doing modeling by hand on paper or in these really basic computer systems. And I was like, “Either that sounds terrible or it was better because you could just focus and do less.” Where when you have access to technology your bosses just expect, “Well, you can work on five assignments at the same time.” Right? You’re equipped. But anyway, I digress.

Chris Erwin:

So then, okay, you do that for a couple of years and then I think you make a decision that instead of being an advisor and consultant, you want to go work for a company. You go to the line, quote, unquote, “some people say.” And you go to Universal Music. So how was that transition for you?

Adam Rymer:

I mean, it was a magical transition for me. I mean, it was a happenstance lucky break for me and my career and the whole rest of my career, to be honest with you. And it goes down in something I think about still on a regular basis is having been a nerd. I mean, this goes back to the BBS story is I had built a PC. I was living in Cambridge. I was downloading the first MP3 files off the internet from really obscure search engines, like web crawler and LICOs. And I bought the first MP3 player that was ever made. And I would take this MP3 player to the gym and the use case for a portable MP3 player I found fascinating. The other options available at the time were a Walkman with a tape that you had to make a mix tape for, or a CD player, which for those who don’t remember them, trying to get a CD player not to skip when you’re at the gym or on a treadmill is almost impossible.

Adam Rymer:

And so I, part of me just realized like this digital music universe is going to be the way to go. This is just going to completely take over the future as the technology gets better. And I went to the consulting company I was at, and I said, “Look, we should sell a project to the music business and help them figure out the future of digital music, because there’s no doubt in my mind that this is going to change the whole face of how the music industry works.” To their credit they let me help work on selling that project and they successfully did sell the project. To not their credit they didn’t let me work on the project.

Chris Erwin:

You can be the idea, the inspiration, create the pitch. And then it’s like, “And you’re off the team.”

Adam Rymer:

So I left and that was the impetus for me leaving. I applied for a job at Universal and I was very fortunate to get an interview and then ultimately get hired to go join the strategy group at Universal Music in New York in, I think it was 1999, early 1999. It was a life-changing moment because the beginning in 1999 MP3 files and digital music was starting to be a huge subject of conversation. It was on the front page of USA Today. I was quoted in a bunch of things. It was something that everybody was talking about and knew was coming. But what nobody saw coming was Napster and Napster happened about three months after I got to Universal.

Chris Erwin:

Oh wow.

Adam Rymer:

So all of a sudden I was thrown into the fire with, it wasn’t just me we had a team of people. But it was the, “Okay. Piracy is real. It’s not going anywhere. How do we solve this?” Do we start suing the companies? Do we start suing our customers? Do we create our own technology? Do we create a subscription service, which is no joke, an idea that we presented at the time in 1999. What do we do? How do we solve this problem? Because it’s not going anywhere and technology isn’t where it is today.

Chris Erwin:

Follow-up question on that. Adam, did you feel that the leadership, did they understand the weight of the situation? Were they really panicked, very concerned or it’s like, “This is an issue we should sort this out over the next five years, but take your time and be thoughtful.” What was that sense inside the building?

Adam Rymer:

I’m going to answer that in a couple ways. I mean, this is a problem that I have seen throughout my entire career, which is that at traditional entertainment companies, the leadership is rarely incentivized to try to really innovate solutions to the biggest challenges that are in front of them. There’s a lot of reasons for that. And I don’t necessarily blame the leadership that’s at these companies. A lot of them are publicly traded. They need to hit their quarterly returns. They’re incentivized to hit those quarterly returns. Innovation is very rarely valued at these companies the way that it needs to be. Oftentimes they can buy innovation when they need to. Right? They’re big enough. They’ve got public stock and if there’s a startup, they can often buy the company that’s going to solve their innovation problem. The difficulty in these cases is when you’re dealing with something that’s inherently illegal or theoretically illegal, you can’t just buy the illegal thing and make that part of your repertoire.

Adam Rymer:

So the answer that was given was essentially like, “Look, let’s let the courts figure this out.” It was somewhat of a, “Well, obviously this is illegal. So the government should just stop this and get in front of it and shut it down because we have the right to sell music on discs and all these other things.” And I think there was an inherent unwillingness to accept the fact that the consumers get to decide these things. Consumers get to decide how they want to consume content, how they want to live their lives. And ultimately it’s the entertainment companies and the media companies who have to answer to the consumers on these things. And that’s where I saw the biggest disconnect. And it wasn’t just at the music industry. I’ve seen that through most of my career.

Chris Erwin:

Yeah. You were at Universal Music for about one to two years. So, and clearly had some early exposure to digital, but we’re seeing that this is a theme from very early on in your career and your childhood. But then shortly thereafter you go to Universal Pictures. Why’d you make that transition? Did you feel, “Hey, there’s a lot of inertia here, things aren’t changing and I want to go to another part of the house,” or was it something else? What was that catalyst for change?

Adam Rymer:

Well, for anybody who remembers the advent of Napster and piracy, also the crash of 2000 from a tech standpoint, just really killed the entire music industry. I mean, the music industry was cratering at that point. People were losing their jobs. Revenue was cut more or less than half very quickly. And I had an opportunity to go to business school. So I jumped and I decided I was going to ride out the storm of 2000 and everything else while I was in business school. And if there was still a music industry to go back to, I loved the music business. I would’ve gone back to music after business school, but between 2000 and 2002, while I was in school, the music industry kept falling. They couldn’t quite figure out the solution. And I spent my summer at Universal Pictures looking at a another side of entertainment.

Adam Rymer:

So after school that turned into a full-time offer. My thought on it was the biggest challenge the music industry had was technology hit them like a title wave because the technology at the time had already caught up to the feasibility for music, meaning you could download a song in a reasonable amount of time to make it useful for the end-user, right? It only took a couple minutes, 5, 10 minutes at most to download a song, if not an album based on where technology was in 1999. When I graduated from, from school and went off to film the technology, wasn’t there to download a movie, right? We were still a long way off from maybe not that long, but technology hadn’t quite hit the film business in terms of feasibility for the piracy and the not having enough time to get in front of.

Adam Rymer:

So the way I saw it was this is an opportunity to get into the film business and try to help them stave off the problems that the music industry faced. How do I take the learnings from music and apply it to the film business and try to do some things differently here that we couldn’t do there?

Chris Erwin:

You go there and you have a seven-year run and you end up rising to become I think the SP of digital for Universal Pictures where you’re managing an international staff of, I think over 20 people across the US as well as London and Tokyo, if I’m right. Did you feel that at that point that you were coming into your own as an executive where you have a vision, you know how to solve problems, you know how to build the teams? And did you feel like that was a transformational moment in your career?

Adam Rymer:

I thought so. I thought so. It was the, “Hey, this is great. My career’s really advancing. I’m at the senior levels of a major studio. I’m getting to present to some really cool people.” I’m continued to have some really lucky experiences. Got involved in some very cool projects. I was always very much on the business side of it. I was pretty far removed from I’d say the creative side. It wasn’t until the very end of my stint at Universal that I got put on the green light committee at Universal, which is where you actually get to have a say over which films get made at the studio, which was a pretty cool experience. Although it didn’t last very long.

Chris Erwin:

How big is that committee and how much weight did your particular vote from the digital strategy side count?

Adam Rymer:

I’m not sure how much weight anybody’s individual vote has, except for a couple of people on those committees. There’s about 10 people on that committee across the studio. You’ve got home entertainment and marketing and production and the head of the studio and those kinds of things. It’s fascinating. I mean, it’s very kind of closed-door sort of, sort of setting very private, almost Illuminati-ish, but it was pretty cool to be in the room for some of it. But my job was to weigh in on what the digital and alternative revenue streams could be for the titles that we were working on. So things like video games, YouTube content, ancillary products. At the time we were talking about things like ring tones. What’s the other stuff that we can do out of these films to generate revenue.

Adam Rymer:

And then I would be on the hook for delivering those numbers against the P&L for that particular title. It was pretty neat. And I felt like things were going pretty well for my career at that point, for sure. Now the downside was during my time there, we kept getting acquired. And for most people getting acquired sounds like it’s a pretty awesome thing. Usually, there’s like, “Hey, you got paid out. That’s a big success, big exit.” Well, in the big giant corporate world, those kinds of acquisitions usually get met with, “Hey, we’re just kind of sitting on our hands for a while.” So Universal was a big company. And when I started working for them, it was owned by Seagram. Then it was owned by Vivendi. Then it was owned by GE. And when I left, it had been acquired by Comcast.

Adam Rymer:

And we were always the acquired company, which meant that the acquiring company was taking their people, having them learn about the business that they were buying, meeting with everybody trying to figure out what everybody did, which resulted in a whole lot of work for all of us to educate them. And usually, that met with a whole bunch of reorganization and strategy redesign

Chris Erwin:

Hey listeners, this is Chris Erwin, your host of the Come Up. I have a quick ask for you. If you dig what we’re putting down, if you like the show, if you like our guests, it would really mean a lot if you can give us a rating wherever you listen to our show. It helps other people discover our work. And it also really supports what we do here. All right, that’s it everybody. Let’s get back to the interview.

Chris Erwin:

So, Adam, I totally feel you on if you’re always the target and you’re being acquired the reeducation of the new leadership. It’s a lot. I mean, I remember when Big Frame was bought by Awesomeness TV and then Verizon, and then Hearst then invested thereafter, and then Comcast NBC U came and bought Dreamworks, which had owned Awesomeness. And there’s always the strategic goal shift, the mandate shift there’s reorganizations. And there’s a point where you’re just like, “I just want to get to work.” And look, that’s the nature of the beast, but was that a reason why after your seven-year run, you then started to explore entrepreneurship? You were the co-founder and COO and CFO of Lava Bear Films. And you did that for a few years. Was that the reason why you made the switch?

Adam Rymer:

Yeah, look, I mean, there were management changes and to be honest, I had been part of a very big company where I was an employee number. I still remember my employee number to this day, which says a lot, and it was an eight-digit number. So I was just a little tired of being in that kind of structure and part of me who likes solving problems and actually making things happen and not having a whole lot of red tape. There was an opportunity in front of me. The chairman of Universal had left and had an opportunity to start a film production company and asked me to help him put the business plan together for it and raise some capital and go after it. So I thought it would be a great chance for me to not only learn how to start a company from scratch but also learn about the other side of the business, the creative side of the business. How do you actually make content from start to finish?

Chris Erwin:

Well, you must have been doing something right at universal if the chairman leaves and wants to bring you on board to his next venture, right?

Adam Rymer:

I would hope so. I would hope so.

Chris Erwin:

So you’re there. You learned the creative side of the business, which I think is, I’ve talked about this on a few podcasts, right? Usually, in entertainment, you’re either on the business side of the house or on the creative side of the house. It’s rare for people to speak both those languages. I think of people maybe like Bob Iger or David Zaslav at Discovery in Warner Media. Right. So it’s smart to build out that muscle and I think that you are an executive producer on The Rover and you helped finance the movie Arrival?

Adam Rymer:

That’s right.

Chris Erwin:

Produced by FilmNation and [inaudible 00:28:25] and Glen Basner and they’re good friends of ours.

Adam Rymer:

Great guys.

Chris Erwin:

Yeah. They’re the best. And so you do that for four years and did you see like, “Hey, maybe there’s a world where you stay in the creative side of entertainment?” Was that interesting to you?

Adam Rymer:

Look, it was an amazing experience. I always wanted to see how the whole sausages gets made from start to end and really got to do that. I was going around to film festivals. I was reading scripts. I was handling some of the talent deals. I was negotiating a lot of the financing for the films. We were selling the projects internationally. We were dealing with the studios. We were looking at the marketing for the films when they came out. But for I’m sure you’ve talked about this on some other podcasts the filmmaking process is very long and very slow. And so for me, it was I like being on the creative side of the business or having involvement on the creative side. But I don’t know that filmmaking was the place for me to explore that in the long term, because I’m so used to being in areas where things move very quickly, right?

Adam Rymer:

Even the music business moves relatively quickly. And on the digital world, I was watching things happen. Snapchat was starting to happen and Twitch wasn’t quite there yet, but YouTube was really starting to take off and there were all these other things that were happening in the background. And I just felt like I was missing some really cool, innovative opportunities that were going on. So I had an opportunity to go join Legendary, which was at the time a pretty cool independent studio started by Thomas Tull. They had made Godzilla and Hangover and King Kong and 300. And he asked me if I would help them build their digital businesses over there.

Chris Erwin:

Was it an immediate yes? Like, “Oh yeah, this makes sense. This is an incredible studio with some incredible IP. There’s a lot I can do here. Let’s get to work.” Or were you evaluating other things too?

Adam Rymer:

I wasn’t evaluating other things. And it was pretty hard decision because you this was a company that I had helped start and I was a pretty big piece of, but the opportunity and it was a blank slate. I was kind of handed a, “We don’t know what the right answer is and we need somebody who’s got enough experience on both sides of the equation here that understands making some content, understands distribution, understands the business side of it to really help us figure out what we should do with this asset that we have.” They had just acquired Nerdist and just didn’t have a solid business plan on how to start making real revenues out of it. So for me, it was a puzzle to solve right back to the things that I love, which is trying to put pieces together.

Adam Rymer:

At a certain level the film business has a very defined path, right? There’s not much to solve in that. There’s always new innovations that are getting made. There’s new ways to finance a film. But for the most part, the business model of making movies is relatively defined. You might say that Netflix has changed that in some way, shape, or form, but there wasn’t a whole lot of, “How am I going to do this for the next 20 years and innovate and do some neat things?” And at Legendary, it felt like there was a real chance to try all sorts of new ideas.

Chris Erwin:

When you enter their first year, they’ve acquired Nerdist and I think that was… Was that founded by Chris Hardwick?

Adam Rymer:

Correct? Yep.

Chris Erwin:

And so what did you think of, okay, these are the wins that I want to get in year one. I think that we are capable of doing this. It also feels innovative. And then I think it’s going to set you up to have an exciting career overseeing digital at Legendary going forward. What was that first mandate for you?

Adam Rymer:

First thing was really figuring out how are we going to generate consistent revenue? Because at the time the video part of Nerdist was founded as one of the funded YouTube channels. Some people might remember that YouTube was putting a lot of money into funding channels for the purpose of creating more premium content on YouTube and right around 2014, they stopped funding those channels. And so a lot of these channels ended up in no man’s land of figuring out how they were going to keep their business running. And so for me, the first step was okay, well, now that we don’t have this stipend coming from YouTube every year, how are we going to find ways to just generate consistent revenue even if we’re still operating at a little bit of loss, something that we can project to keep it all moving. So at the time we had the Nerdist podcast and we had some content that was existing on YouTube, and my first step was, well, how do we start monetizing podcasts in a better way?

Adam Rymer:

So I was able to take Chris’s podcast and structure a deal with Midroll and that helped get us really kicked off with our first seven-figure deal, which let me hire some more staff and start to figure out some new lines of business.

Chris Erwin:

Did you feel like, “Hey, we figured out a digital revenue model here for media brands and fandoms built around big personalities”? And so did that then inspire you to say, “Well, let’s start buying some other companies to add onto this roster”? Because I think you then acquired Geek and Sundry and then Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls at the Party.

Adam Rymer:

That’s right. So the idea was, well, if we can create enough of scale around these celebrity-driven community content businesses, then we can justify having an infrastructure that can support all of them the right way. So that allowed us to have a sales team that could support all of them, and start doing branded content deals that could leverage the communities that were built across all of them simultaneously bring some staff efficiencies together, and allow content production to be more efficient. So we had our entire… We had our own content production team. We had our own studio where we produced all of the content that we’re making for the YouTube channels ourselves and for our branded content features. And ultimately that led us to start a Twitch channel with Geek and Sundry, which is where I started to learn quite a lot about Livestream.

Chris Erwin:

So do you feel at this point it’s like, “All right.” You’re attached to a big studio, you have a lot of resources, you have incredible IP to work with, but you also, you’re running your own division, which has its own P&L. It seems like you’re on both the creative and the business sides of the house, where you have a real strong point of view of what content we’re creating. How do we monetize it? What’s getting green-lit? What new platforms are we experimenting with? You’re building out a team against your vision. Did you feel like, “Hey, I feel like I have it all right now”? This is checking all the boxes for my career.

Adam Rymer:

In hindsight, I guess so. I mean, at time it felt very stressful. At the time it felt like we were building the plane while we were flying it. And there weren’t a whole lot of examples for us to point to say, “Hey, we’re doing it like these guys,” or we’ve got somebody else that’s done it in front of us. There were the MCNs out there that were aggregating a bunch of channels together. And they had a somewhat different business model, but there was nobody who was really trying to create more premium level content on a regular basis. And I mean, I had to answer to a pretty senior studio executive. So I had a lot of pressure from that side, but I did have the luxury of a good balance sheet. So I wasn’t having to deal with trying to raise capital on a regular basis to keep the thing afloat.

Adam Rymer:

There was a couple years there where it really felt like the coolest, most fun job that I ever could have thought I’ve had. We were going down to ComicCon. Chris was moderating panels for us in Hall H. Got to go backstage and hang out with the cast of all the Marvel films before they got on Hall H. we had all sorts of fun people coming by the studio to be in the content, got to watch and be part of a lot of the content that was being filmed at our location. I think most of the people that were there at the time will tell you that it was a pretty magical place to be for a couple of years.

Chris Erwin:

I mean, I remember going to your offices a couple times during that period and just looking around at the different sets and the studios. And I was like, “This sounds like a pretty amazing gig, Adam.” I knew that you were working really hard and that it was a lot and you were kind of figuring things out on the fly as you said, but I think everything in retrospect, you get some clarity of like, “Oh, that was a pretty cool moment.” You know? And I think that was a very cool moment for you. And clearly, you learned a lot, which has bolstered your career. But I’m curious to hear you so you started experimenting with Twitch. I think that’s just an interesting precursor to some of the channels and the partners that you work with today, particularly in gaming, similar to when you saw the power of MP3s when you were up in Cambridge.

Chris Erwin:

And then you saw how that was going to disrupt the music space. When you were first exposed to Twitch, did a light bulb go off on your head and say, “Hey, there’s something incredibly exciting about the power of live?” What was that moment like for you?

Adam Rymer:

I’ll be honest. I wasn’t the biggest, “Hey, we’re going to figure out how to monetize this immediately live streaming.” I was the suit in the room on it. I had some people from Geek and Sundry come to me and they said, “We think that we can create a channel for Geek and Sundry and stream different kinds of content, just do some stuff out of our office. And we will minimize the cost that it takes for us to do it and we’ll give it a shot. And they did it and they got it up and running and they spent as little as they could to create a set and livestream and got a bunch of equipment donated. And it was okay. And Felicia came on and streamed with it and that helped build an audience for it. And it was programmed. I mean, the thing that was most interesting about it was it actually had a schedule.

Adam Rymer:

There were shows that were on certain times of day, certain days of the week, it was a live-streamed TV network. Maybe one of the first of its kind. It started to gain some traction, but it was when Felicia brought in her friends at Critical Role to stream their Dungeons and Dragons game that we really started to see the magic of what live-streaming could be.

Chris Erwin:

What was unique about bringing Critical Role in live-streaming Dungeons and Dragons? What did you feel was special for the audience or to help amplify marketing? What was that?

Adam Rymer:

Well, I mean, what was amazing about it was it found a community that never had a place to call home. So most of Twitch was watching people play video games. There was some what you’d call today, just chatting going on, which is mostly what Geek and Sundry was. There was some game playing, but nobody was really streaming D and D at the time or doing things that were a little more creative like that in a meaningful, well-produced way. And all of a sudden this show found a home and started to spread by word of mouth and it had some great talent attached to it, right? Everybody who’s on Critical Role is professional voice actors in their own right. And so they brought a level of confidence to it that don’t think many people have seen before. And Matt Mercer’s just a genius as a DM at the end of the day. So giving this community, which is spread out around the world a home one day a week, where they can all get together and share an experience at the same time, really became a magical place to be.

Adam Rymer:

So Twitch loved us because we were bringing in a community that wasn’t necessarily there naturally again, because most of Twitch was more based around video gaming and the D and D community loved it because it was giving them a place that they had never had before. It was a little bit like lightning in a bottle.

Chris Erwin:

It just goes back to, I think I was listening to a podcast by Ben Thompson a couple weeks ago. And I think a point that was made is never underestimate the ability of the internet to reach these incredibly niche fandoms all around the world. There is interest in anything at a minimum, at least one person will be into something if you put it out there. But I think Dungeons and Dragons has this massive community and like you said, but they didn’t really have a place to call home and you guys created that for them. I think that was just like so beautifully articulated. I love that. So you’re doing your thing at Nerdist and Legendary you’re there for five years, but then at the end of your five-year run, you go into this exploratory phase where you’re advising a few different companies.

Chris Erwin:

I think you’re reimagining cinema with a company called WeVu. And I remember being in your living room, having some brainstorm sessions around that with a few mutual friends, shout out to Adam Sachs. And then you end up as at the CEO, as of Envy Gaming, a big bet on the gaming space. How did that run come to an end? And then it kicked off. I’m going to make a bet on the gaming space. What did that look like for you?

Adam Rymer:

Sure. So Legendary sold to a big Chinese company called Wanda and I’ll make it a short story. It was just the fit for me at the new version of the company wasn’t quite the same as it was under the previous leadership. So I left and started advising companies that I just thought were really interesting and cool out there. Did some work with [inaudible 00:40:44]. Did some work with Participant. Did some work with ranker.com, other friends of mine that I had known over the years that I just had a chance to really help out here and there. And then out of the blue, right before COVID hit, I got a call from a recruiter about this position with NB Gaming. And as I’ve said, I’ve been a gamer geek nerd most of my life. And I’ve been paying attention to what’s been going on in the gaming and Esports space for a long time.

Adam Rymer:

At Universal, I was responsible for all the video game work that was done. We had produced a couple games while I was there. We looked at buying a big video game publisher while I was there. So the video game space wasn’t totally new to me, but the video game lifestyle space was a little bit new. And I had been following the growth of Twitch, the growth of what you’d call the celebrity influencers and creators that were emerging on the platform. And I had seen some of these Esports organizations. I hadn’t necessarily known of Envy at the time, but I did know of a couple of the other ones that were out there. And I saw the potential, right? I saw the early days of a new form of brand and community entertainment, which was emerging on Twitch and other platforms because it was interactive. And when I started meeting the people that were here at Envy, it really felt like the next phase of innovation for me.

Adam Rymer:

And if you think about the path of my career, which has always been trying to find where’s that edge of entertainment and technology and consumer behavior music with Napster and film with digital distribution and Nerdist with community-based content. This really feels like the edge of the universe at the moment, in terms of where the community is starting to emerge, where you’ve got a new generation of people who are not watching traditional television. It felt to me like this is a place to plant my flag for a while and see how I can help this develop.

Chris Erwin:

So you end up moving. You were based out of LA. Your family was in LA but the role was in Dallas. Did you just move there full-time in the beginning or were you commuting like four days a week in Dallas? And then back to LA on the weekends?

Adam Rymer:

I moved here to Dallas in the summer of 2020 having never met anybody at the company in person because we were all working from home. And my family stayed back in LA because of the pandemic. And I would fly back home every two weeks to see them. And we did that for about nine months while my kid was finishing the school year. It was an interesting time to be away from home and in a new city that I knew absolutely nothing about. I had never really been to Dallas before. I knew nothing about the city.

Chris Erwin:

Did you take on the role without ever meeting anyone from the founding team, the leadership, or the investor group in person? It was all Zoom calls and then you signed on the dotted line?

Adam Rymer:

Yes.

Chris Erwin:

Wow. That’s a big decision.

Adam Rymer:

Yes. That’s how convinced I was about the future of this space and also the people that were involved with it. So the interesting part about that period of time is I have a son who at the time was eight years old. And the way that he and I would stay in touch and I think this is telling to the future of this space, the way he and I would stay in touch while I was living in Dallas and he was in LA is we would play Fortnite together. Several times during the week I would get home from work, we’d both load up Fortnite and we’d put on the cameras. And while we were playing Fortnite, we’d catch up on how school was going and what his friends were up to and how he’s doing. And that to me was the whole reason why I’m in this space.

Adam Rymer:

Because yes, we were playing a game and we were shooting people and we were like having a good time, but it was really just about us spending time together and talking to each other and interacting with each other. And that’s what I think we’re going to remember at the end of the day and not what skin we were wearing or any of that kind of thing, which to me shows how gaming is just the natural way of interacting and communicating for people today.

Chris Erwin:

That is so cool. I mean, I think about from our generations like Gen X and Millennials, oh, early memories of your father, it’s like going fishing together, right. Going camping. And I think that your son, right, these like Gen Alpha, their memories will be like, “I remember when we used to play that old game Fortnight and we used to talk and catch up about our what was going on in school.” It’s just going to be a whole transformation of memories of childhood and with their parents, you know?

Adam Rymer:

Absolutely.

Chris Erwin:

I love that. We always say for us, you need to be where your clients are at. Tell our clients to don’t resist or to be forceful. And I really like you’re meeting your kid where he’s at. If you look at the stats, we just did a big research project for a toy retailer of where are parents and kids independently and then also as a co-viewing unit spending their time online. It’s on social media and it’s in these big gaming environments, like Fortnite, like Roblox, like Minecraft. So I think that’s pretty smart parenting, Adam. I am not a parent, but I think that it seems like smart parenting from afar.

Adam Rymer:

Absolutely. It’s a new world. I keep trying to explain to people who are in a, I don’t even want to say older generation, right because I don’t feel like I’m old these days, but I’ll just say anybody who’s Gen X and older, we tend to use the word gamer, right? As like, “Oh, there’s gamers.” People are gamers and it’s a misnomer now. It made sense for our generation because gaming was such a new thing for people to do. Not everybody had an Xbox, not everybody had an Atari. Gaming wasn’t a natural course of business. But for this new generation, for the younger generations, asking somebody if they’re a gamer is like asking people in our generations, if they listen to music or if they go to the movies.

Adam Rymer:

Well, you might talk to people and say, “Hey, what TV shows are you watching?” And there might be people who say, “I don’t watch TV” and you’re going to say, “Okay, well, that’s strange. I mean, most people watch TV.” But in this generation, I think we are increasingly reaching the stage of saying, “What games do you play?” Not, “Are you a gamer?” Because to me that is the given for this generation.

Chris Erwin:

I love that. Such a poignant point. Couple quick questions before we go onto our closing rapid fire. But when you got in there, I remember I’m like, “Adam, so what’s your initial focus there?” And I think that you had a point of view like you’ve done at your other companies of what is the 360 monetization model? How do you take these teams, these players… How do you build media brands around them? How do you build fandoms? What is the talent-driven model to really take this business to the next level? If you could just tell our listeners what your initial re-imagination and growth vision for the company was in year one.

Adam Rymer:

A lot of it is applying principles to it at a certain level. What we do, isn’t very different from other forms of media and entertainment that I’ve been involved with. And other people have been involved with in the past, which is we have a brand that has stature and meaning and association. It has a community around it. And through that brand and through the content that we create, we reach our users, we reach their eyeballs. It helps our brands and advertisers reach their eyeballs and it helps us connect with them. And so that’s no different from any other form of media, whether that was magazines back in the day or television, or filmed entertainment, it is at a certain level. It is reach and it is scale. And so when I came in here first, it was really just understanding the dynamics of the industry.

Adam Rymer:

Where does monetization happen? What platforms does it happen on? How do we actually get in touch with these people? What kind of data is available? But then it was what are the assets that we actually have and what levers can we pull and what is our programming? So when you start thinking of the brand and your programming, you start saying to yourself, okay, well, I’ve got teams and I’ve got content creators, and I’ve got original programming that we put out. And you start looking at the pieces of your organization as what reach to each of those pieces have. So I’ve got this team and they play a certain game. Let’s call it rocket league. Well, what audience does that rocket league team bring to me? Where are those people from? What demographic is that group of people? Are they mostly in the US or are they mostly international?

Adam Rymer:

What age are they? What states do they come from? What do they care about? What brands and industries are they interested in? And then I’ve got our call of duty team. Same thing. What reach do they have? Switch over to our content creator side. Okay. Well, if I’m going to bring on a new content creator, what’s the audience that I’m getting from working with that content creator? It’s not overly different. I mean, it is, there are differences in nuances, but if you are Discovery Channel and you’re thinking about filling the 8:00 PM slot on Thursday, well, what are you going to put on in that 8:00 PM slot? You don’t want to put on something that overlaps with another show that you already get that audience from. This is the whole definition of programming. It’s the same reason why Game of Thrones and Westworld aren’t on at the same time for HBO. They sequence those things because they want to optimize the programming and make sure that people stay subscribed to HBO for a longer period of time.

Adam Rymer:

So understanding your audience, understanding who’s coming in, understanding the reach that you get with the assets that you have available starts to get the company thinking about us as a media property. And once you shift your mindset to thinking about it as a media property rather than necessarily a sports team, you start to build business processes around that in a different way. And that’s what we’re focused on at the moment.

Chris Erwin:

I don’t think I’ve heard a smarter encapsulation of a media strategy than your past couple minutes, Adam. So very well done. So I’m curious in putting that strategy in place, just over the past almost two years, what are some of your favorite moments of some wins with the team? I was reading on LinkedIn. There’s the Valorant Championships and the Green Wall, the Fandom really coming alive, having over a million concurrent viewers of the competition. Is that one of them? Are there others? What has that been for you?

Adam Rymer:

To start with our Call of Duty team won the CDL Championship within a month of me being here at Envy, which was mind-numbing. It’s like, imagine joining the Chicago bulls five days before they won the NBA Championship, right? It’s that kind of thing. And all of a sudden you’ve got a ring and you’ve got a trophy and you’ve got all this stuff and you barely started to understand what this world is all about. It was a pretty phenomenal moment. It was an amazing way to get indoctrinated into the space and get excited about it all. So now I’ve got a championship ring that’s sitting in my office and that was a pretty fun, pretty fun moment. But yeah, about a year later, we merged with OpTic Gaming, which some of the listeners might know is one of the biggest, most passionate fan bases in the world when it comes to gaming and Esports.

Adam Rymer:

And that has been like wildfire for us. Hector Hex, just an amazing individual who’s knows how to work with his audience and knows how to create content, and knows how to bring the audience into the brand in a really phenomenal way. And he’s been educating us on a bunch of things that we didn’t quite understand, and we’ve been working with him on some of the monetization things and just really couldn’t have put two better organizations together. So within two months of bringing those organizations together, we won the Valorant Championship in Iceland, which is, as you were mentioning, had over a million people watching it. And just again, just another one of those too picture-perfect of a moment for us. Great memories that we’re going to have forever.

Chris Erwin:

That’s awesome. A final question for you is what’s next for Envy gaming? What should people be watching for in some of the upcoming announcements, some new business initiatives? I think I was looking at from your team, there’s some new virtual character immersion like CodeMiko. I’m pronouncing that right? Maybe some web three activations. What are you working on right now?

Adam Rymer:

What I think you’re going to see out of us over the next year is really continued expansion of optic from a brand perspective, in terms of the areas that we’re in. Just really trying to explore new ways to reach our fan base and build communities. I think the whole world of Web3, and I think a lot of people talk about Web3 without necessarily… I’m not saying I’m an expert in it, but I don’t think a lot of people quite understand some of the dynamics of what makes Web3 different from Web2. And the biggest thing to me about Web3 that makes it different is community. If you don’t have a community tied to some Web3 initiative, then you’re missing it. I’ll give you an perfect example. Web2 is about user acquisition on a one-to-one basis.

Adam Rymer:

So you’ve got a game like Candy Crush and you spend 50 cents to bring somebody in to Candy Crush and they spend a $1.50 on the game. You’ve made a dollar in profit and you can just keep doing that cycle all day. And you find new ways to bring more people in and you get a huge user base. There’s a community that maybe gets formed online on Reddit boards and whatever else talking about Candy Crush, but the community is not an inherent part of what makes Candy Crush successful. In Web3 it’s a little bit different. Web3 is if you bring somebody in, if you spend 50 cents to bring somebody to your Web3 platform and they get there and there isn’t a whole community for them to connect to, they’re going to leave. There’s nothing for them to do. The community actually makes your project valuable.

Adam Rymer:

So in game terms, it’s like bringing somebody in to play Fortnite, and they’re just sitting in the queue, waiting for the game to start. And because there aren’t 90 other people for you to play the game with, you’re just sitting there and you’re just waiting and waiting and nothing happens. And so it doesn’t matter how much you spend on user acquisition, you didn’t get your value for it. So we’re going to be spending a lot of time on how do we build our community in new ways? How do we get the information about who our community is? Where do they live? What are they looking for us to do? How do we bring value to them? And how do we find partners that want to provide value back to our community? So how do we find those really interesting partnerships where we can take the Green Wall and OpTic and Envy and work together with those platforms to create really interesting dynamic opportunities together and not try to just have everything operate through our own vertical.

Chris Erwin:

Well said, something that we talk about at RockWater is the sense of valuing your community and communal ownership. I think that there’s been a lot of literature over the past, call it year, particularly as you look at the building of different game franchises, where these users, their engagements, all the dollars that they spend on the games, all their engagement that can drive advertising revenues, right? And in-game purchases, the value that they create for a few stakeholders or investors or game owners, and it really gets siphoned to just a few. So the question then becomes, “Well, how do you reward the community for all the value that they’re creating?” And I think there’s actually a much bigger win there where if there’s more of that two-way street, in terms of value sharing, the overall pie gets a lot bigger and everyone can win. And so I think that’s a really, really smart mentality.

Chris Erwin:

Adam, I’ll close it out with this before we get the rapid-fire. I just want to give you some kudos here. I think we were first introduced when I was probably at Big Frame and Awesomeness. So this is probably around maybe like 2015 to 2017 timeframe.

Adam Rymer:

Wow.

Chris Erwin:

And I know dating us a bit. And I just remember when I met you, you were running Nerdist and Legendary Networks at the time. I was like, “This is a guy who’s a super sharp operator.” He totally gets it. He’s got both sides of his brain activating. I very much thought on the business side, on the creative side, I thought you really understood talent. You knew traditional entertainment, you knew digital. And I thought you were a very, very special mind and operator. And I remember when you were in your, what I call here in my notes, the exploration phase. So like after Nerdist and before you went to Envy Gaming, I think there was a period where you are wondering what really excites you. What’s really going to get you going. And I think a lot of things that come across your plate that you weren’t too thrilled about. And I just knew, I mean, I don’t know if I ever shared this with you the right thing’s going to come across Adam’s desk and he’s going to crush it. And it’s going to be a really exciting moment for his career. Now I look back at all the success that you’ve had with Envy over the past, less than a couple years, and I am not surprised whatsoever. And I can’t wait to see what you do there over the next two to three years. So I wanted to just share that with you.

Adam Rymer:

Thank you, my friend. It was definitely an adventure after leaving Legendary. There were points where I felt like I just needed to take something for the sake of taking something. I will wholeheartedly recommend people holding out for as long as you possibly can to find the right thing that feels right. If you can. Obviously don’t sacrifice your family in your future and all those kinds of things. But if you can find the right thing, it definitely pays off.

Chris Erwin:

Very well said. All right, Adam. So we’re going to get into the rapid-fire six questions. The rules are simple. It is short answer one sentence, or maybe just a couple of words. Do you understand the rules?

Adam Rymer:

I think so.

Chris Erwin:

All right. Proudest life moment?

Adam Rymer:

Birth of my child.

Chris Erwin:

What do you want to do less of in the second half of 2022?

Adam Rymer:

Less stress, more outside.

Chris Erwin:

Less stress, more outside. What one to two things, drive your success?

Adam Rymer:

Paying attention to everything going on out there.

Chris Erwin:

Advice for media gaming and Esports execs going into the remainder of this year?

Adam Rymer:

That’s a tough one. Bear with the downside. There’s still a huge opportunity in front of all of us, but manage this downside economy at the moment. And there’s a bright light, but follow the path.

Chris Erwin:

Got it. All right. Last couple. Any future startup ambitions? Can you see yourself starting something from scratch in the future?

Adam Rymer:

For sure. Never a shortage of ideas that I’ve got. In fact, I think it’s probably maybe a problem that I have. I am hopeful that I’ll be launching something again sometime soon. We’ll see. We’ll see. if you got any ideas, send them my way, but yeah, definitely be starting some things soon.

Chris Erwin:

I think you got enough on your plate. I’m going to hold back on sending you too much, but maybe in a few years time. How can people get in contact with you?

Adam Rymer:

I’m pretty easy. It’s Adam@Envy.gg

Chris Erwin:

Adam. This was a delight. Thanks for being on the podcast.

Adam Rymer:

For sure. Great to be here. Let’s do it again sometime.

Chris Erwin:

All right. That interview was just awesome. I don’t think I’ve interviewed anyone in the gaming space yet to date. And I stand by my point that I think Adam is one of the sharpest minds that’s operating at the intersection of content community in commerce. He’s been in the business for a really long time who really understands the business fundamentals. And he’s got an incredible set of stories. So a real gift to have him on the show, very excited for what he continues to build with OpTic Gaming. Okay. Also, as many of you know RockWater is market research and strategy advisory for the media technology and commerce industries. We’ve just introduced a new offering, which allows us to work with more partners. It’s called RockWater Plus. It’s an offering for companies who want an ongoing consulting partner at a low monthly retainer yet who might also need a partner who can flex up for bigger projects.

Chris Erwin:

So we’ve worked with a large range of companies from big and small. Big Fortune 50 like Google and YouTube and big cable networks and studios like Viacom, CBS, and Warner Media to a variety of digital publisher, upstarts and retail brands, and more. So with Plus, we do a variety of things. We can have weekly calls to address any immediate business concerns that you have. We can set up KPI dashboards that allow you to make database decisions around how to best operate and grow your business. We can do ad hoc research, ad hoc financial modeling. If you’re doing market sizing need to do P&L forecasts or valuations to assess your business before you go out to investors and so much more. So if you’re interested in this and you think it could be helpful shoot us a note at hello@wearerockwater.com. And then lastly, we always love any feedback on our show. If you have ideas for guests for just feedback on the format, shoot us a note at TCUpod@wearerockwater.com. All right, that’s it. Everybody. Thanks for listening.

The Come Up is written and hosted by me, Chris Erwin, and is a production of RockWater Industries. Please rate and review this show on Apple podcast and remember to subscribe wherever you listen to our show. And if you really dig us, feel free to forward The Come Up to a friend. You can sign up for our company newsletter at wearerockwater.com/newsletter. And you could follow us on Twitter @TCUPod. The Come Up is engineered by Daniel Tureck. Music is by Devon Bryant. Logo and branding is by Kevin Zazzali. And special thanks to Alex Zirin and Felicity Huang from the RockWater team.

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