Why you should care
Because he’s changing the esports endorsement game.
Andrew Telfer and his wife, Mel, just moved into a new house. But one key renovation is still needed.
“I get a little bit too hyped, screaming at a nice goal,” he says. “Then I wake her and that’s not the best. I’m working on soundproofing my basement.”
Telfer, 25, is better known as “Nasher,” hockey influencer extraordinaire. And by “nice goal,” he is talking about his virtual skills.
Nasher straddles the boards between video games and real life. He has a YouTube channel with 285,000 followers, where he posts both gaming clips from EA Sports’ NHL series and IRL (in real life) hockey trick shot videos. On his Twitch channel, he spends most nights — except when his hometown Columbus Blue Jackets are playing — streaming NHL video game content to his 30,000-plus followers.
With hockey, I feel like it’s a bit lacking on the content side.
Andrew “Nasher” Telfer
Now, Nasher is getting sponsored like a real-life NHL player. This month, he announced an exclusive apparel and equipment partnership with hockey brand Bauer. He also recently engaged in sponsorship deals with Gatorade, Adidas and SeatGeek. (The amounts of those sponsorships were not revealed.)
Nasher, who grew up in the Columbus suburb of Hilliard, Ohio, is a lifelong hockey fan, quite literally: The family had a Pittsburgh Penguins game on TV the moment he was born. When the Blue Jackets made their debut in 2000, 6-year-old Nasher, whose gamer name is derived from former Columbus winger Rick Nash, was in attendance.
However, Nasher found his expertise in virtual hockey. While in high school, he experimented with his own content creation but was afraid to show friends his YouTube channel. “It was kind of embarrassing,” he recalls. But he found friends who shared his interests in college at Ohio State, streaming his gameplay when he could escape class or the library.
After graduating with a marketing degree, Nasher landed a job as a customer care advocate at the corporate headquarters of Wendy’s near Columbus. He had a wife, an education and a job.
But he still had a dream, and a Baconator was not part of it.
Mel would see him get home from a night shift then continue to work on his YouTube channel until the wee hours. Mel, a dietitian, assured her husband the two could start their lives on her salary. So he quit his Wendy’s job after six months to go into content creation full time in 2017.
“The first week I did that, that’s when I saw the most growth on my channel,” he remembers. “Quitting my job and uploading four to five videos a week, I saw that people wanted more content and I could finally give it to them.”
At this point, he spends most of his days shooting and editing videos — virtual and IRL, a GoPro strapped to his head at a local roller rink. At night, he fires up his Xbox for thousands of concurrent viewers. He’s also hosting a series of community NHL video game tournaments with WorldGaming Network on Friday nights.
“He’s so multifaceted,” says Ricky Hildebrand, digital marketing manager at Bauer. “Through some of our brand research, we saw kids aren’t just interested in pro athletes. Some don’t have dreams of playing in the NHL. They just play hockey because it’s fun.”
Nasher is Bauer’s first digital content endorser. He’s something the brand (founded in 1927) has never seen but knows it wants. Thanks to streaming and social media, digital influencers like Nasher can directly reach consumers similar to many professional athletes.
“I think it’s about time,” says esports consultant Rod “Slasher” Breslau. “Sports esports have a long way to go to catch up to traditional esports, but one of the benefits to sports games is such a crossover between the real-life equipment and real-life brands.”
When Breslau mentions “traditional esports,” he is talking about high-revenue communities around such video games as League of Legends, Counter-Strike and DOTA. According to StreamElement, Twitch viewers watched 9.36 billion hours of content in 2018 — 1.36 billion of which belonged to Fortnite. The highest-ranking sports game was FIFA 19, at No. 18.
Breslau says Fortnite superstar Ninja was getting as much online engagement as LeBron James or Cristiano Ronaldo at points last year. Nasher can’t come close to that — his Twitch following ranks No. 6,330 — but he provides a direct link to the younger audience hockey-related sponsors want to reach.
In addition to his streaming, he serves as a commentator for the NHL Gaming World Championship (GWC) esports competition, where he’s swarmed for selfies. “If there’s a hockey audience, people will recognize him,” broadcast partner Arda Ocal says. “He’s not just an NHL video game influencer; he is an overall hockey influencer.” That’s true for players too. He’s streamed with Blue Jackets defenseman Zach Werenski. Minnesota Wild forward J.T. Brown, who met Nasher at All Star Weekend last year, pops into the comments. “I chirp him a little bit but try to keep it friendly,” Brown laughs.
As the NHL season opens on Wednesday, the Bauer money will help Nasher get “bigger and better” with potential trick shots involving shooting pucks onto a boat. ”A lot of other sports have people that are innovating and trying new things,” he says. “With hockey, I feel like it’s a bit lacking on the content side.”
Other brands can study this example as a way to get into the esports/streaming sponsorship sphere. However, like every partnership, there is a risk.
“Gamers are a fickle audience,” Breslau notes. “Fans, when they see ads on Twitch for brand deals, even if it’s authentic but it’s lame, it’ll still be feasted upon in the chat and social media and people will say, ‘Sellout.’”
At least for the time being, Nasher is a sellable voice for hockey fans — one they’ll hear loud and clear, even from a soundproof basement.