Like a lot of parents, Kevin Kolcheff didn’t quite know how to react to his teenage son Nick’s apparent gaming addiction. Though he knew that Nick had firm grounding in a constellation of positive traits—a hard-working student athlete who always saw things through—he felt that video games were a sort of dead end, a formless void that siphoned time that Nick could bank into more productive pursuits, the opposite of the "grind-it-out, goal-oriented" family tradition which Kolcheff describes.
Nick Kolcheff streams as NickMercs on Twitch (opens in new tab), largely sticking to Fortnite. He plays with other popular streamers often and has participated in the Fortnite Summer Skirmish series, even taking a break from the competition to serve as an official caster for the event.
"He was very athletic all through middle and high school," Kolcheff says. "But when he’s in 8th grade and it’s four in the morning on a Tuesday, and I get up to go to the bathroom, and he has a blanket over his head in his room playing video games—on a school night, no less—we came nose-to-nose many times."
Kolcheff is a charming type, quick to laugh and easy to like, but his loquacious demeanor belies a gruff hardiness that reflects his choice of career as a high school football coach. Eventually, Nick’s rampant gaming got to the point where Kolcheff destroyed his Xbox, and Nick left home for a bit. "It’s the same thing that most parents probably go through," says Kolcheff. "The difference is, I just knew that his drive and work ethic was unmatched. If he puts his mind to it, forget it, it’s going to happen. I could see his passion for it, his love of it, the competition, the notoriety, the whole thing."
Now, some five years later, Kolcheff’s prediction has come to fruition: Nick Kolcheff, better known by the handle "NickMercs," claims a much-coveted position as one of the top 50 most-followed streamers on Twitch, according to Social Blade (opens in new tab). And Kevin Kolcheff, his dad, has a new job description as the manager of an enormously successful—and increasingly wealthy—public figure, one who struggles to maintain his standards of authenticity even as his viewership grows by the hundreds with every session.
Gears start turning
Streaming was barely in its infancy when Nick finally convinced his dad to let him take his gaming hobbies seriously. Back then, Nick focused all of his efforts the comparatively small but ultra-hardcore professional scene for the Xbox 360 third-person shooter Gears of War.
After experiencing a series of heartbreaking losses at some of the then-biggest stages in competitive gaming, Nick wanted to take the drastic step of moving from the Detroit suburbs to the tiny hamlet of Lone Jack, Missouri—just outside Kansas City—in order to practice with his new team. Though Kolcheff was initially baffled by this suggestion, he eventually acquiesced. He recalls having to explain the decision to his own father, who was a bit less understanding.
"It was harrowing. People are saying, 'what’re you doing? You’re sending your son to Missouri for gaming?' It wasn’t easy to explain to my own dad, that’s for sure. But I knew that mediocrity is absolutely unacceptable to Nick, he cannot be mediocre in any way. Those guys in Lone Jack had the same work ethic, and they started practicing, and practicing, and in a few months, I take a picture of him holding a check for $40,000 as Gears world champ," says Kolcheff.
"That’s how I knew it was kinda real."
"If I hit this, you guys owe me the world (opens in new tab)."
Kolcheff’s business card dubs him Nick’s "Manager," but by his own estimation, his true job description is anything but traditional. Since Nick streams a minimum of ten hours a day, six days a week, Kolcheff describes his main role as keeping the humdrum work necessary to keep "the LLC" running off Nick’s plate so that he can focus on work, a byword that in this case means direct engagement with fans, through Twitter, email, and, of course, Twitch.
As an example, Kolcheff says that in recent weeks he’s largely supervised the creation of a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, so that Nick can use his stream to shed light on issues affecting his community, donating the proceeds of a night’s stream to a worthy cause. Kolcheff has a relative that suffers from Prader-Willi syndrome, a devastating chromosomal disorder that affects all aspects of a person’s life, but is most recognized for producing a constant hunger that no amount of food can staunch. "I’m working on bringing in some experts and we’ll have a stream about it," he says. "We’ll help educate some people about the disorder, and we’ll bring in some money for the cause. And the next month, it’ll be another cause, and so on."
Nick knows best
Though we live in an era where many pro gamers are trying to make the transition to full-time streaming, according to Kolcheff, it’s not as easy as it looks, and he has nothing but respect for Nick’s peers in the field.
"They’re totally different skillsets," he says. "Last month, when Nick beat Ninja in a game, I guess when someone beats Ninja, he’ll 'raid' that person’s stream, so he raided Nick. And, watching at that point, there was 132,000 people watching. I’m thinking, 'that’s more than a Michigan football game watching him play.' To be able to keep people’s attention, and compete at that level in the game, it’s a rare combination. Nick won’t discourage anybody, even when they come out with similar overlays, or a similar message. He’ll encourage everybody, he thinks there’s more than enough to go around. When we go to E3 and similar events, we see that all these tops guys are pals. They have a relationship outside of the public. It’s very cool to see."
As Nick’s profile has continued to rise, the growing pains of Kolcheff’s ballooning operation continue to mount. For example, a small number of hardcore Call of Duty fans continue to rankle Nick for abandoning the series for Fortnite as the Battle Royale craze ignited the scene. Early in Nick’s streaming career, he and his dad would have massive disagreements about the direction of his product, with Nick having to convince Kolcheff of every step.
Now, Kolcheff says he knows better. "I have a very smart son, and we have a very good father-son relationship. We don’t hang up on each other nearly as much these days," he says, laughing. "I bring him business options, but really, I have no qualms about him making every decision. I’ve learned that his choices are usually correct, he knows this world better than I do, but I’m still learning. I’m in a supportive role these days. He’s a man now. It’s his business."
Even as he gets upwards of 500 new subscribers a night, Nick strives to read off every username, even when it takes an exceedingly long amount of time. For Kolcheff, it’s just the embodiment of the same spirit that led his son, at 12-years-old, to train for hours and hours to win a free-throw competition for the entire state of Michigan, despite hardly playing basketball at all. "That’s how it’s always been," he says. "Nothing can get in his way."
"For all those parents out there that are worried about their gaming-addicted kids, whether it’s Fortnite or anything else, it can happen, it can happen, man. You have to have the right combination of traits, but it can happen."