My name is OpTic HECZ and I had the honor of joining the cannabis industry by way of professional esports and building brands on the internet. Big shout out to my boy Jon Cappetta for inviting me to be a contributor to WEIRDOS and to share reflections from my journey. I know you all will be absolutely shocked to learn that there has always been a vibrant cannabis culture behind the scenes of gaming and esports, so my goal when joining the cannabis industry was to take the lessons I learned building OpTic Gaming and introduce them to a plant I love and traditional cannabis culture I feel naturally connect to.
Esports and cannabis cultures were both born on the edges of society and we’re still battling stigmas despite growing into multi-billion dollar global industries. While gamers never had to face the War on Drugs, many of us took huge personal risks and made extreme sacrifices to help build esports into what it is today. My wife and family were dangerously supportive when I left my corporate job in early 2009 to focus on becoming a full-time YouTube content creator, and after a year of telling them that “this is going to work out,” my first check was a hilarious 16 cents from monetizing Call of Duty montage videos. I may not have lived in tent on a hill in Humboldt County, but you better believe that back in June 2013 when we launched the first OpTic House, my wife and I were called crazy when we told our family that we would be moving to her parents’ basement to allow the players to move in to our current home and make one of the first YouTube content houses a reality.
Despite the risks and labels, cannabis OGs know the important lesson that the diehard esports community learned through our commitment: it’s what we did and stood for when everyone thought we were weirdos, before all the corporate investors rushed in, that will forever resonate in our respective cultures.
For esports, 6050 Russell Drive showed the world that OpTic Gaming, operating out of a cul-de-sac in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, could have a larger social media presence then all of Chicago’s historic sports franchises aside from the great Chicago Bulls (and that’s only because they had GOD in uniform during the 90s). That revelation drove many billionaire owners from traditional sports to quickly buy esports teams—we were one of the lucky teams that were paired up with incredible investors, but many other investors came into our industry with as much respect for the culture that made OpTic and esports popular as Chad has for growing and selling good weed.
So I came to cannabis knowing what it’s like to create something from a place of passion and I have seen firsthand the interests of big money trying to get their piece of something new. In 2017, an ownership group made me an offer I couldn’t refuse and I was happy to sell OpTic in hopes of expediting our growth as an elite professional esports franchise. But then things happened, people happened and business happened and I ultimately decided to buy back OpTic in 2020. The journey that led me to buying back OpTic taught me a very important lesson relevant to the cannabis industry today: when you put your heart and soul into something, the authentic relationship that you develop with supporters building that brand can never truly be bought or sold.
As I’ve gotten the opportunity to meet creators from across the cannabis industry, the biggest challenge I see facing the traditional culture today isn’t the federal regulatory status, or even high taxes, it’s the digital suppression happening on social, video, and streaming platforms that is preventing cannabis creators from organically growing like they should. I’ve experienced firsthand that a dedicated online audience is the most powerful asset you can have, and if cannabis growers, breeders and extractors could distribute their content like OpTic Gaming, then I know customers and fans will have the greatest impact on the future of this industry as opposed to politicians and corporate investors.
To Facebook, Google, Amazon, TikTok: I am incredibly grateful for the opportunities your platforms have given me, and the people around me, but it’s time to end the digital war on cannabis. Sure, the federal government can’t get its act together to provide you rules for managing cannabis regulations today, but conflict with the federal government hasn’t stopped you before, and besides, no one will notice if you just start treating cannabis like alcohol on your platforms… the cannabis community promises they won’t tell the feds!
To OG cannabis operators: esports has taught me that people will support the creators who authentically share their lives, process, and passion. Being the best at what you do isn’t good enough anymore, you have to share content. If you have good content and you build a community, there is no amount of money or marketing campaign from a big corporation that can compete with a relationship with your fans. Make no mistake, it’s an absolute grind to build an audience. I shot, edited, and uploaded a vlog every single day for 2 years and still continue to do so regularly. The ones who do the hard work to build their online audiences can thrive as long as the internet exists. That’s what we’re all going for, right? Creating brands that are around forever?
To cannabis lovers and fans: make it your mission to support your favorite cannabis creators and brands online and go the extra mile to share their content and push the algorithms against the suppression and shadow banning. We have the ability to make sure traditional cannabis culture flourishes digitally but we all need to work together to ensure the best people are surfaced and that takes effort by the global digital cannabis community.
I want to give a special shout out to the cannabis content creators out there that have overcome all the odds and built massive communities around their video content—creators like Erick Khan, Dope as Yola and Goblin have battled the algorithms with authentic content and it’s incredible to think about how their audiences and influence will grow when the digital war on cannabis ends. Yola can literally see on his dashboard showing the revenue he has generated but won’t ever receive. End this madness!
I also want to acknowledge a number of cannabis creators who have been digitally incarcerated or deplatformed and were forced to rebuild their audiences in the process, including Adam Ill, StrainCentral and Silenced Hippie. As a cannabis and creator community, we need to do everything we can to help overcome the injustices that have been passed out to good people entertaining audiences about a plant they love. At Pine Park, our YouTube channel will always be a home for creators from across the industry that deserve more digital exposure or a jump start to building their audience. Never hesitate to reach out to me or our team about ways we can work together to ensure that traditional cannabis culture and creators survive and thrive online.