The idea of playing video games as a career is a dream for many teenagers. It is a thought that will always be there but most of the time will never become a reality.
Not many could do it, but Freddy Gerard achieved this dream at the age of 16.
Gerard, a junior forward on Ohio State’s men’s hockey team, played “Call of Duty” just like many other kids — except he quickly turned this time-killer into a skill.
“I wanted to see how good I was. So then I started doing little online tournaments,” Gerard said. “I started meeting better players I was playing against and playing with, and after a while I ended up finding a pretty good team, a set of guys to play with, and we ended up being pretty good.”
Gerard joined OpTic Gaming, one of the biggest names in video games, at 16 years old under the name “Folsom.”
“Folsom’s actually my middle name,” Gerard said. “I wasn’t sure if it would be cool at first.”
Gerard made YouTube videos for two years under OpTic, which became very popular. It became so well-known, in fact, that some of his current Ohio State teammates watched him without even realizing.
“I actually saw one of his YouTube videos, but I didn’t realize it was him until I played with him on Xbox,” Ohio State sophomore forward Tanner Laczynski said. “I think that was pretty cool that a pretty well-known guy in the video game world was on my team.”
Gerard’s YouTube videos with OpTic continued to grow a following while he balanced school and practiced for a junior hockey team. He said he went to school at 8 a.m., then had practice after school for most of the afternoon until he resumed gaming at night.
Hockey and gaming became integral parts of Gerard’s life. That only grew when he moved from YouTube to competitive gaming and began traveling across the country.
“I didn’t quite expect the jump of how good these kids actually were, because I thought I was pretty good. I’m the best kid in every public lobby I play in by miles,” Gerard said. “I found out real quick how much I need to improve so it was an adjustment for sure, but after sticking with it, I knew I had something.”
From an outside perspective, hockey and competitive gaming might seem like two talents on opposite sides of the spectrum, but Gerard said there are more similarities than one would think.
“I don’t think people understand how team-oriented it is to play competitive video games like that. There’s four guys on your team, you and three other guys, and you are communicating nonstop,” Gerard said. “On the pressure side of things, yeah, absolutely. I remember my first time playing in front of a huge crowd like that. It’s nerve-wracking. You’re not sitting in your room anymore. There’s a spotlight on you, so that took an adjustment.”
While the gaming was taking off, Gerard found himself traveling for hockey, as well. He first moved to Boston to play on the Junior Bandits. Then in 2014, he moved to play for the Madison Capitols in Middleton, Wisconsin, where Ohio State eventually discovered and recruited him.
In Boston, however, Sally Gerard, Freddy’s mom, said hockey and professional gaming became too much to handle all at once, and it left Freddy with a decision to make.
“I think that was hard for him to do both, at that point,” Sally said. “This was kind of like the cross in the road.”
Hockey was his passion his entire life, Freddy said, and gaming was slowly becoming a second priority. Especially with his hopes of going to college, Freddy knew it wasn’t entirely his decision to quit gaming back in 2013.
Freddy said he was cut by his gaming team a month before a major event, and this was the eventual breaking point for him.
“I was like, ‘All right well hey, hockey it is, let’s do it,’” he said.
While she was supportive of Freddy’s passion for gaming, Sally said she had no complaints about her son’s ultimate decision.
“We were happy about him choosing hockey, I have to say. I think he is too, at this point. I don’t think it was, probably, an easy decision for him at one time,” she said. “I think he saw that it would be a big market, that gaming was going to be a big deal, and he was kind of ahead of it.”
Moving to hockey full-time is a choice Freddy said he doesn’t regret, but he will always look back fondly at his time at the top of the gaming world.
“It was definitely a different experience than most kids I would say, because for a while you’re kind of like a little celebrity,” Freddy said. “I went out to an event in Anaheim and I was signing autographs for half an hour, me and like three of my other teammates, so it was cool…I’m a 16-, 17-year-old kid and I’m signing autographs.”
Freddy eventually found his way to Ohio State when he said it approached him after the 11th or 12th game of the season in Dubuque, Iowa, a game Freddy remembers because of how exciting it was for him. Though the Rocky River, Ohio, native took some time to think about it, Freddy said it was a no-brainer to accept the Buckeyes’ offer.
“I had finally been told that my dream was going to come true and let alone at Ohio State,” he said. “It’s my state school. It’s a couple hours away from home. It’s an awesome place to be.”
In his junior campaign for the sixth-ranked Buckeyes, Freddy has 10 goals and 17 points, more points than his first two seasons combined. Plus, Ohio State should have a NCAA tournament bid on the horizon.
It’s been a long road for Freddy, who has seen the ups and downs of two unique fields that both took one major component: hard work.
“I worked all my life to play hockey. That was my first love, and I did it every single day for as long as I could,” Freddy said. “I worked my ass off for that year-and-a-half, two years in my last couple years of Juniors to make that happen, and I did it and I made it here, and I’m just trying to love every second of that.”
Freddy still plays video games from time-to-time, not with professionals, but with his teammates on the ice.
Freddy doesn’t have any plans to return to competitive gaming, at least not while at Ohio State. He might have loved competitive gaming at a time, but Freddy said there are just some things hockey has that gaming does not.
“There’s just no feeling like playing hockey,” Freddy said. “That was my first love. I fell in love with it right away. I loved the feeling you get when you score a goal or even just when you’re out there playing, you forget about everything. There’s not a care in the world.”