E3 2014: Interview with Extra Life’s Jeromy Adams

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Love gaming? Why not do that and help sick and injured kids along the way? Now you can.

Extra Life is a fundraising program for the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals that has raised over $8 million since it started in 2008. Extra Life raises money year-round for its one-day non-stop gaming event called National Game Day. During this event, participants fundraise, play games, and celebrate the grand total that would be given to Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. Unlike other marathons and fundraising events, this event is done at your home or any place you like to game. This year, the event will be on October 25th, 2014.

Extra Life Twitch Display

It all started with a girl named Victoria ‘Tori’ Enmon, a teenage gamer who lost her life to leukemia in 2008. Jeromy ‘Doc’ Adams, a radio personality at the time and friend of Tori, decided he wanted to create Extra Life as a way for gamers to give back to the community. It was because of him, gamers have come together to help give children a extra life.

Nerd Reactor sat down to talk to Extra Life founder Jeromy about his thoughts, inspiration and how to prepare for this year’s Extra Life Game Day.

Nerd Reactor: What gave you this idea to create Extra Life?

Jeromy Adams: So Extra Life is in memory of Victoria Enmon. Tori was 15 years old when she died from acute lymphoblastic leukemia, which is blood cancer. When she passed away, it really left a hole in my life and left me wanting to be more involved in helping these kids fighting these horrible things. So I went to a community, that I had started, called Sarcastic Gamer and said “Hey guys, what do you think about this? We don’t run or bike ride, we game. So can we do that and still raise money like they do with runs, walks and bike rides?” The answer was a resounding yes. About 1,200 showed up and raised about $120,000 that first year in Tori’s memory. It just sort of grew from there. The next year was $170,000 and I come to work for Children’s Miracle Network Hospital and see the core tenant of CMN hospitals to see that the money stays where it was raised. So in 2010, I donated the intellectual properties of Extra Life logos and everything to CMNH, with an agreement from our CEO that he would help invest and provide resources so we could grow, which he did. So the next year, gamers could start gaming, not just for Texas Children’s Hospital where we found it, they could pick any children’s hospital in the Children’s Miracle Network Hospital. There are 170 of them. They can pick any hospital to game for. So then they raised a half a million, then the next year a million, then the next year was $2 million. This past year, despite 8 DDoS attacks on the website, we raised $4.1 million dollars, which is the highest in the history of the program.

NR: Reading your stats, I knew this was a great community and program to invest in. Since you’re a gamer, how did you know the gaming community would get involved?

ControllerwithEffectsJA: I already knew they would way before because when Tori was sick, I put the word out to my community, “Hey guys, do you have anything that you’re not playing anymore? Because she’s played everything in the hospital and is bored to tears. I was just hoping to get a couple of things, just a few things to keep her happy. I was working in radio at the time, I didn’t have enough money to buy her a bunch of stuff. What I thought would turn out to be a few things, turned into FedEx drivers and UPS drivers constantly coming to my house for weeks. It filled up my living room. Tori couldn’t even play everything. She was giving everything to the other kids on the floor. It was this amazing thing that planted the seed that was Extra Life. After she passed away, I remembered how much they cared and I knew the gaming community would pull through.

NR: This event is one weekend (24 hours). Do you guys have game suggestions or games you want them to play?

JA: Well, how this works with Extra Life is that you get a personal fundraising page and you pick which hospital you’d like to give it to. Then you send out your page to your friends and family and say, “Hey, I’m doing this and they donate.” Then on October 25th, you turn on any game you want for any amount of time you want. Extra Life is about doing what you love to do to help others. It’s not just video games either. We do board games, table top games, yard games, basketball. I don’t care if you kick a ball against a wall – just do what makes you happy and do it to help other people. The most confusing thing about Extra Life is that it’s so open-sourced that we want you to hack it to make it work for you. Hack the system. You could sign up with Extra Life and erase your prefilled information that Extra Life prefills and make it you own thing. You could literally create your own movement inside the page.

NR: Extra Life is a great name for this fundraiser that plays on gaming and helping children. Where did this name come from?

JA: Obviously, it was a play on words from video games. It just seemed like an obvious name because we are giving these kids an extra life by just being there and supporting them. The money that we raise is going into the local needs of the hospital. We’re not raising the money and saying you have to spend it on cancer, because that doesn’t necessarily help a small hospital in the middle of Nebraska. They may need help with the neonatal intensive care unit because they have babies born so small and need to survive and make it. So it really depends on the needs of the hospital. There are basically 170 Children’s Miracle Network Hospital and 170 are independent charities in these communities that need so much support in order to keep them open and be able to treat every kid that walks in the door, regardless of their families’ abilities to pay.

NR: What game did you play the last time for this event?

JA: I played Wack-A-D-DoS-Attack. We got DDoS last year and we spent a lot of time to mitigate that. I played GTA 5.

NR: How do you think this helps people’s perception of gamers?extralife

JA: I think Extra Life sort of helps rewrite the mental image that people have of gamers. [The anti-social idea] I think it’s going away. It used to be worst. It’s starting to go away because of gamers showing who they really all so often. It’s a shame we have to be so overt about it because we are just normal people. We’re moms and dads, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters. We have jobs and all kinds of stuff. We are normal people and we are more social, not anti social. We have more friends than most other people do. We are very caring. For a very long time, there were all these needs out there and no one asked for our help. So, when Extra Life came along, they said, “Yeah! We’re into this! Let’s do this.” So, I love what Extra Life is doing to help. It also helps redirect that sort of image of gamers as being benevolent, caring and awesome people. The normal people that we are.

NR: Have you worked with other organizations – gaming, table top, etc  as well?

JA: Yeah, we talked to Geek & Sundry, they had a team last year. We’re about to add to our website Wizards of the Coast coming on as a official partner of ours. We had Diablo 3 and Activision that helped us out last year. We’re talking to EA and so many partners coming on board. Another thing I love about Extra Life is that it’s a non-exclusive thing. So, we have Microsoft and PlayStation logos right next to each other. They are fine with. We all believe and our core belief is that there is no exclusivity in saving the life of kids. It should be the industry’s cause. These are your future customers. These kids deserve the chance to grow up. You possess the power of play to help them grow up. These companies had no objection and it’s remarkable in an industry that’s competitive.

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NR: Were there any personal stories you’ve heard from gamers about why they chose to participate?

JA: We do a series called “Why do you Extra-Life” that we exhibit on our website and people sharing why they participate in Extra Life. Originally we thought this is Tori’s story and Tori will be the motivation for all these people and while I think people are very respectful and cognizant of  Tori’s story. We come to realize there were 43,000 people who were part of Extra Life, basically had 43,000 different reasons why they participated. We heard all kinds of stories. We had a gentleman, who was a big Extra Lifer in Maryland, couldn’t participate in the big event last year because his daughter had a ruptured appendix and said he couldn’t do it. He said “I’m going to the hospital I raised for my daughter.” You hear these stories and when you really boil it down. We are one or two points of separation from a children’s hospital. Either we’ve been there or we know someone going through it. So I think children’s hospitals are a cause that just anyone can really get by.

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NR: Other than raising money for treatment/research, do you guys have a day for the kids where they get to play with the gamers?

JA: At the local level, we have what are called ‘guilds’. They are physical chapters of Extra Life. We launched in over 25 cities. They are lead by a President, Vice President, Treasurer and Secretary. They guys downstairs at our booth [at E3] are members of our guild in LA. They are volunteers in the area that work hard on these things and often time they do interact with the kids. They’ll go in and do a day of play or a marathon. I’ve seen pictures of our Extra Lifers spend 24 hours in a hospital with the kids. The kids get to come down and play the different games until they get tired. I think that’s an awesome aspect. We’re not just sending money. Our gamers want to see these kids and interact with them. We haven’t announced this yet, but we’re doing a National Extra Life Day. It may not be just one day, but we will be inviting all of our Extra Life gamers to our children’s hospitals to take a tour and see where the money goes. It will be advance for our Extra Life to see where their money is going. We’re hoping to have a lot of participating hospitals.

Our focus is to raise funds to treat the kids. There are fantastic charities that fill the space that you were asking about. Child’s Play is an amazing organization that gets these games into the hospitals and helps heal kids through the power of play. I’m a big believer in them as well. We talk to them a couple of times a year to just keep up with each other and see how everything is going. On that angle, I think they do a fantastic job and we are happy to support them.

NR: I understand the funds raised go to the hospital for treatments, but do you have a lot of gamers who want to go to the hospital and go hands on?

JA: Yeah, we do. That’s what fills me up. Being in the hospital. I know you were feeling emotional, but imagine walking through those doors of the children’s hospital, sit by the ER and watch a mom and her kid, who a few minutes ago they were just having a normal day and suddenly they slipped/fell, and all of the sudden the mom’s only focus is getting through the door. She can’t hear you. She can’t see you. And when you see her face as she goes through the door holding her baby, you know you’re doing the right thing and supporting the right place because on the other side of that door isn’t somebody waiting for a checkbook or credit card on file, not at our hospitals. Our hospital have the attitude that it’s funded by the generosity by the people helping.

Extra Life Logo_Blue

NR: Do you have many people helping you with these fundraisers? Community managers? Fellow gamers?

JA: We don’t have community managers. We’re actually looking to hire some community managers. We are supported by our national office, like Clint and Julie, where they aren’t just working on Extra Life. Clint just came back from working on the Miss America program and Julie does all of our social media for all programs. As for people working solely on Extra Life, there are only two of us doing it full time. We are adding two more positions and hiring two people in the next two weeks. We don’t have a community manager yet. But what is really awesome about our organization is that, even though there are only two of us focused solely on Extra Life, our whole organization wraps around the whole program. Extra Life is actually a top priority at CMNH hospitals now. Our CEO this year decided that Extra Life will be one of his high five. It shows. We get all this support. These people aren’t just here, because they do have a choice in their work, but they are here because they love Extra Life.

NR: With the event coming up this year, do you have any plans or surprises for this year’s event?

Champions extra lifeJA: Yes, I told you about the tour day with the Extra Lifers. Without going into too much detail, we actually have a big event going on called ‘Champions’. It’s going to be happening after Extra Life’s event this year. Once a year, we bring out champion kids in from all over the country. These are kids from all fifty states, Canadian provinces, Pueto Rico and their families. They get to go to Disney World and experience Disney and receive a hero’s welcome. Delta Airlines brings these kids in. There are water canons over the planes. These kids, who in many cases may never win the big game because their bodies have gone through some horrible things with their health, come out with this amazing attitude. For three days, they are celebrated as the heroes they are. They go into a room for the medal ceremony with thousands of supports from Walmart, Delta, Ace Hardware, and all these different folks. These kids come on stage and Miss America and Nick Canon are there. So, these kids get a medal in front of all these people.

This year, we are adding an Extra Life Tournament where gamers will get to come together will compete for a pretty sizable sum of money for their hospital. So the gamers can come to Orlando, meet the kids that they are helping, and compete. The events are to be determined. The exact layout and the prize pool as well. We are still working on gathering that.

NR: How will you determine which gamers will come compete for the tournament?

 JA: First, it will be by invitation. So our top fundraisers will get the first invites and then beyond that, our community will be told, “Hey, there are this many openings. You need to register.”

NR:If I were to create a page, earn as a top fundraiser, but I’m not the best at gaming, would I be able to get someone else to game for me if there was a tournament?

JA: It will be space available, but ultimately anyone could register for it. We could even have a non-contestant registration to see what is going on. This is all being framed in right now. We’ve been having meetings for it. Our friends at Twitch are going to help and support it.

NR: So how do people sign up?

JA: Pretty simple, three steps. You go to Extra-Life.org. It takes a couple of minutes to register. You pick a hospital and if you don’t know or can’t find which hospital, there is a little tool to help you find your hospital. Then you get this unique URL that is your personal page. You start sending it out to friends and family. You say, “Look, I’m playing games and helping kids. I’d really like your support.” There’s a bunch of tools behind the scenes. We are adding this in July – we are adding badges. Achievements for our fundraisers. So the more you raise for the kids, just like the game, you can unlock achievements. Those haven’t been announced yet.

NR: Can people start raising the funds now?

JA: Absolutely. We actually opened on January 1st for Extra Life. It’s the earliest we’ve ever opened. People are already raising money. Our top fundraiser Aurelyian is already at $9,000 that she’s raised for the Children’s Hospital in St. Louis. We have gamers that participate year round. So that big 24 hour marathon is starting to become a punctuation mark at the end of that chapter in Extra Life. It used to be ‘that was the whole thing’. Now, it’s I’m just starting now we can celebrate what we earned from all year round. It’s really cool. The community has through their actions, through their work, and through their feedback to us the course of where this is going to go. We feel like it’s our job to be the stewards/servants to get the things they want to help the kids. We don’t feel like we’re leading the Extra Lifers. We feel like we are serving this community which we accidentally made. We went to make a fundraiser and  then oops there’s a community here. This is community fueled and driven. It’s the best happy accident.

If you would like to participate in Extra Life’s annual game-a-thon event, please click here.

This is a great cause doing something you love.

 

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Laura Sirikul
Laura Sirikul 1849 posts

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