As a teenager, Jon Kefaloukos had a secret identity.
In school, he was a typical student; but outside of school, he was a video game superstar.
Growing up in Glen Ellyn, he didn’t let his classmates in on his “crazy nerdy” hobby, even when he traveled as far as London to compete in video game tournaments with big cash payouts. When he arrived at Elmhurst College to study business management, he finally came clean.
“I actually missed my [Alpha Sigma Phi] initiation because I was at a tournament that weekend,” he says. “Once I told my fraternity, they were super cool.”
From competing at video game tournaments to broadcasting gameplay online, Kefaloukos worked his way up the virtual ladder. Today, he works at Microsoft as content manager for the Gears of War franchise—which happens to be his game of choice.
As a teenager, Kefaloukos woke up early on Saturday mornings to catch The MLG Show, a program about the Major League Gaming pro-circuit. “Kids my age—16, 17—were making money, making a living, competing in tournaments,” he says. “It was the coolest thing.”
Kefaloukos grew up playing everything from old-school Super Mario Brothers to massively popular first-person shooter Halo, but when he competes, he plays Gears of War, a science fiction military game.
Tournaments typically take place in convention centers filled with hundreds of competitive gamers. With prizes ranging from $1,000 to $100,000, tensions run high—and trash talk inevitably ensues. “It’s unreal,” says Kefaloukos. “The level of intensity is just nuts.”
Kefaloukos started getting more and more attention on the pro circuit, gathering sponsors and competing professionally from 2006 to 2009. As technology shifted, so did competitive gaming; the best gamers started streaming gameplay online, offering their own commentary and tips. Kefaloukos joined the first wave of streamers on video game site Twitch.tv. Streamers on Twitch can earn money through sponsors or subscribers—and Kefaloukos has both. Today, up to 3,000 subscribers tune in for his broadcasts.
Kefaloukos’s outgoing attitude and sense of humor translate well to live streaming, where he keeps up steady banter while navigating virtual worlds. Those same traits came into play while he was a student at Elmhurst College, where he threw himself into a huge variety of activities and organizations.
He gave campus tours as a student ambassador and welcomed the first-year class as an Orientation Student Leader. He co-founded the Commuter Advisory Board and helped the lacrosse team get its start. As president of Union Board, he helped bring the band Fun to campus.
In fact, Kefaloukos got so involved in campus life that competitive gaming took a backseat for a while. But he jumped back into streaming during his sophomore year, when Gears of War 3 came out. Renting a house with his fraternity brothers, he converted the basement into the ideal space for gaming and streaming. “It was absolutely crazy,” he laughs.
Craig Engstrom, a professor in the Department of Communication Arts and Sciences, remembers Kefaloukos as an involved and ambitious student. “He was one of the top-performing students I’ve had, and a really good guy,” he says. “He was a hard worker, and he had a lot of experience to share.”
Kefaloukos took Engstrom’s Organizational Communication class, and the two stayed in touch. Engstrom would even occasionally tune into a Twitch stream. (“My professor is watching,” Kefaloukos would announce to his viewers.)
Kefaloukos says that Elmhurst life prepared him well for his renewed streaming career. “You’re on camera in front of thousands of people. You have to be able to hold a conversation, entertain people, make people laugh,” he says. “That’s essentially what I was doing every day at Elmhurst as an Orientation Student Leader and a student ambassador.”
Those same experiences also prepared Kefaloukos well for professional opportunities beyond gaming. He took on three internships while he was at Elmhurst—with Northwestern Mutual, Athletico and CVS Caremark—and by the time he started his senior year, he had already received a full-time job offer.
Today, after all those years gaming and competing, Kefaloukos merged work and play. In his job as Gears of War community manager, he caters to millions of fans through their social media channels. He’s also considered the game’s top streamer and commentator.
He draws on his Elmhurst degree in his work, but he credits the whole Elmhurst package for where he’s landed. “I think the entire Elmhurst experience really propelled me into who I am,” he says, “and for that I really am thankful.”