Perficut COO Wes Brommel is used to playing sold-out shows with his band and roadtripping around the Midwest in pursuit of the best retro and modern video games. Like so many other stories, the pandemic has changed just about everything. Brommel has always operated with the motto of “sleep faster” to squeeze all of the things he is most passionate about into each day — and even though COVID-19 has changed rock shows and gaming in-person with friends — he is staying busy and connected to the things that matter most.
Brommel is definitely a person who appreciates a great team and sense of community. He says one of his favorite things about Perficut is that, “We have been blessed with an amazing, passionate team. Anything I can do to put them in a better position to win either in their career or life is the thing that moves the needle for me and what motivates me the most.”
He starts each day washing trucks with his Perficut colleagues. “It’s a nice way to start the day with a focus on the team and equipment that ultimately takes care of our clients.”
Brommel’s after-hours team is Hazer, a four-piece heavy rock band. The band is currently on hiatus because of venue closures, but pre-pandemic, their nights and weekends were packed with practice, touring, and recording. If you’re thinking this sounds like a pretty full schedule, just wait until you hear about his YouTube channel “Gaming Off The Grid” produced with his bandmate Robert Zortman (Hazer bassist) and their partnership with Children’s Cancer Connection.
Zortman joined Brommel and the Hazer band family in 2013. The “Gaming Off The Grid” concept came about in 2018 when they were waiting for their bandmates to show up to practice and they started playing a light gun game. There was a realization that what some would consider “old school gaming” was a great way to spend meaningful time with friends. It was a lightbulb moment. “‘We need to start a (YouTube) channel about this, like playing Mario Kart with your friends is still the best thing to do,’” Brommel says recalling his conversation with Zortman. “That was the inspiration for the channel and then the charity thing that we started dovetailed off of that.”
“Gaming Off The Grid” is now over two years old and has amassed close to 6,000 subscribers and 350,000 views with episode content scheduled through next year. Brommel describes the “dialed-in process” of producing the show as highly collaborative planning, scripting, editing and publishing. Brommel and Zortman both recall one of their favorite episodes, shot at Reclaimed Rails Brewery in Bondurant. “It was really cool to film off-site. I didn’t know how it was going to turn out, the audio is a little ambient for my taste because it’s a big room, but it actually turned out pretty darn good,” says Brommel. “I love turning the eyes back to our local scene — the creativity and little pockets around Iowa that people need to know about.”
The self-described “young idiots at heart” found time between touring with Hazer and producing “Gaming Off The Grid” to traverse the region and meet gamers and fans from other scenes. One such adventure was roadtripping up to the Midwest Gaming Classic in Milwaukee. Brommel says the sense of connectivity is what they enjoy most in-person and through gaming. “It’s about community and hanging out with people — bringing people back together, getting away from being behind our own individual screens and just having a good time,” he muses. “It’s (a shared experience of) laughing and forgetting about things for a bit while playing some old video games.”
“I hope that (what we’re doing) inspires people that play video games to hang out with their friends, because that’s the best part about getting to be in a room with someone. Laughing and having a great time and that’s the whole point of the channel. We’re trying to bring that back,” says Zortman.
Brommel and Zortman are also proud of the ways they’ve used gaming to connect with others who may or may not have any background in gaming, but appreciate new and old friends during a time when they need support the most. The organization they co-founded is called “Retro to Recovery.” Before the pandemic hit, Brommel and Zortman would bring retro gaming consoles to the Children’s Cancer Connection once a month and host teen-hangouts with pizza and root beer donated by Peace Tree Brewery. “It’s kind of a pizza party and we just get our fingers all greasy and play some Nintendo and stuff,” says Brommel. There was always a couple of “hardcore gaming kids” in the room but it was an inclusive event for teens who are at all levels of playing ability from beginner to expert level. In many instances, these teens missed school and social opportunities because of their treatment schedules.
Zortman, who has experienced the challenges of cancer first-hand with his brother, understands the lasting impact of friendship and a support network. Last year, they attended a high school graduation party of one of the kids who regularly attends their events, and for him it was pretty emotional because it shows the power of shared experiences.
Over the summer, Brommel and Zortman teamed up for a Children’s Cancer Connection benefit and did a 24-hour live stream, raising over $3,000. They are also Twitch affiliates, livestreaming every Tuesday evening.
Brommel and Zortman’s channel is entertaining and it has already proven that it has real legs in taking off and being a success. Perhaps its biggest success is the crossover effect of bringing together worlds of music and gaming, and propelling it all into a larger platform that can continue to grow and create bigger communities over time. The digital world is a place where the community atmosphere can thrive while the real world waits to return to normal.
In the meantime, Brommel will continue to do what he does best, fitting as many activities as possible into every day and sharing his creativity and passion for gaming and friendship with others. “Perficut has been amazing at supporting my creative side — that’s not always easy to find in corporate America,” says Brommel. “Coming to work every day allows me to get away from the creative space a little bit and helps me refocus in a weird sort of way. By the time I get off work at the end of the day I’m usually jacked up from the wins from the day and ready to jump into whatever project I’m wrapped-up in on the creative side. The main thing is working with a team that supports those things and doesn’t try to stifle it in any way. It’s a huge blessing and I’m very grateful for that.”