Meet James “Jimmy Thousands” Nix, founder of Who Run Philly 2K, an underground, cash-prize video game tournament for players of NBA 2K and Madden NFL.

• It was all a dream: Three years ago, Nix woke up from a dream with the entire concept and bracket system for his video game tournament in his head. “I wrote it out and said, ‘I’m doing it.'" And he did.

• Not just a name: Nix lives up to his money nickname, “Jimmy Thousands." He estimates that over three years and 38 tournaments hosted, he’s awarded more than $18,000 in prizes.

For the last three years in an unremarkable house on an otherwise unremarkable street in Germantown, guys with neck tattoos and dudes in George Costanza T-shirts have faced off once a month in a secret underground video-game tournament run by a mail clerk with a dream.

James Nix’s Who Run Philly 2K video-game tournaments — which pit players against each other in Madden NFL or NBA 2K — draw gamers from as far away as Detroit and Cleveland to a nondescript Philly apartment with hardwood floors, four televisions, four Xbox systems, and little else.

Over 38 tournaments, the buy-ins for the games run by Nix — whose nickname is “Jimmy Thousands” — have risen from $5 to $50, with the grand prize now up to $750. Nix takes a cut of the proceeds but said he invests much of it into advertising.

“This is all just me hustling," he said.

Nix, 30, grew up in Germantown and believes he got his hustle from his dad, a contractor and property owner, and his electronics skills from his mom, whom he called “a computer genius.”

“Coming up, I was always a hustler,” he said. “I’m just a guy that gets it done.”

Back when he was a freshman at Dobbins High School, Nix was so good at playing Madden NFL that people began betting on him, which got him thinking about starting a video-game tournament of his own.

In July 2015, he made that dream a reality, laying out a set of rules that included no alcohol or smoking at games. Not all vices are prohibited, though.

“There’s definitely not a hold on profanity,” he said.

James Nix practices his Madden NFL game skills on one of the many screens in the secret location where he runs his monthly tournament.
MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer
James Nix practices his Madden NFL game skills on one of the many screens in the secret location where he runs his monthly tournament.

Spectators are not allowed at games. Nix didn’t want people just “talking smack,” and he found that when players come alone, they’re more likely to make new friends.

“If you come in with somebody else, you’re not going to vibe with everybody,” he said.

One of the best parts of the tournaments, which can host up to 42 players, is that they bring gamers from all walks of life together, Nix said.

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While most players are men — only two women have ever signed up — the age range of participants varies wildly, from 12 to 46.

Nix gets word about his tournaments out on social media and through online advertising. You don’t need a Konami Code to get in, but you do have to pay the entry fee before the address and time of the tournament are provided.

A security guard is on site and players must show a valid form of ID.

When asked if Nix’s tournaments violate any city or state laws, Philadelphia police referred questions to the Department of Licenses and Inspections. Both L&I and the state Gaming Control Board said they do not have oversight.

During the tournaments, Nix manages the games and posts heavily on social media, which keeps players’ emotions in check, he said.

“When you see me with the video going, you’re not going to do anything crazy,” he said. “You don’t want to look like a mad person on video and Snapchat. You want to look cool.”

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In a time when Comcast is spending $50 million to build an esports arena with 3,500 seats, Nix’s tournament offers the opposite — a personalized setting that encourages camaraderie above competition.

“Tons of relationships have been built here," Nix said. “You’re building friendships with people here, and when you go home you can play with them online."

But Nix, who works overnight for the U.S. Postal Service as a mail clerk, has big dreams for his tournament as well. He’d like to get a larger space and sponsors, maybe even a live DJ, instead of his iPhone. His goal is to be able to offer a million-dollar prize one day.

That, he imagines, would be the ultimate level up.

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