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Jordan Persson takes it to the Next Level

By WILLIAM PAINE

william.paine@southwesttimes.com

Next Level Virtual Reality, located at the corner of West Main Street and Jefferson Avenue in Pulaski, is one of the newer businesses to open in the NRV and one of the only businesses of its kind in the entire region.

“What we have here is a virtual reality center,” said Jordan Persson, who owns a majority share of the business. “In addition to a video game arcade, half the building has new age/virtual reality technology and on the other side we have more traditional consoles for group play.”

Next Level VR, (the VR stands for virtual reality) is a gamer’s paradise. Not only are there four curtained booths dedicated to immersing players in a virtual world offering a variety of scenarios, there are also several more traditional Xbox and Battle Royale type games that can be played in groups.

Classic video games such as Pac Man, Super Mario and Space Invaders are also part of the package, along with a nifty looking race car game, complete with steering wheel and pedals.

Persson grew up in the Bassett section of Martinsville, where he graduated from Bassett High School way back in 2015.

Though his high school didn’t offer a computer class, he began studying Computer Science at Virginia Tech.

“I always liked puzzles and computer science is like one big puzzle for every problem you’re solving,” said Persson.

Persson graduated from Tech with a Computer Science degree in the spring of 2018 and soon found employment with a company called Solars. Another tech company, Peraton, bought that company but kept the original employees.

Working as a computer programmer is Persson’s full-time job, specifically in the area of Space Domain Awareness.

“A lot of what I do is space related, so a lot of satellite monitoring systems and collision avoidance,” he said of his work. “You’re trying to figure out all the orbital information about the satellites and making sure that this satellite is not going to hit this other satellite. We would predict that and then tell the user that, ‘Hey, we’re detecting this.’ They can verify it and determine what kind of action they want to do.”

The “user” or client is often the Department of Defense and yes, there is a lot of math involved.

“The math gets pretty complicated because you’re trying to predict 10,000 satellites and you need to do it quickly and effectively,” he explained. “Because if a satellite hits another satellite, that’s a huge deal. That’s a billion dollars so you’ve got to be accurate. Not only do they destroy two satellites, but it turns those two satellites into hundreds of satellites because of all of those pieces are now things you have to track because it’s debris that could hit your satellite.”

Colliding with this space trash can have serious consequences.

“There was a picture of a paint fleck that hit the International Space Station and cracked the window,” said Persson. “So imagine something that has some mass to it. If someone’s not monitoring it, there’s going to be a collision.”

Dylan Armes, a 2019 graduate of PCHS is currently the only paid employee at Next Level VR.

“I basically handle most all of the stuff that happens in the shop,” said Armes.

“I’m normally the one who builds the computers and fixes that stuff,” said Persson. “I’ve built so many computers at this point, I can build one in like 30 minutes now.”

Persson has built every computer attached to a game in Next Level VR.

“If you buy a desktop from Walmart or whatever, you can’t pick and choose exactly what you want and it’s only going to be marked up,” he explained. “The Graphics Processing Unit is the most important part. Putting it together yourself is a lot more cost effective. If you just buy a gaming PC online, you’re not going to get as good hardware and you’ll be paying more because you’re paying for the convenience of them putting it together for you.”

So how did Persson end up in Pulaski?

While he was attending Virginia Tech, Persson worked part time as a cashier/bagger at Kroger in Blacksburg. It was there he met Steve Critchfield, who is deeply involved in West Main Development, MOVA Technologies and Kethanos properties.

“He just talked to me that one day,” recounted Persson. “That’s kind of his thing. Austin Stromme (recent Neighbor) met him while working as a bag boy and Dylan met him working at Food Lion.”

Before long, he was helping Critchfield make spreadsheets for his businesses and fixing his printers when they broke.

“I essentially became his IT guy,” said Persson, who soon became a member of the group of young Pulaski entrepreneurs known as “The Tribe.”

Several of these young fellows are part owners of Next Level VR but Persson, who owns more shares than any of the others, is by far the most deeply involved.

And opening a new business in 2020 has not been ideal. Especially when the governor banned public gatherings and ordered the closure of “nonessential” businesses.

“We definitely didn’t see that coming,” he said. “It just kind of sucked that COVID happened when we’re opening up.”

Next Level VR had been opened a little more than a month when in March, it had to close its doors to the public.

“The only thing that’s been keeping us going is the COVID relief grants,” said Persson. “We were able to get a lot of grants from the county and the town. That’s the only reason we’ve been able to exist, that and I’m stubborn.”

The business didn’t open again until August when Persson hired Armes to be his shop manager.

“Like Persson said, he’s stubborn,” said Armes. “And we’ve been doing everything we can to get more people in and making more money, so we’re able to sustain for the long haul.”

When I asked Armes to describe a virtual reality experience, he told me I should check it out myself. Before long, Persson and Armes had strapped virtual reality goggles and the accompanying handsets on me and had loaded the program for a game called: Superhot VR.

“We’re going to make you sweat,” said Armes.

It’s a strange sensation to find oneself standing in a room with gadgets, video monitors and cables that you know are not really there. It’s stranger still when the game begins and three red humanoid shaped figures begin shooting at you and generally trying to take you down.

Before long I got the hang of it by shooting back at the evil red figures and when I didn’t have a gun, a quick punch in its head would prove to be my attacker’s undoing. Whenever I successfully connected by fist or bullet, the attacker shattered in a most satisfactory way.

“I’m guessing you’re a gamer too, seeing how quick you picked this up,” said Persson, as I gave an uppercut to my antagonist.

“No, not at all,” I responded, not remembering the last time I played a video game.

“It just goes to show you don’t need to be a traditional gamer to pick this up,” said Persson.

At the end of the session, I was well pleased with my first virtual reality gaming experience.

Next Level VR is now open for business from 4:00 p.m. Until 10:00 p.m. on Fridays and 2:00 p.m.until 10:00 p.m. on Saturdays. Rentals can be made by appointment on the other days of the week. Private birthday parties are commonly rented out in this way.

“I would love to be open five days a week if we could, it’s we’ve just got to get the traffic going to make that feasible,” said Persson. “With the vaccine being distributed now, we’re hoping that things will really pick up.”

Persson is also attempting to work with the school system and might end up teaching a robotics class in the not too distant future.

Naturally, precautions are taken in this COVID aware era. All those who enter get their temperature taken and masks are required. All surfaces are continuously cleaned and gear that touches the hands or face are cleaned both by wiping them with disinfectant and by using ultraviolet rays.

“That’s one of the problems we’re trying to tackle is how we can make people feel safe enough to come in here and know what we have to offer,” he said. “We’re doing $10 all day play, where you can come in here pay $10 and then all day you can play on our arcade cabinet, our group gaming systems, Xboxes or gaming PCs. Virtual reality is not included in that, but we’re mainly just trying to get people in the door see our space and build up our community.”

Pulaski is Persson’s community as he has now purchased a house on 7th Street.

“I pay about half what I would pay for an apartment in Blacksburg, and I’m buying a house,” said Persson.

What does this young entrepreneur do for fun and entertainment?

“I don’t have time for fun,” he said with a laugh. “I play a lot of video games. I go to the gym and do this. That’s all I have time for.”

He also admits to making time for his girlfriend, Barbara on occasion.

Persson is not going anywhere in the near future. Along with being a homeowner in town, he has a new business that he needs to shepherd to success in difficult times.

Perhaps his acknowledged stubbornness will pay off and Next Level VR will be here to offer both young and old enjoyable experiences in gaming for years to come.

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