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DRL's Jawz makes leap from simulator to pro drone racing

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Highlights from Season 2 of the Drone Racing League (2:02)

The Drone Racing League's VR simulator will allow anyone who downloads it to run the courses from last year's competition. Check out what's in store for the aspiring pilots with highlights from DRL's Season 2. (2:02)

Jawz is coming to a TV screen near you.

This isn't a shark we're talking about, folks. This is a professional drone racer. Yes, you can now make a living by flying drones. And it looks pretty darn fun, too.

You'll meet Jawz and his 15 fellow pilots in the first episode of Season 2 of the Drone Racing League, airing at 8 p.m. ET on Tuesday (ESPN2). But Jawz will probably be the fan favorite. That's because he won a video game contest to earn his spot in DRL, something we all can relate to.

"Everybody wants to be on DRL; it looks amazing," he said. "So as soon as I heard that they were doing the Bud Light tryout competition, before it had even started with the simulator, I was like, 'That's my way in.' I wasn't really a big name or anything. I don't do too much social media. This was my way to get on the show."

Anyone could download DRL's racing simulator onto their computer and enter the competition -- according to DRL, 100,000 people downloaded it in the first three months it was available. The top 24 finishers advanced to the Bud Light 2017 Tryouts in New York City, where Jawz -- aka Jacob Schneider, 30, of Zionsville, Indiana -- eventually rose above the rest of the field, earning a $75,000 professional contract from DRL in addition to a berth in this year's main event.

"He basically went from a gamer to a pilot in just a couple of weeks," said DRL founder and CEO Nick Horbaczewski. "And it's one of the fun things about this sport; it sort of crosses this blurry line between the digital and the real. We've got this guy playing a video game, he wins a video game tournament, and now he's traveling around the world flying real drones."

This season consists of four preliminary races scattered across the United States, starting with "Miami Nights." Each episode/course has a theme. The top 12 pilots advance to a semifinal round in Munich, Germany, and the best eight move on to the Allianz World Championship in London.

Season 2 also features a new, higher-powered version of the DRL drone, the Racer3, plus 10 rookie pilots who'll go up against six veterans from Season 1, including last year's champ, Jet.

"We find the pilots through a variety of means," Horbaczewski said. "The majority of the pilots, we basically scout them. We go out and we scour the world for incredibly talented pilots, and we hear about them through other pilots. We see them fly at other events; we check out their YouTube pages where they're posting videos of them flying. So we'll identify people we think are exceptionally talented and we'll recruit them into the league."

And it's a pretty interesting collection of people, too.

"In 2016 we had pilots from eight countries," Horbaczewski said. "We have people from all different backgrounds. There's software engineers at Google, there's people who come from the world of motorcycle racing, or car racing, downhill ski racing.

"It's an incredibly diverse group that came from all over the world. They're all different ages. We've had pilots in their 40s in the league; we have pilots who are still in college. I think it's one of the fun things about this sport -- that people of different ages, different physical ability levels, can compete side by side and are incredibly passionate about it."

Jawz's passion developed from watching other pilots' videos on YouTube, which led him to buy a drone and fly it himself. But then he gave that up for a while.

"For, like, three months coming into the Bud Light tryout competition, I actually stopped flying my real drone and was just playing the simulator all the time," he said. "It felt really good, but every drone is different, so in the simulator the drone feels different than other drones. So I just wanted to be tuned into that drone."

The practice clearly paid off.

But Jawz has a lot to prove. After all, there's a difference between playing a video game and flying a real FPV (first-person view) quadcopter drone. He was a freelance data harvester/extractor before winning the tryout competition. And his nickname doesn't stem from being shark-like, let's put it that way.

"Back in the '90s, when my mom was making my AOL account, she took my initials, which are JAS, and she just threw in the W," he said. "And I haven't thought of anything else since then. Eventually I changed [the last letter] to a Z. I thought it sounded a little bit cooler."

Jawz has already proved that he is cool under fire, winning in New York, which bodes well for him going forward.

"What we've discovered is, there's a difference between being a really talented pilot and being a really talented pilot when the bright lights are on you and the pressure is on, and you have to win in that moment," Horbaczewski said. "We've discovered that the champions -- the people who are winning in our league -- are people who are not only great pilots, but they're performance athletes. They're people who can operate under pressure every time, and that's the class of pilots that's emerging now that's really changing the sport."