Arda has worked in media and content in numerous industries and has since found his way into the esports space, where he currently works as the host and caster of the NHL Gaming World Championships, and hosts ‘The Business of Esports’ podcast. We spoke to Arda about a number of topics from how he entered the esports space, how his experience working in traditional sports has helped him in his esports career, and some of his thoughts and predictions for the esports industry. Read the full interview below!
Thanks for taking the time to sit down with us, Arda. You’ve covered many industries in your professional career, from lifestyle to sports, weather, WWE, and more. For those who don’t know, can you give us a brief overview of your career, and how you’ve found your way into the esports industry?
I started when I was in College at the local radio station organizing tapes (yeah, it was tapes back then, they belong in a museum these days), getting coffee and printing out rundowns. After college, I had a desk job for a few years but on nights and weekends, instead of partying, I spent my time at the local public access TV station asking how cameras work, what the audio department does, graphics, shadowing anchors, etc. Eventually, there was an open audition and I ended up getting a job on Sundays at 2am. Nobody was watching, but it was great reps for me. It paid like $15 bucks a show but I didn’t care. Built up from there, chased a dream or two, moved to the States, and here we are. Maybe I missed a couple points in between :) I’ve loved video games my whole life but my first official Esports assignment was for ESPN at the League of Legends World Championships in 2016 at Madison Square Garden. Incredible atmosphere.
You’ll be doing a live recording of your podcast, The Business of Esports, at the XLIVE Esports Summit at the end of June. Can you tell us a little about the podcast? How and when did you start, and what topics do you focus on?
The Business of Esports is a weekly podcast that comes out every Thursday (wherever you get your podcasts) and focuses on the business stories in esports: less game results and x’s and o’s of plays within a game, more money, power, decisions. Investments, acquisitions, anything that belongs in the C suite, we talk about it. Paul Dawalibi is a venture capitalist that has a keen interest and focus on esports with an extensive resume, and William Collis is a longtime esports executive who owns teams in the space, for example, Team Gengi. It’s always great insight, analysis, and opinion on what’s really going on in the world of esports.
How has your experience working in professional sports helped your career in esports? What about the transition was easy and what was most difficult?
There are transferable skills, for sure. Anchoring a desk in sports is similar to anchoring a desk in esports. What changes is the vibe. Esports has a different feel and you have to stay true to that. You have to be authentic. In esports, it’s totally fine not to be 100% polished but be yourself. Interactivity is much higher in esports, which I prefer. On many broadcasts, we are bringing in the chat, or tweets a lot more. I like that connectivity, that instant reaction.
Many relate esports to the ‘wild west’, since the industry is fragmented, growing so quickly, and there are ‘no rules’. What areas of the industry need the most attention, so we can collectively grow and create sustainability and structure in esports?
Player burnout is a concern and will continue to be a concern. We don’t know all the facts yet about how this much screen and play time is affecting them. In Overwatch, for example, we’ve seen players retire because they know they can make equal (if not more) money streaming, without the stress of practice and pressure of winning. What will happen when travel is increased when teams play home games like in traditional sports. These are all conversations that are being had right now. I do believe there is a solution and I think we are moving in the right direction.
Since entering the esports space, what are some of the notable and major changes you’ve observed?
Brand integration has improved greatly I think. Some of the ways brands are entering the Esports space is impressive and well received. Dr. Pepper and TSM is a great example. I remember doing a panel at XLive with the Marketing Director of Dr. Pepper, who told us on stage that the TSM content video was the most engaged tweet in Dr. Pepper’s history. That’s incredible to hear. I think that the more brands have these talks with esports orgs/teams etc, and it’s less “let’s slap our logo on the broadcast desk” and more “how can we stay true to the fan base but also make this a net positive for our product/service”, there will be more wins.
What’s it like being the host and caster for the NHL Gaming World Championships?
I love it, it combines two of my biggest loves, video games and hockey. I grew up playing both, they were always among my biggest interests. So to be able to call the action at the NHL GWC is a thrill, a real dream come true… more like a dream I never knew would actually be a thing, but here we are! Season one was incredible and with the changes made, season two will be even better.
Are you a gamer? And if so, what titles are your favorite?
Absolutely. I play Tetris every night. I think I’m at 300 hours into Tetris 99 right now. I’m not great, maybe 100 wins, definitely compared to the top guys who have 95% win rates I don’t even rank, but it’s a ton of fun, a great way to just detox after a long day. The Switch is my main console because I travel a lot, so I’m playing Smash Ultimate, retro games on NES Online. My wife and I crushed Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Also a lot of Fortnite, especially before events I cast.
What excites you most about the esports industry? What concerns, if any, do you have?
It’s growing and I love being a part of it. I love the different kinds of events I can host and cast: one day I’m at Times Square hosting Ninja New Years, the next I’m on the ESPN Desk before the first Overwatch homestand, then at the World’s Most Famous Arena Madison Square Garden hosting a Fortnite events in front of a passionate crowd. So many different types of events, I get to try things I haven’t before and that’s a lot of fun.
In terms of concerns, my cohosts on the Business of Esports talk about this a lot, there is concern that with all of this investment, some might be fool’s gold, you have to be diligent with where you are putting your money if you want to invest in this space, because there is so much out there, especially if you haven’t been in the industry for done your research, you might make the wrong move, so that would be a concern: be cautiously optimistic and well read.
Do you have a bold esports prediction for the next 2 years? 5 years?
We will be a billion-dollar tournament of some kind. Fortnite blew the gates open with 100 million + in prize money, I feel like we might get to a billion somehow. It sounds ridiculous but the way things are going, it doesn’t seem impossible anymore.
Thanks for joining us today Arda! How can people learn more about The Business of Esports, and how can people get in touch with you?
Check out thebusinessofesports.com for the podcast and a daily news dive (many of those topics we discuss on the podcast) and find me on social media @ArdaOcalTV