E3 E-sports – Interviews with ThisIsLIJoe and Steve Nabi

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Gamers play Dragon Quest "Heroes" on the second day of the Electronic Entertainment Expo, known as E3 at the Convention Center in Los Angeles, California on June 17, 2015. YouTube said it is creating an online arena devoted to video game play, jumping onto a hot "e-sports" trend and challenging Amazon-owned Twitch. YouTube Gaming will debut in Britain and the United States in the coming months. AFP PHOTO / MARK RALSTON (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)

Skill and a competitive spirit is not born in a singular moment. Rather, it is built overtime in communities of friends. Combine competition with youthful energy and smiles, and the Electronic Arts Expo (E3) E-sports scene is born. The E3 E-sports setting was a series of events that words can hardly capture, and only vain attempts describe the spirit of joyful competition that was present. Whether spectating, playing, or producing, jovial competition was at the core of the Capcom and Street Fighter booth. In short, it was a moment of passion. At length, the E3 experience was only the beginning to a series of events that will spark E-sports to become a unique competition that celebrates the stories and passions of every player involved. From team work to the individual stories of rising stars, here is the succinct picture of E3 E-sports, featuring interviews with ThisIsLIJoe and Steve Nabi.

E3 E-sports – Interviews with ThisIsLIJoe and Steve Nabi

A Fresh Atmosphere 

Competition demands a stage, and E3 certainly delivered for the casual fan and the hardcore competitor. Behind the spirit of competition was the brimming excitement of Marvel vs. Capcom 3 being announced. It was Christmas day for competitors to get a chance to see new mechanics and begin to pour over new frame data. For the casual player, it was an opportunity to experience a breath of fresh air into the competitive scene while adding new characters and functionality.

The youthful excitement only made the numerous Street Fighter tournaments a hilarious expose of intense comebacks and wild antics. Captured best by the interactions between Xavier Woods (@XavierWoodsPhD), Joe (@ThisIsLIJoe), Capcom representatives, and an all-star cast of Street Fighter voice actors, it was a momentous surprise before this weekend’s anticipated CEO tournament in Florida.

Anticipation, joy, and dreams filled the air for every tournament. Under that scene, E-sports was given an air of excitement and fever. Many who were not atypical competition goers were catching onto the flow of passion. For fans such as Chivas and James, it would be there first go into the tournament rankings, with plans to jump into further competition at home. For professionals, such as Joe, E3 was chance to meet fans and share their passion.

Setting the Stage

The stage for E-sports to jump into the spotlight was set. I could not honestly write this without stating that a stigma does exist toward the competition, and that stigma of dullness is still not broken. This is the core of future E-sports debate. But inside of that core was the chance for profiles of players to be born and opinions to be expressed.

E-sports is going to grow, and one of the finer points of growth lies within an owners league vs. a players league. And for that matter, that growth is going to dictate whether team E-sports or individual E-sports become more popular. Take for example Overwatch vs. Street Fighter. Street Fighter can be akin to golf or tennis, while Overwatch is akin to the NFL.

I bring up this point because the key to a successful entertainment sport is the personality – Americans love to know more about personalities and their opinions on such matters. Fans fall into love with teams, players, and a passion. And for fans of Street Fighter and E-sports growth I got a chance to catch up with Joe (founder of East Coast Throwdown and Twitch Streamer) and Steve Nabi (founder of Meta Apparel).

Interview with Joe (@thisislijoe)

To compete at the top level, a passion for the competition is born at some point. If you had to use one word to capture the spirit of Joe it would be passionate. Whether he is announcing and roasting players at a Street Fighter Capcom competition, meeting fans, or enjoying Street Fighter himself, everything is done to the fullest. For Joe this passion was born at age 3, when he began to play fighting games in the arcades.

Overtime, Joe and his friends naturally crafted afternoons around Street Fighter and similar games. Thus, the first fighting game communities were born among teenage friends who simply wanted to have fun competing. And the core of fun would never be lost, even as things got more competitive. Small communities grew into regional communities, and bragging rights among friends became bragging rights among regions. Street Fighter tournaments became a real competition that demanded practice. And now, in the middle of Street Fighter’s 30th anniversary, according to Joe, ‘The Scene is getting real’.

Competitors can easily lose themselves in the moment and grandeur. Yet, the odd thing about E-sports, and specifically Street Fighter, is if the person becomes overtly grandeur, they lose allure with the fans. Fans love to connect with individuals in the Street Fighter community, and no person does this better than Steve. As I stood interviewing him by the Capcom booth, moments after he finished commentating an unpredictable Street Fighter tournament, fans were coming up to him asking for pictures. With each picture, his infectious smile only grew – speaking to his joyful personality. And it is this personality that will become essential to the growth of E-sport fans.

One of the key points I discussed with Joe was regarding the league dichotomy between ‘players’ and ‘management’. The simplest way to introduce this idea is the dictation power NFL managers have, and the power NBA players have.  The future of E-sports can be dramatically changed by the way this dichotomy plays out. I would argue that personalities such as Joe make Street Fighter leagues a player driven league. Joe’s opinion is similar.

“It will start with personalities, and move to managers when they realize what is involved.” Any competitive league is born from infectious personalities, and Joe fits the mold of what E-sport’s needs. At the risk of generalizing, Joe is representative of what Street Fighter needs to succeed in the managerial market. His love and passion for the game ought to be the synthesis of the face for Street Fighter.

The passion that one has for competition is often made evident in training, and when Joe described his training it was reminiscent of a deep study akin to the way golfers study courses. Joe was adamant he was a gamer first, but before Street Fighter events he spends two months simply practicing and playing Street Fighter. Technique from practice correlates to frame data – the literal study of frame by frame in-game data – so that he can be prepared for any situation.

Each match of Street Fighter comes down to situations both positive and negative. It is in the preparation that players define how they can turn any situation into an advantage. For Joe, this comes in his reading about past matches to catch up on the competition – scouting tendencies and counters of opponents to ensure his dominance.

And the preparation comes full circle to how E-sports can grow. Joe’s closing comments to me could be summarized by knowing the people and why they love the game. Street Fighter players who are like Joe do not play for vanity – rather, they love the process and the hours of dedicated frame study. Love is found in the process of endless practice, and is that passion that makes the Street Fighter an exciting journey for players like Joe.

Interview with Steve Nabi (Owner of Meta Apparel)

Multiple facets exist to every sport. Presenting competition in an entertaining way demands not only players, but players that have personality in a brand. The job of Steve Nabi, owner of Meta Threads, is to supply shining personalities with that brand. Seeing the other side of the E-sports world is largely under-represented; a disappointing factor considering growth demands excellence from every party involved. And Steve Nabi provides that excellence, describing to me amidst the bustle of E3 his job of adding a brand to E-sport teams and individuals.

The arcades gave birth to the happiness Steve Nabi finds in E-sports. From a young age, he would spend times with his friends in their own competitive circles across the café arcades where he lived. Video games were one of the many ways that Nabi found friends. Sports and competition at large were a part of his life, but it was ultimately pioneering design and apparel where Nabi secured a career. Branding competitors was a way to give a unique voice to others, and his dream was born to a reality.

15 years of hard work, branding in other apparel forms, and defining creative apparel bring us to the point where Meta Threads was born. Nabi saw an opportunity inside of E-sports to add definition. An opportunity was open, and a pioneer was needed. Meta Threads was born on the principle of pioneering branding for a field, E-sports, that had remained untouched by main stream competition.

Pioneering branding is essential to the question asked earlier – is E-sports a player’s or manager’s league? Branding may be one way a split is defined. The power NBA players have is partially born due to their individual branding and apparel contracts; such individual contracts do not exist in the NFL. However, Nabi sees an interesting split being developed, aligning the early development of E-sports thus far to the confusion of the MMA.

The MMA was born with players contracting to specific fights without a defined league of players; hence, the confusion of who was who in the early days. Steve Nabi brought this factor up to bring up the importance he finds in the creation of franchises, a factor he touched on multiple times. When I inquired what leagues thus far have defined a good model, he replied with what the competitive scene has done with the creation of Overwatch franchises for certain cities; a model that would be akin to traditional sport leagues.

While the creation of franchises will provide continuity, and relieve symptoms of confusion, Nabi made sure to iterate that the importance of individual influencers cannot be lost. I was left with a new understanding of the importance Steve Nabi will play in the future of E-sports due to the individuality he can create in the most prominent influencers.

Meta Apparels is already creating iconic jerseys for teams, and contracting with the most prominent influencers of those teams as seen by the contract with Team Secret. And this individual team branding has created an excitement among fans seen at E3. As I observed the Meta Threads booth, fans were clamoring to purchase the jerseys of their favorite teams. Further, I noticed a certain Meta Threads was not only selling team brands, but their bipartisan E-sports brands with fervor. Fans were excited to represent their passion of competitive gaming.

Upon inquiring about the E3 reaction in general, Nabi was brimming with excitement. His jovial personality not only created memorable customer interactions, but it allowed him kick start and fund (in a remarkable 48 hours), the new LVL-3 Backpack; a special creation that will allow players and fans alike to carry their gear in style.

Observing Steve Nabi interact with fans, and those fans reciprocate by nearly buying all apparel at the E3 Meta Threads booth, showed one thing to me: competitive gaming has a future with the players and fan-base that is already there. The scene is primed to take a leap from a small niche topic, to competition with branding and personality. And it will be pioneered by fearless creators such as Steve Nabi.

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