Isaiah ‘TriForce’ Johnson is a true esports enthusiast and former pro gamer based between his home of Jamaica and New York.
He heads up an organisation called Empire Arcadia which runs teams across various esports including FIFA, Hearthstone, classic fighting games and more.
We chatted to TriForce about the FIFA Interactive World Cup, the birth of ‘esports’ and its scene in Jamaica, as well as the sponsorship boom and how we’re currently experiencing the esports industrial revolution.
It was announced in a report by Newzoo this week that 2016 will see brands spend $325m (£225.9m) on marketing in the industry.
SBC: What’s your personal background in esports and what’s the latest with Empire Arcadia?
TriForce: I started off with video games in the 1980s but didn’t start playing competitively as a team until 2001. My organisation, Empire Arcadia, started off as a community – we were friends playing games and trying to beat each other’s high scores! This grew and transformed as time went on, and in 2001 we decided to evolve into an esports team. We continued improving and adding more divisions to our team across different titles. In 2012 we won an award for the most documented tournament winning video game team in the world.
We first played the classics such as Tetris, Vs. Super Mario Bros etc for the retro genre, Street Fighter, Smash Bros. and other fighting games in the last decade but we’ve since expanded into Hearthstone, FIFA, League of Legends and Call of Duty. When it comes to FIFA we’ve made a huge impact in the Caribbean.
We won the Caribbean Championships for FIFA at VXG in 2013. We’ve essentially dominated the Jamaican FIFA esports scene since 2013. We’ve won tournaments one of which involved Usain Bolt and his friends. We also won the Digi-Cup FIFA tournament hosted by Digicel, a telecommunications company in Jamaica.
League of Legends is popular but FIFA is hands down the number one game in Jamaica.
SBC: The FIFA Interactive World Cup finals (FIWC) took place in New York in March with coverage by the likes of Fox and Sky Sports. What are your thoughts on this and the expansion of the competition?
TriForce: It’s great to see FIFA getting this support. We’ve been following the FIWC since 2014 and we’re looking to ensure that Jamaica gets a chance to be represented next year. As such we focused hugely on competitions in the country in 2015 and out of eight competitions, Empire Arcadia’s FIFA division Silverbirds, won seven of them.
We’re aiming to bring something together for next year because we believe we can compete with the best of them. I’m speaking for all of the Caribbean when I say that. We’re hoping to set something up later in the year in Jamaica that can coordinate with the FIFA Interactive World Cup. The key is to get Digicel involved who has been the first titan corporation in Jamaica to really support esports. The fans and players are there and Jamaica has opportunities; sponsors there have proven they’re keen to get involved in this space and we’re at the forefront looking to move it further along.
From 2014 to 2015 alone there has been a huge push in FIFA throughout Jamaica. Lime, which is now called Flow, held the Super Cup wherein schools put together teams and competed in a league. They also hosted their esports integration challenge alongside it. In addition to this there’s the Cyberbox Esports League and in 2015 Cyberbox alone held 5 different major tournaments. Then you have “Incontrol” by Billy Zee which was covered by Loop Media, and the Digi-Cup – there’s so much FIFA in Jamaica it’s ridiculous. What we need is an international presence and awareness and this is what I’ve been working to help establish in Jamaica.
In regards to the coverage it’s excellent promotion for the FIFA scene and shows EA the love people have for the game competitively on a global scale.
SBC: 2016 is a big year for pushing eSports into the mainstream with TV coverage. How important is this for encouraging further sponsors?
TriForce: It definitely helps the esports scene.
One of the biggest issues with esports is people not understanding what it is. I was around when the terminology first came into existence in the late 1990s! Getting it onto TV screens internationally will help alleviate this issue and that can only be a positive step.
From a sponsorship and marketing point of view it’s also a plus. Those involved in the scene early on were looking to getting sponsors involved and found that they were by and large turned off when they heard the words video game tournament. ‘Esports’ was born out of a collective push to make competitive gaming more marketable. This term stuck and began to evolve. In 2016 we have Intel, Coca Cola, HTC, Red Bull and more getting involved in a big way and we’re now in the industrial esports revolution. We’re seeing more and more non-endemic companies making moves into esports, who have the funds to invest, industrialise and commercialise the scene globally, so its industry standards are heightened and it’s made more digestible to the mainstream audiences. The presence of Yahoo and ESPN will help push this onward too.
I have no doubt in my mind that with such investments TV is the next step, and that we’ll be seeing more and more esports titles and competitions televised. That’s where we’ve been hoping it’ll go since Walter Day founded esports in 1981.
SBC: What are your plans for the rest of 2016?
TriForce: We’ll be scaling back some of our teams from the competitive element in order to refocus our efforts down particular avenues and promote underrepresented scenes such as Jamaica and Africa. We’ll still reforge our roster so that we can remain relevant in the esports arena. Despite that, the organisation needs to focus on its development projects in other areas of the industry and that is where media plays a major role. I’m back in the United States currently promoting two documentaries that I feature in. One of them is called The Power of Glove which gives the audience a look back at motion technology and its contribution to the gaming industry today. I didn’t know until I watched the screening how much of an impact it had on the development of VR that we see today.
There’s a documentary being finalized on myself and the birth of our organisation. The film is called “TRIFORCE” and is directed and produced by Time Magazine freelance film maker Jack Schurman.
Finally, I’ll be traveling back and forth to Jamaica and to Africa to help support their esports infrastructures and expand the industry’s presence globally. In those regions of the world, television still plays a dominant role in mainstream communication. It also makes it easier to subtly inform them about the industry. Last year in Jamaica I worked with TVJ and Hype TV to really push eSports throughout the entire country. You’d be surprised how effective the campaign was. Grammy award winner artiste Beenie Man gave his support with an interview that showed a comparison of his life growing up and following his passion for music to that of gamers today in which his son is trying to break into esports via Call of Duty.
SBC: What is the potential link up between esports and VR?
TriForce: Virtual Reality is going to help esports in a big way and will also branch out and become its own monster. From an esports point of view it will become its own genre as more titles are developed purely for the likes of the Oculus Rift and other VR options. It adds some athleticism to gaming and will hugely add to the financial value of the esports industry. Esports doesn’t need VR to legitimise itself but it will add that extra oomph to help solidify it and bring it to the mainstream on an international scale.
It’s always key to remember that esports is not a bubble that’s going to burst. This is no fad, it’s a part of the biggest entertainment sector – video games.
Usually a industry requires about ten years to determine if its steady and viable. By that standard, this industry is almost 20 years late, it’s improving all the time, there’s more consistent support than in the past and with technological innovations such as VR it will continue to grow. What you’re seeing now is the industry speeding up to where it should have been two decades ago; the communities have grown organically and professionalized, companies are investing significant sums and put simply right now is a good time for everybody to get into esports.
Isaiah ‘TriForce’ Johnson, Empire Arcadia