Interview: How Empire Arcadia CEO Maintains an eSports Dynasty

In 2003 a young man named Isaiah M. Johnson took first place in a Nintendo Entertainment System Tetris tournament at Game Express. This marked the debut victory for Empire Arcadia; an eSports team that, over the next 13 years would not win a few documented tournaments, they would win thousands.

For those that may be new to competitive gaming, can you introduce yourself?

My name is Isaiah TriForce Johnson. I’m the CEO and Founder of my video gaming team and brand; Empire Arcadia. Gaming is my life, in regards to its culture, community, and industry in which I do business. There was a time I use to hide this fact about myself, but as I got older I started to understand that you truly understand who you are when you take off the mask and accept yourself for who you are and not what society suggests you should be.

What first sparked your interest in the gaming industry?

My first spark of interest in the video game industry was when I saw how biased the industry was and still is toward Nintendo. I wanted to work for Nintendo so that I could help them fight off this unfair industrial discrimination they were and still are facing. The industry has been trying to remove them from the industry for decades now, literately. They got SEGA and when I saw that I told myself as a Nintendo fan, I could not stand there and do nothing to help.

Triforce is seen here with Twin Galaxies Founder and father of competitive gaming Walter Day (right)

What made you decide to do this for a living?

I decided to do this for a living when I realized that this was my calling. When I got my first gaming job as an associate at Game Express. Leslie Mahatto and Mr. Jae decided to give this Jamaican-African a chance in the industry. Mr. Jae the owner of Game Express took me to my first E3 and from there we had lift-off. That job later led to Game Stop which at the time was called Software Etc. From there I went to Nintendo World. These three gaming companies helped give me the foundation I needed to forge the first pillar of the Empire.

What was the inspiration behind Empire Arcadia?

To answer the question directly, Nintendo and my community of gamers called “VideoLand”. Allow me to elaborate. My Father used video games to help keep me off the streets of New York City. Videogames, especially Nintendo games have literately taught me a lot about principles, right and wrong, and a bunch of other things that helped shaped me into the man that I am today. Videogames bring a certain peace to me through technology and entertainment. I formed a community in 1984 called VideoLand and during that time it was the greatest peace and tranquility that I knew as a child. I was able to hang out with my friends, play video games, and have a good time. Every night I would want to hurry up and sleep so that I could wake up to yet another day to play games with my friends, laugh, and have a great time. That form of Arcadia I wanted to share with the world. In order to do this, I felt I would have to make an Empire Arcadia as a place to provide that peace.

Game Express in New York City, site of the first Empire Arcadia tournament victory

Were there any other names or iterations on the table before you decided on Empire Arcadia?

“The name before Empire Arcadia was called Game-a-troplis. One of my lifelong friends Robert Billings just looked at me and said “…No!” We were all from the Arcade age and we needed a name to represent us. I wanted to build a gaming Empire that represented gaming in its core form. Arcades were a place we all went to and met friends and had a great time; a form of peace. I found out that the word Arcadia was used to describe a place similar to how America is a word used to describe a place. Americans are people of America and thus Arcadians would be people to Arcadia. So it was a no-brainer to call our organization and team; Empire Arcadia.”

Trading card honoring Empire Arcadia’s 2,000th tournament victory

Is there anyone in Empire Arcadia that you believe is crucial to what it’s become today?

There are three elders of Empire Arcadia. My father Tony Johnson is the first. He told me when Justin Wong (now part of Evil Geniuses) left, that I needed to transition Empire Arcadia as a brand instead of focusing on just the players of the team. Walter day told me that there is no “I” in team but every team has a soul and goal. The team is the body but Empire Arcadia is the soul. The body parts are interchangeable but the soul remains the same. Todd Rogers gives me a lot of insight about the industry that is crucial about the experience and direction for a pro gamer back when he did it and what it is now. He also advises me on how the industry has changed. Todd also represented Empire Arcadia at E3 in 2009 when Justin Wong built a record of 300 consecutive victories in Street Fighter IV. A record that stood until 2013 by Ryan Hart. Because of those three people I’ve been able to manage some great players.

Throughout the history of the EMP, you’ve had some pretty big names pass through the ranks. How were you able to bring them along and market them and do you have a specific strategy to do so?

At one time they believed in the goal of EMP. The goal of EMP is a noble one which is why it’s not hard to sell anyone on it. However as the community and industry of eSports continue to grow at a phenomenal rate, the potential of money, a career, and stability in one’s personal life become too tempting. Empire Arcadia is not a sponsorship organization and like the Twin Galaxies of old when everything was “community” driven it was ok, but once money got into it, the goal of the organization for most of the players vanished. It was no longer about them serving EMP for the goal but more so about what can EMP do for them and their independent goals. In a phrase, they grew up. Everyone grew up except me and I’m fine with that.

You starred in a great gaming doc called “King of Chinatown” which follows Empire Arcadia through a year of their travels. How did this idea come about?

Originally it was supposed to be about Justin Wong as the King of the Chinatown arcade. I convinced the film directors that the concept alone was not good enough to grab the interest of a large audience outside of the arcade. I then suggested them a better script. I told the producer and director to turn on the camera and follow me. The purpose of this was to get a “REAL TIME” recording of what went on in our lives as gamers in Empire Arcadia as opposed to any one player in EMP. I wanted it to be 100% organic. No secrets nothing… a real “REALITY DOCUMENTARY”. However, during the actual “production” of the film, the director Calvin Theobald decided to slightly alter the narrative to give a more dynamic and controversial spin to help draw interest into the film. It did just that…. but at the expense of my character and integrity. Sacrifices…

The EMP went through some tumultuous times when Justin Wong was around. In the film “King of Chinatown,” you two seem to bury the hatchet in the end. Outside of filming, is this completely accurate?

Nope. I was upset that he left but I understood why he left. I remained friends with him when he left, even to this day. I was devastated but I did not hate him. There are reasons that are not made public as to why he really left. He and I knew this and that is why I can never hate him for his decision. He gave 10 years to EMP and to this day is the #1 winning player in Empire Arcadia in terms of local championships all the way to the World Championships. He served well and I am forever grateful for his service to the Empire. In fact… he was one of the few who joined Empire Arcadia… for Empire Arcadia.

Triforce being recognized in the Walter Day Trading Card Collection

You retired after Empire Arcadia earned a Guinness World Record 2,000th tournament victory. How does it feel to retire and why now?

I feel like I’ve accomplished a personal goal. I’m relieved. If I kept going with it I would have eventually despised and hated competitive gaming. I came to dislike it over the last 2 and half years. I couldn’t deal with the egos of gamers both classic and modern. I started to dislike what eSports has become. Before, we use to play for fun along with a competitive spirit. If you lose, you appreciated the competition and push your opponent gave you which ultimately in the long run makes you a better player. Now… we’re in an age where you suck, win or lose. In the context of competing everyone is about me, me, me!

We’re in an age where people x-copy what other champions spent their entire young life discovering. From secrets of the games to then mastering them, it all meant nothing in this age because all you have to do is study it on YouTube. Then what’s worst they disrespect the legends that used their life to pave the way for what they are now enjoying. There are so many other levels of disrespect it just leaves a bad taste in my mouth. The worst part that I can’t stomach, is when people do not pay homage to the Father of eSports; Walter Day himself. I stay clear from those people. The fact that I’ve retired with multiple Guinness World Records, went 20-0 in the CyberBox eSports League in Jamaica, and won our team’s 2,000th tournament; is enough for me to say I did my part as a player in the organization and no one can take that away from me. It’s time for me to focus on a new game and that is making this team and organization a profitable one so that I can truly contribute to the industry and the world as the organization was always intended.

Guinness World Record Plaque recognizing Empire Arcadia as the winningest eSports team in competitive gaming history

eSports is becoming bigger and bigger and you’ve been around to see the growth. How do you feel about the growth and do you feel like there is anything that is the catalyst for its growth?

The growth is late but it is rapidly catching up so that is great. As for the catalyst for its growth? It’s a two-part answer. Simply put, the Past has caught up to the Future. Walter Day set down the original infrastructure. Nothing you see happening in eSports today is new. The Father of eSports himself has done it all already. The difference is the industry was not ready with the resources to support Walter’s vision for competitive gaming also known as eSports. Let’s look at the evidence, he established the first eSports organization Twin Galaxies which he then created the INTERNATIONAL SCOREBOARD that formulated the official rules for competitive gaming and crown the champions around the world for thousands of video games. These records and stats have stood for over 30 plus years and can still be found on Twin Galaxies’ website. He then got the mayor of his state to proclaim and declare their state as the video game capital of the world. He then mentored and put his superstars of gaming in LIFE magazine. He helps organize the first “televised video game world championships” on “That’s Incredible”. To do that in his time was nothing short of a miracle.

Let’s not forget the movies he’s been in, the legendary players that supported him such as Todd Rogers, eSports 1st professional gamer to Billy Mitchell who was awarded by the president of Namco of Japan as Player of the 20th Century, and Ben Gold who won the 1st world video game championship. He commissioned the first National Video Game Team for the United States of America. Come on! How can this history in gaming be denied? It can’t. It is only through understanding and accepting our past that can we then move forward in the future which now brings up, Major League Gaming. They are the global leader in eSports today. When you look at what Sundance DiGiovanni is doing today, it isn’t different from what Walter has set in place. In fact, Sundance has revolutionized Walter’s vision for competitive gaming. Then you have guys like Jace Hall who we all won’t recognize his contribution until later on in the revolution of the eSports industry. He has literately protected the history of the very industry we are now building this global phenomenon on. Each of these people I have named is the fundamental element that makeup eSports, past to present. I’m doing what I can through Empire Arcadia for our future by working with all of these legends.

Do you feel its history is being represented correctly?

The unfortunate thing about the gaming industry is that its true history seems to be getting buried. The true origin of eSports is that from the early ’80s, but it wasn’t until the late ’90s during the turn of the century where PC gaming was transitioning into eSports players started going to companies and pitching to investors ideas for competitive gaming leagues but were failing because they were pitching this idea as “video game teams.” Because of this investors would digest this idea as a kids’ thing. To alleviate that obstacle the pitch was changed to Electronic Sports, later truncated to eSports. The first company to make a success from this was Major League Gaming (MLG).

Triforce seen here preparing for MLG post-event coverage

Is there a certain entity or person that you feel truly laid the foundation for eSports?

Walter Day. He laid the foundation for what would become competitive gaming. He created the Twin Galaxies International Scoreboard which brought competitive gaming to the forefront way back in 1981. I feel like the way eSports is covered these days clouds out Walter’s legacy. He established an entity of competitive gaming, marketing, statistics, and adjudication. He basically created SportsCenter for gaming.

The unfortunate thing is that most of the gaming community is not even aware of its own history. Gamers want the revolution, but don’t know the history. It’s like it’s being forgotten and rewritten. It’s just like human history. There is only one race, and that’s the human race. There may be different ethnicities within that race, but it is all one race. Media twists words and clouds this. Instead of just reporting the news, they report their opinions as facts. As this goes on, true history gets buried deeper and deeper.

Not recognizing Walter for his legacy would be like starting an NFL team without acknowledging the legacy of Vince Lombardi.

Triforce is shown here with Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime and his right arm, the Power Glove

Now that you’ve retired from competition, what are your plans?

Empire Arcadia is now being overhauled. Not revived, not relaunched, but overhauled. We are simply changing priorities. While competition will still be a priority, it will not be our first priority. The first Priority of Empire Arcadia is to promote and spread the influence of eSports into areas where eSports is underdeveloped. I’m heading out to Africa shortly as well as Berlin.
Well, I’m not really relocated. For the most part, I’m a nomad because of what is it that I’m now doing with Empire Arcadia. The organization in its core is a development organization for the gaming culture, community, and industry. I travel the world seeking new regions for Empire Arcadia to help further develop that established eSports such as North America and Europe. I’m now traveling to underdeveloped regions as well that are under-represented like the Caribbean i.e. Jamaica, Latin America, and even Africa to help them set their first footprints in eSports. Contrary to the belief of many, there are people out there in places like Africa that are making big pushes to get a foundation of eSports set up for Africans to join this emerging market. I have partners there such as Nathan Masyuko of Kenya and Méchant Loup in Morocco who have been working hard to develop eSports for Africa. I have an obligation to go home and help my homeland and people establish eSports in Africa.

My personal life allows me to do this because I was single for a while. I just couldn’t find a woman that would support my lifestyle. Well, that was until I went to Jamaica this year where I found a young lady who captured the Emperor’s heart and she is willing to travel with me around the world to fulfill the duty of Empire Arcadia. These will be some adventurous times coming up and I really look forward to it.

The end is where it began. Triforce is shown here after his final victory before retirement. The game? Tetris Deluxe for Nintendo Wii. 

Do you think you’ll ever return to competition?

No. I’m done. This is my second time retiring. We all have an ego but mine is not as large as many people think. It’s very small. I’m no longer needed on the virtual battlefield. My place is behind a desk working on strengthening the fundamental components that makeup Empire Arcadia and moving the organization and team forward into the modern eSports era. I never really understood the importance of the proverbial “throne” to the Empire. I always made metaphorical references to it as the “Emperor” of Arcadia but it’s because of my love for role-playing games. However, I’m a lot older, a lot wiser, and more experienced and I truly understand my place on the throne. I’ve done my part and led by example, I need to now lead as a CEO and visionary or the Empire will fall during my time or rule. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll make a cameo appearance, pictures, etc… but playing in a tournament, no. I’m done!

A few weeks ago Colin Cowherd of ESPN stated that if he ever had to cover eSports on ESPN that he would quit. What are your thoughts about his statement?

I felt embarrassed that he made that statement because it wasn’t well thought out. It’s one thing to be on your personal stream, social media, forum, etc. expressing your dislike for something. It doesn’t even matter how passionate you are about it. That’s all fine and dandy. He has that right, however, what made it ignorant and unprofessional was the lack of research he did before making the statement. Far worse, he then drew a line against his own employer ESPN on social media as he made a disparaging remark about his employer. Talk about stupid? Don’t get me wrong, I’m no saint when it comes to expressing my views on certain topics, etc. However, I understand when to go “hard” when I’m in a closed forum vs. being open-minded. He didn’t put his foot in his mouth… he put it up his butt. His statement was made out of pure emotion and ignorance. You can’t have both. One is bad enough…both… that’s just terrible. If you don’t like or agree with something, do your homework and figure out the facts. Present your case and say “I don’t like this and here is why.” That way you don’t look like a blasted idiot.

There are many people reading this who would love to do what you do. Do you have any advice for them?

Don’t do it. This is not a game or some tv show you watch. A tremendous sacrifice comes with this. I lost my entire first life to Empire Arcadia. Wife, friends, family (death) houses, etc. It’s not worth it. I only accept it because as Justin Wong told me during the darkest time of my life, it’s all I have left so ride or die. Thus instead of giving up, I plan to win this race by picking myself up and running until my legs give out and if I have to crawl to the finish line. As a gamer, I don’t like losing so I’m not going to lose this game called life.

GamesRelated would like to thank you for taking the time out to chat with us! Do you have any parting shots for our readers?
Buckle up, eSports is about to take us on one long and adventurous ride.

GamesRelated would like to take this opportunity to thank Triforce for taking time out of his busy schedule to sit down with us and we are excited to see where he takes the EMP next.

  • Richard Booth

    Rich has been involved in the gaming industry for over ten years, working with such companies as Jace Hall ShowTwin Galaxies and Nintendojo. He began GamesRelated in order to bring positivity to gaming journalism. Much of what is out today is completely negative, and GR aims to be the place where that stops and the news is simply reported.

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