Northern Arena co-founder: 'The Canadian esports scene right now is in its infancy'

by theScore Staff Nov 12 2016
Thumbnail image courtesy of Northern Arena/Twitter

Northern Arena is currently hosting their second event in Montreal, just over two months after their inaugural tournament in Toronto. Though the first event was focused solely on CS:GO, the organization has expanded their Montreal event to include a Dota 2 tournament, among other esports.

In an interview with theScore esports, Canadian League of Gamers co-founder Carl-Edwin Michel discussed why he got involved with esports, the Canadian esports scene and the organization's future plans.

How did you get involved with esports and Northern Arena?

I'm a fan, first of all. That's my thing. I'm a big CS:GO guy and I was watching a lot of CS:GO competition casually. Not really into it, big time, but I was watching it casually and I loved the phenomenon of esports, been watching for a few years. And I myself am a big video game guy, I'm a tech and video game journalist and I cover tech and games for a living. At some point I realized that there was no esport events in Canada. There is, but they were mostly grassroots ones. The big ones, there's not a lot of those. If there were, it was often from other companies coming into Canada, doing an event and leave. So I was like, 'Well, it would be nice if there was some kind of platform for Canadian players and organizations [to] thrive here.'

So that was the objective. To make sure that I create a platform where people can compete and a chance to become pro. So I just decided to work with a partner and build this. This is our second official event, we have another one in December, just like a test event. In Toronto it went pretty well and we decided, 'Okay, let's continue.' This one in Montreal and another one in Vancouver after that.

What adjustments did you make after the first event?

A lot of adjustments. You probably know that the Thursday was terrible. We had a lot of issues, technically. So what we did is we made sure we had a professional to make sure that everything is going smoothly. So CEVO is working with us in CS:GO. We have a great production team for Dota. Twitch is here physically, they have people from Twitch who flew in from LA to make sure everything is flawless on the stream. We put everything on our side so that we wouldn't have any technical issues. But right now, everything is smooth, so we're happy about that.

Now what made you decide to host the second event in Montreal?

I'm from Montreal myself, so I was always, in my mind, I wanted to do an event in Montreal. Actually, it's one of the three big hubs in Canada: Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. Obviously Toronto is the biggest city and that's where you have a lot more people. But there's fans all around the country. We're going to start with those three cities and hopefully someday we'll get more traction and do other cities too.

So where did the idea to get the Bell Centre come from?

Our partner is Bell. Bell and evenko. evenko is the owner and organizer I guess for the Bell Centre. They jumped on board with us, they want to help us. They said, 'Let's work, we love esports, we know it's going far. You have a great vision and we want to work with you.' That's what they told me and I said, 'Okay, let's go.' Obviously it's not free, but they helped us to get access to the Bell Centre and all the good stuff around it. We have a great production value that we're going to bring to that arena.

It's not a Major. At some point maybe we'll be there, but now we want to make sure we offer the real experience, the real esports experience to the fan here in Canada. So in Montreal, this is actually the biggest event in Montreal from what I heard. But yeah, we are happy to bring the full esports experience to the fans here.

Northern Arena started its first event with CS:GO. Why did you make the decision to expand into Dota?

Dota is a really popular MOBA. People love that game. I don't know if the fanbase here in Canada is as big, but I think there's a lot of people here interested in the game. Obviously Dota and CS are two Valve games, so it was easier for us to say, 'Let's get two Valve games and put them together,' and hopefully make sure that Valve fans can get access to those games. But nothing really strategic in a sense. It was just, like, let's just start with two games.

And then we have Gears of War. We were approached by The Coalition and Xbox to do Gears of War 4. And of course we have Clash Royale on mobile. We want to make sure that we have all three platforms covered. Are we going in the future to do four games in a competition? I don't know yet. But for us it's important to have the three platforms.

How would you describe the Canadian esports scene?

The Canadian esports scene right now is in its infancy. There's a lot of fans, but again, the organizations are mostly grassroots. It's there, we just need to give them a platform so they can enjoy it. So, I guess that's what I'm trying to do. Give them the platform so they can say, 'Hey, we're proud, we have a great esports org here in Canada and we're bringing people from all around the world.'

Now what are the future plans for Northern Arena?

We're going to announce a few things before the end of the year, but we want to go bigger and we want to make sure that we have a structure that makes a young kid who wants to be a pro, we want to create that path. A lot of the time I get the question, 'You know, my son wants to be an esports pro but he doesn't know what to do and where to start.' So we want to make sure that we create that path. We have a few announcements down the pipe and hopefully people are happy and then we can grow.

Any plans for future tournaments in Canada?

Yes. The next one is going to be in May in Vancouver, so that's for sure. The games yet are not yet announced, we're working on what games we will do. There will be some one-off events here and there where we will work with different companies like The Coalition.

For smaller scale events?

Smaller scale events, just specifically for one game or two. There will be stuff like that. But mainly the big Northern Arena events will be three big events per year in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal.

Who are you cheering for at Northern Arena Montreal?

Frankly, for CS, I would like to see one of the French teams go and win. Because we're in Montreal, so it would be nice to have a French team here and win. But we have great teams here competing who could win.

For Dota, you know what, it's funny. There's a lot of cool teams here. But I like Team NP. They're a Canadian org, and I think it would be nice to have a Canadian team win here in Canada, that would be awesome.

Preston Dosza is a news editor for theScore esports. You can follow him on Twitter.