Demetrious Johnson on partnering with Northern Gaming: 'I believe esports is the future'

by Josh Bury Nov 11 2016
Thumbnail image courtesy of Action Images / Getty

Yet again, Demetrious Johnson stands alone.

We've seen soccer clubs flock to esports. Basketball teams have begun to invest in the scene, and American football teams also appear to be taking notice.

But the man known as Mighty Mouse, who is now affiliated with Northern Gaming, is the first MMA fighter to partner with an esports organization and he told theScore esports that he isn't sure that his colleagues will be rushing to do the same any time soon.

"There's been no discussion with other fellow MMA fighters, they don't really know about esports," he said.

Both inside and outside of the octagon, Johnson isn't like other mixed-martial artists. The current Ultimate Fighting Championship flyweight champion has a long history with gaming, which he said started with Super Contra on the Nintendo Entertainment System.

Northern Gaming announced their partnership with Johnson on Nov. 3. The Canadian esports organization currently has top-flight Rocket League and WoW Arena teams, and has fielded a pair of Overwatch rosters in the past.

"Right now my arrangement with Northern Gaming is still being developed, I just got with these guys and I am looking to be a great influencer for them," Johnson said.

Northern Gaming CEO Mack Maring called the arrangement "an affiliation partnership."

"Surprisingly he's not an investor, he's not an equity owner, though that is something that we've discussed and it's something that may eventually happen," Maring said.

Johnson says he's currently following H1Z1 and WoW Arena esports, but is similarly a big fan of competitive Street Fighter V, citing Lee "Infiltration" Seon-woo as his favorite player.

"I believe esports is the future and I would love to help build a esports team and bring more recognition to the team and the sport itself," Johnson said.

Johnson began streaming on Twitch in October 2015, and has played a variety of games since that time. He's currently playing H1Z1 and WoW, where he mains a Rogue but is working on gearing up a Protection Warrior.

"I got into it because I wanted to interact with my fans on a different level than MMA," he said.

Maring said that he routinely checks out streams with low viewer counts, and approached Johnson after finding his late-night stream on Twitch.

"At the end of that conversation, I've never seen someone outside of gaming (in the community sense) more excited to be a part of the gaming community," Maring said.

While esports may be, as Johnson said, the future in a grander sense, it's potentially a concrete path for him to follow after his time as a mixed martial-artist comes to a close. No player career lasts forever, and Johnson and Maring are working to make sure that gaming remains a viable option.

While the transition from pro to streamer is a well-known phenomenon in esports, the idea of a sports professional going full-time on Twitch after they retire is new. But Johnson said streaming and gaming are "absolutely" a possibility after he retires, while Maring said the wheels are already in motion.

"For him, this is an opportunity that we can help him build that social base on Twitch, so that when the time comes that he may not be fighting anymore, or that he just wants to stream, he has that base and that setup so that he doesn't have to feel rushed," Maring explained. "It looks like something he's incredibly passionate about, and that I would assume is his plan once he's done in the UFC."

And while it might seem strange at first glance for an esports organization to pursue a partnership with a mixed martial-artist, Maring said that the decision to do so is mutually beneficial and fully consistent with Northern Gaming's philosophy.

"He's the best fighter in his weight class, and arguably the world, so we keep wanting to build a repertoire of being the best," Maring said. "One of main my goals with the organization is to bring sports and esports closer together and this was like a dream come true. This is a big, big influencer in the sports community, and it helps show the legitimacy and respect that esports is starting to gain from a non-traditional sense."

Josh "Gauntlet" Bury is a news editor for theScore esports. You can find him on Twitter.