Anthony Muraco is the newly hired Director of Business Operations of the Overwatch League’s Vancouver Titans. Muraco was kind enough to sit down for a two-part interview with The Game Haus. Today covers Muraco’s background and time managing Cavs Legion in the NBA 2K League. Part 2 will be available tomorrow.
Let’s start with a bit about your background. What was your entry point into esports? Where did it all start for you?
With World of Warcraft. In my teenage years, playing WoW competitively was where I found the passion for video games and started to learn more about the industry. Obviously, the industry was very new at that point, but I always remembered watching the OG Starcraft esports days and Counter-Strike as well.
You played WoW professionally and at the same time played college football. How did you manage to balance those two pursuits?
It was difficult, I would say. Not as much school work was done as there should have been, I guess is the best way of putting it. I still got good grades and all of that, but it was very difficult. It kind of came down to a decision of what was gonna be my long term goal. At the time I was studying film and that was a little bit more difficult as well, balancing the three. I eventually decided to pursue a career in esports and film. How I got my start was I was lucky enough to work on the set of Shark Tank for four years while I was in college as a production assistant. I got to know Mark Cuban and his team pretty well. That’s how I ended up getting hired to run the Mavs GG franchise when the NBA 2K League was coming up.
Considering you started in World of Warcraft, I imagine you must be pretty excited for WoW Classic.
Oh yeah. It’s like a dream come true. I don’t know that I’ll have that much time to play compared to what I used to be able to do. That being said, I think it’s gonna be a nice, fond trip down memory lane. That and the opportunity I have to work with Blizzard and the Overwatch League team is a dream come true since I’ve been such a huge Blizzard fan my entire life.
I gotta ask, Horde or Alliance?
Horde, it’s not even a question.
When did esports become something you saw as a long term career path?
I think it’s one of those things where you still fight those industry stigmas. Especially with my parents, I told them I was moving down to Dallas, Texas from Cleveland, Ohio to work for the Dallas Mavericks and run their esports organization, and they kinda looked at me funny, like, “What is this?” I always remember my parents were very supportive of me and I think once the 2K League started to take off and I saw 17 NBA teams buying into esports, I think pretty immediately I realized and recognized that this isn’t going anywhere. It really took me a little bit to get accustomed to it. The industry is a little bit of the Wild West. There’s a lot of changes. There’s a lot of franchise leagues coming up. Sponsors are becoming more fluent in the space, so there’s a lot more credibility. Look at what Ninja and many other streamers were able to accomplish this year using Fortnite as a platform to garner the attention of not only young Millenials and the kids but also getting to the parents, educating people on gaming as a whole and showing that this is a stable career. It was a process for me. It started with the NBA teams. It started with the Dallas Mavericks but it’s something that I’ve continued to learn in my progression with the Cavs as well.
Now that you find yourself more on the business side of things, how does your time as a player impact your approach?
One of the things – and a lot of the people who are involved with the business of esports are gamers themselves – is being able to identify what would be in touch with the audience and not at all evasive or cringy. Having that element as a gamer is huge. You know what you would want to experience, right. You know what would be a good business play, or a good marketing campaign, or a good activation because you are the one you’re trying to please. It’s people similar to your gaming tendencies and your preferences. I think having the advantage of playing games at a pretty competitive level and also understanding the industry is a huge leg up when it comes to business, especially when it comes to educating non-endemic partners. I feel as though the past two years, one of the biggest hurdles is just educating those potential brands or partners or sponsors on the atmosphere of esports and why it’s a smart decision to get involved.
Finally, you were at the center of one of the most inspirational esports stories of all time with the return of oLarry to the 2K League. What was it like to be around him and see his comeback firsthand? Are there any moments that stood out during that time?
(Note: Tim “oLarry” Anselimo is an NBA 2K League player with Cavs Legion. He was shot four times in a mass shooting at a Madden tournament in August 2018. He was awarded the ESPY for Best Esports Moment for his comeback during the 2019 season.)
There’s so many great memories with Tim. Tim is an absolute warrior. I’ve never met anyone like Tim before in my entire life. Seeing his comeback – and not only did he come back fully but he was arguably better this year than he was last year – and seeing him adapt how he handles the controller to be able to compete at the top level is absolutely remarkable. Tim and I are close friends. We’ll be close friends forever. When the incident first happened – and I was interested in getting him before the incident – I called him in the hospital and I remember talking to him. I was like, “Hey man. Where are you at? Where do you think you’re gonna be? Are you good to go?” At that moment, he goes, “Yeah, I’ll be fine. I’m gonna make the comeback and everything.” We had no information. We didn’t fully know what was gonna happen and I think two or three days later I traded for him. It was just one of those moments where you just have that feeling in your stomach like “This kid is different. He’s gonna come back. He’s gonna come back with a vengeance.”
We were lucky too because Cavs Legion and the Cleveland Cavaliers were just so supportive of the entire decision. We wanted to make sure that Tim had the best atmosphere ever to make a healthy recovery. It wasn’t necessarily about getting him in six months later. It was what does Tim look like a year, two years from now. It’s just a testament to his character and who he is as a person. There was literally no downtime. Day 1, he’s in. He’s ready to train. He’s got the new controller grip and everything. There were so many great moments of experiencing his transformation from that traumatic incident. Seeing how strong of a person he is and using his platform to help others was honestly so inspirational. The moment he won the ESPY I was just freaking out, just jumping up and down. It was one of those feel-good moments. Knowing that he was up against someone like Ninja with all the clout in the world, it was cool to see the community band together to recognize how special of a story this is.
Featured image courtesy of Cavs Nation.
You can also follow Bradley @shyguyow.