How did an attorney turn into a wavemaker in the esports and gaming industry? USC alumnus Jimmy Baratta (’10) sits down with USC Games Editorial to share his journey and helpful tips for those who are looking to break into new spaces. To know more about how persistence plays an important part in networking, read below.
Q: Thank you for joining us! So why don’t you do a little introduction first?
A: My name is Jimmy Baratta. I am the chief gaming officer for Holodeck Media, which is kind of a fancy title. I’m really an operations guy. I have a media company with podcasts and other related content that we’re growing right now in gaming, esports, metaverse, crypto and more. So that’s my primary focus. I’m also an investor and a strategist for XSET. We started about two years ago as a tier-one competitive esports organization and lifestyle brand. We have some amazing names on our roster: from Ezekiel Elliott of the Dallas Cowboys to platinum-selling musicians, such as Swae Lee and Ozuna. I also teach esports at UC Irvine. These are the three bigger areas of where my time is being spent today.
Q: Would you like to share a little bit more about what you’ve done recently?
A: When I got into esports, I spent so much time doing talent management for people like the Travis Scott Fortnite event, Astronomical, live streams with YBN Nahmir, and some biz dev (business development) projects with 21 Savage. I was working with non-endemic brands and people who were in traditional forms of entertainment, and trying to explore how to leverage those in the gaming space and take advantage of opportunities. That is kind of the foundation of my work for the past three years.
To your question, this year is different because everyone we meet now has been in gaming for a long time. Last week, I interviewed Jon Pan, Facebook Gaming’s head of strategy and operations, just to talk about the team’s approach towards the streaming wars. Jon Pan was also the former head of studio for Amazon games and worked at Riot in 2014. As you can imagine, speaking with someone like Jon from Facebook is a world of difference from three years ago when I was working with rappers, athletes and traditional entertainment properties. They didn’t know a lot about gaming but that it was an area they needed to be in.
So now, a lot of my time is spent networking and doing biz dev with endemic companies, such as Gen. G and XSET. We’ve had Immortals on the show. We’re going to have a really awesome lineup honestly this year, for example, Team Liquid, as well as its parent company, Axiomatic, on our programming. Again, it’s a different conversation when they already know what esports and gaming are, and even what competing philosophies are. With that in mind, this year we are really getting into the nuts and bolts of things: analyzing various businesses of different entry points and different perspectives.
Except for the University of New Haven, there’s no master’s program in esports. It’s very early days for us here. When we’re able to interview the CEO’s, the investors, the developers, the business development personnel and the directors of various verticals and branches, it makes for really engaging content. It’s educational and fun, not just watching Twitch to see someone play Fortnite.
Q: You mentioned talking to Facebook. With all the buzz words around metaverse, how do you see the future of meta gaming for the next short period of time?
A: I think everyone is approaching it differently: a lot of people are hesitant or skeptical and a lot of others are diving heads first. For example, Ubisoft announced their entrance into developing blockchain based games.
I think the best way to talk about it is to cut to an example: Louis Vuitton and Burberry came out with mobile games last year 2021. In those Games, you can collect NFTs, non fungible tokens. What was really cool was that the NFT you collected in that game mirrored a lot of the product catalog of high-end luxury goods that you could buy in store. As someone that likes luxury menswear, I want my video game avatar to have the same Louis Vuitton backpack that I do. I’m trying to show an application of one brand with physical goods that are rare, expensive and coveted and how they were able to apply that in a video game. Now you want it there too.
The real question a lot of people have is where the value is in these digital assets. These things don’t really have any true scarcity. Just like regular art, it’s subjective. The wonderful thing about blockchain is that a lot of it does have a quantifiable value attributed to some type of work, effort or product. Meta gaming or gaming’s approach to the metaverse is very much going to be the nexus of how we interconnect with one another in a digital social sense. Our generation and older generations have been introduced into that field. We’ve been engaging socially on MySpace, all the way to now TikTok and everything in between. We’ve been consuming content digitally and less so on linear (channels) or traditional broadcasts. Gaming facilitates all of those things: pop culture, social engagement and eventually business as well.
Everyone loves pointing to the Oasis, which was the metaverse concept from Ready Player One (fantastic novel if you haven’t read it; half decent movie). It’s a great example because in there, you can go to school in the metaverse, walk through the tombs and have other immersive experiences. It’s the culmination of a lot of experiences currently offered and taking it to that next level.
Q: And I think a lot of students are also struggling with making decisions or they feel like they have to pick one. So with your experiences, what do you think was the most difficult part about making that jump and you know how you navigated that?
A: We all have a lot of interests. I used to game with my fire team back when we played Destiny. I noticed that on Sundays I stopped watching the NFL because I was gaming. I was actually spending less time listening to new music or watching traditional sports. It was a realization where that was clearly the priority in my life. And then, it was a slow process: who do I know in this space, what can I do to get my hands dirty. Maybe you’re hesitant, but it starts with your family and your friends in your immediate network. Don’t use a lack of knowledge or lack of accessibility as a reason not to do something, because everything I have today is my network.
All the projects that I work on were a result of the last three or four years of work in the space. Even though before that I was an attorney for seven years, I hadn’t relied on that network or that experience at all. When I first started working in this space, I reached out to my network to introduce me to others in gaming. That’s always the first thing.
The second part is being persistent. A lot of people will try once or twice and then throw their hands up. Even to this day, I can be rejected six, seven times but I’m going to keep trying until the lead is absolutely dead. A lot of times, it’s not a bad fit; it’s just a matter of timing. I’ve had people that have turned me down and I’ve had projects that didn’t work out, only until they come around full circle months or years later: even my current job. I reached out to my boss three years ago. And he said, I don’t really have a place for you. I kept in touch every few months, where we’d speak. Last year, he called me up, and it was the exact opposite. He goes, “I need you to leave everything that you’re doing and come work for me, what’s it going to take?” And that’s a really cool feeling. But again, that is years of planting the seed, nurturing it and watching it grow until you’re able to cultivate a relationship or a project.
I would just say it’s about doing as opposed to thinking; and it’s about continuing to do, Success isn’t one big home run swing. It’s days, weeks, months of effort every single day, little by little, until it accumulates into something.
Q: Our students are graduating or finding internships and they have to reach out and pitch themselves. So how do you actually expand your network and then continue to maintain that?
A: It was nothing that I planned. Honestly, everything I have right now is the result of very recent work from the last three or four years, where I every single day was just looking for ways to broaden my network or for projects to get involved with. So for me, my very first meeting was with FaZe Clan, and that turned into eight months of meetings and phone calls and lunches and spinoffs. My second meeting was with Gen.G and that also turned very similarly into lunches and meetings. These led me to know more people who are available to help me reach new heights.
I wish I could take credit for how diverse everything has been. But, honestly it’s just continuing to get to know people and keeping in touch with them. Just because that one conversation didn’t lead to a job or an internship or a project, doesn’t mean that it’s dead. It just means that’s a person that you should talk to in two or three months, see what they’re doing, and share with them your own success.
Whether you’re in gaming and esports, law or medicine, you get to the point where the circle becomes smaller and smaller. And when you think of these industries as close-knit networks, you realize that you’re developing your own brand for yourself. So do you want to be the person that reached out once and threw up your arms, because you got fed up with something that wasn’t going your way? Or do you want to be that nice person that didn’t ask for anything but just wanted to meet and get to know and to learn.
And if an opportunity comes up, be ready to take advantage of it. I’ve treated every conversation as informational and exploratory. And then I wait for something in my mind’s eye to light up to see if I connect that to something else. There’s no shortage of projects and there’s no shortage of cool or ambitious people. It’s just really a lot of friends that either want to work with each other.
Q: Now that we’ve got a bit more time left, tell us a little about teaching esports.
A: After I left law, I first wanted to sign up for a course like an esports certificate program just to educate myself on what was going on in this space. As I am from Orange County, UC Irvine is a little closer here to me, right by the Activision Blizzard and Razer headquarters. I signed up for a course. But around that same time, right before the add/drop period closed, I actually got a couple of big contracts for some live events that I wanted to work on. So I dropped out.
About a year or two later, I emailed UC Irvine and said, if you remember me, I had signed up for class a few years ago. I would love to do some roundtables or be a guest keynote speaker or a guest lecturer. And they actually said that they had been following me and my work. They knew about the live events with Epic and XSET. They offered me a teaching position to share my business anecdotes and real-world experience with the class.
And that was about a year ago and I’ve since taught every course in that program. So I’m really fortunate to have a family over there and I love teaching. I teach a three-unit collegiate course as an instructor of esports.
Q: I want to remind everybody that a school, such as USC, is a huge support system for anybody who wants to reach out to professors or alumni who have industry experiences, which is why we’re doing this type of conversation.
A: If I can add to that: around the same time I got involved at UC Irvine, I reached out to Professors Huntley and Bellamy at USC, who are friends I’ve known for some time now. I went to both of them for advice and for help. Even though I was picking this offer from a competing school, I relied on them as a USC graduate. We had some great talks and they were really helpful with perspectives and managing not just expectations, but planning out how to approach my career. I want to build off of that comment that you just offered, which was how much I appreciated the insight in and mentorship of Professors Huntleyand Professor Bellamy. Definitely go to your professors here at SC! If anyone wants any insight into networking and getting into this space, please don’t hesitate to reach out!
Jimmy Baratta is currently the chief gaming officer of Holodeck Ventures and an instructor at University of California, Irvine for esports. You can find out more about Jimmy Baratta and his projects through his website and social media.