Interview: ONE Esports’ Mika Fabella on Hosting Gamers’ Paradise and her Esports Journey

We recently got to talk with Mika Fabella, ONE Esports' host for Gamer's Paradise, and she shared some insight into her esports journey.

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Gamer’s Paradise by ONE Esports is currently airing, and in case you haven’t seen it yet, it’s an esports and gaming talkshow. But instead of being a prim-and-proper interview series, it’s more of a casual and fun hangout with a diverse range of esports athletes and gaming personalities in the region; think something like Attack of the Show!

While each episode features different guests, the show is anchored by its hosts, both of whom you may be familiar with as they have hosted a wide range of tournaments.

Recently, we got a chance to talk with one of the hosts, Mika Fabella whom you may know for hosting a wide range of tournaments over the past couple of years, including The Nationals and other events.

Given her hosting credentials, it’s fair to say that Mika is a veteran esports host, but did you know that her journey in the esports industry is not what you would expect. Well, that’s what we found out when we got to talk to her.

Aside from her esports career so far, she also peeled back the curtains of Gamer’s Paradise and shared what it’s like to host an event with such an eclectic mix of guests. Plus, she shared some valuable tips to those who are interested in starting a career in esports.

[The following is the full interview with Mika Fabella]

How did your esports journey begin?

It started pretty much with an audition. A friend of mine saw that a network was looking for hosts who were game to do esports and gaming content. When I went to that audition, I felt very much out of my league. But for some reason, I got the job, and it hasn’t stopped since then.

That was during a time when I was doing several auditions as before getting into esports, I was involved in a bunch of things that also required many auditions. So, I was just going through as many as I could, and that happened to be one of them. And once that started, it’s been a snowball effect ever since.

So, this was an audition for TV5 for The Nationals. That was my very first esports-related edition

Prior to The Nationals, how familiar with you with esports?

I was a big fan of Overwatch. I did watch the Overwatch League, and I thought it was enough. That’s about it. And when I went to the audition, they gave us a script to read, and I was unfamiliar with pretty much 100% of what I was saying. So, I was fortunate that my partner at that time for that audition was very familiar. He is now my VCT co-talent, Asurai, and he helped me through that audition. I always say that if he wasn’t my partner for that audition, I don’t think I would have gotten hired and I would still be in my previous industry

I can’t imagine jumping into esports and then handling lots of different titles from the get-go.

Yes! I had no idea what I was saying. I was like ‘What is this ESL One Katowice’ – I had no idea (laughs).

Did you gravitate towards a particular game when you started?

I was majorly unfamiliar with MOBAs (when I started). That’s an area that I’m still getting used to.

My games of choice were mainly shooters. As I mentioned, I was very much into Overwatch at that time. Now we have also Valorant, which is something that I’m very active in. So, I preferred shooters a lot more. But, of course, I’m getting to grips with various mobile games as well.

Do you still get to play games given your busy schedule as a host?

Yes, I think it comes with the job because you have to be, especially as a host. You don’t have to have the skills of a professional player, but you do have to know what the landscape is like for games if there’s something that plagues gamers. For example, if there’s a certain champion, or if there’s a certain agent who’s causing a lot of trouble. You must be on top of things like that.

It’s particularly hard in esports because with traditional sports, the rules are the same, that’s it. But with esports, the games change every month, every couple of weeks; there’s something new that comes out. So as a talent in esports, it’s our job to stay on top of that. And with ONE Esports, in particular, we have to cover those things, we have to cover those patches that come out, we have to cover the latest agent that has been released.

And of course, as a fan, and as a gamer myself, I definitely enjoy playing games because I don’t think any of us would be doing this if we didn’t enjoy playing all of these titles and being a part of the scene.

Before getting into the esports scene, what gaming or geek interests did you have?

I will admit, I was a bit of a late bloomer in gaming because when I was growing up, we didn’t exactly have a lot of money. Mobile gaming was also unheard of when I was growing up and we didn’t exactly have a PC or a console. I didn’t have a typical childhood growing up. So gaming wasn’t accessible to me until I was in my late 20s, which is a lot farther back than people think.

I started with MMORPGs like World of Warcraft. The Secret World which is another, though it’s a bit of an obscure title right now, that was one thing that I enjoyed playing with friends. Diablo of course. Also, single-player RPGs because as I mentioned growing up at the time, the internet was a lot harder to come by. I was mostly playing single-player games that I played whenever I did get a chance to play.

How did the concept for the show come up?

When I joined ONE Esports, the idea was already in motion. But nobody knew how it was going to take shape yet because the project was very ambitious. Everybody kept talking about the possibility of hosting a talkshow and I remember thinking that I wanted to be a part of that.

At the time. I didn’t think that I was going to be in front of the camera. I thought I would be writing,  producing, or helping to coordinate, because that was my line of work. Before I came to be a front-facing talent, I used to be a producer, writer, production manager, or assistant director for films and commercial work. I was usually behind the camera, so I assumed that I would remain behind the camera for this project.

As the idea slowly started taking shape, and I started to hear more concrete plans about it, there was a discussion on whom ONE Esports would appoint as host of the talkshow. Selecting the right host is very important because talkshows are very host-driven. And they were talking about having to tackle the show dynamic. They ended up picking Eri Neeman, who is a friend from way back when, to co-host Gamer’s Paradise.

Eventually, the producers of the show asked me “Hey, do you have any idea for a co-host?” I automatically referred so many people that I knew would be great co-hosts. Although I recommended many names, they came back to me and asked, “would you be open to hosting the show?” And again, at that time, it didn’t cross my mind that I would be hosting the show. So I said, “I guess we could try?”

I remember saying to the producers “Is there nobody else?” (laughs). It’s a self-deprecating stance, and I was nervous because it felt like such a big task. It felt like something that was beyond my league, similar to how I felt before that very first esports audition from way back.

I will say that the realization that I was hosting Gamer’s Paradise didn’t actually hit me until the cameras started rolling, and I just kind of took the reins.

While the journey to the start of the show is challenging, did you face other challenges during the show’s creation or production?

One of the many challenges is the current pandemic. If there were no travel restrictions, then we would have been able to create a more personal and intimate environment, especially for our guests, some of whom had to join the show virtually. There are a lot of things that were hampered because of the pandemic. I hope that in the future, we’ll get to see those dreams and those plans come to fruition with the easing of restrictions and as the world continues to open up.

But yeah, it was challenging to shape the idea in this new setting because when the idea was first proposed, it didn’t take the pandemic into account. I think it was always going to be a talkshow where we could invite guests to the studio. Thankfully, even if we weren’t able to fly guests from country to country, we could still correspond with them online. = I’m happy that at least that option was there for us.

I hope we’ll eventually get to have even more guests in person because that was the one area that I found unique about the show. Gamer’s Paradise gave us the opportunity to bring together all of these gaming superstars, and we managed to foster a familial, chill house party type of vibe where everyone could just be themselves. It was nice to see all the gaming personalities we invited onto the let their guards down, let loose, and be goofy for the audience.

What are the most interesting things that you found out about other esports/gaming/cosplay topics?

I think the most interesting thing is getting to know our guests from other countries. In the Philippines, we have a relatively small esports community, and it was nice to meet like-minded people outside of our home country. So, for example, when we had the MPL casters and pro players on the show, and we played games with them, it made me want to get to know them better and hang out with them.

I think one of the most memorable moments was when we had to play charades and I was partnered with Chawy from TSM who’s a very well-known League of Legends player. It was fun to make him laugh, get to form that connection with him, and just goof off together. He was also treated to my very dismal charades skills! (laughs)

What’s been your favorite moment or thing about Gamer’s Paradise?

My favorite segment to shoot is House Party. While we had lots of fun segments, I think everybody looked forward to House Party because the cast could unwind and go crazy, and it always became a literal house party with our guests.

There were a lot of things that did not make it to the final cuts; there are just so many good moments. There were so many House Party segments where it would just be 20 minutes of myself just laughing, literally crying of laughter. And I’ve never actually experienced that on any other shoots where I would just be paralyzed with laughter because what we were doing on set was just so hilarious

Aside from a specific moment, is there an episode that you would consider your favorite?

I think one of my favorite Gamer’s Paradise episodes is the one with the League of Legends charades segment. Everyone learnt how “gifted” I was with charades that day. (laughs)

Another episode that I absolutely loved shooting was the episode featuring Aya Ezmaria and PochSpice. They’re really good personal friends of mine and something hilarious happened during filming that just absolutely killed me. I was even telling the production team that I know although I’ve been stalling for like 10 minutes because I couldn’t stop laughing, to please just keep the cameras rolling. I can’t wait for fans to watch that episode. It was definitely memorable for me just because it was the most I’ve laughed on set for anything that I’ve ever done throughout my career. That includes even non-esports stuff

What are your thoughts on the esports industry in the region?

I think the digital revolution that has happened in the past couple of years has made esports bigger, especially with physical sports and events being next to impossible to hold in person.

That’s not to say that esports events will be conducted entirely digitally going forward because we all miss live events and we don’t want to go back to a no-LAN event world. But the ability of esports to be held digitally has definitely captured the attention of millions across the globe, which is what I think the community has always wanted. The growth of esports companies in this short span of time is explosive. Even my boyfriend’s parents took notice and asked about esports for the very first time!

The thing that always captivated me about esports, is that it’s an industry that grew out of 100% passion. If you think about it, it’s really just the games that people love and a community that wanted to take it to another level. Esports didn’t start because people had the money, and by the way, that still isn’t the reason why people are passionate about it.

I think that’s what makes it special. It’s really driven by the fact that we get to take the things that made us happy as kids, and we get to bring them with us as we mature as we go into adulthood, and it’s maturing alongside us.

It’s really great to see the industry and community continue to grow and to have a front-row seat to watch where it’s going at ONE Esports. We don’t know yet where it will end up, but I think that’s also what makes it interesting to watch.

Any tips for those who aspire to work in esports/gaming?

Getting a career in esports is not easy at all. One of the biggest pieces of advice that I can give is I hope you’re ready to be a part of the industry given how fast-paced it is. When I started, I went from being ankle-deep into games and esports to suddenly full-on swimming in an ocean of it. It is incredibly fast-paced and incredibly volatile. So, I think that you need to prepare yourself with the resiliency that you will need on an hourly basis, a weekly basis, or a yearly basis, depending on the tournament circuit.

You also need to have mental fortitude in esports. Whether as a talent or a pro player, you’ll need that and it’s something that you shouldn’t lose. Just remember what made you fall in love with the industry in the first place.

Also, try not to make it about the money because I got news for you, that ain’t it, though there are still lots of things to love about the industry. Plus, you’ll get to have the coolest job in the world. That’s one of the biggest things that you get to say when you work in esports, and it’s something that will make you beam with pride no matter whom you talk to.

New episodes of Gamer’s Paradise streams every Monday at ONE Esports’ digital channels, including Facebook, TwitchYouTube, and AfreecaTV.