Toronto

'Dive in with both feet': How this Toronto entrepreneur beat the 'boys' club' to win in esports

Toronto entrepreneur Arwina Mogul says she had to fight a 'negative stigma around women' to create an esports platform that helps connect the gaming community. As the world marks Women's Entrepreneurship Day on Nov. 19, she hopes her story will inspire other women to start their own businesses.

On Women's Entrepreneurship Day, Arwina Mogul hopes to inspire others to follow her lead

Arwina Mogul is the CEO of Beam, an online esports platform where people can discover and organize gaming events and communities. 'In gaming and esports, I’m just going to say it: there are a lot of misogynists.' (Grant Linton/ CBC)

Arwina Mogul has loved video games ever since she could remember.

"I've always been a gamer. I will not publicly announce the hours I spent playing video games, but it's a lot," she laughs.

Now at age 30, she is the CEO and mastermind behind Beam, an online esports platform that connects gamers with tournaments and events happening in their own city. 

The company is projected to reach $120 million in revenue by 2023. 

But getting there wasn't easy, Mogul says, especially for a woman.

"I still see a lot of boys' club attitudes all over the place."

As the world marks Women's Entrepreneurship Day on Nov. 19, she hopes her story will inspire other women who are aspiring to start their own business.

An entrepreneurial spirit

"I always stood out like a sore thumb," Mogul says.

Growing up in Hong Kong with parents from the Philippines, Mogul says she often felt like an outcast in school, especially during computer class.

"It was only guys who were in that class. I seemed to be the only girl who was interested in that stuff."

By the age of nine, she had taught herself how to code. 

Then at 16, Mogul moved to Toronto with her family. As an immigrant, she says she felt the need to work extra hard.

"When I was in high school, I was very entrepreneurial," she says. In Grade 11, she was already developing websites for companies.

"It was really intimidating; you are a teenager and you are meeting with business owners."

While it was her passion, Mogul chose not to enter the tech industry after finishing university.

"I got a lot of pushback because it was not a field for a woman to pursue."

Networking is key

Instead she became a social worker, something she thought would be a more stable career path. But on the side, she indulged in her other passion: video games.

Esports has gained rapid popularity worldwide, drawing top-dollar investments, with global revenue from professional video-game competitions expected to hit $1.1 billion in 2019. (Ted S. Warren/ AP)

Her "side hustle" as she calls it, was organizing esports events.

Through networking, she was approached in 2016 to be a consultant for the first-ever esports theme park in Qatar. 

"I guess that's one of the best tips I would have for entrepreneurs because you always kind of dread networking and talking to people, but there are golden nuggets that come out of that."

When she returned to Toronto from Qatar in 2017, Mogul decided to finally take the plunge and launch her own  business.

Combining her tech skills and love for video games, Mogul began developing an online platform to connect esports enthusiasts to events happening around them.

Beam is born

Mogul got the idea for Beam when she realized no such ticketing platform existed despite the enormous growth of the esports over the past decade.

"I basically wanted to create an Eventbrite for gamers," she said, referring to the online ticket distribution system for concerts and sporting events.

Beam helps gamers discover events they can attend and online tournaments they can join. Mogul says she was surprised to discover no such platform existed prior to Beam, despite the enormous growth of esports. (Grant Linton/ CBC)

Gamers create a profile, and Beam then generates a list of offline gaming events and online tournaments they may be interested in based on their profile and location. 

Organizers, meanwhile, are able to list their events and build a following through subscriptions. 

The format has proven to be a success. Within two years, the company that started with just Mogul herself has grown to a full-time team of four.

But getting there wasn't easy, she says.

Climbing hurdles

According to Statistics Canada, under 20 per cent of Canadian private businesses were owned by female entrepreneurs, on average between 2005 and 2013.

In 2014, the United Nations officially proclaimed Nov. 19 of every year as Women's Entrepreneurship Day, a global movement to celebrate and support female founders as well as shed light on their challenges.

A 2017 PwC survey of more than 900 tech firms in Canada found that women make up just five per cent of CEO's in the industry. But Mogul says there seems to be a 'movement in Toronto where it’s women empowerment and that’s what keeps me going.' (Grant Linton/ CBC)

"Business is a male-dominated industry. Gaming is a male-dominated industry. Tech is a male-dominated industry. So there's definitely multiple layers that I have to fight through," Mogul says.

For instance, there were times when a potential investor would lose interest after finding out she was the CEO.

"Especially in esports, there's a negative stigma around women. So when they hear a female calling the shots, they are not cool with it," she says.

"You definitely need to have thick skin."

Looking back, she says that's what got her through. Also, perseverance.

"Just because someone says your idea is stupid or it won't work, don't listen to them. Dive in with both feet and just crush it."

About the Author

Kelda Yuen is a reporter with CBC News in Toronto. She began her journalism career in Beijing and has travelled the world, from North Korea to Rwanda, in search of better understanding. Her two-part story 'Surviving Genocide' was the recipient of the Edward R. Murrow Award for Best News Series in 2017. When she's not in the field, you can find her at the multiplex. Email: kelda.yuen@cbc.ca

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