On a Friday in Los Angeles at 10:00 in the morning, a powerhouse in the gaming industry highly regarded for his influence, experience, and market knowledge answers a phone call for an interview. The words exchanged in that call would forever resonate in esports history.
“WAHHHHHHHH!” He follows them up: “Hey Izzy, I’m going to have to reschedule, I’m taking care of my two-month-old.”
“How about Wednesday?” I say.
We hang up.
On a Wednesday in Los Angeles at 9:00 in the morning, a powerhouse in the gaming industry highly regarded for his influence, experience, and market knowledge answers a phone call for an interview. This man is Phil Ranta, former Head of Gaming Creators, North America at Facebook, Current CEO of Wormhole Labs, and an incredible delight to talk to, adorable crying children and all.
Before we get into Wormhole Labs, which Ranta describes as “A social network where people can communicate the way they learn through gaming: avatar to avatar,” we need to discuss a time before the beard, the kids, and the reputation the gaming world would know for generations to come. With pure nostalgia in his voice, he warmly recalls working at Walmart and Sears. He worked at Walmart in the electronics department and Sears in the kids section, all just to be close to the video games. It’s this memory which helps fuels his drive for the ever-changing gaming industry, and he remembers it in a way that should be plastered over every esports organization with a front door.
“One reason that I keep coming back to the gaming industry, it’s a bunch of people who grew up but they are kids at heart when it comes to the games.”
And as Ranta grew, he would go on to experience whole new worlds in gaming.
Content creation and gaming have been a part of his life for much of his professional career. While studying at the University of Michigan, he shot a pilot for a digital platform before Youtube even existed, and by the age of 25, he was the executive director of a cell phone media house because he was both ridiculously skilled and one of the only people who knew how to create the type of content.
“If you know the cutting edge technology, then you can be as young as you want,” Ranta said, in response to my surprised reaction to the 25-year-old comment.
“I know more 20-year-old founders here than anywhere else,” he exclaims. “There are people in finance who wait over 20 years to make director, and in the gaming industry there are 26-year olds who are already C-level employees.”
Being on the forefront of cutting edge technology and finding avenues to advance in an industry requires ingenuity and adaptability. These skills have transformed Ranta into an industry leader. If you’re looking for an example of this in action, look no further than when Ranta truly cemented his place in the gaming industry as the former head of Facebook Gaming.
“The question I asked was, ‘Where do we fit in the market? How does the market perceive Facebook, and how do we overcome any negative perceptions?’” he explains. That’s when it hit him: celebrities. On Twitch, you livestream, gain followers, and form a personal community.
But what about other aspects of your brand, like separate chats, merch, and updates off-stream? On Facebook, you can do all that on one platform, keeping your audience in one place. Moreover, if you’re a celebrity, you probably already have a big following on Facebook and Instagram. Not only can you grow your following, but if you already have one, you can immediately retain it, driving traffic and boosting viewership. Plus, because it’s a global platform, Facebook Gaming dominates in places where Twitch doesn’t exist.
In other words, Ranta’s a genius.
Now, he’s taken his talents to a new company, one he says revolutionizes the world of networking: Wormhole Labs. Why did this gaming industry pioneer move from the gaming world to the networking world?
Well, he didn’t actually move that far.
“The DNA of gaming runs through [Wormhole], but at its guts it’s a social network. What would Facebook look like if it was a game?”
“You can network with anyone, anywhere in the world, and it’s like you’re actually there. You can go to the Eiffel Tower in the app, and wormhole with other users, allowing you to chat in real time,” he says.
“Is it kind of like Minecraft?” I ask.
“It’s like Minecraft Worlds, but you get to voice chat!”
Through Wormhole, patented technology recreates the real world as if you were experiencing it in virtual reality. There’s even a verb for it: “Wormholing.”
“Teleport Live across the world like you are actually there,” Ranta boasts.
And while we’re now over 800 words into this article and two months post interview (shoutout to Ranta for being flexible), I would be remiss not to mention most of our interview wasn’t about Facebook Gaming or Wormhole Labs, or even core esports. It was a shared moment between two people who love talking about gaming and why they love it.
As we laughed about our shared love of Mario history, I knew that no matter how much of this story was about Ranta’s accomplishments or current endeavors, I wouldn’t do his story justice if I didn’t illustrate who the man is as a person. He’s not just someone the industry should look up to (which it should), but also a kind-hearted soul who loves video games, wants to talk about his passion, and truly cherishes life.
I asked him what games he liked and he spent over ten minutes discussing his favorite games from each console generation. He said, “Do you want me to list one from every generation?” and I said, “Let’s do it.” Just so you’re not left in the dark, for the current console generation, he’s a big fan of The Last of Us Part II, Red Dead Redemption 2, and Ghost of Tsushima. Also, he has to be “an oculus stan,” so he’s a big fan of Beat Saber.
Recalling past games releases a wave of nostalgia that truly brings out one’s inner child. Ranta not only knows this principle on a personal level, he gets to watch his inner child every day; or maybe, it would be more accurate to say his two “inner children” aren’t inner at all. He has a toddler and a baby, and you could feel the smile through the phone as he talked about them. It’s funny: Ranta tells me when he first arrived in Los Angeles, he became a comedian and performed digital aspects of jobs, and as such, “Family wasn’t a priority.”
Then he met the love of his life, had two kids, and I shouldn’t say the rest is history, because it’s still being written. All I can say is that when it’s finished, everyone will know Ranta’s name.