Ari Segal is one of the most influential figures in esports. As CEO of Immortals Gaming Club, a Los Angeles-based esports and gaming company, he oversees a portfolio of high-profile teams including Immortals and MIBR (Made in Brazil). He made his name in the traditional sport of ice hockey and held key roles at the Anaheim Ducks, San Diego Gulls and Arizona Coyotes.
Sport → Gaming
For all his success in ice hockey and esports, Ari Segal values his early realization that he could never feel “truly endemic” among professional sports people. “I could’ve been an executive for 20 years and I still would not have been ‘one of the guys,’” he says of his formative years at the Anaheim Ducks hockey franchise. “It was just a practical reality: I didn’t grow up playing hockey, or really around sport in an insider sense. While I played sports for fun, I was never good enough to play any professional sport, let alone hockey.”
Luckily for Segal he had the Ducks’ CEO Michael Schulman as his boss and mentor. Schulman taught him to be comfortable being a “fish out of water” among those gifted enough to play sport for a living. “There’s a fundamental shared experience among people who have that rare talent. It’s okay to be outside of that core, inner circle and to still develop relationships and have positive impact.”
Segal took that advice and went on to excel as President of Business Operations at San Diego Gulls and then Chief Operating Officer at Arizona Coyotes. He then transitioned into esports and, as CEO of Immortals Gaming Club, has taken charge of one of the strongest companies in the sector, with investors including AEG, Lionsgate and Meg Whitman.
Since he was a child, Segal has wanted to lead. He was president of his High School class and president of his fraternity in college. “I guess I have a hunger and ambition,” he says. “I’m competitive and driven, and working towards being a CEO was working towards the northern most point in whatever industry I was going to be in.”
Learning that he could be a fish out of water and succeed was one of many lessons he has used to build the combination of resilience, risk appetite and vision which he regards as key to strong leadership.
“I’m competitive and driven, and working towards being a CEO was working towards the northern most point in whatever industry I was going to be in”
That includes his time as a young investment banking analyst, coping with the economic crash. Faced with added pressure to up his game, he “kind of steeled myself to just try and fight out of it”. Segal says that Wall Street experience gave him a long-lasting “level of appreciation for ‘client-ready quality,’ correctness, and attention to detail”. He also benefited from taking up distance running: “There was something about setting and achieving small goals that created a flywheel of positivity.”
After a time at McKinsey, he went to work for Schulman at the Ducks, a move which “changed my life and career”. He has benefited from an ability to be “flexible”, taking on diverse business challenges and being “willing to move geographically and willing to move industries”.
As industry demarcations are increasingly blurred, the opportunities for trailblazer leaders are greater than simply crossing from one sector to another. “It’s not either/or – rather, there’s convergence”, Segal argues. “What you’re going to find over five to ten years is that we think more about content – how is it distributed and how is it monetized – and we’re far less concerned with arbitrary lines called ‘gaming’ or ‘sport’ or ‘media’.”