Welcome to another edition of TEA’s long-form content series The Path, where we profile the unique journeys of professionals of all ages and backgrounds as they try to find their way in the esports and gaming industry.
In our latest profile, we detail the journey of OMIT Founder Rafi Huezo, a former marketing exec who abandoned that world during COVID to create content, and later an esports organization that focused on diversity as a founding principle. This is his story.
Rafi Huezo was born in America (Augusta, Georgia), but he didn’t really understand what it meant to be a participant in a country that (mostly) didn’t speak his language. His family moved around a lot when he was a kid because his father (Rafael Huezo Sr.) worked for Procter & Gamble and was making his way up the corporate ladder, which sometimes meant taking opportunities in different parts of the world. Rafi’s family bopped around for awhile, living in different locations in the U.S., Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Guatemala, before finally settling down in Cincinnati—the homebase for P&G—in 1997 (Rafi’s father spent more than 36 years at P&G—he retired from the company in the summer of 2022).
“I grew up with a father that was the breadwinner of the house, working his way up the Procter & Gamble ranks, so it was basically like living with a military father who was rotating once a year,” Rafi told The Esports Advocate in an interview last week.
Rafi was 10 years old when his family finally settled down in Cincinnati in 1997, and he quickly found that speaking only Spanish in a major Midwestern city was a serious challenge; fellow students and even teachers were not all that accepting of a young latino kid who didn’t understand it very well or speak it.
“Spanish was my only language, so it was a huge learning curve as a 10 year old in the Midwest,” he said. “It was really hard and it caused a lot of trauma that I blocked out for years—if I’m being completely frank. I wasn’t aware of what microaggressions were back then (like I understand it now), but I was aware of the blatant racism that I experienced, and I experienced a handful of both from teachers, students, ect., so assimilation and survival was very much ingrained in me as soon as I arrived.”
The language barrier coupled with what he describes as unfair treatment mingled with racism shaped Rafi’s attitude during his time in grade school, and a disdain for authority grew as he advanced to middle and high school. His attitude towards those in authority during those years could best be described as apathetic, and so he assimilated into school the best way he knew how: by simply being a troublemaker.
“I wasn’t supposed to graduate high school,” he said. “The way that I was assimilating was by just being a straight up troublemaker. You know, I was arrested, I was expelled from my high school twice, and so I didn’t know what to do and I didn’t care as long as I was just seen in a different fashion. I got expelled from high school twice, which meant that I was having to do double the work during summer school.”
That trouble ranged from fighting in school to selling weed to other students, and generally being combative with authority at every turn. Over the years this created a cycle where, even when he was behaving himself, teachers and administrators were going out of their way to ostracize and isolate him, because he was considered “one of the bad kids.”
“It was mostly just being a bad kid because I was somebody that was being watched very closely by teachers and administrators. I was selling marijuana in high school; I didn’t need the money—my dad worked at Procter & Gamble. I dealt with teachers that would tell me, ‘You’re gonna be asking people if they want ketchup with their fries one day. You’re not going anywhere in life.’ This is actually a very important part of my story, because everything that I’ve done has been because of people doubting me, and that is what fuels my fire—people telling me that I can’t do something or that I’m not going to achieve whatever it is I’m looking to achieve.”
Rafi and his father didn’t get along when he was growing up (he worked a lot), but he had newfound respect for him after he went to war with the school, teachers, and administrators when it looked like they weren’t going to let him graduate.
“My father and I rekindled our relationship because they were trying to expel me from school for a third time,” Rafi said. “He showed up like a lawyer and broke down their entire case. In fact, he got a teacher fired from my high school for blatant racism—she was ostracizing me from class for no reason, and then we found receipts from other Latino and Black students that were treated the same way. It came to a point where I had a chair that was facing a wall, and my back was facing the entire school type of situation. My dad showed up and said ‘enough is enough.’ That was the moment where I was like, ‘Wow, maybe he does love me.’”
After fighting for his son, his father took him aside and told him that he needed to take this win as a blessing because he had no idea how lucky he really was. “You’re going to the University of Cincinnati,” he told his son. He finally listened to him and took getting an education seriously; he made the dean’s list, and almost immediately got the opportunity to get into Fisher College of Business at Ohio State. Ultimately, Rafi would go on to graduate from Ohio State with a triple major in marketing, strategic communications, and Spanish Activities.
From P&G to P Diddy
With his education behind him, he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do, so he decided to go into the executive development program at Macy’s, but after six months of that he realized that corporate life wasn’t a great fit for him. While in that program he met someone there who encouraged him to go into marketing, and ultimately landed at a marketing agency servicing P&G. He stayed there for five years learning everything he could about marketing, but his heart longed for New York City.
“I think what was really great was that I’ve always been outspoken. I knew my CPG background just based off of living with somebody that worked at Procter & Gamble, and what the life cycle of that looks like. And for the first five years, I just rolled up my sleeves and learned the advertising and marketing agency world with Procter & Gamble being the client.”
While attending to P&G business, he bounced back and forth between Cincinnati and Columbus, but he really wanted to be in New York City. At that point he had bought a house in Columbus, had gotten engaged, and purchased a second car, but Rafi admits that he would have given all of it up to move to New York to do the whole “Madison Avenue advertising thing,” so when an opportunity came along, he jumped.
“So the agency that worked for Procter & Gamble was let go and the client that I had at the time said, ‘Hey, I want you to continue to work on my business. Would you be open to moving to New York?’ and I was like, ‘Absolutely.’ I ended up working at Grey, which is a top five agency in New York City, continued working on P&G, switched over to Nestle, and just did the CPG stuff, and then one day I got a call from P Diddy’s chief of staff.”
That call would lead to a new job at Ciroc Vodka North America, a joint venture between P Diddy and Diageo. In this new role as brand director, Rafi served as the bridge between P Diddy’s crew and the brand directors and managers at Diageo. During his time there, Rafi played a key role in revitalizing the brand within the Latino community by bringing in stars and tailoring marketing towards different Hispanic demographics within the U.S., while also reconnecting the brand with African American consumers.
Rafi learned a lot while working there, but when he felt that the gig had run its course and he had learned all that he could about marketing consumer products, he moved on to bigger and better things.
It was 2020 and Rafi was trapped by a pandemic in New York City, found himself laid off by Grey, and had to weigh his options. He couldn’t find a job, the economy was kind of at a stand still, and the entire city was locked down, so how would he make some money to pay his bills?
“The only thing that I could think of at the time was, ‘Hey, buy a PC, turn on a camera, and start playing video games,’” he said. “I quickly amassed over 10,000 followers and 3,000 subscribers, and I was basically living as a content creator streaming for eight hours a day as my job for the better part of all of Covid. And that helped the idea #Rafi.”
Rafi did the whole content creator thing for about a year, playing Call of Duty: Warzone, FIFA, and just vibing with his community while listening to music (what he calls “Rafi Radio”), or just talking.
“When I first started streaming I was playing a lot of FIFA and Call of Duty Warzone. My views would go up if it was just chatting and go down if I was playing Warzone. FIFA was a late night thing, so I would also do Rafi Radio—which people absolutely loved—where I would show them what it was that I was listening to and just chat while we were playing that music.’”
Eventually he’d pick up some regular work–he helped Adidas launch a TikTok channel–but after that he felt like he was done with that part of his career. He had found a community he enjoyed being in, made friends in Warzone, and decided to start signing a few players under the auspices of what he first called “#Rafi.”
“We had garnered the biggest regiment within Call of Duty Warzone called #Rafi. I had signed five or six players; I had made up my own contracts, but had no idea what I was doing, honestly. I had signed some really gifted players to the team, and I knew that if I wanted the brand to grow, it wasn’t just gonna be a ‘hashtag my name’ type situation.”
Legit With OMIT
Inevitably #RAFI would become OMIT, a name that was born out of Rafi’s troubled childhood, the isolation and exclusion he felt in school, as well as the real need within the community to create an organization that was more inclusive to talented players and content creators who were being left out (or omitted) of the mix: black and brown people, women, talent within the LGBTQ+ community, etc.
The first people #Rafi signed were exceptional Warzone players (during the popularity of Verdansk in 2020) in places like Mexico, Bangladesh, the UK, the U.S., and Puerto Rico. These players didn’t have big viewership numbers or large communities, but they represented some of the best Warzone players in the world. Those people included Angel “SAGE” Quinones, Danny “RIVS” Rivera, Aaron “XenoN” Hossain, Jonathan “Kriinkz” Hernandez (who used to play with Nadeshot back in the day), Andrew “Gooeyguy” Fonseca, and Dez “Dezmond” Oconner. None of these players were generating much income from playing and streaming, but they had the drive to compete every single day. The other core reason Rafi wanted to create OMIT was because when he looked at the top earners in esports and content creation, most of the people on those lists were not people of color:
“Honestly OMIT was also born from looking at the top 10 earners in esports,” he said. “They were all white, cisgendered males that could afford all the PCs, Xboxes, and PS4-PS5s before anybody else. Now I’m in the situation where I know how to lead, coach, and I know the business side of what it means to stream. My mission statement was, ‘Let’s make sure that the little guy has a chance to eat.’ Like, not only just getting the opportunity of pulling up a seat at the table, but making sure that they’re also eating.”
As of this writing, OMIT has 22 players signed across Warzone and CDL Challengers. The four players that make up the CDL Challengers team—Snoopy, Infinit, Ruper, and Thresh—are Mexican. In the early days Rafi knew that he needed to help these players succeed by giving them the financial support, resources, and tools they needed to evolve beyond just being really good Warzone players. Some of the talent signed with OMIT receive salaries, according to Rafi, so they don’t have to rely solely on revenue from subs and bits on Twitch, while other are offered support through things like editing stipends for content to defer costs. In addition, if they need equipment, legal services, money to travel to events, advice on how to brand, or just someone to create overlays or edit video, OMIT provides them with those things.
But with all of this money going out, how can OMIT remain a sustainable business? One of the ways it won’t fund its operations is through VC funding, according to Rafi. Instead, the company will focus on authentic partnerships and sponsorships—products and services that the company uses and are comfortable in promoting.
“The goal is not to make money right now,” Rafi said. “I think revenue is all fine and dandy—the statistics say that for a gaming organization to start monetizing in three+ years—but my goal [right now] is to partner with brands that are in the same situation as me; are up-and-coming and are working their asses off to make something in this space. I’d rather work with mom and pop shops in the gaming space that are trying to make a difference, trying to do something better for the community.”
At the end of the day OMIT has achieved one of its most important goal already: to create an organization where diversity and inclusion aren’t just an afterthought or a box to check off.
“There’s the idea of creating an organization that highlights, supports, and reflects the new generation that is the melting pot of America. Saying it and doing it are totally different things, in my opinion, so I don’t think that there’s any one organization that I can think of that really is the intersection of gaming, lifestyle, and culture all in one. We’ve quite literally become part of this culture within gaming with one title (before we expand others), where we’re creating an environment of integrity, creativity, and cultural diversity without it being ‘checkbox diversity.’ It is inclusion from inside out versus, ‘Hey, let’s hand pick these players and say that we’re diverse.’ It’s quite literally born and bred from the inside out.”
Looking ahead, OMIT wants to field competitive rosters in other esports by the end of 2023. In an interview with the Bot Lobby Podcast in January, Rafi said that OMIT is already working on building out rosters to compete in Rocket League and Apex Legends. He also said during the show that OMIT will build other business verticals—such as merchandise—in the future, but he is going to do so thoughtfully and methodically so that he can ensure that he gets it right the first time.