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Interview > Esports
World

Jacob Wolf on leaving ESPN and teaming up with Evil Geniuses

After ESPN disbanded their esports coverage, journalist Jacob Wolf speaks to GINX TV about leaving the company and how his League of Legends Free Agency show will live on with Evil Geniuses.
Jacob Wolf on leaving ESPN and teaming up with Evil Geniuses

If you’ve not heard of Jacob Wolf, then say hello to one of the best League of Legends’ reporters around. Previously from Dot Esports, Wolf was hired by ESPN in 2016, where he’s become known in the scene for his “Wolf Bombs” which break huge roster changes and swaps. This led him to win Esports Awards’ Journalist of the Year in 2018. 

Despite all of this, earlier this month ESPN shut down its esports division and cancelled Wolf’s Free Agency show. This was a shock to many, considering mainstays like Wolf, along with fellow reporters Tyler Erzberger and Emily Rand, had become recognised as top contributors within esports journalism. 

Wolf’s Free Agency show however has found a lifeline in esports organisation Evil Geniuses, so we spoke with him about how this partnership began, what we can expect, and his plans for the future.

 

How did this partnership come about? Did Evil Geniuses contact you or did you contact them?

I had an inkling on Friday (6th November) that the ESPN Rift Rewind League of Legends Free Agency show was going to be cancelled. I found out officially on Monday, I believe. On Sunday, I had a catch up call with Greg Kim who is the LCS director at Evil Geniuses, in which I mentioned some of the stuff that was going on at ESPN with our content coming to a halt. And within - maybe Monday night or Tuesday morning - Greg hit me back with, “Would you like to work on this together?”

By that point we had been talking to a couple different media companies about potentially working together on a separate show. 

To be clear, it’s a totally separate show from the ESPN show; it’s not like EG bought out the ESPN show. Thomas [Tischio] and I have rebuilt everything from ground-up, so no ESPN assets; there’s nothing, which as you can imagine, it's a lot of work in a week and we're still working on it.

I was still under contract with ESPN through January, and I was told that I could terminate early if I so chose. So I was simultaneously trying to find a home for the show while also trying to get out of ESPN and let those things line up appropriately. We hopped on a call with Evil Geniuses Tuesday night (10th November), if I’m not mistaken, and Nicole [LaPointe Jameson, CEO of Evil Geniuses] was how she is in everything; she's super headstrong and a go getter. I loved that we hopped on the call and she was just like, “What does Evil Geniuses have to do to get the show, what do we have to do?” and we explained everything. 

I also want to be clear that we did not cut out Tyler and Emily on purpose. I asked them and both of them preferred to stay at ESPN, because of the benefits and everything else waiting for the end of their deals, and they could also leave if they found another full-time job in the meantime.

But for me and Thomas this was a really important thing to provide the audience. I was very sad to know that we could not [continue the show] when I found out the news from ESPN, and so it was super important to us to find a way to do it. And Evil Geniuses was the right fit in all the different ways; they hit all the boxes and have been really good in terms of taking our advice, providing their own, and being truly collaborative partners. 

They're not telling us how to do our jobs and we're not telling them how to do theirs, so we are equally going back and forth to build what we think will be a really incredible show on Monday (16th November).

 

What is it about Evil Geniuses that made you want to work with them? Do you think that you would partner again with them in the future if the stars aligned?

The big thing was the fact that they were willing to jump on board so fast; not ask for some long-term employment commitment out of me. 

I don't know what I'm going to do full time in the future. I'm still really undecided, and my agent and I were talking about four or five places before the news came out last Friday about ESPN shutting down the esports department. Or at least letting go of eight of our 12 staff, myself included, so we did not want to commit. We had a couple of options that were going to make us commit long-term to something, even further past when my ESPN deal would have expired, and that was super important to me to be able to be flexible, because there are a couple employment opportunities that I'm aware of that I'm in the running for right now that are dependent on being ready at the beginning of 2021. 

Evil Geniuses has been very good and very flexible about “We want to do this show, we want to make the show kick ass,” and continue to potentially work together in the future, to your other point, but no contractual agreement to do that forever. 

I'm not contracted as an employee with EG, I’m an independent contractor. We are partners on this together, same with Thomas. We are focused solely on the show right now, and then I'm going to take some much-needed time off to assess my future, and then kind of make a full time work decision two weeks before Christmas.

 

Will this show be different in any way than how you did things at ESPN? Will the format be any different?

The format will be similar to last year's free agency show but the actual presentation will be, I think, better than what we were building at ESPN. I'm really excited. Bo Geddes, who is the Creative Director at EG, his team is really awesome. Some of the stuff they’ve been showing us behind the scenes on Creative is great. They're really taking our advice and taking the lead from Thomas and I as people who built the first show last year together, and helping us really make something special so the presentation will be a little bit different. You’ll see new talent as well, although there is one familiar face from last year's show who will be on the show which I'm really excited to work with him again. 

That’s where we’re at; it will look completely different and just from a legal perspective, we had to start completely over. Nothing from ESPN, not even things that we worked; no video highlights or any of that stuff that we cut while being at ESPN. We started completely from scratch, no legal overlap between the two, and really just built our thing from ground up. That has been one hell of a week of work, it still is, but I think we're in a good place to really have something great.

 

You mentioned you were already going to leave at the end of the year from ESPN. Did you feel that it was just about "that time" or was it something else?

It was about time. I've been through a lot of iterations of leadership at ESPN. Things have changed in my org chart, I believe, five times in the past four years or four and a half years. Someone in the org chart has changed, and with it every time there's been some sort of change in our direction. 

I felt, at least for the past year, that the direction I was headed is not where I wanted to go. I was doing round table content, I was doing show analysis, all these things that…first of all, from the analytical perspective, we had Fionn [Tyler Erzberger] and Emily on staff who are two of the best analysts in all of League of Legends, in my opinion. They are much better suited for that type of work than I am and so it was kind of pointless looping me into that. 

Where I excel is being a breaking news reporter, getting scoops and talking to people. I was doing a lot less of that this past year than I would have liked, so the plan has been for some time now to look for a home where I can really excel at that and dictate my work load and go back to being the big news breaker that I am year-round, not just in the free agency window. 

That's that's kind of where we are at. I’m very thankful that I have a good agent at United Talent Agency who's been helping me assess all these different opportunities, and so I think we're going to find that home. I just don't know where it is yet.

 

Do you feel the layoffs and essential undoing of ESPN Esports is indicative of a larger issue within esports journalism, or do you think it may be more localised?

I think it's indicative of not the industry as a whole, but rather the fact that you have to understand that esports needs to be covered differently than traditional sports. Traditional sports audiences are much older, something I've said in a few different interviews, and I'll repeat it because it’s true. If you look at my peers in traditional sports, and I like them as people because I've met them and spent time with them, like Adrian Wojnarowski and Adam Schefter. They’re good people, but if you look at their Twitter accounts, for example, it's almost like a content bot. You could code a JavaScript bot that could make the same tweets as them effectively. 

I just don't think that's how things work in esports. I think that in esports people like to feel personally connected, so they enjoy seeing my stories with [my kitten] Macchiato, and my pets and my family here in Texas, me moving, my personal thoughts, my favourite music, etc. I think people feel like they're connected to me, and that's the intent, because I do have a Discord with almost 1,500 users. I am constantly in there talking to people about different things, not just offseason rumours, and overall I'm really just super focused on building that content and that wasn't necessarily happening at ESPN. 

I felt like in some of our content we were talking at our audience and that's not right. You have to talk with them and I think that's what some of esports’ best creators do well and I feel like that was something we were not doing well.

There's no right way to do esports media but I think that you really have to take a completely new approach to the coverage than anything else you've ever covered in your life as a journalist.

 

Speaking of coverage, in regards to the Wolf Bombs you've already dropped on Twitter, which one has been the most surprising, and why is it Luka “Perkz” Perković going to Cloud9?

Yeah, it’s Perkz going to Cloud9. I was really diligent about inserting myself into any Perkz rumours because I just thought generally that they were kind of BS. Some of the stuff out there was BS, but the more I dug in, I got pretty well sourced. I was triple sourced on the Cloud9/Perkz thing, so I felt really good about posting that. 

It’s definitely the most surprising in my opinion, it’s probably the biggest for the offseason. I’ve never held something for a show, but I wish we could have for this. But there's no way; somebody else would have found it before the show. I'm sure we'll talk about it on the show, and I'm sure that we will have the numbers for that deal; I anticipate night of, once it's all executed. I'm sure I'll start hearing how much he's going to make and how much the buyout was.

perkz_g2_esports
Rumour has it Perkz is moving to Cloud9 (Picture: Lolesports) 

 

Are there any roster changes or swaps to be revealed on Monday that you can tease for us?

I'm not holding anything in my back pocket and Evil Geniuses isn’t making me do that, either. If I get something, it will be on Twitter before the show. It’s inevitable that it would be found by someone else, like other people trying to do what I do now which is fine; I like the competition.

We’re not holding anything for the show. There will be plenty to break on the show whether I break stuff on Twitter beforehand. We had a list of potential movements, just generally of players moving around, and even right now fully up-to-date, it’s still, 31 different potential moves or something like that. We’ve got a lot to cover.

The Jacob Wolf [Evil] Free Agency show starts Monday 16th November at 11pm GMT/3pm PST. You can watch it on the Evil Geniuses Twitch channel