For those who may not be familiar with you if they are new to watching LCS, how did you begin casting? How did you get started?
So, I am definitely one of the newer people; the newest addition in terms of actual casting to the LCS team.
(Credit: LoL Esports / Riot Games)
I had never cast a game in my life before around 2015, at the encouragement of friends and family members who knew that I wanted to try to get into gaming stuff, and honestly, I had graduated college and I just didn’t know what I wanted to do with life, I was just working for my dad’s landscaping company, shoveling mulch, trying to figure out what I wanted to do, and they said to give this thing a try, so I started casting my friends just playing the game. I would cast their games, I would watch them back, I would record those games and see how that felt, I watched my own recordings back over and over and over again.
I did that for a month before I let anybody else hear anything I casted. Then I went and I was like, “Okay, let’s see what we can find.”
First thing I ever got to cast that other people watched was a tournament off the League of Legends forums that some random guys put together and forgot to find casters for--they weren’t the most effective tournament organizers. And it had eight viewers, five of which were the guys putting it together. So, that was the very first thing I ever did. Those guys all liked it, they thought it was pretty good, the other three people in the Twitch chat liked it, so from there I looked around the forums to find more stuff.
I decided I needed to find something more regular than that, so I found a week by week sort of mock-LCS fan amateur organization type of thing where amateur teams would get together and play on a weekly basis against each other.
That was really cool, it gave me a weekly thing to do and a place to cast where I could have fifty to a hundred viewers every week. From there, one of my clips from that amateur group went viral on Reddit when somebody posted it on the main League of Legends subreddit and it got 250 thousand views overnight and I had an email from Riot the next day and they wanted to talk to me about that.
That started a nine month long interview process with Riot that eventually got me hired, during which time I was like, “Okay, well, now that these guys are starting to talk to me, I can’t have them thinking that all I wanted to do was get my foot in the door and then I’d be asleep at the wheel,” so during that time, I also started doing English versions of events that didn’t already have an English pro commentary set for them, like the LPL’s Demacia Cup, I did the LMS playoffs, I did open qualifiers for North American and European Challenger brackets, I did players bootcamping in Korea just playing solo queue.
If there was an event that people wanted to watch for League of Legends and there was no professional English commentary for it, I was bootlegging it, and that’s kind of just what I got.
So basically, you just kind of threw yourself into this and you were like, “I’m just going to keep pushing at this and do whatever I can to make it happen?”
Yeah, I had no idea if what I was doing was correct; if I was heading in the right direction. I mean, I grew up in small town Ohio, I lived there for the 26 years of my life before I moved out here, and I didn’t have connections in the industry and didn’t know anybody who had made it in esports or had done anything.
I had two people on my friend’s list in League of Legends who were Challenger and that was the most ingrained into esports anyone in my life was. So, I didn’t really know how else to do it other than just lower your head and run at it.
You’ve been referred to as the “Rap God”, which has even translated to the rap battle that you did against Drakos, and more recently, the “Giants” metal cover with Tre Watson, which was awesome. So how did those come about?
So, the “Rap God” thing itself just comes from the fact you can tune into any Twitch chat anywhere for any sort of professional gaming thing--or even if it’s not a pro gaming thing, but it is super common for any sort of big time competition if a commentator is speaking very quickly in order to keep up with the action, the chat will always spam “Rap God”, because of the track from Eminem of the same name where he speaks incredibly quickly for about twenty seconds just non stop, that’s what Twitch chat resonates with; they’re like, “Oh my God, this guy’s speaking so fast over and over again, just like that one famous part in that one Eminem song; this is awesome.”
So me and Drakos, in particular, are two people who speak very quickly without missing a beat when the game picks up to a very fast pace. We both get a lot more “Rap God” spam than most people do. That became a thing where, you know, people would say, “Oh, well, he gets the most “Rap God”s for Europe, Flowers gets the most for North America, and… let’s see these guys do a thing together,” so then we made that happen with that video, right?
That was inspired by that because EU had also done their mediocre rap battle things a lot where they rap on behalf of their teams, so they already had experience with it, so they were like,“Hey, do you want to do something like this for Rift Rivals?” and it worked out. We collaborated on it and it was super fun.
The thing with Tre was actually.. I’m huge into metal music. Metal is my favorite genre, and I follow different cover artists who do metal versions of non-metal songs. One of the guys that I follow who does cover songs is a guy named Jonathan Young, who is one of the bigger metal cover artists on YouTube and he does a lot of songs that aren’t already metal, changing them into metal, particularly anime songs, video game songs, stuff from like, the nerd empire changed to metal. And at the start of Worlds, he literally released a metal version of K/DA "Pop Stars".
I remember you linked that on your Twitter.
Yeah! So he released that as a “right before Worlds” thing, and that was super cool and I was like, “Oh man, this is awesome!” and I found Tre through that because he had a spot on Jonathan Young’s video. So, I retweeted that on my own behalf; obviously it wasn’t a paid sponsor thing, I was just like, “Yo, one of my favorite metal cover artists made this thing, check it out. If you like metal, if you like K/DA, if you wanna get hype for Worlds, this is fucking awesome.”
And so, Tre sent me a message and he was like, “Hey, big fan, super cool that you liked this so much. I’m just so blown away that I’m part of something that somebody that I watch likes so much right now.” I was like “Dude you did a phenomenal job, this is absolutely amazing.”
I talked to him a little bit through there and we became friends, and after we dropped “Giants”, he was like, “I want to make a “Giants” track, I’ve already written a bunch of it. I want to be one of the first ones to get it out there and I want you to do a guest spot on it if you want.” I was like, “I would love to do that.” Tre Watson literally taught me how to use the recording program, he taught me how to sample the tracks, and get everything combined properly, and then I sent it that stuff to him and he made that happen. So, that was just another cool side project I got to be a part of.” (Clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IpvLBnGrz6E)
Yeah, I really enjoyed it. Did you write your own verses for the rap battle with Drakos, or did he write them? I know he mainly writes the ones that are done in EU, but did you write that one?
We both did our own parts, yeah. He wrote all of his, I wrote all of mine.
Okay, well, then I’d like to tell you that the line “What the fuck is EU pride, man? I thought you’re from Portland,” that got me. That was amazing. Hands down, my favorite line.
[laughs] I’m glad you liked that one. I was pretty fond of that one. There’s a few of them in there that everyone has their own favorites, and that was one of mine, so I’m glad that we’re vibin’ on that.
How did you feel about the roster changes, because there’s been, I mean, the last couple of months have been really crazy as far as lots of imports coming in like Broxah from EU, and then lots of surprises like Damonte not staying on Dignitas and then moving to their academy team or Huni getting a $2 million deal, so how do you feel about these roster changes? What do you think is probably going to be the most influential?
Those things are always super hard to call, right? Obviously, it’s one of the discussions, it’s what the discussion always is in the off season because, quite frankly, at the beginning of the year, all we have is rosters. All we have is what these guys look like on paper, so it’s a bunch of speculation, it’s trying to figure out is this going to work, how’s it going to look, what’s it going to play out like?
One of the things that I have learned in my time, especially being a part of this, not just being a fan for ten years, but being in the system now for three, is you can never fully know or expect what’s going to happen and the best example I can use for that is when TSM first-- so obviously, part of being a North American fan of League of Legends is being disappointed in ourselves at international events. It is no big mystery or secret that North America has underperformed for a while now.
And that’s been the main big thing people always talk about. “No, man, it’s not gonna be like this next year. No, no, no. We’re gonna stand up to EU and Korea and China. We’re gonna be ready to play, we’re gonna have some serious contenders,” and then we all lose in Groups again.
It’s constantly trying to rehash this and figure out what the hell is going wrong over and over again. And I specifically remember when we first saw the TSM roster change where they were like, “Okay, we’re getting rid of our bottom lane, like, Doublelift, thanks for everything, we’re bringing in Zven and Mithy, we’re gonna make this be our champions of Europe: the Best in the West bottom lane, and now we’ve got Bjergsen, and we’re bringing in this new kid in BrokenBlade, he’s gonna be our star mechanical power top laner. Look at this roster.”
And then look at that roster. First time TSM doesn’t make playoffs. Just absolute meltdown. But if you looked at it on paper, it looked pretty good. So, whenever you look at these rosters like this year, I always try to make sure I think, “Okay, if this goes right, why? If this goes wrong, why?”
Let’s talk Broxah and Team Liquid, because that is one I think that’s really cool; I think Broxah’s a great guy, I think he’s an incredibly talented player, and I think he’s also got a really good mentality towards the game and towards competition. For Broxah, this is a guy who we’ve seen some really incredible performances out of in the jungle, so he could step things up in a way like-- because Xmithie is a jungler who gets a lot done, he’s a brain jungler, right? The man understands everything, keeps track of all his teammates, he’s always pathing around, he’s completely selfless.
You could see more hard-carry type of performances out of Broxah, you could also see Broxah particularly like to roam around with his mid laner getting things done, but when I look at Broxah despite the fact that he’s such a good player, I wonder will this work with Team Liquid? Because we know that Doublelift is big resource investment. Doublelift wants resources. And we know that Jensen is an equal resource investment. Jensen wants resources. Xmithie being that selfless player was very important on a team with guys like this who want so much invested into them.
Can Broxah also function equally well in a similar situation? That’s what we got to find out: if he can. I think the man has a higher ceiling than what you could Xmithie hitting and so maybe that is what they need, but those are the kinds of questions I always ask myself is, “Okay, what is the best case scenario of this, and more importantly, what is the worst?”
That’s interesting and it’s also interesting that you mention Team Liquid and Broxah. Speaking of them, they’re having issues right now with Broxah’s visa problems. So, do you think that this is going to be a major issue for the team, or do you think that since it’s pretty much just Broxah coming in, that they’ll probably be fine? The other four will make up for whoever is covering? Or do you think that they really do need Broxah to be there?
The way I look at it is, they’ll probably get a couple of random losses they wouldn’t otherwise have. Like the I know the opening week, they’re playing against Cloud9 and TSM and those are both difficult matchups to not have your full real roster against. Honestly, with Cloud9 and TSM as your opening week, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Team Liquid start out 0-2 if they don’t have their full team. Would I be worried about it? Absolutely not.
I still think they’re easily one of the strongest teams in the entire league, and it’s also a thing where it’s the very beginning of the split, and it’s going to take teams a while to find that cohesion anyway, right?
For a lot of these teams, it’s been off season for a hot minute now. There’s a lot to get used to even when you look at previous splits. You had teams that don’t necessarily find what they’re looking to find at the very beginning of the split and they turn things on as they have a few weeks to practice together and they get in that groove. Although I think that not having Broxah will result in extra losses that they wouldn’t have gotten otherwise, I would not be worried about it. I don’t think this is going to put a strain on this team to the point where they’re like, “Oh my God, we’re losing too many games,” I don’t see that ever happening.
This is a team comprised of a lot of veterans, it’s comprised of a lot of guys know what it takes to win, know what it feels like to win, and who know what it means to fall short, and so when you’re falling short because of something that’s completely out of your own control, and it’s just like, “Hey, this situation sucks, it’s bad, let’s make the best out of it, and when he gets here, we’ll show them what we’re made of.”
This is the first iteration of C9 that is completely new to a lot of people. You don’t have Sneaky, you don’t have Zeyzal, you don’t have Svenskeren. These are three players that they went to semifinals at Worlds with. And now the team is almost completely unrecognizable from what you might know. Sneaky's been on the team since, what, its inception? And now he’s not there. So, I’m really interested to see this new meshing of the new iteration of C9 because I think that people are definitely going to want to see what this team is going to bring to the table, considering they don’t have one of their well known players anymore.
Yeah, Sneaky was the last bastion of the original Cloud9 that won the hearts of League fans all over North America back when they first showed up. They were just a bunch of dudes having a good time and they just meme’d all over the place and it was Cloud9 won a lot of fans back in the day with that original roster of Meteos and Sneaky and Hai and Lemon and Balls and Sneaky’s the only one left until now and now there’s none of them.
For fans who have been around since those olden days, that’s a pretty big deal because not many other people like that when you look around and you look at these players and try to think of what other good players have just been iconic for them team like this? Who comes up? Bjergsen? Bjergsen. That’s the one that immediately comes to mind for me, and then it’s just like, “Okay, everyone else has at least moved around a time or two, maybe they just weren’t successful to where it means as much, but either way, that is a huge change.
(Credit: LoL Esports/Riot Games)
Cloud9, while I agree that is going to be interesting to see what happens, this is also the team that two years ago, when they were shuffling things around and they were having a rough spot and they were like, “Okay, fans, just have faith, don’t worry about it,” and their fans completely turned on them and I have never seen a team’s fans go from so supportive and positive to so hostile and yet they fought their way out of 10th place, they got to the Gauntlet, they got to Worlds, and they still got the best performance of any North American team at Worlds that year.
As soon as that happened, that forever set into my mind that there is one North American team that I’m going to give the benefit of the doubt if I’m not sure of the decisions they made were the right ones. Cloud9 is the one I’m giving it to. They’ve shown that they know what to do even if it appears risky.
That was definitely a whirlwind season, which is really funny because my C9 Worlds hoodie--90% of the people on the back of that hoodie are no longer on the team. It’s sort of a novelty item at this point.
Yeah, it’s become a relic of ages past.
Exactly. So, those are some pretty big changes that we’ve been dealing with as far as the LCS changes as far as rosters, and also speaking of those changes, Riot has announced big ones to the format of LCS like removing the Championship points and doing the double elimination format. Do you believe these changes will be good for the LCS? Do you see any negatives to this?
Thinking a little bit about it--so I’m going to preface this by saying I am not a sports data analyst, so everything that I say here is just to be taken as an opinion because I’m not well versed in all the math and science in all the format changes because I know there is plenty of all that there.
But with that being said, the big thing that I saw as a negative reaction from the community--and whenever we announce big changes, the things that I always like to address are the ones that people whine about the most, because I think those are obviously the biggest points of contention. So, the biggest point that I saw people saying was, “Well, does this mean Spring is irrelevant now? Does Spring does not matter if you’re not going to MSI? If you just know that you’re not the one best team, why would you care about Spring?”
What this situation is doing is because it’s opening up the tournament, it’s opening up playoffs to the top eight teams instead of just the top six.
So what we’re essentially saying is, “Hey, yes you need to be that top one team. However, now you have a chance to fight for that. If you think you are even in the ballpark, man, you could be down the block from the park but as long as you got the ticket in your hand, you still have a chance to be that team. Bottom two teams? No, you have no business competing for this. Ninth and 10th have never been in a spot where anyone thought they deserved to be in the playoffs. That never happens.”
But sometimes, you have maybe the sixth or seventh team that looks like they might be competitive and squeak their way into quarterfinals or something, we’ll get to see that this time because we’ll have seventh and eighth competing there.
The other situations is to the fans who say “Oh, well, doesn’t this mean Spring is going to be irrelevant? Isn't this going to hurt a team who got, let’s say, second or third in Spring but then only got sixth or seventh in Summer because this will knock them out of gauntlet contention now.” and to that I say “Good.” Because we can’t just look at this as a thing of “Oh, well, I got good points here so I should get my reward now.” That’s not how it is.
We have to weigh things more heavily with recency bias. People normally talk about recency bias in a negative point of view particularly when it comes to things like MVP voting or something at the end of the Split where someone had a really good last couple of weeks, he stands out more vividly in people’s minds even if he had a really bad first half of the split, right? But recency bias is super important when we’re talking about sending our teams to Worlds. I don’t want someone who was good six months ago and is crap now, because they’re crap now.
I want someone who may have been bad early on but has shown consistent improvement; who has worked themselves up and has got this level. I mean, there’s no reason to reward a team who was only good in Spring with a chance to get to Worlds in Summer when they’re clearly not fit to go to Worlds. I’m actually glad that Spring doesn’t weigh as much.
I understand what fans are saying, where it takes away some of the punch of placing highly in Spring if you don’t just straight up get first, because first is the only thing that actually gives you that ticket to MSI.
For the teams that get second or third in Spring, it will feel kind of hollow because you weren’t building your nest of Championship points to work towards Worlds, but at the same time, I think it’s much better overall for competitive integrity to make sure that teams are getting a lot of success in Spring, losing that success in summer for whatever reason and now they’re taking up a spot in the Gauntlet or something that a team who is better in Summer could have had, if that makes sense.
It definitely does. I’m thinking of, I think it was a couple of years with 100 Thieves getting to Worlds because of their Championship points that they got in Spring, and you know, while I like them, with their performance, I don’t think they deserved to be at Worlds.
Right, they didn’t have a very good performance, they were having roster issues at the time, so they had to play with their Academy AD Carry at Worlds. He had never played a game of LCS and now he’s playing at Worlds.
So much pressure.
Yeah! And so, I’m not holding that against him, I’m just saying that’s a situation where this team shouldn’t be playing at Worlds. 100 Thieves had a really bad--especially second half of Summer that year, just not good. But they went to Worlds because of their Spring performance. So, the response from people who hold the opposite view of me will say, “Yeah, well, their performance in Spring was so impressive, it should earn them some sort of position to jockey for Worlds,” to which I would say, “I understand your point of view and I disagree.”
I’m inclined to agree with you, and it’s also about meta changes. One Split to another can be completely different; let’s see what a team does in the most recent meta that is closest to Worlds.
Right, particularly one of the biggest things about that, at least the one that always stands out to me is players who bat on tank junglers, because if you’re going to play carry junglers and you don’t play your Rengars and Kha’Zik’s and Graves, and Lee, and then all of a sudden, Riot’s like, “Hey, this doesn’t matter anymore, it’s all tank junglers now,” and you can’t play tank junglers well? You’re gonna look a lot worse than those carry jungler days. I completely agree too, playing around the game, playing around the meta, you’re good to go.
I know it’s already the start of the new year but I always like to ask this, do you have any professional or personal goals that you want to achieve, maybe something you want to bring to the cast that you haven’t before, or anything like that?
I was never big into New Year’s resolutions because they always felt melodramatic to me. They felt like they were just an excuse for people to do something now, and I’m like, “But you don’t have to wait for the new year. If you want to do something bad ass, if you wanna get out there and make yourself better, go for it anytime. My goal whenever I cast is to always say, I’m better than I was before I did this, right? Like, if I look back, the me that’s going to be casting the opening week of 2020 should be better than the me that was casting at the end of last year, right? And the end of last year me should be better than the guy that cast a Worlds final two years ago. And that’s just the way it should always be.
(Credit: LoL Esports / Riot Games)
I try to take everything in that sort of mindset, that sort of approach and be like, “Okay, so here’s what we’re gonna do, I’m going to make sure that I’m hitting these individual goals,” and before each week, I normally think of how I want to tackle the game with some individual goals I want to have for each game.
But the overarching one for me continues to be also making sure that I’m taking care of myself in terms of vocal health and things like that. Riot got a vocal trainer for a couple of us last year, which helped a ton for me, which helped me being able to work on volume control and breathing control and speaking from the diaphragm and yelling in a way that makes it so your throat is not under as much physical strain.
So continuing to work on taking care of myself physically while doing my job is a huge one, and then just making sure that I’m always one step better than I was yesterday.
I think that’s just really good advice for anything that anyone ever does. And people really don’t understand how much casting can really affect your vocal chords, and how much strain it can really put on you, even if you’re just a little bit physically unwell and you know, maybe you have a little cold or something, how much it really can affect all of that, especially when you’re trying to talk really fast for long periods of time and say with the volume control and everything.
Yeah, the base race clip from 2018 Worlds, the KT versus IG base race that everyone loves retweeting with me, Kobe, and PapaSmithy. I couldn’t talk right for four days after that because it was such an explosive moment. I was light headed by the time it was done, so that one was a journey.
There’s a clip, because we don’t really get to see the casters too much while you’re casting, and they’re showing you, and you’re leaning over and you’re pushing your body towards the desk to try to keep yourself moving.
Yeah, that’s KT versus IG, and then at the end I step back and I put my hand on my head trying to just catch my breath. To me, that was the craziest moment of that entire Worlds.
It was really exhilarating and a good caster who can capitalize on that gets everyone way more pumped than if they were just watching it with no sound.
That’s what I was happy with because everybody loves the clip so much, everybody was super happy how we handled and how we covered it, to me, that’s the goal right? That means you’re worthy of being part of these iconic in this game that’s the biggest game in the world that everybody just gets so hyped out. If you can do those kinds of moments justice, you’re doing something right.