How does it feel to be here in New York, in one of the city’s most iconic venues?
I mean, first and foremost, New York itself is extremely cool. I haven’t been here since I was 12, so it’s cool. It’s an active city, so there’s a lot going on. I had a day to spend with my parents who came down for the weekend, saw some Broadway – which I always enjoy – and then we did Ground Zero and Time Square and some other stuff. So it’s been really cool in that sense, to be in such an active city and have esports take over the main stage here. And then to be here in the Barclay’s Center is very, very cool. As a hockey fan, it’s interesting to me to see it turned into a gaming venue, when it’s something that I see in the NHL on TV. It’s humbling to put some perspective on it. I think it’s done well here, I think the atmosphere has been building up a lot. Obviously a lot of that is owed to Liquid having another good run. It’s nice to see North America perform well in front of the home crowd. But in general, it’s been really good, really well set up and well received. I think that’s the cool thing about the building, is that it’s newer, the infrastructure is easier to set up. Some venues, everything will look great on the stream, but it’s an absolute nightmare for production to run everything. But here, it’s a newer building, designed with more than just the sport in mind, it’s designed for all kinds of events. From a production standpoint, it’s a dream.
Talking about Team Liquid making their run, how do you feel about the fact that over the past few months North America (NA) getting better and deeper
I think that it’s a really interesting time in Counter-Strike (CS) right now in general. Because, and I’ve talked about this a few times, I lend it to the fact that it’s just a more sustainable scene now. Teams are getting salaries, they can put time into practicing. There’s no more “Work 9 to 5, play Counter-Strike until bedtime”, this is your full time job now. In 2013, 2014, even early 2015, you had six or seven teams that you could peg as the Tier 1 teams. Even if they were having an off week, or an off month, or even an extended slump, they were still inside of that top seven, because there was no one close enough to them to capitalize off that slump. Now, there’s 20 teams and if you have a bad day they’re gonna snap and get you. I mean Optic, they played very well and I don’t want to discredit them, but G2 had a bad day and look at what happened. They got blown out! Astralis is in a slump and losing to teams that we never expected to beat them. I think the analyst desk yesterday, at one point, were 0-6. That’s the hardest job in the world to do right now because everything is just so unpredictable. But as a viewer it’s great! I like not knowing exactly what’s gonna happen and I like the storylines that that creates. In terms of North America, I think they’re just capitalizing on that. There are still some issues, but it’s good. Liquid obviously are having a good run – and I think that they’re a little bit weaker than when they had S1mple – they’re still not back to where they were, but with others teams slipping, they can still take advantage, that’s just how close it is by nature. But it’s super important to have NA stronger as a region, and I think that the NA CS meme can kind of die for a bit. I don’t think it will though. Actually no, it never will. But for the sake of calling them out, I don’t think it applies anymore! Cloud9 is back in decent form, Optic’s looking like they could be promising, Liquid proved themselves here against much skepticism that they still have the skill to survive in big tournaments. So I think it’s great. And then the next scene that we need to make sustainable is Asia. It’ll be great if we can do the same thing there.
Production aspect, doing Drop The Bomb (DTB). What’s the experience like?
That’s the thing we had to figure out. We knew it was going to be good. We wanted to provide something to the community that was a bit different than was already out there for content. We wanted to show the behind the scenes, on players, on teams, eventually we’d like to do some stuff about production. Just showing people exactly what goes into the show, setting up stages and all that. But, we knew the first season was gonna be rough. We’re extremely busy! I think, at this point, this is my 22nd or 23rd LAN this year, and I’m projected to be at 31 total. And you know, there’s only 52 weeks in a year! So that goes to show you just how busy we’re going to be for the next little while. So we knew with how much we were doing already, to fit Drop The Bomb in was going to be hard. But it also gives us something that we can do during our down time during the days. We can put our minds to it instead of just sitting around in the green room. We can use the resources that we have from our relationships with organizers – production, talent – like ESL, who have helped us a lot this year, from Starladder, who helped us a lot, with Episode 4 in specific. We wanted to see what we could achieve. The first season was very much a pilot in that sense. The features we wanted to focus on more of a Valve documentary style. We wanted to pump out as much as we could. We hired a great guy named Tom Newman – he’s actually Diablo, from the CoD4 PC days – who’s very well known in the European scene. He basically was our bread and butter. He did all of the hard work, the legwork. He edited those pieces, like the 10 minute Asian CS: GO piece, which is absolutely brilliant, in about a week. Which is insane. Like, most production companies would take a while to do that, and it’s just one guy doing everything. Everyone thinks we have this huge production team, but it’s just him doing so much. The actual on-air part, we want to condense it and bring it down a bit, to maybe two hours? It’s a bit long right now. We want to tidy up the topics and just work on the overall graphics. We’re still figuring things out. First season was just scheduling everything and making sure we could actually do it, next season we’re gonna push it a little further.
In the past two years, you’ve gone from casting minor events to casting Majors and casting Grand Finals at huge LANs. What has that journey been like for you?
Ummmm… bewildering! I don’t even know the best single adjective to put on the experience, it’s just been so amazing. It happened so quickly that, I don’t want to say I took it for granted, but there were times when I just kind of went with it. I didn’t stop to think that it was so incredible to be where I am. I was just going with it. But when I do sit and reflect? It’s incredible that in 14 months, well actually even less than that if you want to talk about my first Major, in the span of nine months I went from my first big tournament to my first Major, which is pretty impressive. I was in the right place in the right time, for a lot of it. There was a need for North American caster at the time, there were more and more tournaments growing, and so I kind of grew with the game, when the popularity hit. But it’s very very cool. My parents are here this weekend, and my dad, who used to work in radio, jokes “It’s crazy that two years ago you were sitting in your room doing nothing”. And it’s like I was! It’s just so cool and it’s been an incredible journey. I’m glad there’s no signs of it stopping any time soon.
You’ve established yourself and HenryG as one of the top casting pairs in the scene. Are there any other casters you’d like to work with?
At this point, I don’t think about casting with anyone else. Henry and I are a duo. We sell ourselves as a duo. I mean… I will? I’m not gonna not go to events if someone asked me. But we do always try to go as a duo. We’re just so busy that if he can’t go, it’s a good excuse for me to go “Alright, well, I’ll just take this weekend off.” When I first started, before he and I were a thing, it was Moses and I that thought that maybe we might end up as a partnered pair. It’s just that we ended up going separate ways. I ended up going to Europe for PGL, he ended up staying with ESL and it never really worked out. And then in came HernyG, and we just realized “Hey, there’s something here.” There are a few I do want to work with, not necessarily in casting with them, but as a talent team. I was pleasantly excited when Sean Gares left Cloud9 that he thought he might go into talent work full time. Obviously, he went back to Echo Fox almost immediately after, but he would have been someone great to have on board. He’s talented, he knows the game, he’s very well spoken. And now SpunJ! I think SpunJ coming over after leaving Renegades, he’s been doing great, he was with us a Pro League. He’s great, he just has this cool, relaxed Aussie attitude, which is really nice because even though he sometimes kind of jokes around, and it’s hard to get the gist of where he’s going, it’s great to have that personality. If we’re gonna use former professional players, that’s great. We need to have some serious people in there, which is why you have YNK in there, who has this dry humor to him, but he’s a very serious straight shooter. But then SpunJ livens things up a bit as well. He’s someone that I would love to see get some more work.
But to answer the question… If I had to cast with someone right now, as a new casting partner, I don’t know… maybe LeX? We had fun once, but I don’t really think about that. HenryG and I just have plans to stay together as long as CS is viable for us.
Do you think that you’ll always stay in front of the camera? Do you have any aims to go behind the camera, production, logistics?
Well it’s funny, behind the camera is an interesting phrase to me, because photography was, for quite a while, my ambition. I was actually doing it for a bit. I mean, not successfully, but it’s what I was doing. I think I could actually fall back on that if I had to, so yes, behind the camera, but not esports cameras.
Um, the thing for me is that I’ve said to myself “I’m going to cast as long as I can cast.” This is just what I enjoy doing. I enjoy building up the moments, I enjoy being a bit of a storyteller. I like living through the moments that the players and teams have and being a part of it. I love the atmosphere that it creates. But I’ve done a bit of hosting, I did it because there was a need. There was no one else, since Machine was locked down with ESL, but I really knew it was a skill I need. If CS dies, I’ve got enough of the technical sort of side to my casting that I could transfer to another game, but I’d have to learn the game. Whereas with hosting you don’t really need to know the game. You just need to know the right questions, the storylines, the personalities. Then your analysts come in and do their job with the game. So as long as you can understand the scene, and not necessarily the game, you can host quite well. So I think that that’s quite important. So maybe after CS I can see myself hosting, maybe then a general talent liaison role, where I could work with an organization to help hire talent or develop talent. Or maybe I go to Twitch. Or maybe I go to production. It’s all up in the air! There are all sorts of possibilities, but for now, I just want to cast as long as I can.
So you don’t have a lot of downtime, but when you do, how do you fill it? Do you play CS, do you play other titles, do you just rewatch 2003, 2004 F1 to gawk at Fernando Alonso?
Well, that would be 2004 and 2005 for his championships, but he did get his first win in 2003.
But ok, so I do like to sit down and play games. But like you said, time is really not something I have a lot of right now. I’m always traveling and I just have my laptop, which is capable, but I don’t want to load it with games, because I really should be using it to edit, do work, do photography things. So as soon as I start gaming on it, I’ll be trapped in that loop of always playing. But I do play CS with Henry as much as I can. We’ve done a lot of it together at Pro League the last few weeks.
Do you find that that helps your casting?
Nah, not really. It does a bit, because he’ll show me this cool load out that I don’t really know or we’ll find a new smoke spot, but overall, we watch enough CS to do that. I watch as much CS as most people, regular folks, not pros, play in a week. I feel like I know the meta, and the essential stuff to know. But I definitely do jump in every time there’s a new patch, to learn the new mechanics, any changes, I think that that’s really important.
But back to the original question, the thing that I always try to do… Whenever I travel around, I do try to do some sightseeing when I’m in cities. We all try to make free time for that as much as possible. When I’m home, I mountain bike a ton. It’s my newest sport because it’s one that I’m not great at, so it’s a challenge, which is always enjoyable. I got into it, because my brother was into it, so he took my dog with him and she loved running with the bike. So I thought, “Alright, if she’s into it, perfect way to exercise the dog, let’s go.” So me and my dog go mountain biking all the time now when I’m home. She barks at me when I go too fast and gets mad at me when I’m too slow, so it’s like there’s no winning. No matter what I’m doing, I’m doing something wrong and she’s letting me know. But it’s fun! And then I do try to stay active in motorsports when I can. I’ll do the odd auto-slalom or time attack when I’m home. I didn’t get anything in this year though, just a single auto-slalom. I did hit Nürburgring when I was in Cologne. I took out an E43 M6, and it was awesome, but other than that, not much. Just hang out with HenryG and the guys and then just check out new places to go. Free time is not something we have a lot of, but I do make sure to take advantage of it when I can.
So I have to ask, what do you think is going to be the outcome of ESL One New York?
Coming into it, I had no idea what to think. SK just came off of using Showtime and were in a massive slump with him. They’ve got Fer back, but they aren’t firing on the same cylinder that they were before, which goes back to what I was talking about before, with the inconsistencies in CS. NaVi, really all over the place. They started out great with S1mple, but they haven’t really integrated him into a leadership role. This weekend, he’s flourished, but coming into the event, it was horrible proleague results, terrible result in Kiev at Starladder. I was concerned that this would be the weekend where we could see personalities flare up. It could be the first time we see the bad side of S1mple with NaVi. He said he’s gonna respect them, and I believe that, but you don’t know what’s gonna happen until it’s tested. I’m pleasantly surprised though. Right now, they’re my pick to win it all, having just beaten Liquid in a very close game. And then I think with the other remaining teams, honestly, I’m calling VP to go to the finals. And if that is the case, then I’m calling NaVi to take it.
Awesome, well thank you for sitting down with us.
Thanks for having me!