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Pictures for Sue Lee AKA Smix Interview

Roots Pt. II

Mar 132018

“You can do this for a year, but if it doesn’t lead anywhere then stop.”

That was the ultimatum that my parents gave me when I told them I wanted to do this full time.

When I was in college, esports wasn’t part of my original plan. I was supposed to become an occupational therapist once I graduated with my psychology and anthropology double major. Psychology is a significant part of rehabilitation, and the idea was that I could use these two majors to help people. This was going to be my ‘traditional’ path in life, and I was really excited at first. Once I got my diploma however, I started thinking about studying again for my masters, and I realized that I really didn’t want to do that.


This was a very difficult time in my life — as I mentioned before — but the one thing that gave me a sense of purpose was my career in esports. Through my first few hosting gigs, I realized that this was what I wanted to do. In 2014 I dropped everything for a full-time career in esports, and I am so fortunate to have had the support of my family and even their deadline to help put things into perspective.


Luckily, it did lead somewhere. However, it was never easy. As cool as people may think my job is — and don’t get me wrong, it’s super cool — it’s not always as glamorous as you might imagine. Hopefully I can give aspiring hosts out there an idea of what it’s like to be a host.


For starters, travel is hard because it’s just physically draining, and I’m not a very fit person. Another major aspect of my job that’s tough is the long work hours. Sometimes I have sixteen hour or even seventeen hour days because I have to be there early for call time. Still, I have to pretend that I’m as energetic at the end of the day as I was during the first two hours of the day, and that’s both emotionally and mentally taxing. There have definitely been times at the end of a seventeen-hour day that I am just so exhausted and it starts to show on camera. I feel bad about that, so I try to pump myself up and focus on the storyline, because if there’s a good storyline I can just get hooked on that. 


More than that though, I watch every single game during the tournament, so I am never just taking a long break or sitting idle. While watching, I’ll be looking up match history, past results, player statistics, recent placings. When I ask, “Walk me through what was going through your head when this happened,” I try to get an overall feel for how the game went for the player, especially the momentum of the game, so I can tell whether it went as expected, something surprised them, etc. Then I ask follow up questions from there. By watching the game you get a better sense of what to ask.


To be honest, this is what makes me super thankful to have the second family that I’ve developed with the CS:GO talent. Those guys have become true brothers to me and through all the crazy days and long hours one of the biggest blessings is to be able to go through it all with them. I can’t even count how many times we ended the day by grabbing a beer just unwinding. It’s probably all those nights that helped keep things in perspective and helped us all feel a bit more “sane.”


On a more personal level, there’s another less attractive aspect to what I do. When I was newer, community sentiment and the feedback from fans affected me a lot. I learned very early on that I have very thin skin. I started with translating, and it’s easy to get good feedback there because you don’t have to do anything original on camera. At the most basic level, you’re just regurgitating what the players and the host are saying. You have no reason to get sh*t on unless you are really messing up the translation, which I wasn’t. I remember there was a period where I had done only translating for two-ish years and had gotten just positive feedback. Then once I started hosting, I was just so bad. When I look back, I was this nervous mess who had no professional training or anything.


I think the one thing that made people forgive me was that, even if they could tell that I wasn’t polished, they could also tell I was very obviously passionate about the game. That got me by for a couple of events, but after that community opinion shifted to, “Wait she’s actually pretty bad.” I stuttered a lot. I said “Uh” way too much. I looked nervous because I was nervous. In the beginning that was really hard for me and I took everything really personally. I was normally already really hard on myself, and coupled with the pressure I was feeling to improve, it was really tough on my mental state for a while. Even now, I’m my worst critic — anytime I make a mistake I beat myself up over it.


I have my own unique way of dealing with mistakes. I’ll spend about 5 minutes just being really angry at myself, because I know I need that time to vent and just emotionally get it out. Then, I think about what I can do to ensure that it doesn’t happen again. A lot of what I do now, and players will see me do this and think I’m crazy, is rehearse. I just talk to myself over and over again. I say each question that I prepare in advance. I know what I’m gonna say and rehearse it over and over again because one thing I learned from all the times that I stuttered was that it came from me being unsure of what was gonna come out of my mouth. I either say “uh” or say one word and then take it back and replace it with another word. So I know if I rehearse it and say it in advance over and over and over again, I can’t screw up. Thankfully though I’m human and the great thing about being human is that we learn and get better (hopefully).


But enough with the depressing stuff — like I said, my job actually is really cool. My work day usually starts with call time which is usually at least two hours before the show goes live. Usually it’s earlier but that depends on whether or not makeup is done, hair is done, whether or not there’s a rehearsal, etc. So it’s normal to be there four hours before the show goes live. Then, for me it’s about thinking of questions, because I already know the players that I need to do pre-match interviews with because that’s scheduled with ELEAGUE in advance. I just start preparing immediately. I prepare my pre-match questions then I do my silly rehearsal thing where I pace back and forth as I memorize. Then for post-match, I obviously prepare that during the game and figure out what’s relevant and what’s important. I have, I wish you could see, a thick stack of cue cards during events, that just gets bigger and bigger going forward.


I’ve had the pleasure of attending so many cool events that it’s hard to keep track of them all. I would probably say the most memorable so far was the first ELEAGUE Major. It was the first Major I was a part of so it was just a huge honor for me overall. Also, the storyline to me was just so emotional. Astralis overcame this historic mental block they had when it came to choking in the semi-finals. To see them finally overcome that and make it to the grand finals was great. Even in the grand finals, there were a couple of moments where everyone had their fingers crossed because the old Astralis would have tripped, and there were so many times where the team was behind and should have lost. Instead, they came back and won it all. That was so beautiful — the sheer, raw joy that exploded as they won the tournament. As a host those are my favorite moments — seeing the raw passion and the happiness that can come from playing a game and being so effing good at it that you become champion, that is so awesome to me.


For every one of those cool or awe inspiring moments I get to witness though, there is an equally embarrassing moment. In the beginning of my work with CS:GO I was so nervous. It was a new level of nervous that I hadn’t had in a while because I was entering a very established esport, and by that time CS:GO was already massive. I felt that there was more pressure to perform and not mess up, and because of that I messed up a lot. There were times where I would just have a huge mental brainfart and I would forget the name of the player I was talking to. That is just unforgivable and it makes you look like you shouldn’t be there. I got a lot of crap for that, and I deserved it because that’s unacceptable.


I think it was the first five CS:GO events I did where I was the most nervous. It felt like people were just waiting for me to mess up. I feel like especially for females, you are forgiven less for making a mistake. Because I had that in the back of my mind I screwed up SO much in the beginning — those are probably my most embarrassing moments. After those mistakes it was not my normal five-minute venting period. I would spend an hour sometimes just crying and tearing myself apart. I felt like I was building a fragile house of cards and each mistake would just topple that.


I know, I know, I’m amazing at making this sound appealing, but I have one last piece of advice. What I have discovered is that everyone who is still around and at the top of this industry only got there from working at the bottom. When I say that I mean nearly everyone I know in this industry started as a volunteer in some way. I’m not saying that you should ever expect no pay for doing a lot of work, but I do think you need to show the community that your heart is there first. I think it could rub people the wrong way if you show up immediately expecting to get a gig or something like that. You need to put in the time and hard work first. That could be starting your own YouTube channel, or creating your own content — the passion and hard work just need to be there. You will not make it if you are not passionate, your heart needs to be in the right place. Having supportive parents is helpful, too.


Four years on, and more than a few snags later, I still haven’t stopped doing what I love.