2012 – My Year of eSports

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Hey everyone! First off before anything else is said, I just want to chime in and say that I hope that your Christmas season has gone wonderfully and that you are all looking forward to a wonderful and happy 2013. I look forward to trying my best to have fun with and meet as many of you as I can both online and at events in the coming year. :-)

The journey I’ve taken through the past year has been as unpredictable as it has been exciting. In fact, this is about the fifth time I’ve sat down to write this, so I’ve decided to go from the point of view of introducing myself better as who I am outside of eSports (about the first third of this post) and work my way in from there through my 2012 journey before finishing with my last few events of 2012 and what the new year brings for me. Apologies in advance for being wordy – there are about 5,000 words here, but I will be sure to punctuate with anecdotes and photos as much as I can. So, without further ado!

There is no pro-gaming pedigree in my background; in fact my life experiences are quite the contrary. I finished my MEng (Hons) in Aerospace Materials Engineering back in 2008, during which I had a stint at a championship winning Formula One team. Having raced in go-karts competitively (sadly nowhere near as much as I would have liked – it’s an expensive sport!) throughout university I always thought that I would go into motorsport when I graduated.

JoRoSaR KartingLong before Starcraft came along, this was how I unleashed my inner bossmode.

My curiosity had other ideas, though. While studying I participated in a number of business challenges and competitions, some run by university and some external. I did reasonably well in these and I decided to have a punt when an internet startup company offered me a position on graduation. Over the next six months, without going into details the business plan we put together gave us an incredible amount of investment and the business was off the blocks – and I was hooked. There was something I found thrilling about the challenge of pursuing a new skill from infancy through to success. This, combined with what I believed to be my best career prospects at the time, convinced me to become self-employed and start businesses on my own.

Due to an unfortunate sequence of events at the end of 2008 (personal) the next year was practically written off for me as I spent it recovering as well as travelling – but starting in 2010 I set up a number of new eCommerce businesses and was able to make enough to at first stay afloat, and then be reasonably well off. In fact, some of this experience I got from (a long long time ago, in a Blizzard universe far far away) running a Diablo II items business while in high school to earn pocket money on the side (as a side note, USWest Hardcore Ladder patch 1.09 is where I was last reasonably well known in case anyone remembers that far back). As a result of upscaling this and applying the same concepts to essentially boxes of goods stored in the shed downstairs, with a generous helping of luck sprinkled in, I began to get to a point where I put my time into other things.

As a natural progression from eCommerce, I began to dabble in online marketing in all forms – SEO, affiliate marketing, brand awareness and learning to how to read and react to website data to increase conversion rates and so forth. I began to do more of this for the businesses I ran and before I knew it I was starting to take on a volume of workload that became impractical for me to handle alone. As the effectiveness of what I was doing got better, I started outsourcing what I had learnt – and again looked for something else to learn to occupy my time. Hello, Starcraft.

My gaming experience was casual, semi-competitive at best – during a boom in LAN shops (net cafes / PC bangs / etc.) in Asia in the late 90’s I played some older RTS’s (Red Alert, Age of Empires, AoEII and The Conquerors expansion) and tried my hand at being competitive at Counter-Strike 1.5 but was never really much better than about-average as far as the competitive scene was concerned. As the latter years of school took over I played Warcraft III (and later the Frozen Throne) to a decent level but was blissfully unaware of the massive eSports following it had, as I was a casual after-school gamer and didn’t go out of my way to check out such things. Hong Kong isn’t the perfect place to be for eSports exposure, as the general success-driven attitude here tends to discourage pastimes that are not seen as career-assisting (somehow, piano and violin snuck past this as the exceptions to the rule – I was a Piano Grade 8 player myself, anyone else?). As a result, it’s unlikely that you would see things like eSports mentioned in media, and the general community was quite small. I had the same problem with chess, which I play competitively but is seen as a hobby that time shouldn’t be sunk into too much.

I then shifted away from Warcraft III and played DotA from quite early on in its release and again was a proficient player, while simultaneously getting into online sim racing competitively – but after a while I felt that things became stale and was looking for another RTS to sink my teeth into. Conveniently, I was back home visiting for the summer when someone told me that Starcraft II was definitely *the* game everyone was waiting for and that it was set to be quite a large competitive scene – a phrase I hadn’t heard in a while. I bought the game the week it was released after obtaining a beta key shortly before, and after tinkering around and deciding I liked what I saw, browsed around and discovered TeamLiquid and began to watch streams.

London Barcraft

Most of 2011 was spent playing casually and watching as much Starcraft as I could in my spare time, including a large helping of GSL. This was my first foray into properly watching competitive gaming being narrated, and I loved that the story of the game unfolding could be brought to life by the people talking behind the camera. I discovered later on in the year that London Barcraft started up and was growing in the city, and made my first appearance there at an MLG event where I acted as resident photographer. Soon afterwards, I went to my first major competitive event at EGL4, where I will save the re-cap by linking you to the post here – I went as a spectator, then had my role evolve into press photographer, interviewer and finally caster – over the course of two days! I guess given my entrepreneurial / opportunistic background outside of eSports it probably shouldn’t have been too much of a surprise, but it really was for me!

Slightly before this happened, I made my first attempt at casting. While I really enjoyed tournaments such as the GSL I also realised that a lot of smaller, random online tournaments were a lot less engaging with the audience and I felt it was difficult to maintain my interest. Wondering if I could do better, I did the odd video for YouTube, and leading up to EGL4 above I also live cast the qxc vs CatZ Best-of-31 showmatch (I had qxc on Skype as a fan since he went to Korea with FXO, long before his IM all-kill) – nine and a half hours of my life that my throat does NOT want to go through again but the rest of me would jump at in a heartbeat.

The Bo31 and EGL4 combined set up my recruitment for Playhem, where I had my first cast just after Christmas with Lyrlian in 2011 and became a regular haunt for a while where I would cast two, usually three times a week in early 2012. It was a lot of fun doing this on the side and I discovered this was definitely my new ‘project’ for me to work on when not working. What really made this fantastic for me was the great combination of friendly and enthusiastic casters as well as the loyal and passionate viewers that Playhem got. There are too many great regulars to list here, but you know who you are – while many in the SC2 community were talking about how poisonous and frustrating stream chats were to deal with, we effectively never had to ban or even timeout anyone on the Playhem stream and every tournament night was treated as a fun get-together or party. I fondly remember fangames after tournaments where viewers would play Raynor Party or Star Strikes or Photon Cycles with the casters, and I even remember 2v1’ing Revival after he won a tournament once with Steisjo (and winning, only just!). I learnt so much about both casting and playing during these months and my enjoyment for the game only grew – to anyone aspiring to cast for the love of the game and get better while you’re doing it, I can think of no better place to learn and grow.

I always enjoyed doing this as something on-the-side and never considered that I would get to cast major tournaments at all – at the end of the day I was always interested in casting games from really good players of course, but my thoughts never drifted ‘to go to X or Y tournament’, but that side of me had my eyes opened when Steisjo put me in touch with Dreamhack and suggested that I cast a community stream for Stockholm. Needless to say I was thrilled, and it seemed that my casting setup in a limited space (I don’t have a separate lounge or study so cast from my bedroom) gained me a little bit of notoriety on Reddit – here and here. ;-)

And I guess that’s where things started to snowball. I was continuing to work as I normally would and cast in my spare time but I barely had time to settle back into my rhythm when I was asked by Multiplay (who I was introduced to by Nick Baker, the bossmode admin I met at EGL4 a while ago) to come and cast an i-Series event, the biggest LAN the UK had to offer, in May 2012. This was my first ever invitation to an offline tournament and needless to say I was both thrilled and anxious on the run-up to the event. I ended up enjoying the event immensely alongside founding GLHF caster Martijn (see my blog post here for the full all-drinking, all-dancing details) and after that, made a conscious decision to take my commentary a little more seriously and crank things up a notch, keeping one eye out on opportunities abroad.

It didn’t take long. A week-long family holiday on the west coast of the US turned into an extended trip with my flight back to London coming two weeks later, in order to accommodate both MLG Anaheim and the Gigabyte eSports LAN. It’s worth pointing out that I had fully intended on going to MLG Anaheim and changed my flights long before I was asked to cast there! The invitation to cast the beta stream for MLG came literally 48 hours after I was asked about my availability for Gigabyte, and all of a sudden my holiday became work.

I returned to the London at the end of June, having come from casting online cups for enjoyment to casting three live events in the space of just over a month. It was a lot to take in, and truth be told I was actually looking forward to getting some work done and trying to decide where I would want to take my future over the summer. In the mean time I community cast a further two Dreamhack tournaments (always so much fun!) before life again took an interesting turn in August.

For reasons beyond my control, my largest source of income had to close its doors to business at the end of August. This was particularly important as up to this point I was enjoying being able to work around my casting schedule as I could work from home or the nearest coffee shop. However, this newest development meant that my bank account was effectively put on notice – while I had enough in savings to theoretically live for a year or two, realistically I had six months before I would have to seriously watch my spending to maintain my savings. I told myself that while I was job hunting I was not going to allow my casting to be affected and to enjoy every opportunity I got while I still could – and who knows, maybe things could even go further (but I never assumed this would be a realistic possibility).

The opportunity did come, though. While working as a cameraman for a friend of mine at the Gadget Show exhibition weekend in England back in April (completely not eSports related) I bumped into Kaelaris who was also at the event for promotional reasons. We got on quite well, and short while later I was asked to step-in on short notice to cast the EPS Berlin Open in September alongside him and Icicle. This was my first experience in an interviewing/hosting role as well as we alternated duties through the tournament, and I loved this as it gave me another opportunity to come at the story of a Starcraft II game from a different angle through player interviews and insights, and make it even more entertaining and engaging for the viewers. Around this time as well, I was happily announced as one of the four winners of the IPL Caster Search competition which meant I became one of the community casters for the qualifiers leading up to the IPL5 Finals.

Here is where things really started flowing thick and fast through the last three months of the year. After casting the community streams for some time, I was asked to head to Bucharest to join Apollo in casting Dreamhack (for those who forget which one…well, this one, LOL) almost immediately after going to Shanghai to cast the WCS Asia finals which was a tremendous opportunity for me from Blizzard. I learned of my potential participation in both of these events within a week of each other – I don’t know how to describe the feeling other than I was swept away with excitement for the opportunity and had practically no time at all to digest anything due to other commitments away from eSports. It feels like a fairy-tale cop-out line to say that things ‘came out of the blue’ but it really did seem that way with little time for reflection. You know the week after you come back from a holiday or a really different / new experience and you slowly start taking it all in and winding down again / getting back to your normal routine? I guess it felt like in-between events I didn’t even have that, which is both a challenge and an amazing feeling.

JoRoSaR's MLG Mouse MatRemember this?

The amount I learnt from these events was enormous, and being able to cast alongside some of the people I had autograph a mouse mat for me at MLG Anaheim under half a year ago was an dizzying experience to say the least. I was not expecting to be a part of major events like these as my primary focus was still as a storyteller and as someone who wanted to bring new players into the amazing game that is Starcraft – I was both astonished and proud of where I had come from in a reasonably short period of time, but also recognised that I needed to continuously work to improve my commentary and stay entertaining. It sounds odd saying this after getting a number of major events under my belt, but it took until coming back from Shanghai to realise this because I didn’t have too much time to reflect on what was effectively a whirlwind six months. Between extremely stressful real-life commitments, preparations for travel and actual shuttling to events on weekends (I now like flying a lot less than I used to!) I was becoming drained but in the best possible way.

The last two events of the year for me were IEM Singapore and IPL5, both of which I knew I was attending well in advance so had time to prepare, but nonetheless still had to cope with three weeks away from home while continuing to juggle a lot of things away from Starcraft. I made a conscious decision at both of these events to sit back and enjoy them as much as I could rather than treat them as pure work, and found a lot of the stress I previously carried going into events as a play-by-play caster evaporate quickly through the excitement, banter and general great atmosphere at these venues.

Polaris and Ninja practicing at IEM SingaporeSingapore’s Polaris and Australia’s Ninja practicing at IEM Singapore

Singapore was an absolute blast – at the end of casting on day 1 I made my way towards the Formula One simulator competition next door to IEM and used my previous competitive sim racing experience to win a pretty slick Intel processor! After my second attempt at getting a good lap time in a crowd started to form which added to the excitement.

Best time so far on the racing simulator at IEM SingaporeThe best time would eventually tumble to the low 1:23’s throughout the course of the weekend. The track for reference is Watkin’s Glen on the iRacing simulator.

The crowd around JoRoSaR at the sim racing machine at IEM SingaporePart of the crowd during a record-breaking attempt

The atmosphere was a lot more tense from the second day onwards as we moved towards the knockout stages of the tournament. The games were flowing well though, and the team behind greasing the tournament wheels were doing an excellent job. It certainly helped a lot that Intel provided the players with hot-swappable SSD drives so that setting up on a new computer became something rather instantaneous and reduced downtime between games considerably.

Sting and LucifroN doing map vetoes at IEM SingaporeSting and LucifroN choosing maps before their Ro16 clash

Artosis and Kaelaris at IEM SingaporeMy view of the games when not casting, behind Artosis and Kaelaris

While we were having a lot of fun at the tournament, we didn’t forget to take things seriously at all. Fortunately a lot my prep work going into the tournament was done in the weeks beforehand courtesy of a handy caster notebook – a lot of the things written down in it are actually things I already knew and committed to memory, but in the middle of a cast when wanting a quick reference, I learnt that it helps to have that reinforcement of what you want to say readily available at arm’s length – especially with multiple great players to keep tabs of in one place.

JoRoSaR's  notes at IEM SingaporeA snapshot of some of my notes – with many adjustments!

Players at IEM SingaporeDefinitely not a row of players one would consider messing with.

The knockout stages were an amazing run of incredible series – the number of 3-2 victories  was ridiculous and Sting’s run through the tournament touted by some as “boring due to lack of Terrans” turned the atmosphere electric and defied even the harshest critic’s expectations. In the other half of the bracket, watching Grubby come back from 2-0 down to take the series to 2-2…not once, not twice, but THRICE…gave not only the staff but the live audience and no doubt the viewers at home too palpitations for most of the day.

Grubby and Cassandra at IEM SingaporeGrubby during his nail-biting encounter with MC, with Cassandra looking on.

Grubby with fans at IEM SingaporeImmediately after winning, Grubby gave his opponent a respectful handshake and immediately went outside to cheer with his fans.

When games weren’t being played fun was still had, however! The analysis desk was a great experience for me and I really enjoyed heading Team Declining Fashion (as we became known) with HasuObs and PiG taking a look at some of the plays throughout the knockout stages. Downtime was filled before the League of Legends final with Joe Miller having his head shaved on-stream after saying he would do it for reaching a required number of Twitter followers (and to all of you we extend our thanks for the hilarious entertainment that you created), and the pro-player free-for-all before the Starcraft II finals was both tense and hilarious – highly recommended watching.

VoD for the SC2 FFA is on my YouTube channel here. Video length ~40 minutes.

JoRoSaR Joe Miller at IEM SingaporeBefore…

Joe Miller with his hair at IEM SingaporeAfter!

And finally, while the schedules were packed on game days the team had a well deserved meal together after the tournament, and I even managed to catch up with some of the people in the amazing local eSports community on the next day – enjoying some of Singapore’s famously good hawker food.

Player and staff meal at IEM SingaporeStaff and player meal after IEM Singapore, with Jarett Cale looking particularly hungry

Singapore hawker centreEnjoying one of Singapore’s amazing hawker centres.

With only that day to spare, however, I hopped on what would turn out to be a 32-hour journey (including time in transit) to Las Vegas for IPL5 without returning home to recuperate between these tournaments – the first time I had done this. Arriving at the hotel to find the League of Legends casters already arrived resulted in a quick drink before a long-needed snooze! The next day I witnessed the might of the GSL production crew as we were taken into the immense hall for rehearsals and a run-down of procedures and caster schedules. Not before, however, a bunch of the casters and friends got together for some fun in the Shootmania room, squeezing in some Monobattles before the meeting.

Caster Monobattles at IPL5Caster Monobattles at IPL5

Technical rehearsal at IPL5We had a good chuckle at the technical rehearsal during overlay and transition testing.

The weekend schedule was admittedly quite kind on the community casters at IPL5, allowing us to put our all into the casts as well as enjoy some of the recreation Las Vegas has to offer its visitors in the mean time. The quality of games was superb – I mentioned several times throughout the weekend that if we simply took those who bowed out of the tournament in the Lower Bracket Rounds 1 & 2, we could still have a world-class tournament in itself! That kind of player depth is ridiculous and was very well received by the spectators.

The crowd at IPL5The view of the crowd in the Starcraft II all all weekend was absolutely amazing.

IPL5 Hotel Room ViewAlthough it’s worth noting I also had no complaints about the hotel room view!

On the first day of the tournament (our busiest day on the side-streams) I had a massive bout of jet lag from Singapore and ended up checking out the tournament hall at the silly hour of 5am. I was surprised to find one other person there as well – BboongBboong! We both could not stay asleep so we went into the Shootmania room for a bit of practice and chit-chat before breakfast.

JoRoSaR and BboongBboong at IPL5

While we were casting for a fair bit of the day, it was fun and varied – every single match was a clash of titans and regular caster rotation meant that the banter was never stale and we had a great time casting with everyone else in turn!

JoRoSaR and Frodan at IPL5Casting with Frodan, who I hadn’t cast with since MLG half a year ago.

An amusing side-note is that TheGunRun was on hand to fix any potential streaming issues at IPL, but the day went by so swimmingly that he was left in the most unusual position of having very little to do! Here he is in his trademark cape, except he had nowhere to be running to on this particular day…

TheGunRun at IPL5

As the tournament progressed, we had a bit more of a relaxed schedule and inevitably we spent an evening exploring the gambling possibilities that the casinos in the vicinity had to offer. I am pleased to report that despite my small amount of gambling I managed to leave Vegas up overall!

Casino Winnings at IPL5Only a little bit, but the first bet was good, and more would follow throughout the weekend.

The final day saw an atmosphere that was alive with excitement, and the build-up to both the GSL finals and IPL finals was unlike anything I’ve ever seen, especially during the GSL World Championship. It was also great watching both sets of finals from near the player’s section of the hall, and while I will confess I was rooting for HyuN in the GSL final, as the number of Playhem daily tournaments I’ve cast where he was in the finals there is too many for me to count – but a great time was had by all despite his loss, with both finals going the distance in terms of number of extremely tense games. It was surreal to think that a year ago I was just discovering watching GSL and now I was at a deafening and electric Finals event cheering on the players, after casting there as well!

Team Korea during the GSL World ChampionshipsTeam Korea during the GSL World Championships

GSL Finals Crowd at IPL5The crowd at the GSL Finals

GSL Finals PresentationPresentation ceremony after the GSL Finals

JoRoSaR, Symbol and HyuN at the GSL FinalsConsoling HyuN together with Symbol after his loss to MVP.Sniper (Photo: Carlton Beener)

JoRoSaR and MVPSniperCongratulating MVP.Sniper after his GSL championship win (Photo: Carlton Beener)

Last but not least before I flew home, the night the tournament ended I also made good on my lost bet to GHOSTCLAW during the Gigabyte eSports LAN where I owed him Korean BBQ, and we arranged for the Liquipedia team (which turned into a wonderful entourage of about 35 people!) to a nearby place for dinner. I also unfortunately lost an extra $10 bet on the result of the GSL finals, so was determined to make sure I didn’t owe anyone anything else by the end of the evening!

Stella ArtosisA couple of drinks after the event didn’t go unnoticed – I bumped into this fine gentleman who was drinking what he called his “Stella Artosis”…

JoRoSaR and Ghostclaw at KBBQ at IPL5Paying my debt to GHOSTCLAW of the Liquipedia team. Photo: Kevin Chang

We arrived at the restaurant while it was completely empty but it wasn’t long before a string of Korean pro-players arrived to join us in addition to the production crew of the GSL, so we knew we had made a good choice! I won’t tell you here how much my share of the bill was at the end of the night, but suffice to say it was money very well spent and a great way to round off the most amazing event I’ve cast so far in my eSports career and to bring a close to a breathtaking 2012.

JoRoSaR, Mr. Chae and Liquipedia CrewThe Liquipedia crew & friends including Mr. Chae after IPL5. Photo: Kevin Chang

I hope you’ve enjoyed (i.e. not fallen asleep during!) my rather extensive babbling blog post, and I look forward to telling more stories in the new year. Before I do, though, there’s a bunch of individual thank-you’s I’d like to extend. There are so many wonderful people I’ve met throughout this year and there are too many to mention individually, but I’ll do my best to single out a special few here. If you are not mentioned below, please note this isn’t deliberate – thank you very much to so many people that helped me get to where I am today, and I hope that I can make you proud in the future.

The Playhem Crew – Too many of you to split this individually, I admit. The staff, casters past and present, regular viewers and players. You lot bring so much enjoyment on a daily basis whenever a tournament is on, and I think a lot of people owe you a lot more than you get credit for. Here’s to a bright future and seeing more wonderful people get into eSports through your ranks.

The hardworking tournament staff – Thank you’s in particular to Puckett, Kharne & bakor and the rest of Multiplay, the ESL & Dreamhack teams, Carmac and for having faith in me for various events throughout the year – I look forward to working with you in the new year. We mustn’t forget though the amazing volunteers that were the lifeblood of the tournaments from the technical staff to the tournament admins. They do an amazing job and I hope that the community continues to recognise their immense contribution behind-the-scenes to eSports.

London Barcraft – For opening my eyes to the potential of the grass-roots eSports following and showing me first-hand the amazing local communities we have built.

Grubby, Artosis, Kevin Knocke and Frodan – Thank you for your kind words, encouragement and guidance. It is through my extensive chatting and learning from you guys (when you go out of your way to make time for me) that I gleamed so much and find new motivation to push myself even further moving forward.

In the week following IPL5, I actually landed a full-time job starting at the end of January 2013. While the job isn’t eSports related, I will be doing something I love (digital marketing) in a wonderful company based in London. I have also ensured that I will be able to get time off to continue doing eSports events. Given my predicament as recently a few months ago, this is a real weight off my shoulders. It’s an added bonus that a lot of my to-be work colleagues are gamers and follow the SC2 scene as well! (Office populated with nerds = WIN!)

Looking forward to the new year, while with my job I may not be able to spend quite as much time on the game I hope that I can improve my time management skills in such a way that I end up doing more with less. Part of my objective in the new year is to also improve on my own game but mainly for reasons relating to confidence and my own personal enjoyment. I want to continue to focus on being a good storyteller, and bringing entertainment to the wonderful and growing eSports community.

Most of all, I look forward to casting for you, meeting you, and sharing great times with all of you reading this in 2013. Thank you for your support and encouragement, and I wish you all a happy, healthy and prosperous new year.

All the best,
JoRoSaR

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