Going To Twelve

My very first cast with a professional co-caster was over Skype with Jatt as part of my nine-month interview process with Riot Games.

All I remember thinking was: “There’s no way I’m going to be as good as him. I don’t know exactly what I’m missing but I’m definitely not on this guy’s level.”

After a year and a half grinding through the amateur scene and blowing up on Reddit with a series of bootleg casts, this was my big chance.

It was a long way from the days where I just hoped that Garena wouldn’t show up in my Twitch chat and shut the whole thing down.

I don’t have the recording of that Skype cast anymore sadly, but I’m sure that if I watched it today, I would die of laughter. The whole cast made it painfully clear I couldn’t bounce off proper cues or work within the storyline; I hadn’t worked with Jatt before and I had grown pretty used to my amateur solo casts.

I was never going to knock it out of the park immediately – my goal was to learn as much as I possibly could from a caster who was a cut above anything else I’d ever experienced.

I’ve tried to maintain both that “sponge” mindset and positive attitude as I’ve moved through the different parts of my career and met different people within the scene.

MSI last year was my first international event. I was so thrilled to meet Deficio and Quickshot and observe them, see what they do differently, absorb as much as I could from their casts – I loved it.

One of the questions that you get asked on the entertainment side of esports is: “Who do you model yourself after?”. My answer has always been “No one.”

Even in my early days, I didn’t want to be Phreak 2.0 or Quickshot 2.0.

They already exist, and you can be the best imitation there is, but you’re still an imitation.

Instead, I watched these guys and tried to deduce what I liked most about them and the unique traits that they brought to the table stylistically. What defines a Phreak cast?

What defines a Quickshot cast? With that perspective, I was able to evolve my own style.

My own style was enthusiastic, passionate and loud – I’m not one to sit back. I’m a very emotionally-charged person, and when I get involved or invested in something – as you might have noticed – I go all in.

I remember back in Season three or four, I played in my first League of Legends tournament. I was around platinum or diamond at the time and my buddies and I ended up winning it. The feeling of winning that thing, even though it was just a small local tournament… it was like lightning in my veins!

Unsurprisingly, energy control was one of the first things I really had to work on when I joined Riot.

Early on, producers told me: “You’re doing fantastically, the energy is great, but just remember that you’ve got to be able to control it. Because if you’re always at a twelve – they skipped right past ten – then nothing is a twelve.

“Going to twelve is something very unique. Not everybody else can do it, but you have to make sure you do it right.”

If you go back and watch my first LCS casts, every one of them will have an overhyped moment. Part of that was my excitement to finally be on the biggest stage there was, casting real games with real consequence with professional players.

The gravity of that pulled me further into that super emotional state.

Whenever I commentate a game, I try to be emotionally honest about what I think the players are feeling at that moment. The essence of the game and competing transcends the individual game or the tournament.

It’s about succeeding – not just beating the guy across from you on the screen, but beating your own expectations of yourself.

What I had to do was re-adjust my new scope and focus on what’s going to have an impact.

I’ve gotten more than a few messages from people saying: “Man, when you first joined the NA LCS, I thought you sucked. But now, you’ve gotten so much better and you’re one of my favourites.”

I’m always thankful for those comments, even if they can be crass, because they’re honest.

If I can improve on something and change someone’s perspective of me, that’s so satisfying. I’m always so pleased when fans tell me: “I thought you got a lot better at managing those smaller moments.”

People remember the hype stuff. They remember Faker’s Shockwave or the KT vs IG base race – that’s the stuff that will get re-posted on Reddit threads from now until the end of time.

What doesn’t get re-posted is your ability to navigate every aspect of the game and the players’ individual narratives within their teams – the smaller details of casting that extend beyond a specific matchup.

That’s what creates a compelling viewing experience in the downtime between those hype moments and what makes the fan at home feel like they’re talking with somebody whose opinion they genuinely care about.

You’ve got to be able to weave the highlight reel stuff in with the downtime to be the complete package.

When I first joined Riot, people asked me what my long-term goal was.

“Worlds Finals, no question.”

Well, I got there a lot faster than I expected.

I was blown away when I found out I was going to achieve that goal this year; I couldn’t believe it. Now my challenge is: how do I keep pushing myself to get better? Where do I go from here?

I have so much in common with the players trying to consistently improve and dominate in their roles – I’m trying to do the same thing. When I go out there, I want to put on the best show possible.

Before Worlds started this year, I said to my fellow crew members: “We’re going in, afterburners blazing, nothing left. I’m going to go all out for this and see how far I can
go!”

I’ve gotten up to this level, but me today should be better than me yesterday. And me yesterday should still be better than the version of me that did the World Championship Finals.

If I look back and I’m not better than my past self, I’ve messed up somewhere – failed to learn more and make myself better. Once you stop and lose that momentum, it feels like you’re betraying all that dedication you had in the early days.

What I have to ask myself now is why I got to the Finals, and what I can do to improve even further.

There’s no excuse for next year’s me only being as good as this year’s me.

Image Credit: Riot Games

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