More than 7,000 people tuned in to watch UFC commentator, stand-up comedian, and actor Joe Rogan talk esports with Counter-Strike professional gamer Jordan “n0thing” Gilbert yesterday. Bringing on a legitimate esports star proved a major boon for the show, as that huge audience actually broke the podcast’s record for live viewers.
Thankfully for esports fans, Rogan didn’t pull a Colin Cowherd. The ESPN pundit recently went on a long diatribe against esports after an event for the game Heroes of the Storm aired on ESPN2. Rogan, an avid Quake player in his younger days, even started off the conversation with “people don’t understand how difficult it is to be a professional gamer.”
After covering some basics, the conversation quickly transitioned to an obvious topic: money. According to Gilbert, he comfortably clears a six figure salary, a number matched by most others at the top echelons of Counter-Strike. And that only includes his salary, too.
There’s streaming on sites like Twitch as well, a concept with which Rogan seemed to be familiar. But he was nonetheless shocked with the numbers Gilbert brought up. The most popular Twitch streamers can make tens of thousands a month from subscribers and donations. One anonymous donor, who goes by the name Motar2K, is famous for gifting streamers with huge sums of money, once donating $10,000 to Gilbert himself. Rogan ultimately declared he’d set up on Twitch for future podcasts.
A big part of why the numbers for the show were so big is that Rogan and Gilbert covered topics—like income—that appealed to both the show’s regular audience and esports fans. The pair also tackled, for instance, the darker sides of the industry. The Counter-Strike scene was rocked last year by a series of betting and cheating scandals. Gilbert recounted the story of KQLY, who was banned for life after he was discovered he’d used a trigger bot in professional matches.
The betting hit closer to home for Gilbert. You can bet Counter-Strike skins (which are worth real money) on professional matches, which could encourage players to throw the game for a slice of the profit, if they bet against themselves—something that’s not unheard of in professional sports, either. The Daily Dot exposed a match-fixing ring of this type at the highest levels of American Counter-Strike last year.
There was one thing that literally hit close to home for Gilbert, however: swatting. The term, well-known in gaming and esports circles, refers to someone making a prank call to the police about a hostage situation or some other dangerous scenario, impelling the police to respond with a SWAT team. Gilbert was swatted last year, an incident that was caught live on his stream
Other aspects of the esports world intrigued Rogan, though at this stage he was familiar with the basics of how it all worked, he still didn’t quite grasp how someone could go from playing an online game for fun to paying their bills from it. Gilbert explained his past and how he turned from an amateur to pro, moving from Evil Geniuses to Complexity and eventually to Cloud9, one of the most well-respected organizations in the industry.
Closer to Rogan’s UFC roots, Gilbert mentioned the intricate details that separates professional player from casual player. Including the teamwork aspects and “information chunking” as Rogan explains it, saying “it’s like when I know something is going to happen in a fight because I’ve seen it so many times.” Gilbert related his own experiences of playing Counter-Strike: “Sometimes for example a player will go slightly more aggressive than usual and I can tell he’s just fronting to scare me off because he really has nothing.”
Despite the praises for Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, there was no love lost for the biggest esport on the planet: League of Legends. Rogan told his producer to pull up a League of Legends stream on Twitch after Gilbert explained the “hierarchy” of esports.
“This game is just ugly to look at…See with Counter-Strike it really feels like it’s happening,” Rogan said.
Almost three hours in Rogan started to pump the brakes and the show steered towards an ending. It was almost an abrupt finish, with the feeling that the two could have talked for another three hours after barely scratching the surface of the esports world. Esports fans can, however, be proud of Gilbert as their representative on the Joe Rogan Experience. He was able to explain the inner workings of the industry while keeping it simple enough for anyone to grasp. He even got Joe Rogan, a man who commentates UFC for a living, to get excited about it.
“So… where is all this going?” Rogan eventually asked Gilbert.
“I think what we’ll be seeing in 5-10 years is pretty similar to what there is now, just slightly better production and better treatment of the players at events” Gilbert replies, saying that he thinks esports is in a very good state and that viewer numbers will only grow from here. Judging by the viewer numbers from the podcast alone though, esports is already more popular than many people in the mainstream media recognize.
Screengrab via Joe Rogan Experience/YouTube