I had the amazing oppurtunity to interview Paul “RedEye” Chaloner, a well-known caster and commentator for a variety of games. Being in the esports industry for so long (before it was even known as esports) gives Paul a very solid outlook on esports as a whole, and gave this interview a very informed point of view. I would like to thank Chaloner for taking the time to do this interview, and would also like to apologise; I know it was very hard to get away from the bowl of soup he had so deeply looked forward to eating.
Make sure to check out Chaloner’s online book, Talking Esports.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
How did you get into the esports scene and at what point did you decide it was a career path instead of a hobby?
Chaloner: “So, when I started, there wasn’t esports as such. We didn’t even call it esports, I think we probably just called it competitive gaming. I can’t even remember what we called it back then. I played video games since the ’80s and through the ’80s and the ’90s, the most challenging video game would be one that you played 1v1 with a computer and it was basically learning about how to beat the computer, so I did a lot of that.
Then in ‘95, the internet kind of came along for me in Britain, and back then, my ping would be anywhere between 250 on a good day and 400 on a bad day. I just played Quake basically; I didn’t play much Quake 2 but I think probably around about 1998 or 1999, I got into Unreal Tournament. Those were the games that really hooked me from an online point of view, and I obviously wanted to challenge myself. The games are relatively easy to beat and you can beat them on hard. After that, what do you do? So, I would play friends on serial cables and home modems and all sorts of crazy stuff to try to link up multiplayer, but we just couldn’t make it work with the technology at the time.
The online stuff would really appeal to me, playing other human beings, and I think I thought I was quite good, having beaten everyone locally and everyone that I could beat from a computer point of view. Then, of course, you go online and you realise actually you’re not quite as good as you thought you were.
I started competing in leagues around about 1999, so back then it was BarrysWorld. In 2000, I ended up moving my way up through the ranks, playing quite high level in Unreal Tournament, then just by chance, I kind of fell into commentary through a clan base admin who asked me, ‘can you do some shoutcasting for me?’ I had no idea what shoutcasting was in 2002; it was literally on Winamp.
So I guess my esports background all stemmed from that, and in terms of going professional, I think the first time I tried to do it was probably 2005 when I got made redundant from a legal job in finance. That sort of stuttered a little bit and we kind of did that for a couple of years. I had to go back and find another job, but came back to esports again. I just focused on it solely again around 2007, and then in the end of 200,8 when we had the crash, everything went to pot. I lost pretty much all of the TV stuff that I’d built up by then, and I lost four contracts within the space of about two weeks. That basically killed me, so I then went back and found another real job and worked in social media and digital marketing for a couple of years.
I guess in 2011, it started back up again, and eventually by 2012, I was able to do it full time with ESL, and since then, luckily, I’ve been full-time. Looking back, I think esports just wasn’t ready for full-time commentators and full-time much of anything actually. It’s only now that we start to assume that you can pretty much go into esports in any kind of role, whether it be human resources, recruitment, lawyer, solicitor, accountant; all of these things can be esport specific now because we’ve have such a big industry.”
Do you feel it’s more difficult to get involved now, as opposed to when you started?
“In some ways, yes, it’s just different. I think esports has always had a low entry level for whoever wanted to come and do it. In the past, that’s mainly because there was no money involved, so you came in and you did commentary. If you were relatively good at it, you got quite popular quite quickly. It’s always had a low entry level, but it’s kind of gotten higher now as more people have come into esports and also because more people are now better equipped to do better jobs. I’m much more experienced now than I was 10 years ago, so I would hope that I’d do a much better job as a host or a commentator now than 10 years ago.
I think it’s still relatively easy to jump in. In tennis, golf or football, you’ve got to be discovered by someone before you can go and do something. I can play football at the park on a Saturday afternoon for a relatively good non-league team, but even if I’m a world class striker, it’s going to take time for someone to find me. Most sports now have a pyramid system where you have to work through it to get to where you need to get to. Esports doesn’t necessarily have that pyramid; I think it does in some ways, but it’s much more flexible in that you can come in at the ground floor and run a Twitch stream. Let’s say, for example, in Overwatch, people really enjoy your stream and it goes on Reddit. Instantly, you have a couple of thousand people watching, and from there, you’re building your brand and your awareness. Then, it’s not that far-fetched for an ESL or a DreamHack to come along and go ‘ah this guy’s pretty good, yeah we should get him on our show.’
I don’t know any other industry like that really, so I’m excited by that, but I think it has gotten harder. I had three years on radio in 2002 and then we started messing around with cameras and stuff for a couple of years. It wasn’t really until 2007 where I did any TV, but by then, I had five years of experience. I’ve been able to make my mistakes and screw up everything along the way and learn as I go along. Guys these days and ladies come in, they maybe get found and they’ve done a few months worth of streaming. They’re used to sitting in front of a camera but they go along to a big event in a stadium and they fall on their face. We never see them again and I think that’s quite sad because I think some of those people, given the chance of training properly, would allow them to pick up the experience, which would then allow them to go on and impress when they do a big event.
I think, in some ways, it’s harder now than it was when I started. In other ways, I think it’s just as easy in terms of entry level. That’s a long winded way of saying I think it’s different but it’s the same.”
Would you agree that there’s a start-up cost or a certain level of equipment required?
“Yes and no. I think it’s relatively cheap if you own a PC already. You can spend an awful lot of money on a broadcasting kit and buy the best of the best, but to start with, you don’t need to and you shouldn’t either because you don’t know whether you’re going to be any good at it. You’re not going to be judged on the quality of your image on your screen, you’re more likely to be judged on whether people find you entertaining, interesting, thoughtful and all of the skills that come along with being a commentator or a streamer. So, I think the first thing is to go and try it and you can do that without having a camera even; you can literally go and sign up for Twitch right now, you can start a channel and that’s the beginning of it.
I don’t necessarily think you need to have equipment. I think if you go to the next level and you’ve done that for a little while, then sure, go out and invest in reasonable camera technology. I don’t think technology is essential, it just depends on where you are in your career.”
Do you feel that your book was intended to be motivational, as well as informative?
“A little bit. I think the original idea was that I wanted to put something back into an industry which I’d benefitted from enormously. I felt that when I started writing it, that I was going to write something fairly big and lengthy, and we’d turn it into a hardback book. As I went through it, I more and more felt like this was more like a passion project for me. It was almost cathartic really, in that I could just kind of splurge a load of words all over paper about my experiences and share those with other people in the hopes that they would benefit in some way. That’s where it really came from to start with.
I think if it comes across as anything, it’s probably not motivational, but more like aspirational, I guess. It should feel like anyone can do it because almost anyone can, but of course, as the book says, you do need a reasonable amount of talent as well; it’s not just about following a formula to doing it well. Hopefully, it gives enough advice out that almost anyone can pick up the book and learn something from it, whether they’re a seasoned caster for 10-15 years or whether they’re brand new and about to embark on the journey.”
Would you say that people who don’t necessarily have a fitting voice shouldn’t be discouraged?
“They shouldn’t be discouraged to start with, I think you have to try. The analogy I’ll use is the singing voice in the shower. I can sing really well in the shower, my voice is like an angel, but I’m a realist. I know that when I’ve recorded my voice and I’ve been strumming along to my very badly playing guitar skills, that actually I have a very poor singing voice, so much so that the only time I actually sound reasonable is when I’m standing next to TobiWan and we’re doing karaoke. That’s mainly because he’s carrying me, so I’ve come to the realisation that I’m not going to be a rockstar and that’s kind of sad. At the same time, I know my limitations and I think casting is a little bit like that; you’re not going to know that unless you go and try it.
I’m very lucky that I have a genuine radio voice, but it’s also training as well. It’s learning how to use your voice and going up and down ranges and projection and pacing and all sorts of other things. A lot of that can be learned, but the natural part of it is more about the intangible, the feel when you’re in the moment, being able to react to something in the right manner; that’s what I’m talking about when I talk about natural talent. It’s not really about the voice as such. I wouldn’t ever discourage someone from trying it, even if they think they don’t have the voice for it, because chances are you could be wrong.”
Would you say that there’s an element of sacrifice of time and maybe having to commit to it that will actually allow you to go further?
“Absolutely. No one should go into this with their eyes closed thinking this is going to be a breeze. It’s the months and weeks and days of preparation beforehand, the investment in time into the game, scene and community. You’re also going to be trying to learn some of the technical skills about how to be a better commentator, so it takes an enormous amount of time. Esports is a 24/7 industry, you look away and something happens. You need to be on top of that stuff. I’m a workaholic, I love work but there are times when you absolutely have to take time off, like I did last December. It is a sacrifice of time, which also means a sacrifice on other people’s time, which means family life suffers. Relationships definitely suffer and I admire the people in esports that are able to manage that better than I can. I don’t just focus on one game or one community, so I think the more you focus on or the wider you spread yourself, the less time you have for anything else.”
Say you’re 19 and just starting your esports career. Do you think the book would have helped you at that point?
“It’s very hard for me to say, 19 was like 150 years ago for me. I’d like to think so, but I honestly don’t know. It’s designed to help anyone, regardless of age or gender or country or language, and hopefully, it’s being converted into a few different languages. If it’s helped one person from every country, then it has done its job. I’m not even sure I would’ve gone into this if I was coming in now. I think it’s so much different to what it was 15 or 16 years ago when I started, so I don’t know.”
I know you’re a fan of Overwatch. Having worked with a Blizzard game before, would you ever go into Overwatch commentating?
“Absolutely. It’s probably the game I’ve played most over the last 12 months. I was playing it in the closed beta, I was playing it in the open beta and I’ve played it every spare moment I’ve had. It’s certainly something I’ve played a lot with friends. I finished on 3200 this season in the middle of diamond, which isn’t too bad I guess.”
Not too bad he says.
“Well, it’s the top five percent of the players, so it’s a pretty reasonable achievement for a 45-year-old guy who doesn’t actually have much time at home. I love the game, I love the artwork, and I love the Blizzard detail that they’ve given it. It drives me mad and gives me joy in equal measure, which I think is the perfect example of a competitive game. It’s probably the most enjoyable game I’ve played competitively for 10 or 11 years.
That said I might actually be too close to it in some ways. I have to be fairly unbiased when I’m a host and a caster. I think sometimes being just a little bit detatched from it allows me some perspective. With Overwatch, I would love to do it and I’ve been dying to do some Overwatch all year. In the middle of the year, I started doing some commentary on my channel, just to see if I could still do it and see if people enjoyed it. There’s also a lot of competition for it. There’s an awful lot of commentators and hosts coming from other games that are now descending on Overwatch. I think some of them absolutely have a passion for the game and are enjoying it just as much as I am. Then there are others who are looking at it as the golden egg and trying to get on-board before someone else does.
I’m sort of loathed to go into the competition and throw my hat in the ring really, not for any other reason than there’s an awful lot of people in there already. I’m quite happy with where I am. I really love Dota, I really love StarCraft when I get the chance to do it, and I love Counter-Strike. I’m going to get to do a wide range of games and some console stuff, as well as Fifa and Heroes of the Storm, so I’ve got an awful lot really. I should be very thankful for what I’ve got and maybe not be a bit too selfish and try to do another game, but if the opportunity comes, I’d absolutely do it. I’d jump at it.”
Would you say that other esports games need to compete with League of Legends?
“I don’t know if they need to compete, I think it’s a fallacy that games compete for viewerships as well. I think we’re very insular when it comes to our own games. I think I’m probably one of only a small minority of people across the esports communities that actually loves lots and lots of different games. I’ll even tune for virtual racing series, you know, I’ll watch anything. I don’t know if it’s so much League of Legends competes with Dota, and Dota competes with Heroes, and Heroes competes with StarCraft and that competes with Counter-Strike. I don’t think it’s really like that, certainly not for viewership levels anyway.
I don’t really mind that League of Legends gets a lot of traction, I’ve sat there and watched Worlds and I’ve enjoyed it. I think one of the most iconic moments in my personal professional life was in League of Legends with xPeke doing the backdoor against SK in 2012. I’ve enjoyed League and I enjoy it purely as a very newbie kind of spectator; I don’t know enough about it at all to have any strong opinion on the game.
I think each game kind of has moments where it shines throughout the year, and very occasionally, you get them coming together, but it’s very rare. A great example is that the League of Legends Reddit has a stickie when the International is on, and likewise the Dota Reddit has a stickie when Worlds is on.
There is a cross section of fans who will cross the divide and have a look, especially at the very big tournaments, and I think that’s healthy because you get a slightly different perspective.”
Would you say there’s a trend for players retiring early/young?
“You know what, I think it’s actually changing the other way around. I’ve been involved in this for the best part of 15 years. I would say that 10 years ago, we were getting people retiring at the age of 19, 20, 21, and the reason that they were retiring at those ages was because of real life. There wasn’t the money in esports, there wasn’t the money in their particular game, and there wasn’t enough money to earn in salary or in terms of prize money. They would have to make a choice once they left university or college, and that was to get a real job, pay for their house, pay for their flats, pay for their children, pay for their wives or whatever.
So, we lost an awful lot of superstars over the last 15 years. Now, it’s not quite like that. I think some players have decided to retire early because maybe they’ve realised they were in early to the game; they were good at the game when it started but now the kids coming through who are phenomenal in terms of talent, and they just can’t cope with them. They just can’t compete on that level and maybe they’ve seen that early on and so they’re stepping aside, they’re finding other roles, and they’re doing other jobs, and that’s fine too.
There are still plenty of players out there in their late 20s or early 30s, and they’re the ones I’m looking at and trying to figure out, when are these guys going to retire? When is it technically time to retire from esports or a specific game? For instance, you’ve got Taz, who is 30 playing at the highest level in Counter-Strike and winning tournaments this year, big tournaments and a lot of money. Now, he’s arguably one of the oldest professional esports players playing right now, but there are lots of young or early 30s fight game stars who are still playing in the biggest tournaments in the world, and winning them. We don’t know when the right time to retire is just yet. I just think there’s a mixture at the moment of some players who maybe have figured out they can’t quite hack it anymore. Maybe the new breed coming through is just that much better. “
What is your take on players being in booths at events?
“I think it depends on the game, that’s the first point. There are some games that don’t need you to have booths because they don’t give audio cues away, Hearthstone being one of them for instance. You’re not given any real audio cues that could hurt you too much. There are other games though, like Counter-Strike, which is absolutely determined by listening to player positions, reloads, gun sounds and what have you. It plays a major part in positioning and understanding the game, so I think there are some games that absolutely should be done inside soundproof booths.
But let’s be honest, no soundproof booth is 100 percent soundproof. That’s the thing that fans don’t always understand; they think if they stick them in a glass booth that they’ll be fine, but actually that’s not the answer. We’re sticking them in a glass booth so that they don’t hear the sounds that they hear, and they’re not hearing the commentators, which means they can’t actually gain anything positive. Yes, of course, they can still hear a crowd of 20,000 people cheering. Of course they can still hear those people, there is no soundbooth in the world that I can go and put on a stage (with reasonable cost) that will do that.
I mean Valve spent a fortune on their soundproof booths on The International and they’re still not 100 percent soundproof. They leak crowd noise in, so that’s the first thing to remember with booths, that they are there to try and protect the players from gaining extra knowledge, but you’re never going to 100 percent do that. There’s always going to be some way of figuring it out; it could be the way the crowd reacts, could be noise outside, could be vibration, could be all sorts of things. I’m sure that players learn how to cope with those things and make the best of them, and the best players in the world are the ones that cope with that the best. It’s all very well sitting in your bedroom playing on a nice mousepad at the right height for your table with as much room as you’d like with a cup of coffee and your mum doing your dinner in the background. Can you do it on stage in front of 20,000 people with a million people watching with commentators screaming your name and giving you a hard time and you miss even the simplest of shots? Can you do it then?
All of that stuff is part of doing it on the stage and performing as a professional athlete in some form, and that’s the same in every sport. If Wayne Rooney couldn’t put up with abuse all of the time, then he wouldn’t play football, would he? It happens to him every three minutes in the match, so he’s able to put that out of his mind and play professionally and then perform incredibly well on the pitch. That’s a professional sportsman, same as you get in esports.”
Would you say that abuse from fans is higher in normal sports?
“I think its underestimated. I think if you go to a football match, you see some disgraceful behaviour by fans towards players on the pitch. We’ve got nothing like that in esports, we’re nothing like that in so many ways. Actually, we’re pretty good.”
Do you feel that, in esports, there isn’t a lot of bad fan input, such as booing?
“No, I’ve seen and heard quite a lot of booing in Counter-Strike and I’m ok with it actually. I know a lot of people say it’s disgraceful and it’s disrespectful, but I don’t see it like that. I actually see it as a lot of people passionate for one side or another and that’s a good thing in esports. That means you’ve built rivalries. It means that you’ve got people that adore certain players and hate other players, and that’s the best kind of sports rivalries.”
What would you say the future of esports is, in your own opinion, say for the next few years?
“I get asked this a lot. The honest answer is we don’t know, and I know that seems like a cop out answer, but I’ll expand on it a little bit. I don’t know what’s going to happen in esports tomorrow, I don’t know what’s going to happen in esports next week, I barely know what events I’m going to be at in the next two months, so it’s very hard for anyone with experience to tell you what will happen to esports over the next five or 10 years. It’s just too long a window. I can probably tell you over the next 12 months that it’s going to get bigger, it’s going to grow, and we’re going to become a billion dollar industry probably by the end of next year. All the experts tell me that, so I believe them.
My own personal experiences of this year are that it’s the busiest year I’ve ever personally had in esports, and I thought the same about that last year, and the year before, and the year before that. I also take some experience from the fact that we used to have peaks in esports, where we would have a great year and then maybe a bad year, then a good year then maybe an average year, and then maybe a poor year and then maybe a great year. It always used to be like that. We haven’t really had that over the last five or even six years now, I think, if you include 2011 inclusively with 2016. We’ve had rises every single year in terms of the teams growing, the money coming in, the broadcasting growing, filling stadiums, higher pay for everyone, everything has grown over the last six years and I don’t see why anything should change that going into next year.
I think we might lose a couple of tournaments here and there, we might see some games that were previously big in esports become smaller games or even disappear, but they’ll be replaced by other games. There’s a lot of investment to come next year. We’ve barely scratched the surface this year with the fact that we’ve had all these sports teams being interested, and broadcasting is going to expand next year on TV worldwide, I’m absolutely certain of that. There are dedicated esports channels now popping up all over the world and we’ll see more of that next year as well. We’ll see teams being swallowed up by big sports teams or being partnered with them in some way. We’ll see better player salaries, we’ll see more organisations, and we’ll see more unions. All of that is going to happen next year for sure. Beyond that, I have no idea, I have absolutely no idea. I think that it will get bigger and bigger still, but at some point, we’ll level out. I just don’t know when that will be.”
What would your advice be to people that are looking to build an esports career?
“I think you just have to go and try it first, that’s the thing. As I said earlier on at the very start of this conversation, it’s relatively cheap to go and try it and see what you think. You might find you don’t like it, you might find that it’s actually more difficult than you thought it was in your head. So trying it is the first thing, just the same as if you want to be a professional footballer. Go and buy a football, go down to the park, and kick it around a bit. Once you do, it might be for you, then I think that’s when you have to decide, ‘am I all in on this or not?’ I think if you go in half-hearted, it definitely won’t work, and even if you go in full-hearted, it might not work.
It’s a very risky business; it’s not something I would ever tell anyone to take up and throw in their job, and try it or give up their education to try it. I think you need to have all of those things in place to start with and hope that hard work, perseverance and talent takes you through to being in a position potentially 12 or 18 months down the line, where you can find some full-time work in esports. I would imagine it probably takes that long and it may be even longer for some now, but certainly 12 to 18 months for most of the casters that came through in the last four or five years.
I would like to thank Paul again for this interview, and to share with you Paul’s online book, Talking Esports. This online source, written by Paul “RedEye” Chaloner himself, is an essential for those even remotely interested in pursuing a career in esports broadcasting. Better yet, it’s completely free.
Make sure to leave us a comment down below, or tweet us @GAMURScom.
Jordan Aldridge-Payne is an esports journalist for GAMURS and can be reached on Twitter @mrjordanap.