Bren on casting with ZP: “I think it tested his improv skills, but he slammed it home every single time”

Up-and-coming caster Bren talks about his involvement in three different esports.

Screengrab via Carbon Entertainment

With the rise of Overwatch over the last year, it was inevitable that the community would need new talent. Of course this includes players to compete in tournaments, but also casters to give a voice to the new esport. One person who is a part of that rising talent list is Brennon “Bren” Hook.

Known for his cheerful, wise-cracking, on-air personality, Bren is juggling involvement in multiple esport titles. He began developing his skills in Team Fortress 2, but has since entered Overwatch and Dota, where he hopes to build a career.

He recently finished casting the European side of the Overwatch Contenders group stage, and before heading to Los Angeles for the playoffs, we caught up with him to discuss his career so far.

At this point in your career, most people know you from Overwatch Contenders, but you started casting in Team Fortress 2 (TF2) in 2016. How did you get involved in that game?

Bren: I’ve always been a big fan of TF2. It goes back to me playing with my close friends. Back when we were in school, we would always find a game for the summer, just to smash out and no-life, and TF2 was one of them. I just continued to play after the summer, and they didn’t. That was the real difference. And it was me getting into competitive TF2 that was the real start for my involvement in the scene.

In TF2, for those who were unaware, there were two game modes. One that was significantly less popular, was called Highlander. It was a nine-vs-nine game mode where every class was played. It was an absolute mess of a game mode. The alternative was a six-vs-six mode in which the TF2 competitive community had distilled down the perfect formula for high-paced fun gameplay.

I got into TF2 competitively through Highlander initially, and later six-vs-six when some of my Highlander teammates ended up playing, and asked me to play as well.

Obviously you didn’t end up as a professional player. How did you make the transition to casting?

For one, I was never good enough to play at the top level of TF2. I should just throw that out there, I was never particularly good at the game. But, I did have a lot of passion for it.

I got started by casting over my team’s scrims. A lot of what got me started commentating TF2 was I felt like I could do a good job of it. I don’t know why, I just felt like I could and it was easy to get into. I sent a message to a guy called TurboTabs—shoutout to him—at TeamFortressTV saying I wanted to commentate. He said they would set me up with some high division games, and I got started in that.

I was so incredibly nervous my first time commentating on air. It was like 300 viewers, but I was so nervous that I had to dress in a suit. I dunno, it was a mental thing to be more confident or something.

But I smashed it and everyone loved it. The TF2 scene is a special one, because nobody cares if you’re bad at it. If you don’t know the TF2 scene, everything is volunteer based. Nobody gets paid, it’s all a labor of love. They just love that you’re putting in the effort.

In your self-written Liquipedia article, you claim that you’ve followed Overwatch for a long time. What made you make the jump to Overwatch? Was it the attraction of making a career instead of just volunteering?

No, not at all. Also, in my self-written Liquipedia article, I noted that I’m a big Blizzard fanboy, which is completely true. I’ve been playing Blizzard games for years, and I watch BlizzCon every year. And when I saw that Overwatch was announced, I just went “Oh my god, I’ve gotta play this game!”

Initially I wanted to get into it as a pro player. So I sent the community manager KiKi a message saying I had a TF2 team, didn’t mention that we were terrible, and we want to get into Overwatch. I wanted to get a beta invite, I was desperate for a beta invite. She told me they weren’t handing out any more beta invites for people who want to get into Overwatch competitively.

So I never got into the closed beta. But the fact that I loved Blizzard games and it seemed like it was going to be very similar to TF2 drove me. I now know that it is not, but in its own way, it’s a good game. Now that I’ve jumped into it, Overwatch was a natural transition. For one, I enjoyed the game. And two, I wanted to see how far I could take my casting outside of TF2.

Speaking of moving away from TF2, a big piece of news for you recently was that you were picked up by the Moonduck Dota team. What’s the story there?

So I also play a lot of Dota. Which, again, with the same real life friends we started playing Dota a couple years ago. I’m quite late to the Dota scene, but I love the game. I really do, I think it’s fantastic. I commentate a lot of the open qualifiers.

I got a lot of traction from that. People messaged me saying that I should keep doing Dota. But, that wasn’t how I got signed by Moonduck. Moonduck ran a competition. Think of it as America’s Got Talent, on crack.

It was kinda crazy. The event was called the Casters Crucible. You would put your name down, and they would throw you in. And basically if you were bad, Twitch chat could vote you off by typing minus-MMR. If you were good, they would type plus-MMR.

I put my name down almost immediately. I was super keen, and I jumped in with maximum confidence. I chatted absolute nonsense for about an hour, and I was the first person to reach 7,000 MMR in that event. Only a handful of people ended up reaching that mark, and that was how they discovered me. I got a message afterwards and they picked me up.

Do you think Dota requires a much deeper level of game knowledge compared to other titles, even for a play-by-play caster?

Yes. This is where loving the game helps a lot. I’ve put about 1,700 hours into the game, which by Dota standards is not a lot. But you’re absolutely right, in fact, I did some Dota casts recently and I struggled after doing Overwatch for over six weeks. It wasn’t just the casting for Contenders, it was also the prep. I had no time to play Dota or pay attention to the scene.

The last tournament I had watched was The International, so I had no idea where the metagame was. And you could tell in my casting. If you compare those Dota casts to my Contenders casts, you can tell I’m a lot less confident. But you’re right, it requires an immense game knowledge. You have to know heroes, abilities, team tendencies, playstyles. Even very intricate things you can pick up on to start a conversation with your co-caster, like if a player on a certain hero does a weird item-build.

Earlier this year, you deferred your university enrollment for a year, which is a pretty big commitment to casting. What made you go for it?

I messed up my education when I was 18. I didn’t get the results I wanted, so I couldn’t go into university. TF2 was actually a big part of why I failed my education funnily enough. And now it’s led to this.

I ended up taking a year off, recollected my thoughts, just working in a supermarket as a part-time job. I went back to school because I wanted to get results and do something with my life. I intended on doing computer science, and I got the results I needed and had a couple university offers.

I was supposed to go to Swansea this year but I pushed it back to cast. So I still can go next September if I want.

What are your ambitions moving forward? Your education is only differed for a year, so if it comes down to it, would you choose casting or school?

I’ve already made a decision in the back of my mind. If it keeps going this way and I keep getting events, even if I only work Contenders to start with, which I’m doubting I’ll only do that, I know what I’ll do.

I haven’t received anything for the Overwatch League by the way. But in my mind, the Overwatch League is going to need a lot of commentators, and if I keep putting in the work and don’t get complacent, I’ll eventually receive an offer. But it’s going to be off the back of me working hard for it.

I’m probably not going to university. I’m likely going to give it up, and focus on commentating. Realistically I’ve already made that decision, especially the way that Dota is going [too]. If I don’t get into Overwatch League, I can cast more Dota.

Moving back to Overwatch and Contenders, one of our favorite parts of you and Andrew “ZP” Rush casting together was how hilariously off topic the two of you get. What was it like working with ZP and the rest of the Contenders team?

Everyone on the Contenders team was absolutely fantastic. The production team, Carbon Entertainment, they were amazing. They were committed, took criticism incredibly well, and worked super hard on improving the product, which you saw every week as it got better and better.

Also the guys I was working with—Chris Puckett, Alex “Goldenboy” Mendez, Matt “MrX” Morello, Christopher “Montecristo” Mykles and Erik “DoA” Lonnquist—were there providing support, of course ZP, even Josh “Sideshow” Wilkinson and Alex “Gillfrost” were absolutely fantastic. It was probably the best event I’ve ever worked in terms of how much I improved as a commentator over the six weeks. But also the fact that I got along with everyone there, it was really something else.

Everyone was working super hard. Goldenboy got a lot of unwarranted hate early on. There was a circle-jerk that broke out on Reddit and people were against him. But that man, he puts in the work. Every week, he would be reading comments. A lot of them were completely uncalled for, telling him to quit commentating. He was constantly putting in prep-work as well week after week. Even though I thought he was fine to begin with, he really did step it up toward the end of the tournament. But I think everyone did.

Going back to casting with ZP, both of us were formerly play-by-play. ZP wasn’t comfortable doing color commentary, and I thought I was going to be working with somebody else, so I prepped for play-by-play, and it caught me off guard.

ZP and I agreed on a hybrid style of commentating where we both cover analysis and play-by-play. And I think it worked out quite nicely. But I think the biggest hurdle was our different sense of humor. I’m quite dry and I like to tease myself quite regularly. ZP is very much used to the banter with Hex [Robert Kirkbride] and making a lot of references that go way over my head.

I realized I had to figure out a way to make some of these games entertaining, the ones that don’t really matter too much. The way I did that was I figured I’ll just ask him random questions. Just see what happens. Literally just throwing stuff at the wall, and seeing what sticks. My favorite was asking if he would live in the Greek wilderness for five years for $5,000?

It was just to see what comes out, but ZP, he can handle it. I think it tested his improv skills, but he slammed it home every single time. It was enjoyable, it really was.

We’ll ignore the fact that you didn’t mention Jonathan “Reinforce” Larsson in your list of talent you enjoyed working with.

Oh God, I forgot Jonny! Yeah Reinforce, of course! I don’t know why I forgot him. I think it was because he’s Swedish, he keeps to himself. But me and Jonny, we had some excellent times in Denver.

I put out a tweet about this, but we went to the gym and we were craving Wendy’s. And we walked there, and they closed at 10, but the drive-through was open. So we just stood there. Two sweaty, giant guys. Jonny is 6’7″ and I’m 6’3″, and we just stood behind this car waiting for our turn. We were there for 15 minutes, thankfully no other cars came.

But we got up to the window and they told us they couldn’t serve us because of the law as they could be robbed. That’s when we contemplated calling an Uber just to order some Wendy’s, but we thought that’s too far.

Moving away from the talent, let’s talk players in Contenders. Who do you think was underrated, either in NA or EU?

It’s a bit topical, but I’d say Tonic [Denis Rulyov], the main-tank for 123. Unfortunately his visa has been declined, and that’s a massive blow for the team. His Winston play was on a much higher level than a lot of other players. I feel like the playstyle of 123 was built around it because they would play very passive and methodical, waiting for the right opportunities.

There are so many players in Contenders though who really turned up. I might be biased because I know him from TF2, but another underrated player was MikeyA [Michael Adams]. He stepped into some big shoes replacing Sinatraa [Jay Won], and he plays his own style of Tracer very well.

Here comes the tough one: Who wins EU Contenders?

Oh man. Before Tonic got his visa denied, I would have said it’s a tossup between three teams: Misfits, Gigantti, and 123. Misfits have looked the strongest over the six weeks, but they have a history of falling off toward the end of tournaments, so it could have gone any direction.

But now I’ll say the Gigantti vs. Misfits matchup is what will decide it. I could be wrong, and I’d love to be, but I think in that matchup, I’ll give Misfits the edge 60-40.

Going across the pond, does Envy win NA?

Envy without a shadow of a doubt. It’s very hard to contest them. They have so much flexibility, and Effect [Hyeon Kim] is an absolute godly player. But also everyone on Envy supports him very well.

They’ve got set plays, and Kyky [Kyle Souder] is an excellent coach. You really can tell that when Kyky was introduced to the team, they stepped it up massively. They are just a tier above everyone else in playoffs.

One final question. You publicly swear by your Genji, however, there have been many naysayers who doubt you. What’s the deal there?

Listen, you follow me on Twitch. Anybody reading this interview right now, follow me and you can witness the Bren-ji live. And you’re gonna see why Harsha [Bandi], Sideshow, and everyone is absolutely having a giggle—because my Genji owns. Ignore the Twitch clips that might say otherwise, ignore the players that might say otherwise.

When I get into the server and get Genji locked in, that’s when you know it’s going to be an easy +25 SR for everyone on my team. I inspire confidence. When they see me locked into that role, they know we’ve got the business and we’re gonna be winning.