Why esports needs two hosts for big events
In the beginning there were no casters. No hosts, no analysts, no interviewers, side-line reporters, panel members, observers, desks or stages. This was esports in 2002. In fifteen short years, we’ve come to expect all of these job roles to be filled by highly professional talent members at every single tournament, no matter the size of stadium or LAN hall.
In 2005, a small collection of budding shoutcasters (as we were known back then) from Radio iTG (one of the two main studios in esports at the time) headed to one of the most prestigious esports events of the year, Quakecon 2005. In that year, the event was held in the exhibition hall of the incredible Gaylord Texan Resort Hotel in Grapevine, Texas. Those early pioneers included Marcus “djWHEAT” Graham, Alison “Trillian” Suttles, Stuart “TosspoT” Saw, Darren “Lun” Webber and our production maestro for the weekend (the only one!) Chad “Blankz” Budd. And me, heading, for the first time in my life to a North American esports event.
We all paid our own way to the event, as in, those of us like Stuart and I, paid for our rather expensive, middle of August flights from London to Dallas, costing around £800 each. We also had to pay for the hotels, which Marcus kindly covered a couple of rooms for us to share. Though, we arrived a couple of days ahead of our check in date, so Darren (sadly, killed in a motorbike accident less than a year later) kindly put some of us up in his house for a couple of nights. Chad also ran the chauffer service, picking us up from the airport. There were no shuttles, talent managers or anything resembling a welcoming committee other than the kindness of our own group.
We were given a small spot on the Intel stand, to setup a PC and some small broadcasting equipment and a pair of us at a time would stand next to the table where our equipment was set up and cast the games from Quakecon. On this occasion, Quake 2, Quake 3 and Doom 3. We’d take it in turns to stand up there and cast in pairs, while the other shot off and collected interviews where we could. The main broadcast went out on internet radio and to the small and slightly bemused audience crowded around the Intel stand. At this stage, the match audio went absolutely nowhere near the main stage in the other hall and that area was certainly off limits to any of our shoutcast team. Our audience on site reached about 50 or so people over the course of the day and while Intel were kind enough to donate some space, I remember thinking: “They have no idea what the hell we are doing here”.
The idea behind our attendance wasn’t a vanity exercise, though we were all nerds who loved Quake and wanted to be part of the experience. Our job was to show the people running Quakecon and Intel for that matter, that we, as casters could bring excitement and entertainment to their venue by commentating the tournament matches. That we would, over time, help bring more people to the venue and the trade stands and grow an online viewership for those not able to get to the event by doing what we did best: cast the matches. That in the future, if they wanted us, they would have to pay our flights and hotels. God forbid at some point in the future we would actually earn any pay for the week we worked.
I guess, if you weren’t around back then and perhaps only found esports in the last few years, this will sound rather incredible, almost unrealistic and incomprehensible. But that’s how many tournaments began using talent. It should go without saying too, we were paid absolutely nothing and indeed even struggled to get enough free tickets for everyone to get in!
Imagine for example, the CS:GO Major in Krakow having no live commentary for the attending audience or anyone watching around the world and instead, you heard about the results of the matches on Twitter. On Monday. Sure, there were websites around like ESReality reporting back scores and so on, but they mostly relied on players or us to give them that information! Most of the early esports galleries are from me or Michal “Carmac” Blicharz as we were just two of a handful of people who even owned a camera! And we had no social media back then either, just mIRC to spread the word.
I explain all of this to help put in context something that I have been thinking about for a little while now and to help people understand I make this statement not because I am ungrateful of my fortunate position (doing something I love) or that I am mistreated in some way, but because like all the steps we have taken in esports since those early days, we need to make progress. Progress comes painfully sometimes, by raising difficult questions or by taking a hard look at ourselves and our industry. By examining our relationships and work practices. But, never the less, just because it might be difficult or invite ridicule from those who believe (wrongly) that we are behaving like spoiled brats, it is right to ask questions, reach for change and challenge accepted norms.
In more recent years I’ve seen others working to improve our industry, James “2GD” Harding, Auguste “Semmler” Massonnat, David “LD” Gorman, Scott “SirScoots” Smith and Henry “HenryG” Greer (to name but a few). All of them greatly helping to improve industry standards, pay and conditions.
Even as we began doing more events in 2006 and 2007, it was rare to have more than a few casters attend each event to do the entire tournament. Often leading to incredibly long days for all concerned. In fact, I remember one acute case where the tournament for Quake 4 began at 11am on Saturday and was still going at 7am the following morning, all casted by one person the entire time. While that is certainly an outlier, there were often 12 to 15 hour days for those delivering on-camera duties at every event and often even longer for those delivering production.
And don’t think this is something that happened a few years ago, I racked up 93 hours at the recent CSGO Major in 7 days. It has not been uncommon to complete 13-18 hour days in many of the tournaments held this year.
Casters in recent years have fought hard to ensure they aren’t subjected to these kind of hours. It’s unusual for less than three pairs to be hired for big events today and in doing so, they are able to stagger their call times and reduce the workload to a sensible set of matches not usually going past 8 hours and often even less. This allows the talent to deliver an optimum experience, avoid burning themselves out and ensures high quality production and broadcasts. Ultimately, the fan at home benefits with casters no longer tired beyond comprehension after multiple 15+ hour days.
More recently, thanks to ESL and PGL in particular, analysts are now common place among the broadcast team and can rotate in and out of the show. Again, improving the experience for everyone watching and those contributing to the show. No longer do we have the same two people looking like zombies on day 3 of a long tournament having completed 15 hours in consecutive days. Even observers have rotations now often between two or three people at each event. Gone are the days of Josh Nissan or Alexandre “FunKa” Verrier sat in a hot stuffy office for 15 hours on their own.
So I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest we have rotating desk hosts at big events. It’s not very common, though Sheever kindly took over the last game of the night for me at the DAC tournament earlier this year and even saving me a few hours a night made a huge difference to my mental state and sleep pattern such that I believe the show was better for it.
My original tweet about the subject (coming on day one of the major) was, in hindsight, rather ill-timed and I wasn’t looking for sympathy or wanting anyone to give PGL a hard time about it. In fact, it wasn’t even related to the event (other than pointing out the long hours) itself.
Nor was I complaining about the lack of a second host at the event, just that it was a subject I’d been thinking about for a while and that we should discuss it more. Indeed, SirScoots offered to step in for me if I was feeling fatigued, so that wasn’t the issue at the time of the tweet. Nor was the fact that I may have looked a little pale on the first few days (I’m fucking British, of course I’m fucking pale!) related to anything other than some bright lights and some light make up, which we fixed.
I also heard people saying we should be grateful we don’t have to work the hours of the production team and trust me when I say this (having been part of that production team on many occasions) I am. I have a tremendous amount of respect for the work put in by production crews, often finding themselves in the venue an hour or two ahead of talent and staying behind after the show ends for an hour or two. They can easily rack up significant hours during an event. I estimated for example that PGL production staff likely completed more than 120 hours of work in 7 days at the major. And that doesn’t even take in to account all the prep work leading up to the event which they started on months before and worked on continuously leading up to it.
It’s not unreasonable to say we should be looking at their hours too and just because I raised the issue of one host covering the entire event not being enough, doesn’t belittle production staff or make their case any lesser. Ridiculous hours for talent or production lead to mistakes and mistakes cost money, time and reputation. I hope to see a place in the future where there are different teams of people to cover production roles too. Progress.
I don’t expect everyone to understand the host role or be able to empathise as a result. But I will admit, that while I love the job, the hours can be insane, the stress involved in staying focused for long days over an extended period put a lot of pressure on you and there are a lot of moving parts you have to be able to cope with during the show. You’re constantly listening to your panellists, while trying to feed the great questions, following the producer in your ear, wrestling with time and a show rundown with parts to throw to, bringing in videos and interviews, adapting to changes and issues on the fly, introducing graphics you might never have seen and appearing to the viewer that it was totally planned, helping the conversation flow seamlessly from one part to the next and then when you aren’t on camera, taking in the match, watching every round and trying to eat and drink occasionally. Overall, my job is to make sure you are guided through the show seamlessly and without drama (other than that coming from the matches!). It might not sound much and it’s not laying concrete for sure, but it is very stressful and tiring.
And for those saying I get a break during the matches, no. Yes ok, I get to sit and watch the match, so from that point of view I’m sitting down, sure! But I’m not resting, I’m watching, taking notes, building narratives for the analysts to discuss when we come back after the match, discussing the other parts with the producer, updating stats and rundown points, doing signing sessions or photo sessions or press interviews (as part of our job). While there is no doubt that production have to stay focused at all times and mistakes can lead to people being fired, on-screen talent have that threat too and face public backlash at the smallest of mistakes. Some mistakes can (as we have seen in the past) be career ending.
I don’t accept the premise that I am out getting smashed out of my brains on alcohol either. I have a very good work ethic and in the main I avoid any alcohol (or dancing!) until the end of the event. I need to stay sharp and focused and that means getting enough sleep, which usually by the end of the day is the only thing left to do in any case!
I’ll also say that I feel a sense of pride in what I do and that extends to ensuring I do the job I’ve been hired for. If an event has hired me, I want to ensure I host the show for them, not whine on day two about the hours and ask for a replacement to step in, even if, like Scoots, there is one to do so. That’s a personal feeling of responsibility to the role. I’d feel like I was letting people down if I asked for a break.
Then there is ego. Something Scoots said to me rang true when we discussed the idea of two hosts. We all have egos and part of that ego is believing we can do the job better than someone else, so it’s hard to admit for us that actually we should have two hosts for a show. It’s like Scoots said “we entrust our baby to someone else” and that’s hard.
This is absolutely not about money either. In fact a few of us hosts have already discussed lowering our rates should we be able to do a joint hosting event.
Ultimately, we need to persuade the organisers and publishers that having two hosts becomes the norm (much like in Olympic broadcasting for example) and I’d personally welcome the chance to prove this can be a better road for everyone should the opportunity arise, not least that the fans get two hosts for the event!
There is no need to grab the pitchforks and complain to the organisers just yet either, we’ve hardly spoken to them or discussed two host setups, which, yes, will cost more. It won’t however cost more than extending tournaments to extra days which also means additional costs of renting arenas, production kit, people and so on. It seems wholly unreasonable to do so too, especially as players are now happier than they have ever been with schedules of matches. No longer those days of playing 7 back to back matches…
It’s not a big deal having two hosts, it’s just that having one do everything has become the norm and it’s important to challenge norms. That’s down to those who do the job and not (despite the support) a reddit thread demonising organisers.
I firmly believe that the show would benefit from having two hosts and I’ll work with other hosts and organisers to make that a reality.