In e-sports, the biggest names aren’t always the players. As might be expected of a medium becoming increasingly spectator-friendly, some of the most well-known personalities in electronic sports entertainment are those behind the in-game cameras, and in front of the real life ones.
Casters and presenters have an important role in e-sports as it begins to carve out a path between sports and performance. As a result of their considerable screen time, and the almost unfettered access fans have to their lives, these front of house faces are fast becoming the main ambition of those watching the streams. We spoke to two of League of Legends’ most familiar faces to find out how they made their way to the big screen, and what Riot are looking for in the next generation.
Eefje ‘Sjokz’ Depoortere is Riot’s leading lady. As host of the EU LCS and on-stage interviewer at major events, her on-camera appearance makes her more recognisable than casters who spend much of the match obscured by the ongoing gameplay. Having been with the team for four seasons now, Sjokz has an air of confidence about her, and the sort of effortless interview manner that makes it easy to slip into conversation. Whether that conversation happens to be in a concrete packing shed behind Wembley arena or on stage in front of countless thousands watching in the crowd and at home. But this wasn’t always the plan for Depoortere, who had more traditional aims.
“I originally wanted to be a sports writer,” Sjokz tells us. “I always loved football, cycling, tennis, all that, and I actually went to journalism school after doing my Masters in History and really wanted to do that. But I somehow got sidetracked after college and I had, what I think a lot of people have when they leave university which is that they don't know what to do.”
The recession in Europe makes this a common story, young professionals with high qualifications languishing as opportunities are few and far between. So she fell back on an old hobby of games, having previously been on Belgium’s Eurocup-winning Unreal Tournament team, and found League of Legends, which as any recent graduate might know is an excellent time sink. Having played for a long time, she accidentally tuned into an IEM broadcast in which CLG were playing and realised that this scene had literally everything she was passionate about doing within one industry, and applied to be a reporter for SK Gaming.
“I was terrified of growing up, I was terrified of the life after college,” Sjokz admits. “If you think about it, it's pretty ideal, your parents pay for a lot, you have a side job, you have to study really hard but actually only at certain times of the year, so you have good amounts of freedom. And I was just really afraid of doing something that I didn't enjoy doing and the only things I really liked were playing video games and watching sports, so I felt really lucky.”
After that, it was a case of getting the work done, and getting noticed. The latter came as Sjokz was part of The Summoner’s Recap YouTube show and was eventually invited to join Travis Gafford on a new community talk show ‘Whose League is it anyway?’ in 2012. Now she is at the forefront of the EU’s LCS coverage, leading the analyst's desk – sort of a multiway interview, a journalist’s bread and butter – and more recently, taking on the “retirement interview” of former TSM top-laner Dyrus, something of a career highlight for Sjokz.
“My growth over the last three years, I've been really happy with the way things have been going,” she says. “I don't think that when I was 16, obviously I didn't see myself as hosting this huge esports game, I wouldn't have dreamt of that, but I always wanted to be involved in journalism and sports and well, that's e-sports.”
For a lot of e-sports fanatics, the route into the game seems pretty closed off if they lack the prerequisite reflex times to become a pro, or seeming good fortune to wind up with a shot at hosting or casting games. But from someone on the inside, good fortune sounds a lot like hard graft.
“It was 2012, the scene was very different,” Trevor ‘Quickshot’ Henry tells us. “The weekly broadcast of LCS was not around and even then competitions were still primarily based in exhibitions and big LANs, so big marquee events a couple of times a year. So I got involved by looking at places where there were not big events and saying ‘this is where I can create some content’ and maybe try to fill in some gaps.”
Quickshot is one of the primary play-by-play casters working for Riot today, commentating on LCS games in Europe. Again, a previous background on the player side of e-sports helped him, reaching LAN status with a Call of Duty 4 team from his native South Africa before moving into League of Legends.
After playing for some time, he decided to get serious about wanting to cast games by treating it as a job. “When you're applying for a gig, if you don't have artwork to fall back on to show people, you're not going to get that job,” he told us. “So long story short is actually shoutcast if you want to be a shoutcaster.”
For him, in 2012, this was as easy as finding the games that weren’t being casted by Riot’s then-limited staff. Go4 weekly cups were the order of the day, and he would set regularly scheduled days he would cast, as well as creating ‘hooks’ for people to increase the attach rate of his shows. For Quickshot, an avid Star Wars fan who enthused at length about his time spent at this summer’s Secret Cinema event in London, this consisted of wearing Star Wars clothes ‘as a sort of uniform’ and, of course, his trademark South African accent.