A few months ago I decided to go full time into esports. I had done the math and while I didn't think it was realistic to make tons of money casting StarCraft 2 full time, I had found a potential pathway to break even financially. It was a convenient time where I was quitting my current job as a software developer and was getting a consistent flow of job opportunities. I wasn't going to be saving money but the idea that I could hit break even living in a city like San Francisco was amazing to me. It wasn't a guarantee but it seemed realistic. I loved StarCraft and I loved being a part of this scene so even if I was going to take a ~75% paycut, I wanted to see how far I could go as a commentator.
Some other time I might write up about the experience of being full time. What I learned, what went well, what didn't, and how it compares to a "normal" job. I have a lot of thoughts on all of those things but this post isn't about that. It's about what changed from my original aspirations and why I gave up on my dream of being a full time esports commentator.
Reason 1: Self Confidence
If you've ready any of my prior blogs you'll know I have pretty major self confidence issues when it comes to casting. Some of it I think comes from reasonable sources. The gap between community casters and premier casters is pretty large and there is very little room for gradual development in the scene to jump the gap so it's easy to feel you haven't quite cleared it when your first opportunity is suddenly on the big stage with casters who all have been on there for at least 5 years.
Some of it comes from the mentality I developed to try and improve: everything is my fault. This is the mentality I take when it comes to playing StarCraft and is one I think the community reinforces a lot to non pro players. If you lose for any reason in StarCraft and you're not at the absolute top(often even if you are at the absolute top), then it's because you made a mistake not because of balance or some other factor. I took this stance with my casting very early on because I wanted to improve. "It's never my co-caster's fault, I just am not bringing out the best in them," "production flubbed a transition, I must not have given them a clear enough build in to it", etc. I know logically it's not always true but I'm a person of extremes and I have a really hard time doing balancing acts. I was afraid without this mentality I would become someone that blames others for my mistakes and didn't step up to improve. This mentality is great for improvement but when everything is your fault, you certainly feel like you fail a lot and I definitely don't feel like I get to take full credit for things going well.
As much as I hate to admit it, part of my self confidence issues also come from dealing with people who hate my casting. It's easy to say to get thicker skin, and I used to think I had thick skin. Honestly I really believed I did. I realize now that it wasn't actually the case though. The reason hateful comments and whatnot didn't used to bug me in the past was because no one had ever said anything to me that was worse than my existing opinion of myself. This mentality took me a really long way but I started to realize throughout last year that having 0 self confidence was not a long term solution. Since 2017 I've had mental breakdowns where I've convinced myself I didn't deserve the opportunities I got and would do drastic things like blocking and unblocking all the premier casters on twitter to force them to unfollow me, effectively trying to actively sabotage and destroy things I valued as "punishment". I saw a therapist about this stuff and worked on it a lot throughout last year and this year.
But all of this has been the case for a while. What changed in the past few months?
I think being full time has caused me to stake more of my life into this. There's no excuse of "I'm working with the time I've got" and a lot more concerns about my ability to do well affecting my financial situation. Beyond that, I think my two clearly messed up philosophies mentioned above started to backfire. The "everything is my fault" philosophy wears you down over time and constantly reduces your self confidence when you feel like you're only winning 3 out of 100 battles. The "your words don't bug me because I already have a worse opinion of myself" attitude is so obviously unhealthy but only started to backfire because I realized I actually need to develop some self confidence to become a better host and commentator. I realized though that this defense was an all or nothing defense against criticism and I could only mentally tolerate the hate if I had absolutely zero self confidence or a lot of it. Having only a small amount left me defenseless and this was exacerbated because the comments weren't just from random people. I would find this stuff in various twitch chats or discords being spoken publicly by other casters or players. And that really hurt.
Images of some negative feedback I got removed since their use was being misinterpreted.
This stuff wore on me and in case you haven't noticed, my mind doesn't judge internally based on my successes but rather my mistakes. It's especially hard to see players hate on your casting and I gradually got the impression that many of the European players greatly dislike it and think I'm a pretty terrible commentator. Not to say these comments are wrong or unjustified given I already don't think my commentary is very good, but it hurts to read nonetheless. But that's my problem, not theirs.
I should note I never saw or felt any of this from other casters on the big stage and want to remove any potential speculation that the other casters were trying to edge me out or anything. Every other big stage caster/host has been nothing short of supportive and helpful to me from ZombieGrub, Maynarde, PiG, InControL, Nathanias Artosis, Smix, you name it. My problems came from me and I don't fault players for thinking my casting was bad because it likely came from a place of honesty and I can't be upset with them for that. They know the game far better than I do and if my casting frustrated them or made them feel I was sub-par, they had their reasons for it.
Regardless my self confidence did not hold up and the additional stresses of the past few months made me feel worse about all of it. I will also admit that trying to consistently stream and laddering in StarCraft 6 days a week did not do much to add to my self confidence or lower my stress levels. I've always joked with my friends that the best motivator for me to work out is to have a really bad ladder session because it can make you feel so terrible that working out suddenly looks really appealing as a small semblance of confirmation that you didn't fail at least one thing today. I tried to stay in a positive mood for my streams but things gradually got the better of me.
Reason 2: Family Illness
This section is going to be shorter because I don't want to discuss the details of this too publicly but it's a major and important part of the decision so I wanted to at least address it. A few weeks ago one of my family members was diagnosed with an extremely aggressive form of cancer. I am trying to stay positive but the reality of the situation still drags on my thoughts on a daily basis. Besides having an obvious effect on my mood going into broadcasts or streams, it's made my schedule erratic, needing to take a week at a time off from streaming to help my family take care of them or just to spend time with them in the event that things don't work out. I've already had to turn down multiple paid opportunities due to an overlap with dates on a surgery or other and my stream has gone from being nearly every day to maybe 5 days in the last 17, not to mention I entirely changed my normal stream time so that I could commute 1.5 hours each way to see them 3-5 days a week.
Needless to say, this has a significant impact on my ability to do my job and I was not even able to watch most of WCS Spring because I was in the hospital that whole weekend. My family was still supportive of me pursuing things and were extremely accommodating of my schedule but I value them too much to sacrifice them for some opportunities.
Reason 3: Finances
I have to be somewhat vague on this part because of various NDA's and respect for other commentators. In reality, if it only affected me I would publicly post how much I made for every casting opportunity because I think it would illuminate how tough it is to be a commentator in esports compared to the amount of work you have to put in. I took something close to a 75% pay-cut but still felt I could barely scrape by in full time esports. Unfortunately a combination of reason 2 causing me to turn down some opportunities, not getting as many opportunities as I had originally expected this year, and difficulties with streaming caused my original financial plan to fail.
Much of my financial planning was based on a hope that I would, similar to last year, get the opportunity to be a part of every WCS studio broadcast this year as I had for the entirety of 2018 and all of 2019 up until the end of WCS Winter. As seen in the last season and upcoming season of Challenger, this won't be the case. I had also hoped to negotiate up prices for some of the opportunities I've gotten but things did not work out as I had hoped.
My last hope was that I could consistently stream and grow but as Reasons 1 and 2 began to happen, my stream quality degraded and with it so did my numbers. I was under no illusion of things like sub gifts inflating my subscriber count but even viewership numbers significantly fell and I realized I am simply not that interesting of a person. In order to retain viewership I had to constantly come up with new gimmicks to keep interest outside of a select small group of wonderful people who surprised me every day by showing up.
I still felt for a while that if I could focus on commentating events on my stream I could get by as it was the one place I still felt I had some of my original energy and enthusiasm while not having to be the focus of the stream. Sadly one of my realizations was that while running events does result in higher viewership, financially it is almost always worse for me than a very personal stream. This probably has to do with my commentating style that focuses heavily on the game over chat, having to run some of those events with a delay, etc. but financially it was far easier to justify regular streams over commentating streams.
Lastly, I was planning to move soon due to my current roommate getting married in the near future. Instead of moving somewhere that would not only be cheaper, but possibly provide additional work opportunities in casting, I decided it made more sense to stay close to family for Reason 2, albeit at a large cost. For those not familiar with San Francisco rent, it is not uncommon for a 1 bedroom apartment with a solid internet plan and not in a very shady part of the city to cost an upwards of $3,200 to $4,000 a month. This cost increase was a large blow the financial dream of not losing money every month that I knew I couldn't come back from.
If I'm being honest I'm not entirely sure what the future holds for me. I know I'm going back to doing software development full time and I can safely say that it was never something I quit because I didn't enjoy it. I honestly do love doing it so the fortunate thing for me is that I'm not being forced to go back to a career I hated. As for esports, I still have some obligations to fulfill and I'm going to put in the due time to ensure I still do justice to those respective events. You may see me stream every so often, doing some events like the NA Apprentice or some random team games with other streamers but I will no longer be keeping a regular streaming schedule.
After that, I don't know. Maybe I'll go back to my old life before I went full time and continue to passionately enjoy StarCraft on the side, still trying to improve and indulging in my love for StarCraft esports as I always have. Maybe knowing a full time life is not realistic for me will be a big demotivator, not knowing what I was building up to personally and I'll slowly stop being involved entirely. Maybe I will find something inbetween and embrace how much I enjoyed the North American StarCraft scene in particular and simply focus on that and let the rest of the world handle itself. I’m not gone yet but I do need to figure out where I want to be in the scene now.
Time will tell because right now I can't. I want to thank everyone who helped me on this 3 month experiment as a full time esports commentator and everyone who has supported me in the 8 years I've been a commentator. I especially want to thank ZombieGrub, Maynarde and Olimoley for being my rocks in the scene and hopefully lifelong friends who have dug me out of terrible spots more times than I could count.
And last thanks to the NA Starcraft scene for being a source of genuine joy the past 8 years. At my lowest points the thing that kept me in it and kept me going were things like Cheeseadelphia or Kings of the North. Those were the events that reminded me why I wanted to keep going. It was pure, unadulterated joy in seeing those bright young kids struggle to improve at something they deeply enjoyed, despite the odds being against them and the balancing act they had to pull as students and employees. So many of those guys found their way, their own way to solve problems and embraced what they loved about the game while creating a spectacular atmosphere of fun around their games and the events. I will love my memories of the WCS and IEMs, but to me the ones I'll remember decades from now will be the ones in those little rooms in Philadelphia where my problems seemed to disappear and everyone around me was a friend.
Happy Starcraft'ing everyone.