It’s been over two years since my last blog on TL, but it feels like a lifetime ago. I used to love writing these yearly updates of my life in StarCraft, they are a great way for me to look back on what I had done and put it in perspective, as well as being able to look back on previous years and see how my goals, attitude and myself as a person have developed.
It’s been almost four years since I last wrote an update blog documenting fun experiences with travelling and running tournaments, because the last time I came here to write it was to complain. I was at a very low point of just life in general, with a lot of StarCraft and non-SC stuff going on which was bringing me down. It’s amazing to see what a turning point that was in my life & career, one which I don’t regret going through because it taught me a lot about what I needed to change to get to where I am today. So here I am to ramble on for a bit and to celebrate 10 years of doing what I love.
Turning around from 2019
The lows were always going to hit hard when you put your life into what you love and want to make something out of it. It’s always going to hurt a lot when it feels like it isn’t going well, but perspective really is everything, especially in the roller coaster world which is esports and StarCraft, where not every month is going to be the same. I have a couple people to thank for my complete 180 at the end of 2019 which allowed me to truly push myself as a caster and my stream to a whole new level that I never thought I could reach.
Firstly Helen, my girlfriend, who listened (and still does) to me complain about not getting hired for events and my subs being lower than I want them to be and my YouTube rebelling against the algorithm for some reason or just when I didn’t sleep well, and Twitch chat have pissed me off. She taught me to look at things from someone who isn’t shoulders deep involved in it all, so that I could appreciate my successes a lot more and build on that positivity. Without this I don’t think I’d be working in StarCraft anymore; I think I would have self-destructed and moved on – and even if I was somehow still around, I don’t think I would have been able to change my attitude to have had such a successful past two years.
Secondly, the haters. Some of you were right, repeatedly telling me what parts of my casting suck really made me look at it and fix a lot of glaring problems, especially for larger events, and I became a whole new caster. I know some of you still think I suck and are happy to tell me why, but just know I read why you don’t like me, and I continue to try fixing my problems. However, some of you were fucking wrong and proving you wrong is something that keeps me grinding out stream after stream. These were the people that told me what I was doing couldn’t possibly be my future, that I should consider a “real job” and that I wasn’t cut out for more in SC2. You said I didn’t deserve anything more with SC2. Screw your negativity, I think you guys should be better people.
With a fresh outlook and newfound motivation, I set out at the end of 2019 with a complete change of attitude, I looked at everything with positivity and let that feed into my casting and I don’t think I’ve ever done anything else so important in my life. Being positive meant I could be myself on stream and people would respond well to it and support me because of it, and it just gave me so much energy to put into StarCraft again.
Turning around from what I think of as my 2019 break down truly created what I believe is a whole new era in my career and life.
Some actual cool StarCraft stuff
I appreciate that until now was a lot about me and maybe not a lot about StarCraft specifically which is probably more interesting to a lot of those reading, but I thought it was important for myself to write what I wrote so far, as I like to read back on these blogs and posts years down the line and it wouldn’t be faithful to leave out such an important turning point.
But, STARCRAFT! Well, 2020 was a weird year, we all know it. I started the year already feeling the love – I revamped my YouTube channel and was seeing subscribers and views that I had never known before, creating a whole new revenue stream for me to work with. As mentioned, my casting was positive and renewed and I really felt that was reflected in the viewer numbers. December was always my best month on stream because there aren’t any official events going on, but my numbers just kept growing in January, possibly fuelled by the 3-year ESL Pro Tour deal which was announced on my birthday. I remember being sleep deprived from having to cast late, wake up early to talk to my accountant and go to a singing lesson, but I got home and read the whole thing in my car while bouncing around. It was a great birthday gift – it was just so amazing to hear we had so much guaranteed SC2 ahead of us!
I remember fondly casting an IEM Katowice qualifier with Harstem and we peaked at something ridiculous like 7,000 viewers and in a break Harstem with his ever-wise words told me “Man you’ve finally overtaken BaseTradeTV” and I laughed. No, of course I hadn’t I was just having a good week and had gotten the better matchups and an earlier start for the qualifiers. But he was right, my viewership was consistently up there, and the dynamic had changed where I was no longer having to work around the BTTV schedule, but instead had my own staying power.
It’s a very weird feeling to “beat” your “opposition”, when you don’t think of them as such. Rifkin was always very good to me, giving me a lot of opportunities on his stream which supported me during downswings and allowing me to make some extra cash, while also growing my own stream by being put in front of his viewers. He was always the first to help fix schedules to make sure we never worked over each other, even years before when my stream was insignificant compared to BaseTradeTV. I know he isn’t involved with StarCraft now and is a controversial topic for a lot of people, but he was also a major steppingstone for me to be where I am at now.
Hence it was a strange feeling to be “winning” a war I wasn’t even fighting. But it was a milestone as it was my step up to being the largest(?) community casting channel. Basically, it feels bad to feel good about beating your friend. Rifkin had nothing but support for me when my stream was killing it and he was still working on StarCraft and was nothing but positive for my success.
I accidentally went to Katowice
One of my big complaints about 2019 was that I didn’t get to do a single WCS event, in my eyes it was a major step backward to not be seen as anything but a potential backup when there were visa and travel issues. I still got to work WESG from Ukraine in 2019, as well as the Katowice B stream online, but not getting re-hired by WCS was one of my talking points when I last posted here, upset with where I was at.
Well while my stream was doing well, I never expected to be invited to cast Katowice 2020 as it wouldn’t make sense to go from casting nothing with the WCS circuit officially to casting the championship, and I wasn’t invited. Until the Monday before the event, I woke up around 11am for my midday cast of TLMC and had an email explaining one of the announced talents couldn’t attend the event and they wanted me to replace him. In Katowice. At a world championship? The biggest event of the StarCraft year? I had to read it about three times before I fell over into my door getting out of bed and jumping up and down by myself in my apartment hallway. I think I squealed a little, no shame would squeal again.
So, on Monday I woke up expecting to cast the B stream, by Wednesday I had a flight to Poland and on Saturday I flew to the biggest career opportunity I might ever get. I would have been terrified about lack of time to prepare, but I honestly felt so confident and positive in my casting and had been covering so many events in January and the start of February already that I felt more ready than I had ever been – it was the perfect time for me to show how much I had improved my casting and myself.
Shout out to Harstem who had been casting with me a bunch during my streams, listening to him co-cast with me helped my game knowledge out majorly and allowed me to talk confidently about build orders, meta choices, deviations players like to play from the standard and all the rest. I think I can whole-heartedly say casting with him a bunch is what allowed me to absolutely slay it at Katowice, and I really think I did. I casted my heart out, I brought the hype and I made people laugh. I knew what I was talking about, and I made sure that the viewers knew that. I came out of the event being happier with myself than I had ever been when casting events in the past.
I can honestly say I wish I could cast like that every day, but I do think that with the online (and more recently studio-only) nature of the last year and a half that I haven’t casted to the same level since then. It’s not a weird thing – casting online has a lot of setbacks and is difficult to bring that same feel to a cast with when you’re casting in the same room and chair you cast weekly $100 events from. Things have picked up with travelling to Sweden for studio work, but I don’t know if it’s the shorter days or just the players being online, I still don’t think I shouted and screamed my StarCraft heart out like I did at Katowice 2020.
The Lockdown Grind
Katowice 2020 was one of the first times COVID really influenced our lives, as it led to the cancelling of a crowd in the venue for the tournament, but obviously this was just the beginning of what has become the new normal over the last two years now. About a month after Katowice England went into lockdown and I was stuck in my apartment with nothing to do but to stream StarCraft.
Lockdown wasn’t easy for a lot of reasons, but the one saving grace was that I could work from home and that it turns out if everybody is locked in their houses around the world and there are no other sports or live events happening, online tournaments are probably going to do very well. My stream boomed to insane heights – peaking toward 10,000 viewers at points. It’s again a very weird feeling looking back – there have been times before when I thought “is this my peak?” when things had stagnated and before things picked up again, but when I look back now, I really do think that this was a time in my streaming career that will never be replicated.
You can’t just recreate the situation that happened back then – and I don’t think I could put in the time again as I really went overboard on streaming. A few stats from March-July of 2019, 2020 and 2021 for comparisons of how big this boom in viewership turned out to be:
Stat – 2019 / 2020 / 2021
Time streamed – 407 hours / 858 hours / 678 hours
Avg. Viewers – 950 / 2420 / 1675
Max Viewers – 4.7k / 9.6k / 5.6k
Follows – 4.7k / 24k / 7.8k
For some clarity, we also had a DreamHack during this time period of 2021, which is three weeks of me not streaming properly that wasn’t present during 2020.
24,000 followers are more than 25% of my overall Twitch following – and it happened in five months out of the 8 or 9 years streaming properly on my channel. I think this might be the best stat to really quantify how much my stream grew in this time – and since then my stream has clearly been a lot stronger due to a lot of the support and interest which I garnered throughout that first lockdown period. I’m glad I made the most of it and could be entertainment to so many, as it was probably another major part of streaming career that put me where I am today. There was always going to be a drop off, but to see how much stronger the stream remained after mid 2020 is something I’m still amazed by. I’m glad because a lot of the stress and non-stop work I put on myself in that time really paid out as more than just a “cash in” for the current time, it really was an investment for the future.
The War Chest Team League
It was also during this first lockdown that the War Chest Team League was being grown into what was one of the best tournaments in recent memory (yes, I’m biased, but I know many who agree!) I got contacted by Blizzard for a discussion in March 2020, just after Katowice, to discuss helping to run an online event series throughout the year. They reached out to me for my familiarity with running online events and so they could put the War Chest funds into a fun tournament series without the need for someone at Blizzard to be running it.
Looking back so many of the conversations I had during this were foreshadowing of what was to come. There were frequently additional members of Blizzard in our calls etc so they could follow what was going on, which I later realized was since some of the main people pushing the War Chest Team League event would not still be a part of Blizzard by the time it ended. They wanted others looped in to make sure I still had contacts should I need them once they had left, which is the same reason they wanted me to be running it, so they didn’t have to completely reintroduce somebody as to what was going on and what needed to be done.
Looking back and realizing that they knew this was the final War Chest because they were all moving on from Blizzard, I must commend the SC2 team for creating such an amazing final send off, with the 10-year anniversary event / updates as well as the War Chest Team League itself.
The War Chest Team League was a fantastic idea – but it was the back-up plan. Originally we were going to run a revived version of Shoutcraft Kings - an event that held a very high standard within the community. It was an honour to be considered for something like this, I was so excited to be brought on for the whole event. Eventually it turned out we couldn’t run Shoutcraft Kings because of some behind the scenes issues that I was not involved in, which is where the SC2 team came up with the idea of having casters be team captains of teams they draft, and then they cast their own teams.
It really was fantastic, and I won’t go on as to why as we all know, but it gave us a truly unique event in so many ways and I know a lot of people would love to see the return of the event in some form. I do too, but It’s very difficult to organize and fund. The one thing that bummed me out was that I ended up not being a caster for the event itself – they wanted me to run the whole show so they could spread the love from the War Chest to as many community figures as possible. I was gutted that I wouldn’t get my own team, but it did give me a fascinating opportunity to approach the event as a producer instead of as a caster.
Naturally, I produce my own tournaments, but that is very much so just swapping in-game and out of game and making sure I mute my mic during breaks. This was a whole different level – creating a show with rotating casters, a lot of players and storylines to tell. I had to make others look good, so it was more pressure on me to not screw up. We’ve all been there when production at an event has a slip and as the casters, we look silly telling the audience we have no audio or that we accidentally joined the first game of Maru vs Scarlett 25 minutes in (WESG I’m looking at you.) And these guys were my friends – I really wanted to make sure they could do their job and have fun doing it.
The entire process was unique to me – I had to get contracts signed with the casters due to a Blizzard request and a bundle of other things, as well as handling a large amount of money for payments. This was the largest project I had ever run, and I personally feel like I nailed it, I overcame a lot of hurdles including having to smooth out some behind the scenes caster drama where people didn’t want to cast with each other; figuring out how to provide a program feed for the casters so they could see what was going out to the stream live and more. I look back at this event and think I did a freaking good job. This blog post is just becoming a way to stroke my own ego haha – but it is nice to look back at everything and say, “I really did well!”.
There were more things we could have done – I wish we could have had some video content and more graphics, but there was no budget for this – in fact there wasn’t even a budget for the baseline graphics we had, the logo and everything was just made by (if I remember correctly) Ryan who was leading the SC2 team at the time, in his own free time. He also made the SC2 mod for our draft stream, which made the entire thing way better to follow. Considering the budget issues and Blizzard obviously having a heavy thumb on what I could do, I have no regrets. I was able to slip some cool stuff of my own in such as the picture-in-picture, which involved me using my second PC as a second game screen, so I was observing across two PCs in two different places on the map at the same time, while hitting the buttons to make the PIP show up and fade away at the right times. Honestly if I played SC2 liked I observed in this event I probably would have made it to GM with my Terran…
What a fantastic and unique event. 10/10 would War Chest Team League again.
Being Involved with EVERYTHING
One of the craziest turnarounds of 2020 was probably that I went from not really being involved with events in 2019, to after Katowice I was involved with pretty much every tournament that happened. I was lucky enough to be brought on for all the online DreamHacks as a main-stream caster and I was also notably hired by TSL and ASUS ROG as a main caster as well. These events were all held online, and, in some ways, I think this is probably part of why I was hired – I was clearly someone very used to casting online StarCraft, but when I write it out it almost seems silly. At the end of the day, I guess it made sense with my stream booming and my strong Katowice performance, plus being in Europe means you fit into the main broadcasting times very well, nothing starts crazy early or ends crazy late.
I talked to ZombieGrub about this too because she had a similar feeling, that suddenly we had gone from being hired for one or two events a year at most, to suddenly just being an expectation for tournaments. This was especially true this year when we were hired for all three of the DreamHack Season Finals, which also involved travelling to the studio in Sweden for the broadcasts. I can only say that I’m very appreciative for all the opportunities I’ve been given throughout 2020 and 2021. There is not a lot else for me to add to that – I really don’t expect to be hired for events still so there is always a squirm of excitement and a little dance to myself when I get an email asking me to be talent for an event.
I do want to quickly touch on a couple of things. Firstly – casting this stuff online sucked because people expected you to cast like you’re in the Katowice stadium all the time. I touched on this earlier, but I really do find it difficult to bring such a high level of casting for the bigger events while I’m still at home in my normal chair at my regular PC. It just doesn’t feel the same. I really do feed off energy and that energy comes from the change and the atmosphere of being at events. Usually when I cast at home a good game can still get the hype going and all the rest, but when the games aren’t as great it’s okay to hang out and talk to my chat and chill a bit. But obviously this doesn’t work for DreamHack events.
This on top of some very long days (often 8-9 BO3 of the same caster duo) made the online casting days tough. You’re expected to be professional and on point for such a long period of time, it’s way more difficult than streaming on my own channel and solo casting for ten hours straight. Over the last year we managed to get tournaments to realize that their expectations for us for these online days were too much and we started to get extra casters added in for rotations as well as having some of the days be not ridiculously long; for example, the recent TSL had 8 BO3s per day instead of 8 BO5s per day which is what happened in the first ones. These changes don’t only improve the show for us, it improves the show for the viewers – it’s always better to have a rotation of casters just to change it up on top of us being better at our jobs because we are getting breaks.
The craziest part is that these online days were longer than we work at offline events, but we also get paid less for online. Now overall we do get more days, but those are also more days that we are working and not streaming the entire day. It almost felt like we were missing out by not streaming before then casting 9 BO3s in DreamHack, which is ridiculous, but many of us did this because it almost felt expected as we were at home. It’s a wild comparison to go from going to an event, being brought food and general care from a talent manager, caster 2 or 3 series a day and doing 2 desk segments, vs online where we feel the need to stream for 2-3 hours before joining a discord call for the next 10 hours to cast with max 5-minute breaks.
I think I speak for everyone when I say I hope we see more offline events. I’m sick of the DreamHack format. Every event feels the same and, in my opinion, drags out for way too long, especially to have three times a year. It’s something DreamHack really need to fix for next year in my eyes if they need to continue with online events to some degree.
Travelling during COVID
I’m on track to write as much here as I did in my final report for my Masters, so I will start to close out with a couple final things I want to talk about. Firstly – travelling during COVID is quite wild. I’m sure a lot of people have some experience with this now to some extent, but I thought I would share my experiences. I did the same trip three times over the last six months (to Stockholm, Sweden for the Season Finals for around a week.) Going to Sweden itself was very interesting has they had no mask mandates, compared to England where we still had to wear a mask everywhere indoors. I did feel weirdly nervous about walking around without one on, I almost felt like someone was going to shout at me when I first took it off in the hotel and even by the end of my third trip to Sweden, I took my mask with me every single day everywhere I went, just in case!
A lot of the weirdness with travelling was the testing and knowing the rules. I probably spent 5 hours trying to truly figure out what I had to do to travel to Sweden, as the government website pointed to another page which led to another which pointed to the Swedish advice page which was an essay in itself – and being a bit anxious about getting there and being told to go home I re-read it all about 4 times.
Each time I travelled was a different experience. The first time I travelled there were so few flights that I had to have a 6–8-hour layover both going to and from Sweden. At first, I thought ESL had just gotten me crap flights, but there was only one flight from my local airport to London per day, compared to the usual 5-10 depending on the day. London Heathrow was dead – there was only one restaurant/bar open, which I sat it for 5 hours, and a lot of the shops were shut. There was only one board of departures compared to the usually 8 or 9 and people were sparse. It was funny to see all the caution of keeping people separate, only to cram us onto a plane sat next to each other for a couple hours. No social distancing or money lost there.
To travel I had to have a test within 48 hours of arrival. To return home I also had to do FOUR?! tests – one to travel home and three once I was home during my 10-day self-isolation. Honestly just completely ridiculous – it cost me more in COVID tests to go and come home than my flight did (almost twice as much.) It really made me question how much of this might have been a bit of a cash grab. Thankfully for future trips the testing restrictions were lowered a bit, I only had to test one time once I was home and once to travel there and home, and on my final visit I was able to travel purely on my vaccination.
It was weird to be dependent on a test result to travel – I was very anxious that my test would come back positive and that I would suddenly lose an entire week of work and I would have to stay home with nothing to do and no work to do. Plus, I would have COVID, which I’m sure would also suck. But it never properly felt like I was going to travel until the night before I flew when my test result came back at 11pm, then I would finally get to packing.
Talking about being anxious - the second time I travelled I got stopped when I arrived at Sweden at border control and had to sit and wait for 30 minutes for a higher-up officer to look at my case for entering the country. The combination of COVID and Brexit meant that they weren’t convinced I was allowed into Sweden, despite having an invite letter from DreamHack, a Swedish company, and having travelled just two months prior. It was a nerve-wracking wait without my passport and without being allowed on my phone and having been told I should have contacted immigration before I flew, only for when someone finally came to get me to read my stuff, have a quick one-minute phone call and to send me through into Sweden. At least I didn’t have to wait at the baggage belt for my luggage, it was waiting for me!
Sweden itself was great, it was fantastic to be back with friends and casting in person and just having a good time. I’m thankful for these trips, they really reminded me of my love for travelling and that hanging out with my StarCraft family is some of my favourite times. I’m already writing an essay here, but it was great to have a break from the routine of streaming every day and being stuck in the house not being able to go anywhere. I don’t have any specifically interesting stories; it was just a good time that everybody enjoyed.
And here we are
It’s been a weird couple of years. I didn’t really talk about the last six months outside of travelling to Sweden, because a lot of it has just been having a successful stream and things continuing as they did in 2020, which is maybe why I never thought about writing this blog until I was talking about it on stream a few days ago. It feels as though this is just the normal now and has been for a long time, though it hasn’t even been two years. Perhaps why writing this is important, because it’s really made me think about the differences and again what I have achieved and how far I have come.
In my personal life me and my girlfriend bought a house (thank you crazy good COVID year for allowing us to put together a great deposit to get a house we love) in February, and we moved in May. There was a lot of work around that, and it’s been a stressful year, as we also added our puppy Ellie into the mix in late-August. I’ve done my best to just get on with my stream and work while all of this was going on and there have been ups and downs, but for the most part I’ve been able to just keep on going with the content and doing what I can. I’m trying to find a bit more balance in my life now I live with Helen & Ellie, so that I don’t spend every living moment casting, especially because Helen works at regular hours compared to me working in the evenings, so I’ve been trying to take a little more time off on weekday evenings and on the weekends.
There are a lot of things I didn’t write about; sponsors and the growth of my tournaments; trying to be a positive force in SC2 when the community is feeling let down by Blizzard; hopes for a balance patch and the future of RTS in Frost Giant & other games / companies. But as we closed in on 6,000 words, I think it’s just a testament as to how much I did in the last two years.
In the past I probably wrote about having to taking every chance I can get and stream every qualifier of every tournament and stay up until 5am because there is a North American event on and all the rest of it, because how else would you break through. For the first time in my StarCraft career, I finally feel like I have the luxury and safety to take some time for myself and to reset and to just produce better content, instead of more content. I say this as I still stream most days, but I do have some breaks and to me that’s a big step! I’ve always preached consistency and told people I didn’t need to chill out and take time for myself because I love what I do; but there is more to life than your job, even if you do love it and want to breathe StarCraft 2 in every moment.
I can genuinely say I’m so happy with my life & I’m so proud of how far I have come and what I have been able to make for myself, from accidentally making a StarCraft practice group to making a life that I still can’t believe I’m living. I’ve spent over a year of my life online on my own stream and who knows how much on other streams, or in-game PMing people to join my tournaments or working as an admin for an event. I’m living my dream and I’ve done everything I set out to do and more. That doesn’t mean I’m stopping; it just means I can slow down a little and truly enjoy it while it lasts.
Thank you everyone for reading or skimming through, take care of yourselves and keep on enjoying the best game in the world, StarCraft 2. See you on stream 😊
I will add some photos over the next couple days as well <3