I’ve always found comfort in reading other people’s esports tales.

Like from Blitz, or Capitalist, or Khezu, or LD, or ppd, or Envy, or Envy, or Envy, or the original (now deleted) B L O G B O Y himself, Fluff. So often do you only see the successes of people, but I think esports is rare in how intimately many personalities will also share with you their toils. These blogs aren’t just worthwhile for their historical significance, but they also give perspective for the people who are looking to follow their same path.

Nearly everyone at TI7 told me this next year is going to be straight milk and honey for casters like me. Tons of events, an obscene number of qualifiers, and an official “structure” defined by Valve to boot. A chance to take this voice on the road. Assuming that’s all true, though, there will also be many, many, ambitious casters looking for their first breaks in the coming months. Now I’ve never been much of a blog guy myself, which is strange seeing as how I enjoy writing and am also painfully narcissistic. But I never review my Amazon purchases and I always ignore the extra $0.90 Google Opinion Rewards would give me to rate a restaurant, so I guess it’s only fitting I let Dota be the one aspect of my life where I’m not a leech on society.

Cold Open

Around two years ago, I half-ironically half-seriously did commentary for a small inhouse league created by the NeoGAF forum’s Dota threadgoers. This was back when Valve used to add free tickets in the game for any rando who wanted one, so things actually felt legitimate. Have my voice be permanently downloadable in Dota? Sure, I’ll cast.

The main goal of my stream was just to put on an entertaining show for the fifty or so players who were in the league. All-chat trash talking, Mountain Dew and Doritos overlays, I even had each captain in the grand finals voice parody player profiles, complete with royalty free stock footage and Hypatia Sans subtitles. That was the ironic part. The serious part was that I actually enjoyed doing the casting.

Year Zero

I wasn’t a completely unknown quantity at the time. Analytical writing background, two semi-active YouTube channels, literally thousands of… Reddit karma. Surely I could land a co-cast for random professional series, right? Yeah, no. I won’t lie and say I exhausted every single possibility, but I contacted quite a few people over the course of a few months and ended up with zero responses. Well damn, I guess I didn’t want to cast that bad anyway.

In January 2016, scantzor wrote an article describing the pitfalls and roadblocks for anyone trying to ‘make it’ in Dota titled Pernicious Power Dynamics in Dota 2. Much of it remains relevant almost two years later, but it was the candidness of the Talent section that struck a chord with me when I read it. I knew scant was aware of my existence from my writing days, so I decided to do something radically out of character and send a private message of appreciation to another content creator. Here’s a lesson I’ve learned that I’m still bad at adhering to: Did you enjoy something that someone did on the internet? You should find a way to tell that person.

I sent scant a DM on Twitter expressing my regard for his writing and mentioned how the article resonated with me and my own casting woes. He replied with a mutual respect for my work and offered to speak with Llama, if I was interested, to help me get a foot in the door co-casting. You’d have to have your finger pretty far off the pulse to not be aware of how Llama was perceived in the community, but I couldn’t care less. Someone finally said that they would let me cast actual games with them. Unfortunately, the wheels moved way faster than I was expecting and since I was exceptionally busy with my real life job at that moment, plans to cast together fell through.

The following months of 2016 were mostly quiet from me. I was mainly doing YouTube out of guilt to loyal viewers who were begging to know how to counter heroes like Spectre (incidentally, my second favorite ‘Dealing with…’ after Alchemist), streaming on Twitch was an exercise in frustration with constant ISP issues, and I was starting to have more responsibilities with my actual job. I was falling out of love with the scene. I decided to attend my first International with TI6 as a sort of swan song to Dota for myself. Half the reason I made Dealing with Timbersaw was to show my face at the end so supporters of the channel could find me in person at TI and ask why I had forsaken them.

I wanted to go to Seattle to watch Dota on a huge screen, meet a few internet friends and personalities IRL, and maybe, just maybe, get recognized by a fan or two. Recently, Nahaz made an interesting aside on an episode of The Fiend where he stated that if he were to start taking a full-time esports career more seriously, a self-funded trip to TI would be seen as more pleasure than business. Now it’s entirely possible that at Nahaz’s level that’s true, but in my experience I’ve found it to be the complete opposite.

The International 2016 – Aug. 8-13, 2016

Anyone who enjoys watching competitive Dota should really make an effort to attend a Dota LAN once. For anyone who enjoys watching competitive Dota and is trying to make it as a personality in this scene, that LAN should probably be The International. TI is the yearly DotaCon. Anyone who’s anyone is there. And if you’re not anyone, this is the best place to become someone.

Early during the midweek of TI6, I met Llama personally for the first time and a few nights later she thought it wise to introduce me to Lyrical. I feel like I’m underselling the significance of these encounters when I say it like that, but I probably wouldn’t be writing this blog right now if I didn’t meet these people.

To me, the word ‘networking’ has always painted this dubious, corporate image of smiling people shaking hands and small talking while figuring out how to use one another. It turns out it is smiling people shaking hands and small talking while figuring out how to use one another, but not necessarily in a bad way. Networking is basically just speed dating for professional interests.

There is absolutely a degree of shamelessness to it. Would you speak to this person if you didn’t think they had any potential to better your career? If the answer is an unrepentant no, it’s usually pretty transparent and ppd may throw you in the trash.

If the answer is yes, then your motive isn’t really relevant. Did you enjoy something that someone did on the internet? You should find a way to tell that person. Congratulations, you just networked. If you enjoyed speaking to someone, chances are you would probably like working with them too. If you’re lucky, the feeling is mutual.

Again, I did not really have ‘business’ on the mind throughout the trip, so I wasn’t actively shopping myself around. But I knew of Lyrical’s recent ascent from online caster to showing up to a handful of BTS hubs, so I was more than happy to meet him to congratulate him on that. Llama explained that I had been looking for shoutcasters to work with, I was like ‘Oh yeah, I guess I am,’ and Lyrical does roughly a thousand casts a week so he seemed content to add some random analyst with no casting experience to his stable.

We added each other on Steam and I thought to myself, “What a nice guy. This probably won’t go anywhere.”

I was half right.

Year One – Sep. 21, 2016

I have meticulously catalogued every competitive cast I’ve ever taken part in. My first was iG vs. LFY - Loser’s Bracket Round 2 - Mars Dota 2 League 2016 Autumn - China Qualifiers - Sept. 21, 2016. Real teams with real players qualifying for a real tournament broadcasted on a real channel. This was the promised land.

Once upon a time, I thought this cast was pretty good.

Starts at 17m20s

Listening to it now feels like some /r/blunderyears type shit.

Despite my best self-sabotaging efforts over the past year, the casting ball actually began rolling with Lyrical. For the next few weeks I would religiously listen to VoDs during my hour commute and pick out things to work on for the next cast. Pay more attention to item pickups. Stop using ‘I mean’ so much as a segue. Be less wishy-washy when making statements about the game, give an analysis and own it. Lumi emerged from hibernation and he and I reunited as casting partners. I got a new angle on how I work with a different play-by-play commentator. Use pronouns less frequently, they can be confusing. Get better at teamfight recapping. ‘Yes, and…’ don’t just agree and stop talking.

These notes were always secondary to providing consistent analysis, though. Always. Not just because that’s… my role. But because you only get so many mistakes as an analyst before credibility starts slipping out of your hands. It’s even more dangerous when you have minimal credibility to start with. Sure, I had howdoiplay and my Relax You’re Fine videos, but what is that worth when compared to a FORMER PROFESSIONAL PLAYER. There was this spirited discussion taking place when TI7 talent invites came out about how all these wise pro players with no broadcast experience were poised to start blessing the masses with their boundless insight and our current crop of dumbasses were finally on the chopping block. This would be intimidating to me if a majority of the current analyst roster wasn’t already composed of ex-pros or semi-pros like Blitz, Draskyl, Fogged, Godz, Merlini, Purge, Synderen, or Winter.

When you don’t have that buffer of, “Well, they’re a pro,” then everything you say will be held under a microscope. I won’t pretend that Lumi hasn’t made some questionable mechanical, analytical, and grammatical claims over the years, but I do find his permanent pariah status in the minds of some people in the community to be unreasonably aggressive. Synderen spent a good portion of one main stage TI7 match theorycrafting why Arc Warden’s Tempest Double didn’t behave like an illusion for certain spells. Did I start frothing at the mouth because of this grievous indiscretion? No. Synd is bae and all casters make mistakes. Also, my doctor told me no more mouth frothing. But if Lumi was spouting that gibberish, I can already imagine what /r/dota2/rising would have looked like. Yeah not /new/, it would have been /rising/ for sure.

I’m not going to fish here, I myself have enjoyed a very positive reception for my casting on Reddit since day one (literally). My writing and YouTube projects were always well-received on Reddit, but casters especially live and die based off this kind of recognition. On the flip side, commentary has also awarded me my first detractors with some real teeth.

Shot

It's like high school debate class all over again

I imagine that’s because people who didn’t like my other work weren’t obligated to pay attention to me. With casting, people who don’t like you are mostly forced to pay attention to you and they will not be happy about it and they will share with everyone that they are not happy about it. The worst part is that much of the ‘criticism’ is rarely ever constructive. Viewers don’t care why they don’t like you, they just know they don’t like you. The rest is your problem. You’ll notice in a few of those Reddit threads how I tried to reach out to people for any critiques whatsoever. I think I got a grand total of two PMs. Both of them were from very nice people telling me I was doing a great job. I do love preaching to my own choir, but I would also like to improve the sermons.

Even other casters are cagey with their criticism when requested. I don’t know why. Maybe they’re afraid of hurting your feelings. Me? I don’t care about your feelings. It’s stupid how difficult it is for newcomer casters to get legitimate feedback from trusted sources, so I want to be the change I wish to see in the world. If you think you’ve hit a wall with improvement, then you can email your best/favorite cast (play-by-play or analytical) to me at feedback@howdoiplay.com and I will tell you why it sucked. There is no deadline on this offer, so I would like you to take advantage of this only once you are convinced you don’t know what you’re doing wrong.

WESG 2016 Asia Pacific Finals – Nov. 9-12, 2016

After steady grinding for one whole whopping month, it was clearly time to get mine. Historically, Summit events had given lesser known community members a chance to work at a higher level, so I figured The Summit 6 would be an ideal event for me to step up. A year prior, I had asked Kpoptosis if there was any way I could show up to The Summit 4 as a content creator in a Flax/Slacks type capacity, but unsurprisingly I didn’t make the cut. I was given a similar response by Blaze when I asked to show up to TS6. Worth a shot.

However, either due to that request or the fact that I was regularly casting Dota on the BTS channel, LD knew who I was and asked me if I’d be available to commentate the WESG 2016 APAC Finals from their LA studio. If you have no idea this happened, I don’t blame you. It was just me, Lyrical, and Eosin, working from like 8:00p-6:00a PST casting teams you’ve probably have never heard of. I didn’t mind, I was at the BTS studio. The BTS studio. From the internet.

Studio

bts_irl

Barring some day one issues, StarLadder kept the matches running smoothly throughout the tournament and I was savoring the experience of getting to cast games live in-person. Due to the weird hours, though, it really was just us three at the studio every night. By the end of the fourth and final day, I was pretty disappointed that I didn’t really get to interact with any BTS members aside from the ever-attentive Grace who would check in on us to make sure we didn’t set fire to the place or kill each other. The production crew were knee deep in preparations for The Summit 6, so I asked LD if I could get a later flight to possibly help out.

Even though my workplace wasn’t too pleased that I suddenly extended my impromptu vacation, I’m still very glad I got to stay those extra days. Not just because I was able to confirm that BTS did, in fact, have a staff, but it was rare opportunity to see what happens behind the curtain of an esports event. The logistics that go into equipment preparations, network infrastructure, schedule coordination, content production, sponsor arrangements, set design, lighting, hospitality, and nerd-proofing a house.

I was satisfied with my first live commentary experience, seeing BTS in their pre-production element was educational, and I randomly ended up getting to spend half a day with Merlini at the DMV. I can’t wait for something like this to happen again.

Practice – Nov. 2016-Mar. 2017

Turns out I could wait. Momentum in esports shifts like the tides and the water was definitely out for these few months. Here, I’d like to stress the value of social media in this industry. I originally created my Twitter when I was with Team eHug because I needed some central place to attribute my work to. Since then, Twitter has quietly climbed up my Chrome’s New Tab ranks and is now my most frequently visited site, beating out Reddit. Sure, it’s an easy way to make yourself more known and Dota Twitter is a very amusing time waster, but it can also be surprisingly useful at times. You want to know how I got to cast with Capitalist for the DAC 2017 EU Qualifier Finals?

That’s about as good of an invitation as you could ever get to cold call a caster. I had never spoken to Cap before, although I did once commiserate with him on Twitter, but being that I was pretty much his only readily available choice at the last moment, he took me on.

A month before this, BreakyCPK had sent out a generic ping requesting a co-caster for some random match and I happened to be awake at the time. Even though I never followed the game, I was familiar with his HoN pedigree and was psyched to get the chance to work with someone so experienced. In a few short weeks, he had become one of my three most frequent casting partners.

The moral of the story is if you waste your entire day on your computer instead of being a social human being, you too can luck into esports opportunities.

Kiev Major Regional Qualifiers – CIS Region – Mar. 10-11, 2017

BTS released the talent invites for their Kiev Hub in early March and once I scrolled through it a few times to verify I wasn’t on it, I figured I’d be on sabbatical for the next few weeks. Then around 72 hours before the qualifiers were set to begin, I learned that being invited to a Hub and being given qualifier games to cast are not mutually exclusive. Valve/PGL had assigned me 12 matches of the CIS region’s group stage to cast over two days. Officially. By myself. At home.

O-okay. No problem. I’d done this before… for 50 people with no stakes, but whatever. It wasn’t so much the solo casting that had me concerned, but the fact that I couldn’t guarantee that my internet connection would stay stable. I was still streaming every once in a while on Twitch recreationally, but any of my viewers would quickly tell you that my connection is frustratingly unreliable. In the limited time I had, I tried taking a few precautions. I called Comcast to see if they could fix any routing (they didn’t), I updated the firmware on my router (did nothing), I even went and added some tiny moving embers to the static production asset we were provided.

This wasn’t just for the #productionvalue, but to help me notice how bad frame drops may be between games as I watched the delayed stream on my laptop. The rest of the show came from experience, so here’s a quick rundown on how to not suck at broadcasting Dota:

  1. Get a good microphone

    If you are even remotely serious about any sort of content production that involves your voice, get a real microphone. I use a pretty entry level Audio Technica ATR2100-USB. If you can, get an arm or shock mount as well to reduce keyboard sounds.

    I automatically add or deduct points from a caster’s competency based on their audio quality, true facts.

  2. Test your stream

    This is such a simple checkpoint, but so many novice broadcasters still fail to do it. Here’s my procedure: Do a local recording in your stream client. Check your draft, in-game, and between game overlays. Pretend-cast a quiet laning phase and a LOUD TEAMFIGHT to check audio levels. If you have a co-caster, get them ready in your VoIP client of choice (*cough* Discord) and make sure your volumes sound even. If your recording looks and sounds solid, then hopefully your stream will too.

    If you want to make doubly sure: Create a dummy Twitch account, enable VoDs, stream to that channel, and then check the VoD. This is also a good way to verify if your delay settings are working correctly.

  3. Configure your in-game audio

    Dota TV is extremely finicky and overall much lower quality audio-wise than Twitch, but a lot of people watch in-game and you should make the effort to cater to them. More importantly, many Dota YouTubers will capture match VoDs from downloaded replays and if you sound like garbage, viewers will instantly despise you.

    Right click on Dota in your Steam library -> Properties -> Launch Options and paste in.

      -nomicsettings
    

    In Dota, make sure you and your co-caster tick the ‘Voice Chat (Team) - Open Mic’ box and check the thresholds. You can test your mic in Steam to confirm it’s working, but at least once I suggest creating a lobby, going in-game, and entering the following command in console.

      voice_loopback 1
    

    If you’ve configured things properly, you should be able to hear yourself in-game the way people in Dota TV will hear you.

  4. Learn camera control

    I’m not going to get into the nitty gritty of this, I’m just going to ship you off to Pimpmuckl’s blog.

    Actually, there are multiple posts of his that are relevant to this entire discussion.

  5. Pay attention to chat

    I’m not entirely sure this is good advice for everyone, but I’ve found chat to be fairly useful as a broadcaster. You can quickly find out if you’re doing something egregiously wrong based off chat’s reaction. Volume issues, overlay issues, still being on Last Hits twenty minutes into the game. Chat will tell you. Then you will tell them, “Hey sorry, this will be fixed in two minutes once the delay catches up.” Then they will fail to understand the concept of a delay and continue freaking out.

    Life of a producer.

I’m very grateful for those who vouched me to broadcast such a high profile event and it was incredibly validating for that vouch to be approved by an official body. That being said, I did far from my best work. Solo casting is not my wheelhouse, but at the end of the day it could have gone a lot worse. I even showed up in a few NUA videos and the beginning of this Kiev Major Qualifier highlight reel.

Look out for "They get all..." on the 2018 audio Chat Wheel lines

The International 2017 Qualifiers – BTS ‘Hot Hub TI Machine’ – Jun. 23-30, 2017

In May, I was asked if I would be interested in attending the BTS TI7 Hub. I had watched every TI Hub since its inception and now I was actually going to be a part of one. After the WESG event, I was already familiar with some aspects of casting live. However, paneling, tricasting, and doing all this in concert with a production team would be new territory for me.

The other new thing would be appearing live, on camera. I had shown my face before in Be the Better Support, but I still enjoyed that veil between my real life and internet life. Preserving that was just a personal thing, though recently it was becoming clearer to me that it wasn’t helping my career interests. The number of people who recognize me off voice rather than off looks is like 10:1 based off my trips to The Boston Major and TIs. And I don’t talk a lot when I’m walking around. So I was more excited, than apprehensive, about appearing on stream. None of these people know who I am. I could be anyone. I could be cool. I could be a dude with a beard. I could dress however I want.

Lookbook

Preppy casual, flannelcore, athleisure hypebeast

There were many milestones achieved in the span of that one woefully quick week. I got to cast a multiple games with Draskyl, LD, Merlini, ODPixel, and Tobi. I got to collaborate with content producers whose work I’ve respected for years with HotBid, Fwosh, and Pyrion.

But most importantly, I got to prove to myself that I am able to keep pace with the best. The best. These people are among the best in the world at what they do. Yeah, maybe providing commentary for one specific competitive video game in English on the internet isn’t the most revered craft, but how often do you get the opportunity to work with someone who’s literally the best in their field? I worked one summer at Dairy Queen and I was a 10k MMR prodigy at making Blizzards, but there will never be a Blizzternational for me to demonstrate my mastery.

In any industry, when you’re unproven, you’re a risk. My invitation to this Hub was a risk. He’s never worked an event before, he’s never participated in a panel before, he’s only done games with like 3 different shoutcasters. I know I’m good, but that doesn’t matter if no one else knows. The sooner you can prove you’re an asset, the less risky you become. He’s a competent caster, he has a voice people like, he made some YouTube videos Reddit enjoyed, he doesn’t seem like a prick. If and when someone decides you’re a risk worth taking, then you do your best to convince them it was worth it.

Vanity Stats – Sep. 2016-Jul. 2017

Category Number Match Date VoD
Ticketed Professional Casts 143      
Events Attended 2      
Highest Kills/min Game 2.12 Na’Vi vs. Team Empire - Dota Pit League Season 5 - CIS Qualifier Oct. 23, 2016 Highlights
Lowest Kills/min Game 0.54 iG vs. LFY - Series A-4 Group Stage - DAC 2017 - China Qualifier Jan. 13, 2017 Twitch VoD
Shortest Game 13:04 Na’Vi vs. Hive - Kiev Major Regional Qualifiers - CIS Region Mar. 11, 2017 Twitch VoD
Longest Game 1:49:04 See Below    
Highest Kill Game 129 See Below    
Favorite Game Cast 1 Na’Vi vs. Alliance - Winner’s Finals Game 2 - DOTA Summit 7 - European Qualifier May 13, 2017 YouTube VoD | Twitch VoD | Highlights
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The future, except not on a twitlonger so who cares

A lot happened for me in the past twelve months, but this has been a journey four years in the making. I wrote that first volume of tips when I was supposed to be paying attention in an Immunology course. Be the Better Carry came about from an idea I had when the Based God blessed my shuffle during a conversation with a coworker. In an Asian family, pursuing a career path in any creative field is quite taboo. To be fair, I’m sure my parents were right and film school would have probably been a fool’s errand. Esports is an entertainment industry like any other. It’s volatile. Backing a game by an inscrutable company like Valve is even riskier. If tomorrow Valve randomly announced that TI8 would be the last TI ever, I honestly wouldn’t even be surprised. But I’ve been playing it safe for quite a while and my mind is never further from work than it is when I’m at some Dota event.

A year ago, I was on the precipice of leaving content production altogether. Now I’m wondering at what point should I roll the dice to pursue it full time.

…and become the first professional Artifact commentator.