Interview with Paul "ReDeYe" Chaloner
I recently had the privilege of speaking with a stalwart of the eSports scene. Paul Chaloner, also known as ReDeYe, has been around eSports since pretty much the very beginning. His long career earned him the right to moderate the Valencia eSports Congress that took place with weekend, and it will be the primary topic of this interview. The congress gathered a number of influential people in the industry together to discuss a number of important topics, and notably pulled the tournament heads of a number of major organizations like IPL, MLG, DreamHack, ESL, and NASL to the same place, providing the chance for discussion and perhaps future collaboration.
Paul "ReDeYe" Chaloner (Image Source: cadred.org)
Without further ado, let's get into the interview. Again, I've provided both a text and video version, so feel free to choose the medium you prefer. I actually got my interviewee on camera this time, so I promise you won't just be looking at my face the whole time if you watch the video!
1. How was Valencia, Paul?
Ah, warm. Very warm. It's pretty cold back here in the UK, for sure. I flew back yesterday.
2. It would be a bit absurd to ask you to recap your entire career, obviously, in eSports--
Haha, have you got ten hours?
3. Yeah, exactly. Could you give those who may not know who are some idea of what you've for the community over the years, like maybe naming some of your biggest projects?
I started off as a player, played some Unreal Tournament, fell into shoutcasting by mistake, did the whole audio-only thing for a couple of years, worked with djWHEAT at ITG [Inside the Game], went around the world and did a whole ton of events for a few years, did the CGS, had a couple years off, came back, and did some hosting this weekend. That's the abridged version.
4. You've been involved in a ton of organizations, so you've seen a number of different organizations rise and then fall to the ground, some quite tremendously sometimes, yet you've come back and remained a supporter and contributor to eSports. What keeps bringing you back?
I don't know, just a general love of games, really, and competition. Incredible games--and I don't mean incredible games in terms of Starcraft 2 is an incredible game, and it is a good game, but that's not the reason. It's the matches, it's the events, it's the new games that come along and excite you with the way that they play.
I never really went away; I just kept coming back and watching stuff, and doing stuff in the background. For me, it's just the constant thrill of excitement, it's waiting for those moments to happen. It's just as unique as any other sport, really.
5. How did you feel about the health and potential of the eSports scene coming into this event, and now that it has occurred, has your opinion changed at all regarding that?
I think we're in a pretty good place right now. If you consider that I've been in and around eSports for about ten or twelve years, I've been fairly lucky to see it go up, and then come back down, then go back up, and come back down.
I said this at the weekend to a few people at the bar after the event that for me, 2012 has become the highest level we've had so far as the broadcasting, streaming, the games, the money, the developers, the tournaments; everything has gone to a whole new level, and that's fantastic.
I don't necessarily think it's gone as far as it can yet, and I hope we haven't, because I think it has got even more potential, and we're certainly at the top end of things at the moment. But, I've got no doubt about it, we'll hit a little bump in the next couple of years, and then we'll go back up. I think generally, over the last ten years, the line definitely has been on a proper vertical. It's not that it's come back lower than it was before, then come back higher than it was before.
I don't think this weekend changed anything for me, I don't think it made me think "well, we're definitely on the up" or "we're definitely on the down." It certainly opened my eyes to the fact that a lot of people need to talk and need to come together a bit, and the need for regulation, and support for players in particular, is definitely there. I think there's a willingness now for people to spend a weekend or a couple of days to start coming together more often, and that's a good thing.
6. Expanding on that, as far as bringing people to one place, you specifically mentioned in your post-mortem TeamLiquid post (which I recommend reading, I will link it at the end of the piece) that players should have representation at the next congress. What would player representation bring to the table, and do you have any players in mind that could represent the industry well?
Let's roll back a second, the reason I want players because to me, they are the reason eSports exists. I know that tournaments are important, I know the games are important, I know developers are important, and their money is important, and what have you. But without players, you've got nothing. You've got no teams, you've got no tournaments, you've got no competition. So for me, as much as we can talk about eSports and be passionate about, and love it, without the players being involved, it's not right.
I know other people have said if you get the players involved, they'll start talking about Zerg being overpowered, CS:GO doesn't have the same hit boxes as 1.6, oh my god. And that's quite an inane view, actually. I don't think players would be like that.
Maybe some of them, but I'm sure we could find five or six players, and there are plenty of them out there who are articulate, who are passionate about their game, who are passionate about eSports, and passionate about the things that they need. Things like players contracts and teams sticking to them. Players being sent to events properly--Ret this weekend, didn't make the tournament because of some cock up. That shouldn't happen anymore, we're in 2012 for Christ's sake. Don't screw shit up like that, because it's not right.
They need to stand up to teams, and they can't because teams have the power. And I don't mind that so much, but players need representation; they need agents, the need support, they need PAs.
There are so many things players need. Just the basic things at tournaments, like a green room where they can sit, and relax and chill, and not get harassed or be stressed out. I just feel there are a lot of things that the players--and I don't know all the answers, and I don't even know all the questions--but I think players have got a lot of things they feel, as the superstars, because that's what they are, they have a right to have those things in place at tournaments, the right to have things like contracts.
Until we get them in front of a panel, where people can see what they'd really like to have, and not doing it in a nasty way but just explaining what some of the simple things they think they should have as part of their careers. Then, how do people know what they want? How do tournaments understand?
Have you ever asked a player, or has a tournament ever asked a player: "Would you prefer us to pay your travel? Pay for a nice hotel? Pay for someone to pick you up from the airport and bring you to the event? Or would you prefer a higher prize pot?" No one's asked the players! So I think it's time to do that.
7. All of the panels at one point or another discussed the potential for an eSports federation and what that would mean for the scene. Do you personally think that the scene is ready for one right now, or ready for some parts of one, like a player, team, or tournament union? What do you think is the best fit right now?
It was a question I asked in every panel because I think it was relevant. I wanted to try and get as many opinions on it as we could, to try and help other people who maybe were reluctant to join any federation to understand what the issues were from different views. I wanted to get the developers' thoughts on it, I wanted to try and get the team managers' thoughts on it, tournaments, and what have you.
As for me, I think maybe we're not ready for it. Having listened to all the panels, and heard other people speak... yeah, I'm not sure we're ready for it. I think we need something. I would like--what I did like about the congress was that the large tournaments are at least in agreement to speak regularly. And I think if we achieved anything here, we've done that, and that should not be tossed aside lightly. I think we need to appreciate that was a big win.
Beyond that, I think a players' union would be helpful now, and I don't mean because it needs to take power away from tournaments or the teams, or hold anyone ransom for that matter. It just gives them some security, peace of mind, that kind of stuff, so that would be helpful. The problem we've got is how do we start a players' union when the majority of guys are eighteen, seventeen?
I think maybe you start it off with Heaton and White-Ra, maybe, two old guys from the scene. I'm not saying the youngsters haven't got any common sense or intelligence, because they have, but they're too busy dealing with the start of their careers, learning about media, and going to tournaments, flying all over the world. They don't have the time to start a union, and they may not even know they need one.
I think of all the things we discussed, a players' union would be good, or some sort of association at the very least. I think it also helps hold players accountable, as well. It's not just about what we can give to the players, it's about how they should be acting and reacting at tournaments, and tournaments would welcome that too. It may stop some of the silliness, and I know that some of the silly things that happen are kind of "That's cool, it goes on Reddit, everyone laughs, it's good fun," but actually, in a business sense, it doesn't do any favors for tournaments, doesn't do any good for teams, and certainly doesn't do any good for sponsors.
That sort of thing needs to stop; it's no different than footballers going out on their night out and getting drunk, doing stupid stuff. They end up in criminal prosecution sometimes. I don't want players in eSports to do that, and I especially don't want them to do it now, just as we're on the cusp of becoming something very, very big, and potentially seeing some crazy sponsors come in and make this thing even bigger.
In terms of a federation, I think we're probably too early, but I think the seeds could be sown right now.
8. Segueing from that, you mentioned that the tournament heads have now agreed to talk, and that is a very important thing. These are the most powerful non-Korean tournament organizations. Now that you've heard the big names talk on and off-stage, how do you feel about things going forward, developing eSports into the future?
I'm more positive than I was before the weekend. I think what you have to understand is that--and I've said this to all of them, so this isn't a surprise to them--they've all got big egos. They all run fantastic tournaments. They still have self interest in making a living, making a business, growing, attracting the right sponsors, bring the best teams and players to their tournaments, and that makes perfect sense. They're all individual businesses.
But if we can--and we have achieved it, so this is kind of a retrospective answer--if they can at least talk to each other, and come to some common ideas on things. Like schedules, for instance. Look at November. You just go, wow, I don't know how I'm even going to watch the stuff in November, let alone how the players get to all of those tournaments, how teams afford to send those players, I have no idea!
There are just ridiculous amounts of tournaments, and some of them overlap. I think David Ting was particularly eloquent about that, saying he was planning season five, six, seven and eight already. Well, great, if you've got dates in mind, share them with the other tournaments; that seems like a realistic thing to do. I think they can at least get that done, and that they will get that done.
I think what impressed me most was that there was a genuine sense that actually--that they all suddenly realized--and not even suddenly, they probably already knew, but it confirmed that all of them have got the same motivation. They all want eSports to succeed. They kind of realize that, yeah, okay, it might be better for Sundance if MLG was the only league in North America, but he accepts that he's not, and he accepts that those other leagues around him make him do his job better, because he wants to improve his league.
Genuinely, people were talking, and they weren't just talking on the stage. They were talking behind the scenes, they were talking at dinner, they were talking outside while having a smoke. And these conversations were interesting because they were genuine, and I think that's as much as we could have hoped to get out of the day. I think it was very difficult to bring that many people to one place at one time and expect us to solve all problems in eSports in one day or in one session of ninety minutes, that's just unrealistic.
9. Were there a couple of panelists that you specifically found yourself agreeing with more often than not when they proposed new ideas?
MLG Co-Founder Sundance DiGiovanni, one of many panelists that impressed Paul (Image Source: businessinsider.com)
I think it was a little bit of everyone. And that's not a diplomatic answer, there were some things that made me think "huh, okay, that's an interesting thought, I never thought about it that way." I tried to go into this with a very open mind, I wanted the talks to be very neutral. I found that very difficult, sometimes I wanted to ask a question for me, but maybe it was the wrong place to ask it, or it was inappropriate to that panel, or it wasn't the subject matter we were discussing. So, that bit of it was very difficult.
I don't think there was anyone in particular, but I think there were little snippets. David Ting came out with some very eloquent comments. Sundance was very enigmatic, made some great observations about North American leagues that I just wasn't aware of. I think we had some fun at times, which was nice. Matthieu Dallon saying "beyond the game", that was funny.
No, I don't think there was anyone in particular. I think every panel just had something out of it right across the board. The more eloquent speakers were perhaps Alex Garfield from EG, Dustin Browder obviously, and Sundance, but beyond that, I think that everyone had something they brought to the table, and that was really good.
10. Of the five panels--actually, excluding the last one due to the sheer caliber of people involved--which did you find most compelling?
Actually, the developer one. I think probably because my knowledge is so poor in that area. I've not worked with a huge amount of developers, and when I have, it's been about delivering commentary or hosting, something like that, so I don't get to know the real developers. I've worked with Blizzard, and other big companies, but I don't work with the people who make the games, necessarily.
To hear their views on eSports was, for me, reassuring, because it really demonstrated to me--and I hope it came across--that actually, they were really passionate about eSports, they really love it. Dustin, for instance, loves the fact that--well, people complain about Zerg being overpowered, but when you get past that for a second--he loves the fact that players will go out there and do stuff with his game that not even he thought about. He gets a kick out of that, and that's cool.
Hearing what they had to say about free-to-play stuff, and just listening to Florent from Nadeo talking about the flexibility within his game, how Shootmania could be the next FPS, and how passionate he was about that, and how articulate he was even if it wasn't his home language. I really enjoyed that.
So, probably not by much, but the developer panel was the most interesting for me personally because it taught me a lot more.
11. Was there a panelist you would have rather seen get more involved in the conversations?
I think Matthieu Dallon is an intelligent, clever man. He has his critics, but he's very sensitive to what eSports can do. I would have loved to bring him into the conversation more, and I tried a couple of times, it just didn't work. I think Russel, again on the same panel, I would have loved to hear what he had to say a bit more, and again I failed him. He didn't fail the panel, I failed him, and maybe let Robert and Sundance take control a little too much.
I think hearing what the IeSF had to say in answering the questions would have been really nice, and again I tried really hard to get that out. But you have to be appreciative that many of the panelists' first languages are not English. It's sometimes difficult to articulate with that. I don't think anyone particularly failed to get involved in the panels. I think everyone did something, and gave something in terms of their opinions and thoughts.
But yeah, I think that those were failed by me more than anything else.
12. That's all I have regarding the VEC in particular, so before moving on from that, are there any particular points you would like to make that you couldn't in the role of a moderator, or anything else you would like to say about the VEC?**
No, I don't think so. I just think the key thing we all missed was the player side of things. If I have a regret now, it's not including at least maybe a couple of players on some of the panels. Coming back to the developers one, having Alex there from Na'Vi gave them a different view, a professional eSports player's view. That guy has been a legend in Counterstrike over the years, and yeah, he runs a team now, but he knows what makes a great game from an eSports point of view.
Other than that, you said I wrapped it up on TeamLiquid... I spent two weeks preparing for this thing, trying to stay massively independent, treading on that political line of correctness most of the time, trying to ask the tough questions and getting answers out of people. As I said in my post, the guy who got the hardest deal is a good friend of mine in Stuart Saw, who to be fair, answered the questions put to him very well.
13. If you were to hypothetically leave your day job and head up a big eSports project, what would the number one goal? What would you focus on trying to do?
Wow, uh... That's just blown my mind. I don't know, I've been so focused on hosting and casting and doing show, TV, stuff like that, that I don't really know. I haven't had a chance to think about it until you asked that question.
I don't really see myself involved in eSports in any other way, I don't know how I would be. I'm happy to give advice. I've thrown stuff in when I was at CGS, but they were just suggestions from an eSports fan; that's all I am. I'm an eSports fan that likes video gaming, who is lucky enough that people enjoy listening to me or watching me. It's a crazy thing to say, but I don't really know.
I've just had a really enjoyable career in eSports doing the commentary stuff, and that's all I would really want to do, commentate on a great game, do hosting, moderate eSports conferences again. Sorry that's not a very committal answer, I know, but I can't really think of anything else!
14. There's been a lot of new blood in commentary in eSports with the recent industry boom. What do you think about the current level of commentators that have come up, and how they affect the development of the industry?
Well, I think it's a good thing. Back when Wheat and I started, we didn't have enough. We were always desperate for more, trying to find people, dragging people from all sorts of places to come out and do some stuff with us. I think it's good, great that Starcraft 2 in particular has a dearth of commentators, there are just so many.
I think the level at the better is higher than it was five years ago, which is great, but the mean level is much lower. That comes with more people trying it, but I'm not going to sit here and tell you that you shouldn't do it. I think if you enjoy doing it, then do it. If you want to get better at it though, then go listen to some of the better guys, figure out how they do it. Go and learn stuff at broadcasting school, go into a course.
Spend some time listening to the radio. Sports radio is fantastic, it was easily the best teacher I ever had, back in the day. It was listening to football being commented on the radio. Those guys have to be so descriptive without using the same words ever again. If you can't learn from them, you'll never learn. Go and watch football commentators on TV, listen to what they do, how they flow and interact with each other.
Listen to snooker commentators, how they slow things down and make it exciting. Snooker is a really boring game, by the way, and yet they somehow make it interesting; how the hell do they do that?
Learn that dead areas are a nasty thing. Learn how to pace, learn how to build excitement, learn how to tell a story, learn to interact with another commentator to not talk over each other. There's loads of things you need to learn. Go and talk to people, go and talk to Wheat. Bump the crap out of him, he'll help you; he helped me!
Nag me on Twitter or Reddit or something, I don't care, I'll help if I can. Just don't be afraid of asking some decent people for feedback, and don't rely on the community to tell you if you're great or you're bad.
I have a very thick skin, so it makes no difference to me if people like me or loathe me. As long as the people I work for know I'm doing a good job, I'm doing a good job. If my peers, people like Marcus and Tasteless, Day and Totalbiscuit and all the rest of them; if they think I'm doing a good job, they'll tell me, and if they think I'm not doing a good job, they won't tell me, but they won't say anything either, and I'll know I've done a bad job.
That's who you need feedback from, you need feedback from guys who have been there and done it, people who have been to major tournaments. I'm not talking about the old boys club; there are plenty of people out there like MrBitter who aren't necessarily in the old boys club who do a fantastic job, so go and learn from them. No harm in learning from people who do it well.
15. Who do you think from the newer blood of commentators is doing a really good job?
If you look at people like MrBitter, for instance, who worked his ass off to get more popular and do the things he's doing, he's done a great job. Apollo, probably, he's done a good job in the last two years, he's come a long way. When you watch his first casts, they are pretty good technically, but presentation-wise, not so good. But he's learned that now, he knows how to use the camera, he knows how to interact with a different host, he knows how to do ins and outs, work with the crowd and stuff like that, he's become really good now.
I don't think you can ignore people like Deman. He's been around for a while now, but seemingly only in the last year or so has it become apparent to people that he has massive talent. It's nice to see him get a full time job in eSports finally, really deserves it.
Yeah, those are the three I would pick out, but there's lots, to be fair. There are some really good commentators, I think we're blessed; we're in an age of great casters right now. Which is why I'll never do Starcraft 2, by the way.
16. Are there a couple people you really respect as promoters of the industry, or someone who has helped you a lot?
Paul with Marcus "djWHEAT" Graham (Image Source: Max Silver/Cadred.org)
It's easy, it's djWHEAT. He came to me and Stuart (TosspoT), and wanted to start the European side of Inside the Game. He didn't just take us on into the iTG company, he took us under his wing, sounds a bit odd because I'm actually a bit older than him. He taught us a lot, just by working with him you learn a lot. He works incredibly hard, he puts a ton of hours into it that people don't see.
I think he was the first guy to make me realize you can't just do one game. If you really want to be a really successful commentator, you have to learn a bunch of other games, and I took that to heart. I ended up doing a lot of weird games, very peculiar games. He would be like, "Hey Red, you want to go to WCG this year?" I would be like, yeah! "You have to do Carom 3D." Okay, I'll do Carom 3D... "You have to do Asphalt on mobile." Okay, I'll do Asphalt on mobile...
I respect the hell out of him. He's had his ups and downs as well, I think his casting career has ebbed and flowed just as mine has. He's just an all around great guy and a great friend.
Beyond that, I would probably say that Mike Burks was the most influential person I've worked with. Twelve time Emmy award winning producer, my chance to work on CGS in proper TV. Working with him, I just learned a ridiculous amount. When I look back now, it's incredible how much that guy gave and what I learned from him.
I think between Marcus and him, I probably learned about stories. I probably already did it a little bit, but not enough, and I suddenly realized that actually telling the story is what hooks people into the show, the production, the stream. Explaining that one guy has gone through hard shit to get where he is, and then he loses, and then he wins, and what this next round means to him, what it means to the whole thing, where he'll go next. Filling in the audience about that is just as important as commentary about the game, or introductions, and what have you.
If I have to cite two people who were very influential--there are a few others--but Mike Burks and Marcus would be the two.
17. Starting to close this up a bit... What events do you think you might be at soon, if you can even talk about it...
Ha, nice try, but that's not how it works. I don't know honestly what events I'm doing next. There are three and four that are up in the air. There's something in Vegas in November, that's not what you think it is, and something in China towards the end of November that probably is what you think it is. There's something in the UK as well, and maybe one other thing next year.
There's bits and pieces floating around, but nothing concrete, right now I've done my last event--not my last event ever...
18. Last event you know about.
Absolutely. No Reddit posts like "Oh my God, he's retiring!" I honestly don't know what's next, but I'm sure something cool will come along to go and do.
As for full time stuff, I don't know. I have a couple of very interesting offers on the table right now, one of which is pretty strong for January onwards. It's a firm offer, the first truly firm offer I've had. I have a few other offers as well, varying in both interest level and in terms of security, but nothing firm. Over the weekend, I did have a very firm offer, which we'll talk about more about that in a week. We'll see what comes out of it.
19. We'll keep an eye out for that. When do you think the next similar event like this might occur, and would you be down to moderate it again?
I honestly don't know. Yes, I would be down to host it if all the people involved in this one thought I did the right job, and preserved the integrity of the panels, which I worked really hard to do. I'd be honored to do another one, it would be fantastic to follow up on it. Even if I don't get to do it, there are plenty of people out there who would be equally good at it. I'm sure Day would do a great panel, Marcus would do a great panel. There's many others, like I think JP McDaniel could be a fantastic moderator.
I'm not particularly worried from a personal level if I get to do another one, I'm honored to have done one. It's more important that we get another one, and get one within the next twelve months. Robert Ohlen at the end of Friday night made a toast, and at the end of the toast he said it is not DreamHack's IP, or Twitch's IP, this is eSport's IP.
Therefore, they've taken the first step to host one, and he invited all the big tournaments in the room--in fact, anyone in the room that wanted step forward and host the next one. I'm pretty sure one of them will step up and host another one somewhere. I hope it's as lovely as it was in Valencia, that's nice and warm, if I get to go there.
20. I'm out of questions, so the floor is yours for shoutouts and anything else you would like to say.**
Thanks for the interview, and thanks to the Starcraft 2 community for taking me in and making me feel very welcome. It's genuinely a great game, and something I've been playing the hell out of the last few weeks, and only just the few weeks because I didn't have time before that to play. I genuinely loved getting interested in the game, the players, the teams, the community, the ideas, the memes, the jokes. I've really enjoyed that, so shoutout to them: the guys on TeamLiquid, and Reddit.
Most of all, shoutout to the people who made the Valencia eSports Congress possible: Robert Ohlen, the guys at DreamHack, the guys at Twitch, the guys at Valencia as well, and obviously the panelists themselves. Without them, it wouldn't have been obscenely good, so thanks to everyone for turning up and making it an enjoyable thing, and hopefully we'll go forward from here.