To really be able to tell this story, I have to talk a little bit of 2017. Even though I stepped down from the EIC position here at LD, I couldn't walk away from esports. So with my new found free time I started going to as many events as I could. I earned enough at my job to live a comfortable life even with traveling around Europe every 2 months or so. I went to events, talked to some players, wrote a few articles here and there, and managed to sneak my way into more afterparties than I expected. I had a great time, even if I sometimes landed in Dublin at 6am, going straight to work.
However, at the start of 2018 things changed. My job informed my department that they'd move the majority of our services to India to cut costs. Around 60% of everyone hired would be let go. While I was lucky to be one of the few they kept around this also meant that all career paths were cut. This killed the job for me. I went from having a job I enjoyed to one where I sat around for 6-7 hours a day just waiting to go home (due to a major cut in volume not because I was lazy). After a month or two of this going on I decided I needed to cheer up, so I went to ESL One Katowice. Turns out that was one of the best decisions I ever made.
I decided to not work as much this time around. I was going to enjoy myself so I, officially anyway, went as a photographer and managed to get myself a backstage pass thanks to Liquid's manager, Mohamed. With this in mind, I decided not to go straight to bed when I arrived in Poland. So I drop Knoxville a message on Twitter and meet up with him and a bunch of ESL staff for some late drinks. This being Poland, and vodka being super cheap there, those late drinks turned into very late drinks... and very, very late drinks. I mean imagine paying €20 (~$22) for two bottles of vodka, with chaser, or €1 for a shot. That was a hell of a night. And the first of many others like it.
On to my second day in Poland, and my first day at the event. I woke up fairly early, feeling like death, and make my way to the arena. Luckily I didn't have a role call in the morning, as many of the ESL staff did, so I had time to do something about my hangover. I still don't understand how some of those guys survived the week. Absolute monsters. Anyway, I digress. Back at the event I run into TorteDeLini and we get chatting. His new site, Cybersport.com, was still trying to get a solid Dota 2 writer on-board and he wanted to talk some more after the event. I said sure, mostly to be nice tbh. I didn't think I was a good enough writer and I didn't expect them to be able to match my current pay. Turns out I was wrong on both points. We had a lengthy email conversation where I asked him questions he really didn't have to answer about the site but the fact that he did sold me on the site. And when we discussed pay, his offer wasn't that far off what I was currently making. So I had no more excuses, time to take the plunge.
Most of you are probably aware of the fate of CS.com and I'm not really interested in talking about what happened. What I want to remember is my time working for them. I started out freelancing for them as a trial, as is customary, and actually wrote some content I was happy about. My piece on VP's highground assault is probably the best thing I've ever written. They also wanted to test my interview skills so they flew me to EPICENTER XL in Moscow. As CS.com was a part of the same holding company that arranged the tournament I got to stay in a very fancy hotel (I've never felt so out of place). At the event I also had priority with interviews and got some great ones. I don't think I'll ever forget my interview with 7mad. He gets so much shit from the community but he's seriously one of the smartest and most humble players I have ever met. In fact, most of the players (even if they have a bad reputation) are the kindest people.
7mad - Bad rep, great guy
This nicely leads me into a story I've wanted to tell for such a long time now but I've never been able to figure out how to. So I'll warn you: this is probably going to be a mess. But I need to tell it. After I had more than my fair share of alcohol at the EPICENTER afterparty I decided to call it a night, so I wouldn't be super hungover for my flight the next day. I get into one of the shuttles back to the hotel. As I'm waiting for the shuttle to leave a lesser known person enters the shuttle (won't name names here). He's so drunk one of the player/talent managers has to lead him into the bus. Just behind them is a prominent player. In order to keep this guy awake, the player strikes up a conversation with him. They get talking about how the event was and what their future plans are. They get into the subject of self-doubt and the lesser known person gets a little bit emotional. The people behind the scenes, or even on-scene, work so hard. You have no idea. And most of the time they get no recognition for this hard work. So when the player says "No I know who you are. I've seen you're work. You're great." this cracked the facade of the lesser known person. He breaks down, starts crying, and talks about how much this meant to him. They kept chatting, through some more tears, all the way back. I really hope he wasn't too drunk to remember this happening.
To me, the above story isn't about a person drinking too much and crying. It's not about how alcohol can bring out that side of someone. It's not about someone potentially putting himself in an embarrassing situation. Instead, this is a story about the people that support esports and their love for the game. As a player you have fans. Even if you get shit on a lot, you always have those people to cheer you up. As someone who's working your way up the ladder, be it in front or behind the camera, you don't have that. You grind day after day with little to no praise. Your accomplishments are diminished while your failures are blown out of proportion. All because you love esports. So please, if you think someone's doing a great job: fucking tell them. You have no idea how much it can mean. During my time with CS.com people would sometimes just drop me a message on Twitter saying something I wrote was great. And it didn't matter if it was a well-known player or someone I had never heard of, it felt just as good.
So let's keep moving to the announcement part of this blog. As most of you probably know, CS.com has now closed its doors. When I found out I had a small panic attack. I sat in the meeting, silently, because I was panicking hard. I had left a stable job for esports and I was now en route to become one of the failures. Someone who took a shot but failed. A few years down the line I probably would've been happy about having tried it but at that moment all I could think was: how am I supposed to make rent? what am I to do next? Will I be one of those people who have to move home to mom again? I slumped down in my couch, defeated, and opened a bottle of wine. I said it was to strategize but in reality, it was a move of self-pity. In my panic I sent a message to Victor, Nazgul, asking if he had anything. I would've taken a janitorial job for a ham sandwich a day at that point. It didn't take long for him to reply and he said he didn't know if he had anything right away but he was sure something could be arranged. Huge sigh of relief. Not only did this mean I had a potential job but it also meant I had the opportunity to stay in the esports scene.
The process from here was a quick one. I met with Jesse (Plexa), the head of all websites, and as of November 1st (the day after CS.com closed shop) I've been employed by TL. While my role will change in the future, my job right now is helping all the TLnet sites with some project and working with them to become better. Basically my old EIC job but at a higher level. And that's not all, at the end of January I'll move to the Netherlands to live and work at the TLHQ. Something that has been a dream ever since TL announced they'd open an HQ way back when. I'm so thankful to Victor and Jesse for bringing me on and giving me this opportunity. I had a few other options but in the end, TL was the natural choice. TL is known for treating people right. While they're not running a charity, you won't see them just dropping players/staff on the curb at the first sign of trouble.
TI8 damn near killed me, but seeing OG's journey made it all worth it
I want to end this blog with a list of some of the most memorable moments of my last year and a half. Things I wanted to talk about here but left out to make this somewhat readable:
Meeting Kuro in Hamburg
While I've worked for TL and have been close to the Liquid Dota team at times, I chose to stay away from the players and mostly talked to Mohamed, the team's manager, most of the time. I can be a bit much sometimes and I was afraid to alienate people I'd have to interview. However, after ESL One Hamburg in 2017 I had a bit to drink and as I was waiting for my taxi I went up to Mohamed. He had to run off real quick to talk to someone and I was left with Kuro. I had no option but to talk to him (well... I mean I did but that was my excuse). So I mentioned what I thought of Liquid's playstyle and influences and he said that I had a good eye for Dota. I don't often allow myself to get star struck but I almost fainted. A Dota legend said something good about my Dota knowledge. Life = complete.
After this we've always said hello and had a quick chat whenever we meet. But I still tend to keep it short because, as I said, I know I can be a bit much at times.
Getting an ESL staffer in trouble
Can't for the life of me remember what tournament this was but I was waiting in front of the stage at an ESL event, hoping to grab a nice picture of the players walking out on stage. I saw one of the event staff on stage, someone I usually hang out with at afterparties, and he was on his phone. I saw an opportunity to tease him. So I snapped a picture and tweeted it out, @-mentioning him. Shouldn't have done that. Apparently, his boss saw that tweet and even if (as he claims) he was doing work related stuff on the phone he got yelled at. Still funny, though. (And yes, the tweet is deleted)
Puppey, while not as controversial as 7mad, has his fair share of haters. And I think that a lot of people, when they meet him for the first time, think that he's an ass. I kind of thought so too but that all changed during my interview with him at epicenter. I ended up cutting the first 2 minutes of the interview but he was basically making fun of me, in a playful way. This is pretty common in people who are tired to signal that they just don't want to be there. The trick to get past this, as an interviewer, is to get your subject interested in your questions. Make them think. Challenge them. Don't ask the same fucking question everyone else is. And when I did that we broke through that barrier and he provided me with some real insight. And that has carried over to other events. Today, he's probably my favorite person to interview because he knows that I want something else. I'm not after a quote for a headline (even though those don't hurt). I want insight into his mind and how it works.
For me, TI8 was a sprint and a marathon in one. CS.com didn't want to send someone at first but I presented a plan that basically meant I would do everything. Writing, interviewing, photography, social media... you name it I did it (with help during the time I slept, which I will be forever thankful for). The first day in the arena I wore my fitbit and clocked in 13'000+ steps. The result? We had our best month ever. This was my Magna Carta and I'm incredibly proud of myself for the work I did, which isn't common for me.
So that's it. My 2018 summed up. A year filled with ups and down but I'd still not change a single thing. I'm incredibly excited for what 2019. I'll be able to start a project at TL that I really believe in (but it's too early to announce what it is right now). Thanks for reading and happy new year.