His voice is widely recognized in the world of esports. Even before "esports" was coined as an official phrase, Paul 'Redeye' Chaloner had carved his reputation as one of the premiere names in broadcasting for competitive video games. For over 15 years, he's called tournaments for Quake, Unreal Tournament, and Counter-Strike: Source, just to name a few. But he's most well-known as the voice of The International, acting as the host for Dota 2's annual esports extravaganza.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has brought much of the traditional sports world to a halt, the esports world continues to try and break through. While competitive gaming has continued to take place, live spectacles like The International are momentarily on the backburner. Esports is barreling into a new frontier and Chaloner is stepping into it with a brand new book.
This is esports (and How to Spell it): An Insider's Guide to the World of Pro Gaming is a peek into the realm of competitive gaming from one of its most prolific luminaries. He looks at its origins, its most exciting aspects, some of its uglier elements, and also what it means to be on the inside of this exciting, continually-growing phenomenon. And prior to the release of his book, Chaloner took some time to speak with Shacknews. We asked him about his book, his time in the esports industry, COVID-19's chilling effect on its present and future, and whether events like The International will ever be the same.
Shacknews: How did you get your start in competitive gaming?
Paul 'Redeye' Chaloner, The International host and author or This is esports: Like many in esports, I was always competitive in other sports, football, pool, badminton, cricket and motor sports. I have always been a nerd, too, and have been lucky enough to have various computers in the house since I was very young and when the two combine in things like Revs (A racing game on the BBC) or Championship Manager (now called Football Manager) I fell in love.
From there I enjoyed the first 3D games like Doom and Wolfenstein and Unreal Tournament and eventually, as these became online game around 1996, I started playing against other humans instead of the computer. From there it wasn't a leap to start competing in a team and in the first online leagues. I started commentating on those games in 2002 via online radio and the rest is history.
Shacknews: In your view, what makes esports stand out from traditional sports?
Redeye: I don't know that esports do stand out compared to traditional sports. In all but the physical aspect, esports match other sports. They have a genuinely high skill ceiling, so that being the very best in the world at something is considered to be hard to achieve, they are competitive, they have teams and players and all of the media that goes alongside and those special moments you get in traditional sports happen in our world too. I think they are actually very complimentary of each other too and we've seen since COVID-19 came alone, that esports versions of traditional sports can help fill the gap while we wait to get back to normal and provide fun, entertaining and competitive propositions for fans of the traditional to enjoy still. In fact in some ways it's been more entertaining due to the ability to have others join in, Sergio Aguero racing against F1 stars for example.
Shacknews: In what ways has the pandemic affect esports? I know there are more people itching to watch, but do you feel like the logistical changes have diminished competitive gaming in any way?
Redeye: I don't think it's diminished in any way, we've always been a flexible industry and we're usually first or very early adopters of new technology. Just look at how we took online video streaming to the next level and how only in the last five years have others started to use it the way we have for the last 15 years. So yes, COVID-19 presents us challenges, particularly around the big live shows in stadiums, just like other sports, but we started online, we grew from our online leagues and matches so providing the content and leagues and carrying on almost without disruption hasn't been difficult for us or as hard as other sports, which are now using esports as a way to engage with their audience during the down time.
That said, we want to see a return to normality once it's safe to do so and get back to filling stadiums and arenas around the world. We are a global industry and the online nature of our games right now means we are a little more restricted on the global front due to the internet, so we’ve become much more continental during the crisis and I can't wait to see us get back to being global again.
Shacknews: You've been such a major part of The International for years. What were your feelings when you saw that it was postponed?
Redeye: Obviously losing TI this year was a huge blow, to fans, players, teams and the people like me who have been honored to work on these events. Initially, I was just sad and even though it felt inevitable I was disappointed. That said, it was the right thing to do and I think Valve acted quickly on it, which helps too. I'm still hopeful we can squeeze two TI's in next year, though!
Shacknews: We're seeing what's happening with games like Overwatch, which have international rosters, and how those rosters have been upended. Can international esports recover from this pandemic?
Redeye: Esports will absolutely recover from the pandemic. We are in a much better position to recover than any other sport on earth. We have the ability, the technology and the passion to bring back our large scale events just as soon as it's safe to do so.
Shacknews: In your opinion, which competitive gaming scenes are best suited to ride out the pandemic and come out stronger on the other side of it?
Redeye: I don't think there is one scene or game that will ride out the pandemic any better or worse, but perhaps the sim racing community will capitalize on the rise in popularity due to the interest garnered from traditional motor sports. I'd be very disappointed if the sim racing world didn’t come out of this with a bigger community and a much larger mainstream awareness and respect, while also continuing to provide races aired on TV around the world.
Shacknews: Have you seen a bigger shift towards esports coverage from traditional sports outlets? Do you think that level of esports coverage is a temporary thing or will it level off after life goes back to normal?
Redeye: I've seen a shift in covering esports where sports are now represented, like F1 or Formula E for example, but those were already covered a little in the past anyway, it’s just ramped up now due to the journalists having less traditional stories to write due to the lack of competition in their field. Though I have seen a few stories pop up around the phenomenon of sports being replaced (temporarily) by the esport version (golf, tennis and sailing to mention a few) and publications running pieces which are almost in amazement that its even a thing. These are akin to the old "Computer games? For kids in basements right?” stories we had 20 years ago and often seem lazy in reporting with very little investigation by the author. It's easy to dismiss something you know little about, harder to actually learn about it and have a reasonable view. But in the main, the mainstream stories have been positive and responsible and that's all we can ask for.
Shacknews: When did you decide that it was time to tell your story? How did you go about writing your book?
Redeye: I'd actually been talking to colleagues and friends about writing a primer on esports for about five or six years. I was tired of the constant bulls**t books from authors who had no experience in esports, but were just looking to cash in on its rise in popularity. But I just never found time or the right people to work with.
That was until I met Ben Sillis and Nick Walters. Between the three of us, we found common ground and a lust to produce a book that was authentic to esports and told its story in a way that was honest, but passionate and positive. Without Ben I'd never have been able to write this book and it was very much Ben who took the lead on helping me narrow down what we wanted the book to cover. I was keen it should record our history, something we have been terrible at doing over the years and that we should go right back to the start and figure out where esports began. Ben was very keen the book should help new people understand the world, demystify it a bit and leave the reader with a good understanding of esports by the end of the book, warts and all.
We spent a lot of time just talking together, discussing topics and arguing about what should go in the book. It's not an exaggeration to say we spent weeks of our lives on video conferencing calls to make this the best book it could be. For a while, I think I spent more time with Ben than his wife did! (Sorry, Steph!)
Shacknews: Lastly, what advice do you offer somebody seeking to get into the world of esports broadcasting? And is it important to specialize in one specific game or become familiar with a different variety of competitive games?
Redeye: The entry level for esports broadcasting is actually still very low. You can get yourself setup with a reasonable priced headset and open a Twitch account and start streaming right away.
My biggest first piece of advice is always to just do it. I know that's corny, but keep doing it, practice, practice, practice. Choose the game you love playing or watching the most and don’t worry about numbers or who is tuning in, just do it. Read the guides out there, ask for feedback from community members (broadcasters not reddit trolls!) and keep doing it. I won't lie though, you need some natural talent to do well in this industry, hard work isn't the surefire way to success, but it certainly helps if you have some talent.
This is esports (and How to Spell it): An Insider's Guide to the World of Pro Gaming will release Tuesday, May 26 on paperback and in digital format. You can pre-order it direct from the publisher, from Amazon, or wherever books are sold.
Ozzie Mejia posted a new article, Paul 'Redeye' Chaloner interview: Esports, The International, and his new book