An Interview with Aaron "Ayesee" Chambers
Today we are joined by It's Gosu caster and admin, Aaron 'Ayesee' Chambers for an interview. Hi there Aaron, could you give us an introduction and background of yourself?
Greetings! It's my pleasure to be here.
My name is Aaron Chambers, 27 years old, an alumnus of West Virginia University. I spent about five years working as a DJ, voice personality, and studio engineer in radio; worked as a freelance writer and editor; and ended up owning my own print publication in Morgantown, WV from 2008 to 2011. In early 2011 I decided I'd had enough of the business life, and sold my share back to my partners. It was around that time that I hooked up with the owner of It's Gosu. From there my involvement only increased, and I ended up administrating and casting all of our Starcraft II events, as well as serving as an executive manager within the organization. At the end of 2011, we decided it was time to expand our reach into games outside of Starcraft and I volunteered to head up our efforts in Dota 2. A couple of months, about 12 broadcasts, and a million stream views later, I now find myself being interviewed by one of the biggest websites in eSports!
Before working as an e-sports caster, you worked as a radio DJ. Despite this steady job and sustainable pay, you decided to quit and pursue a casting career in e-sports. What were your motivations in this life-changing move?
My entire professional life has more or less been spent leaving steady jobs and sustainable pay in search of new work and experiences. Even in eSports, after spending a year focusing on Starcraft II, I've now thrown myself into a brand new game and community. I've no plans of leaving this industry if I can help it, and I am loving Dota 2!
Although you are a new Dota 2 caster, you used to cast SC2 before the change. What prompted you to switch from SC2 to Dota 2?
You could call it a marriage of both convenience and practicality.
Starcraft II is absolutely flooded with content right now. Between just MLG, NASL, IPL, and GSL alone, it's almost impossible to keep up with everything going on, even if you're doing it full time. You've got an extremely competitive market with only so much money and viewership to be spread around. Starcraft II is a very tough game on which to be hinging one's casting/streaming future, so that, combined with my natural interest in Dota 2, led to me looking to make a change.
All of that just happened to coincide with It's Gosu's desire to expand its reach into different streaming markets, Dota 2 being foremost among them. When I was asked if I'd consider leading a different division of It's Gosu, it didn't take much arm twisting for me to agree to shift my focus and go back to just being a spectator of Starcraft as opposed to a caster.
What are some significant differences between casting the two games?
In Starcraft much of your time casting is spent waiting on something to happen, at least until you hit the late-midgame and late game... and even then, it's only rarely that you have sustained action for more than a few consecutive minutes. You spend this time talking a lot about players' tendencies, their current build, their strengths and weaknesses, and what it seems like they're going to do.
In Dota 2, you've got all of the above, but there is much more active action taking place at any given time with 10 players on the field. Even the early laning phase tends to be very active, especially if you have roamers on the map or a particularly dangerous tri-lane. You've got 10 inventories to talk about, 10 heroes, 10 farm rates and 10 different player mindsets. It's a much more difficult job to balance that many things to cover with providing entertaining color and observation. In Starcraft II there's really rarely an excuse to miss something that's happened or is going to happen. In Dota 2, its an inevitability.
On the other side of the coin, Starcraft II is a lot more coherent in the way it plays out in major battles. Good micro, as subtle as it is, stands out much more, and given that the game was designed from the ground up to be a spectator sport, the visual fireworks tend to match up with skilled play much better than in Dota 2. For all of its subtlety, Starcraft II just isn't as intricate as Dota 2 when you're talking about all of the small elements that can and will influence a big engagement. Starcraft II definitely has a leg up in how open and accessible it is to new viewers, and that translates directly to the level of difficulty in creating a mood of excitement and amazement when you're a caster.
Do you feel that your experience in SC2 was able to help ease your transition? How will it help/not help with Dota 2 casting?
The hardest thing for any broadcaster to do is to "find their voice". Finding the confidence to just disconnect the self-conscious filter we all have built into us, and to trust oneself to let loose and speak freely and confidently about what one is seeing and thinking isn't something one can do effectively without some measure of experience, especially when one knows they're being watched and heard by thousands of viewers.
It's here where my Starcraft II experience has helped the most... I “found my voice” in casting a long time ago, and I've heard every nasty criticism that can be leveled at a caster. I no longer fear being the worst, and that lets me focus on trying to be the best.
It took you a long time before you had a few hundred consistent viewers in SC2, however you are currently averaging 3k viewers after only a few casts. What are some of the advantages and/or disadvantages do you think this situation will bring to you?
On the topic of viewers, I just want to throw this out to the whole Dota community-- the most viewers I ever had for a Starcraft broadcast was 3,700, and it took me a year to get there. During my very first Monthly Madness broadcast, we spiked over 4,000 viewers. Dota community, you guys freaking rock.
I don't know if it's my background or just a quirk in my personality, but the phrase “success breeds success” really rings true to me. If I make a big announcement that I'm holding a press conference and 20 people show up, I'm going to be heading up to the podium feeling self conscious and embarrassed. If 1,000 people show up and they're spilling out into the street, then I know what I have to say is already perceived as valued, which in turn gives me the confidence I need to deliver. I have the same feeling regarding casting... if I start a cast and I only have 75 people watching after half an hour, I just want to turn the stream off and go cry into a martini while I lament the mean people of eSports. If, as has been the case with Monthly Madness, I take the stream live and already have 500+ people waiting before the broadcast even begins, and spike up into the thousands before the first game even starts, then I know that what we're doing is something that matters to people. And that gives me the confidence I need to throw myself into it full force.
There is no doubt that SC2 is a successful game, commercially and competitively. Dota 2 is at the early stages of beta and facing competition from other similar games. What do you think could be key in ensuring Dota 2's release to succeed?
The first key to success is obvious-- Dota 2 has to be free-to-play. This one isn't even up for debate... this is the only way it's going to be able to compete with League of Legends, which already has an absolutely massive entrenched fanbase. Valve made good money from TF2 during its pay-to-play days, but they've made immensely more money since it went free-to-play with the shop/crafting features added.
The second key to success is going to be the ongoing involvement of Valve in pushing Dota 2 as a legitimate “sport,” not just a game some people play competitively. The reason Starcraft II is currently reigning over the kingdom of eSports is because Blizzard has plowed an immense amount of money and support into developing SC2 to be more than just a game. The dividends are already evident, and the growth shows no sign of slowing, at least for the moment. The good news is that, as of right now, this is a non-issue. Valve is already dropping seven-figure sums of money into prize-pools and tournaments in order to establish Dota 2 as a leading eSport, and we aren't even out of beta yet. I can't see this being an issue in the future.
Finally, the current hardcore viewership and fan base of Dota 2 needs to anoint themselves as ambassadors for eSports, and go the extra mile that so many within the Starcraft community have so far. Supporting eSports goes beyond simply tuning in to watch a stream a few nights a week. For example, when you need to buy new computer equipment, buy equipment from a manufacturer that sponsors eSports, and then write them a message saying you bought from them because they support something you love.
When you tune into streams, don't run ad-block. When you run across a noob in game, instead of raging out, add him to your friends list and offer to teach him... and then point him to some professional games/streams to show him what you're talking about. Above all else, put the responsibility for eSports succeeding on your own shoulders, instead of just hoping that big corporations eventually start throwing money into the industry on their own. It's as much up to the viewers and fans as it is up to the casters, players, and sponsors. We have to get there together.
The community's reaction towards your casts has been extremely supportive, and many love your voice during casts, bringing us to this important question: Why is your voice so sexy?
Well, I'm a southern West Virginian born with the soul of the coalfields stirring in his blood... I've got the southern drawl and the hillbilly twang, all wrapped up in the shroud of a practiced public speaker. So maybe that's it... or maybe it's the pack and a half of cigarettes I used to smoke a day. Probably one or the other! [Laughs] Seriously though, to actually answer the question: pure, stupid luck... some people get pretty eyes, some people get hard abs... I got a voice some people seem to like. Sexy or not, I'm just glad I can use it to participate in an industry I love, and which I think brings a lot of joy to a lot of people.
Here's a simple but reflective question. What do you think are areas you should improve as a Dota 2 caster?
Pure analytical knowledge is tops on the list. I feel like I've already made some progress in this department, but I've a long way to go. It's just so hard to step into a new game with such a brilliant and established player base, and to not only be able to grasp the current metagame, but to try to be one step ahead so you're able to predict the not-so-obvious. It's here where I benefit so immensely from the assistance of co-casters like Draskyl, Charms, BuLba, and Loda. I say it on the stream, but I'm going to say it here again-- I'd be lost without Draskyl, and he deserves a huge amount of credit for helping Monthly Madness be a success so far.
Next is camera work. I don't feel I'm horrible in that department, but I'm certainly not much above par. The camera work is quite different between SC2 and Dota, and I still catch myself falling into past habits that lead to me missing some action when I shouldn't. It's something time will help sort out, but in the mean time I have to expend conscious thought on what should be an “automatic” part of running the cast. Until I reach that point, my casting won't be all it should be.
Last, I need to get to know the individual players and their tendencies more thoroughly. I just don't have the casting and viewing time under my belt to know every roster off the top of my head, let alone every pro-player's tendencies. Again, this is something time will help sort out... and in the mean time, I can just draw on the knowledge of Draskyl and others helping out during the casts.
When you are casting, do you have a specific player and hero that you love to watch?
Well, first on that list is, of course, It's Gosu's own team. I've had the pleasure of getting to know BuLba quite well, and am working on getting acquainted with the rest of the team members, and they're one of the nicest groups of guys you'd ever be fortunate enough to meet. Not to mention they're pretty damned good at Dota 2, as well.
Beyond that, like most people I'm currently a bit enamored with Darer and the direction they're going to end up going. Drama aside, there's simply no team that brings as much creativity and unorthodox play to a game as they do at this point in time. They're a treat to watch and to cast.
Then you have CLG and Loda in particular, who's become a good buddy of mine, has sat in on our casts, et cetera. Great guy, amazing player.
So far as actual heroes, I always get a little giddy when I see Enigma and Sand King picked. It means at some point I get to yell “BIG TIME EPICENTER” or “BIG TIME BLACK HOLE” during the broadcast. And being loud is fun. [Laughs]
You are known to give insane shoutouts to all individual viewers that tune in to your stream as appreciation. When your stream reaches 100,000 viewers in the future, will you be man enough to continue doing shoutouts for every single viewer?
Are you kidding me? Having spent the vast majority of my eSports career slapping high fives and sending “OMGOMGOMG” PM's to staff if we pulled as many as 100 viewers for a broadcast, I'd feel remiss if I didn't take the time to thank the people who choose to spend a few hours supporting us. The longest list of shoutouts I ever did was in excess of 1,000 names during the ESWC North American Qualifier in Starcraft II. It took me about 15 straight minutes of reading to get through it, and my voice was going hoarse by the end... and I consider myself one of the luckiest people alive to have had the chance to do it. If we're lucky enough to have 100,000 people supporting us, I don't care if I have to eat a fistful of NoDoz and stay up all night thanking them... they'll deserve it, and I'll be happy to do it!
Compared to SC2, Dota 2 only has a handful of established casters namely TobiWan, Luminous, Godz and Purge. Your partner Draskyl aside, which of these existing casters do you think you could work well with?
Working with any of them would be both an honor and a privilege. A big part of being a “professional” in terms of broadcasting-- or in anything else, really-- is having both the confidence and humility to adapt your own style and strengths to suit those around you. Given how talented all of the above happen to be, I've no doubt that I could work well with any of them.
Just off the top of my head, I think that Purge and I would probably click the best right out of the box. He's extremely knowledgeable and has a nice timbre to his voice, and I think that, given the style of broadcast I try to run (very standard in the way the banter/communication between casters is planned and constructed), he and I wouldn't take much time at all to fall into a rhythm.
E-sports currently do not have the same recognition and support from the public as opposed to mass media careers such as radio and TV hosting. As a caster, how do you think casting e-sports will be able to gain the same status as the others mentioned above?
Well, the biggest difference between people working in traditional radio/television roles and eSports is that, for the most part, no one in eSports has had any training whatsoever in broadcasting or journalism, and they're largely living off of their personality... which isn't a bad thing. It just limits mass appeal and, in correlation, public acceptance and acknowledgment of the industry as a whole.
When a person who has a casual interest in eSports views the majority of these events, they can't help but compare it to what they're used to-- games on ESPN, commentating they hear on the radio, et cetera. And when they do, they end up feeling like they're watching a low-budget broadcast of a local high school game on public access television for all but the biggest events. It isn't something that's going to spark sustained passion or interest.
In my opinion, it's now the need for trained, experienced announcers and producers who know how to lend that familiar, professional feel to a broadcast which needs to be addressed most urgently. Crossing the bridge from “casters” to “broadcasters” is going to be an important step for eSports to take if we hope for our industry to grow to the level of more traditional sports or media.
10 years ago the World Series of Poker was just a kinda-big poker tournament in Las Vegas that drew about as much viewer interest as tape delayed women's billiards. That changed in 2003 when ESPN decided to give it the high-budget treatment. Now, it receives prime time coverage and draws millions of viewers every year. The game itself didn't change across that span of time... what changed was the way it was covered and presented. And with that came the change in public opinion and perception.
eSports grew considerably in the last years thanks to the appearance of more stream channels (twitch.tv and own3d.tv, for example). Now, even developers are making their games having eSports in mind. In your opinion, what should be the next step?
Well, no matter what you consider to be the ultimate end goal to be, the next major step is going to be some sort of consolidation of eSports talent under a single organizing body. The vast majority of people involved in eSports are either doing it out of pure love for the industry, or they're doing it because circumstances in their lives afford them the time and opportunity to treat eSports as either a serious hobby, or, at best, a secondary source of income.
But now that major sponsors are beginning to sit up and take interest, and with the emergence of multi-million dollar entities like MLG, it's only a matter of time before this next stage of growth and organization becomes as necessary as breathing. With that said, there's absolutely no way to gauge when this will happen, nor is there any way to predict in what way such a body will emerge.
There are a lot of conflicting interests involved, spanning multiple continents and cultures. Right now, there's just enough money at stake that contracts and solid legal framework are necessary, but not enough money that litigation and lawyering is at all worthwhile except in the most extreme of circumstances. What this gives you is a situation where, as necessary as taking things to the next level of organization has become, there's almost nothing holding any team or player back from just saying “No thanks” if they don't like the terms of what an organizing body would offer. Any lawsuit or major legal action would cost way more than it could ever recover.
All that can be said with certainty right now is that we're at a very tumultuous and important part of the development of our industry. We can take guesses at the general direction in which we're moving and to which we should be moving... but how we actually end up blazing a path to where we want to be is anyone's guess. All anyone can do is try to play their role and show as much cooperation as possible. There's a bright future for our Wild West, but we can't be content with dirt roads and saloons forever.
Through IGMM, the community has witnessed unknown teams such as Team Water showcasing their talent. However, there are cases when qualifiers are deemed 'pointless' as established teams simply sweep over the amateurs. When do you think is the right time to draw the line between open qualifiers and closed invitations?
I don't think there's ever a time when open qualifiers aren't a positive for everyone involved. Take a look back at our first open qualifier, when Right Mouse Button defeated Darer... a team which then went on to qualify in the second open tournament on their way to upsetting Complexity in the first round of actual tournament play. Without some element of chance and surprise, eSports starts to feel predictable and mechanical just like anything else. When that happens, the romance and excitement of competition go out the window... the chance for a Cinderella story disappears, and I think we all lose out.
As self-serving as it may sound, I think the way we've chosen to structure Monthly Madness is about perfect. The majority of the field is invited based on who are perceived to be at the top of their game, with the remaining 25% of the tournament's slots up for grabs to whichever teams have the will and desire to play their way in. It brings out the best nature of competitors, and gives a tournament a little magic and the potential for a unique storyline.
Teams that participate in the qualifiers and playoffs have all given positive feedback to It's Gosu for running the tournament in a very professional manner. What do you think are some areas of improvement?
Again, in regards to things in the background running as smoothly as they have, more thanks is due to our staff than I can possibly give in writing. We ran, to my knowledge, the two largest open tournaments in the history of Dota 2 to date... and we did it on consecutive weekends. Aside from the three mentioned above, I need to shout out Pup and Magic for helping run the qualifiers... we couldn't have done it without them.
There are still some things that need to be addressed. We ran into situations where some of our rules weren't abided to the letter, especially concerning stand-ins and registration. Although it's encouraging to hear that the majority of people walked away from the tournament with a good taste in their mouths, there were nonetheless some teams who had the opposite feeling due to these issues. All I can do is apologize to them, take personal responsibility for whatever problems they may have encountered, and promise that in future events we'll be doubling our efforts to make the experience positive for everyone, not just the majority.
With this Monthly Madness coming to an end, will the community and players get another Monthly Madness?
We're quite happy to announce that YES, a second season of Monthly Madness is going to heading your way in April! For the time being we can't release too many details, but I can tell you this much: the prize pool will be increased, most of the teams featured in our initial season will be making a return, open qualifiers will once again be a part of selecting the field, and we'll be using the same format we used the first time around, except we'll be featuring a number of “play-in” matches with their own broadcasts, giving us more content than the first time around! Everyone should keep an eye out following the conclusion of our finals, as we expect to release all official details in coming days.
Oh, and YES, we'll be featuring our VODs on YouTube next time around! Figured I had better mention that before I have a crowd show up outside my office with pitchforks and torches! [Laughs]
With the finals coming up tomorrow, who do you think will have the edge to be the champions?
Honestly, I don't know that I can even make that call. CLG is CLG, and with Loda back as a part of the line-up following his vacation, they're going to be at full strength playing for big bucks. They're as scary as any squad on the planet, and damn well one of the best.
Then you have Absolute Legends, the surprise story of the tournament who defeated Na'Vi 2-0 just days ago, and will be rolling into the tournament with all of the momentum in the world. There's absolutely no question that they can beat anyone, and, as good as they are, that includes CLG.
Given that it's going to be a Best-of-Five series, it's all going to come down to preparation and execution. The only thing I know for sure is that no matter who secures three games, the viewers are going to walk away the big winners of the evening. And I can't wait to bring them every minute of the action.
We have certainly enjoyed our interview with Ayesee, and thank him for his time and effort to provide the community with extensive insight upon SC2, Dota 2 and eSports in general. To know more of Ayesee, you can find his personal stream here.
The next of It's Gosu Monthly Madness will be held in April, and an official word will be posted on their website.
Be sure to watch the epic finals for It's Gosu Monthly Madness between Absolute Legends and Counter Logic Gaming. The Bo5 finals will be casted by Ayesee and Draskyl on the 29th of March at 1800 CET.
It's Gosu Dota 2 Stream - aL vs CLG