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[StarCraft] An interview with Brendan Valdes and Wolf Schröder

About a week ago, I had the opportunity of sitting down with legendary StarCraft 2 casters Brendan Valdes and Wolf Schröder to ask them some questions after they finished casting one of the Jin Air SSL matches.

The resulting article can be found here (in Korean), but since some parts were edited out, I thought I’d post the interview up here as well for you to enjoy.

V = Brendan Valdes, W = Wolf Schröder

 

Since not everyone reading this might be familiar with you, would you please briefly introduce yourself to our readers?

V: I am Brendan Valdes, I go by the ID ‘Valdes’ and I’ve been casting in Korea professionally for almost 4 years. I did mostly StarCraft 2, recently I’ve started LCK at SPOTV as well. I’m 25 years old, from New York city and I’ve been living in Korea for about 5 years now.

W: My name is Wolf Schröder, when I first started I was primarily a StarCraft 2 commentator for the GSL, but now I cast a plethora of games. I’ve commentated games like Overwatch, Broodwar, Heroes of the Storm and Hearthstone. I’ve been living in Korea for almost 6 years now. It’s been a long eSports career for me out here in Korea and I’ve enjoyed living here so I’m probably going to stay here for a long time.

Wolf and Valdes

[Brendan Valdes (left) and Wolf Schröder (right) casting SSL Premier]

How did you get interested in e-sports initially?

W: I’d seen the big first person shooter tournaments that were being advertised, I’d seen some e-sports competition type stuff on Tech TV in America and I played in some Smash Brothers tournaments, but really the big draw for me for traditional e-sports was actually Proleague for StarCraft Broodwar. A lot of the people I played StarCraft 1 with on US East actually told me about the Korean league and showed me where to find it, where to watch it, so I spent a lot of time staying up late into the night to watch Proleague and then later on the GSL for StarCraft 2. So eventually moving here and commentating is kind of a dream job for me.

V: I’d always been really big into gaming when I was younger, but I didn’t really know about competitive gaming like e-sports. But I had two older brothers, so whenever we’d play any game we’d always play against each other on a very small competitive scale. I was really into this game called Age of Empires back in the day, but I never knew about StarCraft because it just kind of missed me since none of my friends played it. But one day my brother told me about the release of StarCraft 2. And he was like ‘Oh supposedly they play it online and it’s huge in Korea and it’s really competitive and people are famous over there.’ For me, that was a very new concept but it was very interesting so I got into StarCraft 2 because of that and once I started playing that I started watching GSL at first.

 

And how did you go from that to casting e-sports in Korea? 

W: I had commentated a lot at home, in my apartment. I made a small studio there and I had commentated online tournaments. I ran a tournament called the ‘Open Wolf Cup’ that ran, I think, 14 different tournaments and I got hired by certain companies to do show matches here and there, clan wars, things like that. But it was all online. So the GSL was like the first big major tournament I ever did in a professional studio. I was a little bit nervous at first to be on camera, having the big lights, the camera, the studio in Mokdong, just getting that impression of ‘wow, this is real’ was really nerve wracking. But once we got into the actual games everything felt more comfortable again – just like I was casting in my bedroom.

V: Eventually what happened in my case was that I actually got a raffle from Azubu TV which was sponsoring the OGN League way back when in 2012. And through kind of getting lucky but also meeting the right people I was able to get a job at Azubu TV working in Korea. They needed a replacement English speaking caster for League of Legends at OGN and they asked me if I could do it because my level at the time was pretty high. I had no broadcasting experience, but I said ‘Okay, maybe I’ll try it,’ because obviously it’s a really big opportunity. So I did it. I wasn’t that great at it, but it was very enjoyable and I met a bunch of people, including Wolf, and we became very good friends and I got a lot of opportunities working part-time stuff. But the big break happened when they needed an extra guy for Proleague to cast with Wolf. I was the obvious choice since we had great chemistry and I’d been casting for a while now, so he asked me to cast with him and ever since then it has just been my full-time job here in Korea.

 

What is the best thing about being a caster? Why do you love doing it? You know, assuming that you do love doing it.

W: Well, I do love it, I can confirm. For me, it’s about the narratives, the story telling. I like to bring a player’s past into perspective. Because in every different broadcast you have two type of viewers: the hardcore fans who have been watching since day one of the tournament, and the guys who are just tuning in that night for the first time. I want to bring something to the table for both of those groups. Take a player like Stats, who played today and ended up losing the final game: I talk about his Broodwar experience and his Proleague history in StarCraft 1 and his long career, his repeated failed attempts to get a Starleague victory. He finally did of course in StarCraft 2 by now, but it’s been a long career for him. A lot of people go ‘Well, look what he did in this tournament; he was one of the weaker seeded players, why should I care about him?’ and I say, well, let’s not forget his long storied history that most people don’t know about. So I like to bring that hardcore knowledge to the hardcore fans but also tell that story to the new people. And that’s what I really love about casting; being able to tell that story.

V: In my case, I just love the competitive aspect of it. Like I said, I was always really big on gaming and this is quite literally the highest level, especially here in Korea. Casting in Korea compared to casting outside of Korea is just really fascinating to me because we’re casting quite possibly the best guy in the world currently for one game and we get to do that. We’re the ones on the stage bringing that story live to you guys, bringing the excitement, and that’s all going to go down in history.

W: I definitely agree with that. You know, there’s always jokes being made about casters casting the finals saying ‘History will be made tonight!’, but it’s true; whoever wins that tournament will have their picture on the wall, it’ll be on their Liquipedia page, it’s going to be in history forever that they were the champions. Especially in Korean e-sports every tournament has such a long storied history. In the West, it’s like ‘Who won that tournament that weekend?’ but in Korea it’s ‘Who won that tournament over a period of months of training, preparation, going through that gauntlet bracket,’ and the same players continue to play in these tournaments so it just builds this history. When you look at life-time stats between players like the ones that came up today, you see that they’ve played against each other 40 times in Legacy of the Void alone and there’s such a storied history there and that’s what’s really exciting to me.

 

You sort of touched upon this in your previous answer, but how do you feel like Korean e-sports culture differs from that in the US?

W: The reason we can have these kinds of long tournaments here is that Seoul, even though it’s a big city, has great public transportation and most pro gamers live in the same city. But even if you live in Gwangju or Busan you can actually go to a qualifier really easily and, if you qualify, find means to participate in the tournament whereas if you’d have a league in, say, Los Angeles…if you’re from New York, you’re the best player in the East Coast, you still have to either get on a plane to travel to LA to play in those tournaments every week or you’d have to relocate your entire life. And even if you relocate, just imagine if there’s a Proleague in LA and you relocate to play in this league and your team loses very early on, or you decide not to relocate and keep flying every week – it’s just not reasonable, really. So until the West gets one city or one sort of state, one area maybe even one country where everything ends up being – something like Korea – then I think we would see longer leagues in the West as well.

V: And there’s really only Riot with League of Legends that’s trying to create something like this, but it’s very much in its infancy. They’re based out of LA, they have their studio there, and all the teams do live around there but it’s not like it’s known that LA is ‘the Mecca of e-sports in the US’, at least not yet. We might get there eventually, but then again look at Atlanta, where Turner is trying to put on an e-league with CS Go and all that. They’re forming their own thing down there and as Wolf said, it’s just hard to centralize it. Also, Korea has a longer history. e-Sports have been around longer as a big thing in the culture, from as early as 1999 with Broodwar.

W: Yeah, even for StarCraft alone there’s been tons and tons of tournaments and adding StarCraft 2 to that would be like 50+ at that point, close to a hundred tournaments; it’s insane. And the West really just started having big events within the last 10 years so they’re just so behind compared to what we’ve accomplished here in Korea because Korea was built for this. e-Sports was born here, the PC bang culture, easy infrastructure to get to the tournaments both for fans and players, team houses for players – the environment here was born to build a successful e-sports culture.

 

So what do you think it is about e-sports and specifically StarCraft that appeals to so many different kinds of people?

V: If you compare e-sports and traditional sports, the fan base of traditional sports is usually older people – people that grew up with it for a long time, they went to a baseball game or played catch with their dad. But now with the rise of the internet it’s so accessible for you to watch anywhere at any time from the comfort of your own home by just tuning in to Twitch or Youtube or wherever. Plus, the younger generation nowadays, growing up with the internet, is so much more into gaming that they feel more comfortable with games that they watch online; they watch their favorite streamers playing the games, they watch their favorite pro players playing the games. It’s very accessible to them comparatively when maybe they’re not very athletic or they’re not really into sports; it’s still very easy to get into gaming or into e-sports as compared to for example watching a baseball game when they’re not really interested in that.

W: And I think in terms of StarCraft specifically, it’s a very easy game to understand from a viewer perspective. When you compare StarCraft to, say, League of Legends, LoL is a game that if you play it, you can watch it and really enjoy it. But even if you’re a massive StarCraft fan and watch a lot of e-sports, LoL is still somewhat complicated with the items at the bottom of the screen and all the stuff that you sort of need to study. StarCraft is complicated too, of course, with the production tab and strategies and stuff but when you see two armies fighting it’s pretty obvious what’s happening. You’ve got this giant alien army, the Protoss, and you have this bug infested looking Zerg army and lasers are firing and Zerg are shooting spikes and acid. My mom could look at that and know that okay, these armies are fighting and one of them is gonna win and they’re going to win the game. So I think StarCraft adds this basic top-down viewing experience. I don’t know if Blizzard intended on making the biggest e-sports of all time and the longest standing e-sport of all time, but they basically did. That legacy that they created, maybe accidentally, with Broodwar, then went into Starcraft 2. And the viewing experience is just really easy for someone who doesn’t know anything about the game to watch but it also has, you know, the production tab, the resources tab, the income, all of the tools for a hardcore fan to really see the details.

 

You guys are basically casting for the foreign audience. Do you think that’s an important aspect of e-sports? Why should people in the US care about Korean matches?

V: Well, the Korean matches are, as we’ve said before, the most competitive. They have the best players, because of the infrastructure and the culture. Most of the people who stay up and watch our stuff are hardcore fans. Especially when you consider time zones; tonight the matches started at 7 [PM] in Korea but that’s 5 AM on the East Coast in North America so it can be very hard for people to tune in live but still a large number of people do because they’re the hardcore fans and they want to see the best players in the world play. We bring the most accessible content to them. They could watch the Korean cast, but they wouldn’t understand, so we’re basically here to cover the rest of the world that speaks English.

W: I think what Valdes said is the most important part, but there’s an added facet to this, which is that Korea has the most regular e-sports content on and it’s high level, highly produced, every week, on multiple TV stations. For an Overwatch fan, the best Overwatch players are from Korea and right now the only league you can watch is APEX. If you’re a League of Legends fan, it’s on regularly in the West as well but the LoL content here is really highly produced; multiple companies are working on it, it gets coverage from two different broadcasting stations. StarCraft is on almost every day of the week here. If you’re a StarCraft fan, you could wait for IEM to come around, or wait for Dreamhack, or you can watch StarCraft every night basically. So if you’re really hardcore and really want to watch that content, it’s there for you every night, and I think that’s part of the drive to Korea.

 

Last year was full of shocking news for the StarCraft fan community in Korea. Do you think StarCraft will recover? What is the way forward for StarCraft right now?

V: Well, even though the scene obviously took a big hit, we’re beginning to see outside organizations picking up players one by one. Splyce, for example, picked up three players, other teams from abroad are coming in to pick up a bunch of these Korean players because they see them as the best and as long as there’s still interest there’s always still the opportunity for it to ‘come back’, essentially, to where it was. It’s still alive, it’s not dead no matter how much everyone likes to meme about that – it actually never died. The question is just how much money is in it, how many teams are in it, how many people are watching, stuff like that. The number of viewers hasn’t really fallen so that’s a good sign and if the money eventually comes back in because they realize that the game is still doing well even without the infrastructure that we once had, I think there’s definitely a chance that it can make a resurgence.

W: Like I said, I originally came here to commentate StarCraft and Proleague and as a tournament it had such a long history. It was the longest running e-sports tournament of all time. So for me, losing that was a huge blow. The teams went away, funding went away, a lot of players retired. However, the game is still being played. Tournaments still happen. I think it took a big hit, but people are still playing, there’s still multiple tournaments, people are still getting paid. And as much as for me, personally, I love StarCraft so much so I would love for it to be the biggest game, just because it’s not the biggest game doesn’t mean that it’s not an amazing game that has a large fan base that loves it still. With StarCraft: Remastered coming around the corner I really hope that that revitalizes a lot of the StarCraft scene and maybe even helps grow StarCraft 2. But I think what StarCraft really needs is a new amateur scene. Obviously without the big salary teams it’s a little bit tougher to get motivated to become a StarCraft 2 player these days for sure, but I think with Remastered coming out and more tournaments popping up there’s definitely a possibility of growth there. But the bottom line is that whether it continues to grow or stays where it is, people still play the game professionally, people still get paid, there’s still prize money and there’s still fans. A lot of fans get upset when they game they like the most isn’t the biggest game, but that doesn’t mean they have to love it any less.

03

[Three handsome, happy nerds]

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This entry was posted on 17 June 2017 by in Games, Korea and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , .

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