From Pro to Talent: Jacob “Pimp” Winneche
Jacob “Pimp” Winneche recalls his career and gives advice on how to become a great esports talent.
Jacob “Pimp” Winneche is the personification of the concept of “self-improvement.” He is one of those people with a mindset fully directed towards work. In a conversation with him, I once again very clearly felt that for some people, sport exists outside the usual, traditional understandings: our life as a whole completely depends on our own investments in ourselves, both temporal and psychological, and in order to succeed in it, exactly as and in sports, you need to maintain discipline, constantly grind and exhale only on holidays.
Perhaps a major role in shaping Pimp’s attitude towards working as an analyst was played by his former professional career.
He owes his seven years in the pro-scene to a simple childhood hobby (like all of us); Pimp started playing CS at the age of 12 and spent most of his childhood just “playing and playing and playing and playing.” And then he went pro when he was around 15-16. CS:GO came out and he had his “best years,” following a couple of years for Western Wolves. At one point they were even the second-best team in the world. Pimp subsequently played for Dignitas, SK Gaming, and was eventually bought out by Team Liquid. After spending a year in NA, Jacob went back home to Europe. “I could just feel that after eight years of constant gaming, I needed a break. So in my break, I was offered by DreamHack to come in and act as an analyst, as an expert for one of the tournaments. And I figured I may as well try it, just to have something to do and make a bit of money while doing it, of course. And then I tried it out and I enjoyed it. Good times.”
2019 was easily my best year. I could’ve claimed #1 spot on HLTVs ranking, but haters will say I didn’t play enough maps… pic.twitter.com/uSbH2Cj34t— Jacob “Pimp” Winneche 🔥 (@Pimp_CSGO) August 5, 2021
This was the turning point. Rather than constantly being judged for his performances on the server, Pimp was now on the other side of the desk, he was now the one critiquing and judging professional players. “Of course I had a lot of insight from playing professionally myself for many years, and then being part of the scene when I basically started playing Counter-Strike. So it was a great experience and it was fun to try out a different role. DreamHack thought I did well. They asked me to work the next event again, and I figured why not, one step at a time. And all of a sudden, I was offered some of the biggest tournaments in the world. IEM Katowice, ESL One: Cologne, et cetera. I made a career as an analyst and was hired for mainly the biggest events around the world.”
But just imagine being in such a scenario: you are a young talented pro player and you discover that you're a great and talented analyst. Now the dilemma comes: you can’t be both and keep playing at the highest level, so you have to choose. And Jacob chose.
“It was a difficult decision, especially because I felt like there was some sort of unfinished business. I had a decent year in Team Liquid. I was doing okay individually, but I still felt that I had more to show, felt that it could be part of a top-5, a top-10 team in the world. And I still haven't had the opportunity to go find a Major title. But on the other hand, it was also super, super intriguing, and super fun to work as an analyst and work in front of the camera and learn that whole aspect of the scene as well, and I always have been up for new challenges. And I think this one was a good one for me.
“It was kind of a win-win situation anyway. If I went back to playing, that probably would have been good for me as well. And then I could hopefully achieve the goals I had as a player. And if I stayed as an analyst I could evolve and work my ass off to become one of the best analysts Counter-Strike had to offer. So it was a luxurious problem in the sense that I had to carry a path I could choose from. And at the end of the day, during that period, it just felt more natural for me to work on camera. It was a little less stressful. You know, no 24/7 practice, I could stream on the side and just chill, see my friends, see my family, something I hadn't been able to do pretty much throughout my entire career as a professional. So it was a different life. And I guess that just took over and as soon as you've been out of the game, as soon as you haven't played on the pro scene for half a year to a year, you just lose that connection to it and you have to work your way up again. And at that point, I was one of the top analysts out there and I didn't really feel like working my way up again.”
Advice #1: Choose the profession you like most and that brings you joy and then just work your ass off.
But choosing your path and following it are two entirely different matters. Pimp had to spend hours to polish his articulation and accent, to get better at casting, to know what to say, how to say it, and even when not to say something at all.
“It's not a secret that English has never been my native language. So of course, when I stood by colleagues like stunna and SPUNJ and all these machines, the native English speakers, people who grew up speaking English, I always felt out of place in some sense. You could hear that I was the outsider. So of course, I had to work a lot on my English pronunciation. I had to work on my articulation, my tempo in my speech. As a Dane, you tend to speak English very fast. Whereas other nationalities tend to speak very slowly, so there was a big contrast there.
“And that's something I thought about pretty much every single time I took the stage. It's not easy to change the way you speak and change the way you think. It didn't feel natural in the beginning, but as I did more and more events and as I got more and more opportunities, I slowly but surely learned to control myself and learned to articulate myself better, learned to present myself better to the camera. A lot of people out there think that when you're an analyst talking about Counter-Strike, all you have to do is be a nerd Counter-Strike player, or watch a lot of demos and understand the game. But 95% of the job is to articulate yourself and then present yourself to the camera in a manner where the audience understands what you're saying. And when they get something out of it, all the diehard Counter-Strike fans sometimes feel that the analysis can be a little bit like... It's not all the time we do it for the hardcore fans, right? Because if you have 100k viewers, maybe 95k of those guys understand Counter-Strike at a lower level than the guys on the desk. So you can't cater to only the 5k hardcore nerds, you have to find a way to accommodate everyone. It was always about working on a balance where you could get better, articulate yourself and get better at explaining yourself while making sure you don’t lose the audience. A constant work in progress.
“And this is something I do very well compared to a lot of my colleagues. They are better English speakers than I am, they have a different approach to it, and we each have our strengths. And I think one of my strengths would be that I always try to include everyone. I always try to make sure that even the hardcore fan gets something out of watching the analysis segment and the new guy who's watched maybe only five CS games also understand what's going on.”
As we already know, Pimp has years of playing experience in his pockets, and that’s his main advantage. This experience gave him a lot of know-how in terms of how people approach the game, how people think about the game, and what kind of interesting things can be found from watching pros play.
“Whenever I was watching analysts back when I was a player, I always felt that they were missing something. I always felt that, like, ‘Why don't they talk about this? Why didn't they notice this small detail?’ And I quickly realized that when you're on the desk, you can't include everything. There'll be some stuff you simply don't have time for, or you'll value that some topic is more interesting than another topic, et cetera. So I try to find my own unique way of approaching the games, trying to make it interesting for the viewers and trying to bring in some of the stuff to light that I think some of my former colleagues didn't do a lot.
“Having played Counter-Strike for that many years, and basically having had my entire life involved in Counter-Strike, gave me a lot of know-how and gave me a lot of knowledge. And then for me, I always used to tell myself, ‘Right, there's no one in the world I believe, at least very few people, who understand Counter-Strike and who know as much about Counter-Strike as I do’. My biggest task was to present myself in front of a camera and get comfortable in that setting, to make sure that I could express myself and articulate myself in the correct manner. So when it comes to CS know-how and when it comes to approaching the game, it comes to reading the game and understanding some of the smaller details. I think that is just natural for me, given my experience as appropriate.”
Working on a desk means constantly being highlighted. Thousands of people watch you, judge you, like or dislike you. Pimp feels that toxic people tend to be the most vocal. But how can one divide the good, useful feedback from worthless trash?
“In the beginning, you have to filter it out, right? You can read forums, you can read Reddit for that matter. And people always complain, the loud ones who are the most annoying. So you have to find a way to make sure that you don't really get affected by them. And truth to be told, in the beginning, of course, you read those comments and you are trying to get feedback, to listen to the community, but at some point, you realize that just because one lunatic is writing something outrageous on Twitter doesn't mean that that's what everyone else is thinking as well.
“Often when you're satisfied with something, you think someone is doing a good job, you just sit back and relax and you enjoy it, you don't go in somewhere and actually write, you know, ‘This guy's doing a good job.’ Whereas often if you are unhappy with something, or if you think someone is an idiot or someone is annoying to listen to, those are the type of guys who will go and form a post on Reddit and write all sorts of nasty stuff. So you've got to learn to sort it out and you got to learn to take feedback from the right guys. When one of my colleagues told me, ‘Hey, Jacob, why don't you try to do this? Or why don't we try to do that?’ That's when I’m listening. When a tournament organizer is giving feedback, that's when I’m listening.
“But whenever a p*ssyslayer123, or whatever the f*ck they call themselves, comment on HLTV forums and you just ignore it. Don’t take feedback from someone who doesn’t even understand what it's like to work on a camera, right? This person doesn't even understand what it means to present yourself, they don't understand that when we have five minutes on the segment on the analysis, you can't be rambling for 10 minutes about a certain round or a specific detail. And again, we have to condense information and be very cautious about what we're saying.”
Advice #2: Don't take feedback from someone you wouldn't take advice from. That's a golden rule.
At the WePlay Academy League, CS:GO teams test their youth rosters, show their best qualities, and gain experience from bitter mistakes. These players are the future of CS:GO, not the present. And just like the players, all over the world, you can find talents, casters, and analysts who are trying to get better and work on the desk. What should you do if you want to become a caster? At any age, the answer will be the same.
“The willingness to sacrifice is vital. If you have no experience casting, if you have no experience outside of casting, and you really want to make it big, then you've gotta keep grinding. It's like playing professional Counter-Strike: you're starting FACEIT and you just grind and grind and grind. Maybe it takes 1, 2, 3 years before someone notices you. And as soon as someone notices you and gives you an offer to play on a semi-professional level, that's when you take that opportunity, that's when you make the most out of it. Same goes for casting.
“You start casting some of the open qualifiers or some of the games that basically have open IPs which everyone can go in and stream. And then as soon as someone offers you a semi-professional tournament, as soon as someone takes notice of you, that's when you grab that opportunity. And that's when you make the most out of it. I think many people think that you can just start casting from one day to another. And if you don't find success in the first couple of months—you just weren't good enough. That's not necessarily the end, okay? You can still evolve, maybe you're not good enough right now. But if you cast every single day, every single week, or every day for the next two years, eventually you will get very good at your craft. The only thing that makes you better is practice and getting more familiarized with casting. So it's about grinding and the willingness to really want to do it.”
Next step: you were noticed. A TO asks you to cast or analyze a couple of matches. But you’re getting nervous, it’s now on a whole other level. How do you overcome that lack of confidence?
“It's connected to the previous thing. The more you do it, the more comfortable you'll be, the more you're used to sitting in front of a camera, the more you're used to speaking in front of the audience, the more comfortable you'll be. I remember the first time I did a DreamHack event and we had like 40k or 50k viewers, and I was a little bit nervous. I was like, ‘Oh, how should I hold my hands? So how did I say that? Oh, did I f*ck up here? Oh, did I say something?’ You can't constantly question yourself. But that's just the natural thing in the beginning. You'll get used to it, you'll get comfortable with it.
“And I think another good piece of advice in that sense would be to ignore the mistakes you make because you will make mistakes. You will say something that doesn't make sense, or you will stumble over a word, or you will do something where you wish that you would've done something else. But the less you think about it, the better. And then you can always, after a certain cast or game, go in and watch the VOD. And you could say, ‘Okay, I've got to improve at this, I’ve got to stop saying this and this didn't make a lot of sense.’ So you can always evaluate yourself after you've done it. But if you think about your mistakes and if you're focused on your mistakes while you're doing it, it will often lead you to make more mistakes. And there's no reason to do that.”
Anexis —> Western Wolves— Jacob “Pimp” Winneche 🔥 (@Pimp_CSGO) June 10, 2021
Western wolves —> 3DMAX
3DMAX —> Copenhagen Wolves
Copenhagen Wolves —> SK
SK —> Team Liquid
Team Liquid —> Team Pimp 🔥 pic.twitter.com/RvcCsdqh8O
Speaking about the hardest casting moment of Pimp’s career, Jacob recalls IEM Katowice 2019.
“I worked on the desk as an analyst and that's always been my main go-to thing. But in that tournament I had to cast major games. I think we had 200k, 300k viewers and I was the voice of the game and that's something I've never tried. In fact, it was my first professional task at any tournament with over 200k viewers. So that was a rough moment. And again, you start to feel that you are in your comfort zone being on the desk. I was used to it, I didn't care whether or not we have 500k people watching me as an analyst. Because that was my place. That's where I felt comfortable.
“But casting that game and doing that live is something I didn't have a lot of experience in. So that was a big task for me. And there was something that brought me out of my comfort zone, but it was super, super fun and it made it very, very exciting to go to work. And I guess I overcame it by doing it right. Again, you will make mistakes, you will do a job to some extent that could be better, but that's how it always is: you never do anything perfectly. And if you do this, there's always a way to improve it. So you’ve just got to throw yourself out into it and own it, do as well as you can. And if people value that to not be good enough, then that's how it is. And then you've got to get better. And if people don't make any comments on it, or people won't seem fine with it, then you probably have done a good job knowing that you can do it better. So you just gotta do it. It's not about backing out. It's not about being afraid. It's about just doing it.”
Another essential thing for a panelist or a caster is preparing for matches. You might run through specific VODs, study other people’s opinions, watch certain streams, etc. Pimp shares his vision on this.
“The way I prepare is usually by first and foremost looking through the statistics. If it's a major tournament and most of the teams are teams that you watch on a regular basis, you know how they play, you know how they approach the game, you know the player types, you know each individual. Even though I’m young, only 26 years old, I have still played CS for some years, I've been in the game for 12 to 13 years. It’s like being a fish in the water. I don’t study and watch VODs, I don't watch players to get to know them, I don't really have to do that because I watch them on a regular basis.
“Surely, if you go into a tournament like the WePlay Academy League, where a lot of the players are new, you try to watch a couple of games, you try to get a sense for how they play, how they approach the game. And then you try to figure out what kind of style the team has in order to set up some expectations, to set up some storylines that could be interesting for people to follow. It's all about doing your preparation in terms of what to talk about for a certain player, for a certain team.
“Let's say, a Young Ninjas player from the WePlay Academy League, nilo. He's 16 years of age. He's very good, but he sometimes struggles to find consistency. I can talk about stats, but I can look at what storyline I can create coming into the tournament. We have a player who is only 16 years of age, he's a great talent, but he's having a bit of a problem with finding consistency. Is this the tournament where he will do it? Right? All of a sudden from the get-go you build up a storyline that you think you can follow for the rest of the tournament. That makes it interesting for the viewer to see: ‘Okay, this guy, he was good in game one. Let's see if he's good in game two. Let's see if he finds that consistency Jacob was talking about in the first game’. This is what preparing is for me.”
Advice #3: Create storylines and follow them throughout the tournament in order to make it engaging and interesting for the viewer.
But there are always two sides to every coin. Working as an esports caster, analyst, or any member of talent is pretty exhausting.
Jacob has been traveling to tournaments ever since he was 16 years of age. He spends at least one-third of the year away from home. For example, in 2019 he had 225 travel days, which means that he slept two hundred and twenty-five days in a hotel. An insane amount of days away from home, away from family, away from friends, away from daily life.
“You're basically away from everything. It’s work dedication. That's tough. And I've been doing that for the last four years. There's not been a year where I haven't had less than 150 travel days. There are a lot of sacrifices you have to make in terms of not showing up for your mother's birthday or not showing up for your nephew's birthday or missing your own birthday. I think the last four birthdays I've had, I've only been home for one of them. Otherwise, I've been out traveling. These are the sacrifices you have to accept, they come with work.
“Well, I always liked traveling. I used to be stressed out sometimes and I used to work a lot. So actually when I was in a plane or when I was crossing the Atlantic on an eight-hour plane ride to Los Angeles, I was relaxing on the plane, which sounds ridiculous to say. But that was one of the few places I could just put my phone away and just watch a movie, five movies for that matter if it was a long ride and just relax because otherwise, I wouldn't have time for that.
“And yeah, of course, going to LAN events. It's always nice having a crowd near you. Performing in front of a live crowd is just different compared to performing online. And it makes you way more nervous. There’s a difference between 50k people online and a live crowd of 15k people. Performing in front of a million online viewers is easier because you can't see them, right? So when I did ESL One: Cologne and IEM Katowice, I knew that there was a live audience of 12k or 50k people watching... That makes you on tip of your toes, that's making you want to perform even better, it gives you that extra gear, that extra energy that you feed off of from the audience.
“And there's always such a nice feeling being at LAN. So the whole traveling aspect, LANs, working in that environment, I've always liked it, but I'm also coming to the realization now that I've gotten a little bit older. 220 travel days a year, there's no way I can sustain that level of traveling. There's no way I'll ever build any meaningful relationship with a girlfriend, a family, friends. So I'm trying to slow down a little bit.”
I was going to ask Jacob if there's a limit for him, but he had seemingly read my mind.
“I’m trying to find a bit of balance. Not to travel too much, but of course, I'm not done. I don't think I'm about to stop anytime soon as an analyst, I still love it. I still think I can get better. I believe in 2020 I was nominated as the Analyst of the Year. I didn't win the award, rightfully so SPUNJ won it, one of my oldest friends, but I still think that I can get that. And until I feel that I've hit my max potential, I'm not going to stop. But instead of traveling for 220 days and doing 15-20 tournaments a year, I may only do 8-10 tournaments but come in at a hundred percent and feel comfortable doing it instead of working myself too much.”
The time has come for a philosophical question. I asked Pimp why the casters' craft was even important at all. Jacob, being fast-minded, stopped there for a moment before answering.
“Casters and analysts are two different roles. Casters’ craft is important because it's a big part of the game. When you think about a Counter-Strike game, there's a lot of downtime in the ramps. There's a lot of time where people don't really do anything on a server. And if you don't have a likable guy or a guy that you can relate to casting your game, that downtime, all of a sudden feels less exciting, right? So the casters have to build the excitement in the game to help to build up the round. They tempo the round, they speak slowly when something is about to happen. And then they explode up to a higher gear when something actually takes place.”
Advice #4: The whole craft of casting a game is all about managing your excitement and finding the right moments to really make the game enjoyable for the viewer.
“It's just a big difference. If you have a fantastic game with a shit caster or someone you don't like casting, that game will only be 50% as enjoyable as a game where the game is fantastic, but the caster is also doing a big part by casting fantastically. All of a sudden you have a fantastic game that is just super, super exciting. So they do so much for the game. Same goes for us, analysts, and analysis segments. When an exciting game is finished, you want to know why X, Y, and Z happened. You want to know what you can expect from the next time they meet, you want to know what happens on that too, you want to have something to look out for, right? One thing I always tell myself when I do an analysis segment during a big tournament is that I want to leave the viewer with something to think about. So I could say that we're moving to Dust II: ‘Look out for s1mple, because s1mple likes to do this move and whenever he does it, it usually changes the tendencies of the game’. That way I give the viewer something to look out for. And when the viewers see that in the game, they think to themselves, ‘Oh, I just saw that, I heard Pimp talking about that. Now it happened. And now I can expect XYZ to happen’. That gives them a certain excitement throughout the game to follow. So I think it's very, very important for tournaments to have casters, have analysts, and have guys who can build up excitement before the game to make sure that the viewer gets more out of the game. Of course, you need good players, you need good teams, but we also need good casters to provide that entertainment. Then it will be as enjoyable as it could be.”
Besides being an analyst, Pimp is streaming a lot. He mostly plays CS:GO (and he explained why earlier). I asked him if it was just a side job or if it was something else.
“Streaming for me is something I'm 100% invested into and that's why I'm so stressed out. I basically work 340 days a year. I never really take any days off. I always have something to do. I could just decide to focus only on being an analyst, that would be a full-time job. But streaming is outside of that. This is basically having two full-time jobs at once. I think streaming helps me in order to stay connected with the game. You often see or you tend to see someone who works with the game, who can miss the synergy with the game, they don't play it anymore, they don't watch it and master their own skills. So they don't really understand that at the same level. And me streaming and me playing at a relatively high level still keeps me connected with the game.
“I can relate to whatever I see in a pro game. For example, NAVI is playing Astralis. I've been in the position that X player is going to play before. I know what he is thinking. I know what the next move is going to be. And you know why he may not make the move. It comes from playing the game and from streaming. So I think it's a great attribute to have. I'm not saying that you can't be a good analyst, that you can't be a good caster without playing the game at a high level. I just think that it makes me 5 to 15% better at my job. It just adds extra value.”
It is impossible to achieve the ideal, but it is necessary to strive for it. Pimp describes what, in his opinion, is a good talent, no matter who we are speaking about: a caster, a host, an analyst, etc.
“A good talent is a passionate talent. I think someone who has excitement for the game, someone who understands the game, and someone who buys into the game usually makes a good talent. You can be super, super smart tactically, sound, and tactically smart in CS, right? But if you don't know how to handle that information, if you don't know how to articulate yourself in front of a camera, if you don't know how to play with your colleagues, it’s bad. When I'm on a desk with my host and a colleague, there are often times when I think ‘I could have said that, I should have said that, I could do this,’ but that would make my colleague look screwed, or that would take away too much time for my colleagues.”
Advice #5: You have to find a way to master all sorts of different aspects of being a talent, and then combine that to be the whole package.
“So yeah. Try to find the balance where you sacrifice yourself and make sure that you play well with your mates. I think the more you're able to do that, the better you'll be at your job. A good talent is someone who masters all these different aspects. You need to be well-rounded in many different aspects of being a talent. You cab be a fantastic guy at casting, but if you don't understand the game, then you will often end up sounding a little bit stupid on the broadcast. Same goes for an analyst. You can be the most tactically, well-driven piece of talent out there. But if you don't know how to articulate yourself, or if you don't know how to make that understandable for the regular viewer, then that doesn't do anything for you. So you have to find the balance. I think those guys who have been able to do that will be the most successful. And those are the ones that I like to listen to the most.”