TobiWan: "There's no clear path for how to get into esports. We're going to change it"
TobiWan: "There's no clear path for how to get into esports. We're going to change it" ⚡⚡⚡ Esports news, analytics, reviews on WePlay! The latest news on WePlay!
We all miss LAN events. The new TI10 Battle Pass was released just the other day, but there will be no The International in August: Valve has postponed it until 2021, and even has not yet announced the approximate dates. We were feeling the feast of Dota with our bone marrow; Stockholm's Ericsson Globe was so close. The arena for sixteen thousand people would have been filled with the most devoted fans, and the participants — players, organizers, analysts or casters — would be doing everything possible to make people enjoy.
Toby "TobiWan" Dawson blossoms precisely at such moments: huge LANs with lots of fans and amazing Dota. He is one with the crowd, fueled by its energy, in exchange returning even more. He is the only English-speaking talent who worked as a caster on every TI since the very beginning, a chat-wheel phrase generator and most importantly — a great fella from Australia (pronounce it in Australian and you'll get a rhyme).
Yet, even the pandemic can't stop us from making interviews with your favourite Dota persons. Arseny contacted Toby and spoke with him about Toby's career, the new Battle Pass, FSG Academy which is Toby's brand new educational project and got a lot of guidance on how to become a good Dota 2 caster.
First of all, how did you like the new Battle Pass?
There are some pretty cool things in there, very interested to see how captivating the guild system is.
Are you happy with the WR Arcana?
F**K SLACKS WR Arcana looks amazing!
What do you think of the ‘quests’ and guilds? Have you already launched your own?
I have joined up with a mate of mine called Celdric, I like the concept of having a small group of people working towards a goal. Valve were smart with this as it enables people who get frustrated with randoms to form social groups with purpose.
It’s TI number 10 this time. Do you remember the very first one? How your life has changed since?
I remember vividly the first TI even though I probably had 10 hours sleep across the whole event. You don’t ever forget the start of Dota 2! My life is nothing like it was back then, we would need a whole book dedicated to that growth.
These days you need to be dedicated to a single title if you are a commentator/analyst, or you will never be a better choice than others working in the game.
It’s been 15 years for you… Do you ever just sit down and review all that happened?
I always like to remember how I got where I am, it creates great life lessons that improve the choices I make today. But I don’t like to dwell on the past, just take the lessons to improve them now.
By the way, what moment in your life do you think was the game-changer?
Hmm, there were a few of these... If we ignore the emotional idiot times I was as a teenager the first moment is when I decided to quit university and pursue a career in gaming. Of course, during that time I didn’t think I would be a commentator or even knew about esports… I actually was looking to be a game developer! Which is a little full circle as I (on the side) have been trying to get a game concept developed.
And it all started with Call of Duty for you, right? Why don’t you get back to it?
I don’t think Call of Duty is anything like the game I used to love. I was a vanilla COD player with a love for WW2 environments, it felt a lot more competitive. I do not like the spray and pray shooters which still feels like a fundamental element of a lot of COD titles and their clones these days.
You were casting CoD, HoN, Starcraft 2, even CS:S. Is switching between disciplines hard?
In the early days, you had to switch between games because quite simply you would never be hired if you did just one. Events would hire 2-3 people to every game on the main stage, the best example of that were the earlier WCG events.
These days you need to be dedicated to a single title if you are a commentator/analyst, or you will never be a better choice than others working in the game. Content creators/interviews or hosting roles are able to transition between titles as long as the talent working those roles are good at doing preparation.
What about getting a caster’s education, you know? Being a pro taught by pros, not just launching your stream and shouting and memeing?
The first hurdle to people getting educated in commentary is taking it seriously, a hobby is just a casual side gig but when you see it as a profession then you look to develop yourself.
There are no great places to learn from pro commentators in a structured way, only some guides/interviews/youtube content that is randomly produced by people.
I am actually working on a project called FSG Academy that is looking to address this problem and not just for the single role of commentary... More on that when we release the page in a few weeks!
What modern casters lack? I spoke to s4 and he said that there are not a lot of ex-players in English-speaking panels, but there are a lot of in RU-speaking. And the difference is felt.
That is two different issues, of modern casters or retired pro players. What s4 refers to is what is always brought up with EN panels, and that is the lack of TI winners working as talent.
Quite simply, you need to retire or not qualify in order for EN pros to be in that role and most EN players just don’t retire. You also can’t expect a panel to just work because you have former professional players on them, it takes experience and on the job training to get someone who brings life to a panel.
Just look at the TI7 and you can clearly see a lack of synergy and purpose between the knowledge of heavy members. Some have that perfect charisma that sings on a panel, others need to work at it and even more importantly whoever is on the panel needs to understand what they bring to the show and are able to express themselves (yes this means talking clearly, concisely, about something worth talking about that all can understand).
You once said that the most enjoyable part of casting for you is the crowd. Nowadays, where do you find joy if there’re no crowds?
Nothing will ever compare the joy of a crowd reacting and sharing the game with you, you get used to it at events in China or Russia where it is the local language on the PA. But my energy will never be better than when I have a crowd behind me, it is why online casting is never as hype inducing as LAN.
Can you tell me what are you working on during the pandemic?
So I have been working on a couple of things (including casting from home), but a big project I have been developing with a team is FSG Academy.
What is it about?
It is a community resource, a place where those with knowledge can express it through blogs, articles, news posts or even a fully structured course. This is just the first phase of our development too, there are many other useful things planned.
Why did you decide to do it?
For a few years now I have been frustrated with the lack of respect for those industry professionals, but also the lack of a clear career path for those looking to get into esports. You will always hear the debate that people from mainstream just don’t understand esports nuance, but then there is no material which properly educated someone on these special features.
So our end goal is to show that there is a lot more to esports than just playing the games, this can be your life as a profession and encouraging people to help develop the current workforce and enlighten the next generation.
Being a caster with TobiWan
Could you please recall your most difficult, physically or morally, cast?
The early Internationals were pretty brutal on the body, back then you were required to cast the group stage from wherever you were. In those days I was casting from Berlin and the matches were on Seattle timezones, when the group stages ended you had one day to travel to the event in America.
So after finishing the cast at about 4:00 EU time, you would head to the airport to then travel for 20 hours to get to America, with the next day being the first day of the main event. It is a challenge when the biggest event of the year happens and you are jetlagged and drained, but still need to step up and give the games the energy they deserve.
Almost no one succeeds right away. Many may wish to quit at the very beginning. How to cope with self-doubt as a commentator?
The beginning for everyone is different, most of the time the reason why you picked up the mic in the first place is the path to coping with self-doubt. You should always be your harshest critic, it gives you a good self-review and makes you better at what you do.
Learn to balance that critique with both positive and negative, it only takes one genuine positive comment to balance out a wave of negativity.
Most newcomer casters face both criticisms and applause from the community. How to deal with haters and go through this stage?
That is something you will never escape no matter the level you reach, no one can make everyone happy. You first need to accept this and the second thing you need to do is accept what is said and value its worth. Too many times I see people who think they are above review, but to every hateful directed comment, there is an element that triggered that person to send it. Identify what that is and see if it is something you can or want to work on, not all points will valid but it is important to understand the diverse desires of the audience you go out to.
The most exhausting thing is actually a co-caster that drags the energy down, it doesn’t matter how long the game can go. As long as the person I am with is running with me I will keep going forever.
Should the casters limit themselves during the broadcast? About what?
The answer to this really rests on who your audience is and the type of broadcast tone that is set. Understand when things are casual and relaxed, professional but jovial and then full serious and intense, a single show can include a mix of all of these.
There are some lines that should never be crossed and this line will always move with the definition of what is politically correct. This presents an even greater understanding problem as you take into account geographical issues, with a diverse global community having a variety of standards.
This is made more perilous for English speaking talent as you do not broadcast to just one region, you need to accommodate the emotions and win desires of a wider fan base.
Do you practice articulation exercises?
I grew up on English musical theatre, so I developed a lot of control then... But I also have the lazy Australian tongue which no amount of exercise can ever stop. Plus, I like having my own tang to words and not being perfectly spoken all the time.
How can one improve their casting skills?
[Laughs] That is a loaded question... In many many many ways. It will all depend on the individual. They have to identify their strengths and weaknesses and play to their strengths while working on their weaknesses
It is a useless generic answer to cover a very detailed list, but if it was a simple process everyone would be a Tier-1 commentator. Do my courses when they come out, and you will start to learn bit by bit.
Could you recall any common newcomer casters’ mistakes?
Ego! Do not let it control you, as you will do something stupid in a very public way that you will have to live with.
Thanks, Toby, for such wise and deep advice! It was great to have you. Until next time!
Toby Dawson's new project FSG Academy will launch in a few weeks. Follow him on Twitter and other social networks to stay tuned!