Whiplash: "English casters are currently not viewed as an important asset"
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Yesterday I had the pleasure of speaking to Justin 'Whiplash' Wilson, ex-SC2 player, Proleague Caster and KDL Caster about eSports in Korea and his future.
Hello Whiplash. Thanks for agreeing to do this interview! Recently you've had some pretty bad luck, getting dismissed from your casting position at Spotv for KDL due to circumstances beyond your own control. A few weeks ago you wrote a blog about this in which you sounded quite understandably despondent. It looked like you were coming to a major crossroads in your life as to whether or not you should stay in Korea or return to the US. Have you gotten any closer to a decision about this? What are your plans for the immediate future?
Whiplash: Well a bit before season 3 started I was contacted by GEM (Global eSports Management) saying they were willing to work with me and help me out. Basically every other English broadcaster regardless of the game they cast is working with GEM currently so it was a positive sign for me to join them as well. With GEM there are some other oppurtunities for me to stay and survive in Korea in the future so because of them I decided to stay. I was EXTREMELY close to moving back to the states following the news of season 3, I had already looked into returning to college and wondering about other potential eSport companies I could work for, etc. I can't say too much about my plans for the future in Korea but it will involve lots of Dota 2 and potentailly other titles.
Okay, well either way that's certainly great to hear! Best of luck with whatever you're going to be working on.
When you first moved to Korea to cast Proleague a lot of people thought you were 'living the eSports dream'. From your writing it appears that your time there has been extremely stressful. Would you say 'the dream is a lie' or do you think circumstances have been against you? If you knew everything you did now at the start, are there things you would have done differently?
Whiplash: I think it's a bit of both. I would say I've had some pretty bad luck through my career in eSports, while others have had relatively good luck and haven't had to deal with the problems I've faced. eSports is still very young and with that comes false perceptions of how things work. If I knew everything I did at the start there are a large number of things I would have done differently. I'm not sure if it would have changed too much but there is a good chance I would have moved back to America after the conclusion of my Proleague season.
Would you still have moved into Dota 2 then? Was that always something you considered
doing or was the transition based on available opportunities?
Whiplash: If I went back to the states I would have probably tried to transition into a player for Dota 2 instead of a caster. I played Dota 1/HoN/Dota 2 casually since their inceptions and towards the middle of 2013 I noticed that I truly enjoyed Dota 2 more than Starcraft 2. Starcraft 2 felt very stagnant and there were a lot of game design decisions that I strongly disagreed with. After I found out that I wasn't casting Proleague I realized that my passion for Starcraft 2 was gone and it had essentially transferred to Dota 2. I began studying Dota 2 since then and various opportunities came after that.
Do you think the skill required to succeed in these games is transitive in any way? Also, is casting the one helpful for casting the other?
Whiplash: Well both games are somewhat similar at their core, you have a unit or units that you control and the objective is to destroy the enemy base. I believe the ability to succeed is more about mentality and hard work regardless of the title you play, and your willingness to put ego aside and focus on improvement. There are examples of pros that have played the opposing game at high/pro levels (Blitz/Select/BabyKnight) so there are certainly crossover examples.
My casting experience with Starcraft 2 definitely gave me some good broadcasting fundamentals to use in Dota 2. That being said MOBA games in general are SIGNIFICANTLY harder to cast then RTS or other eSport titles, anyone that has casted both on a competent level will agree with me. There are much more spells/heroes/items to memorize and summon at a moment's notice, there is much more variation in the strategies that can be used, and team fights tend to be more hectic and happen a lot faster.
Yeah, I think that a lot of Dota players and fans take for granted just how much content they've internalized over years of game time in order to be able to just play the game, never mind speak about it in real time. Is there anything you do to try improve on this kind of stuff aside from just casting as much as you can?
Whiplash: Casting a lot consistently is probably one of the best ways to improve, its akin to mass gaming if you want to improve at any other game. Many of the concepts related to improving in a game can be applied to casting as well. Analyzing your work and and looking where you stumbled or made mistakes is crucial to improving as a caster. Warming up your voice and looking over hero names/abilities is something I've been doing more recently as well to help; just because I know every Dota hero name doesn't mean I won't have a brain fart and take 2 seconds to recall a name instead of saying it instantly.
Fair enough - that all sounds pretty reasonable. I'd like to chat a bit about KDL now.
When you started casting KDL, after having been known as an SC2 player and caster, the Dota 2 community offered a lot of criticism at first but it didn't take long for you to grow on a lot of people. Certainly now that you've been replaced, the general sentiment on /r/dota2 seems to be 'bring back Whiplash!' However, the question I'm sure many Dota 2 fans want answered is this: why are Korean Dota 2 events always getting SC2 casters? We hear a lot about KeSPA preferring 'inhouse casters' but do you know of any reason for this?
Whiplash: First off I would just like to clear the air about KeSPA. They have very little involvement in Dota 2 currently, and there is only 1 KeSPA team (MVP) under their organization. The Korean organizations care about growing KOREAN Dota, not international Dota. English casters are currently not viewed as an important asset, just a bonus to the overall production that isn't completely essential. The only available casters in Korea are basically me + SC2 casters, and as long as there is some semblance of an English broadcast then the Korean companies are generally happy. Koreans tend to be control freaks, and that extends into preferring inhouse casters. Korean culture is extremely different from western culture, and a lot of things that seem intuitive to a westerner are simply foreign to Koreans and vice versa.
So would similar reasoning explain why English casters in Korea, despite being inhouse, still don't get to cast from inside the game or control the camera themselves? Do you think these kinds of restrictions limit your ability as a caster? After all, lately some of the biggest Dota 2 studios are deliberately moving away from stuff like casters doing their own camera work.
Whiplash: Absolutely. These restrictions limit my ability as a caster somewhat, but I don't feel it hindered the broadcast too much overall. In an ideal situation we would have a full English production team alongside the Korean production team.
Do you think the low priority given to English broadcasts might change as the viewership increases? Recently several KDL games had over 30 000 viewers on Twitch – surely at this rate it could become a relevant source of revenue and would be worth prioritizing even if just for that reason?
Whiplash: It could go either way. I think it depends a lot on the Korean company that handles the game. Some are more progressive and English friendly than others.
Do you think there is anything that the Dota 2 community or leading figures in it can do to affect the situation?
Whiplash: Probably not. Unless we see KDL getting consistent 30-40k+ viewership I don't think there is much that can be done to improve the situation.
KDL has a prize structure which is unique to the Dota 2 world which includes teams being rewarded for each individual win they achieve. Do you think having money riding on every match improves the level of competition?
Whiplash: Definitely. Every match having money on the line removes the luxury of players slacking off or relaxing at any point during the season. You've seen how fast the Korean scene has improved and I believe the cut throat format has only forced teams to adapt and improve faster.
Perhaps this is one place that the international Dota 2 scene might learn from the Korean scene. Moving away from KDL now, you've often alluded to the fact that Korean culture is vastly different to western culture. What's it like being a foreigner in Korea? What sorts of cultural norms or conventions have you had to get used to pretty fast?
Whiplash: What is it like being a foreigner in Korea? Well like all things there are positives and negatives. A lot of Korean culture comes from Confucianism, and that has created a passive society where problems are often ignored instead of being tackled heads on and solved before they get worse. Korean culture also tends to focus on family/group unit and not the individual, quite a departure from a western point of view. Age and hierarchies are very important. Korea also tends to be a very superficial society, it is better to look pretty and save face than face the alternatives. Understanding and being able to live in this type of society is something I had to adjust to and was one of the harder things to deal with when I first moved to Korea.
Knowing the local language is very important as well. Many Koreans can read English, but are quite poor at speaking it or don't speak it at all. Luckily the Korean alphabet Hangul is very easy to learn and getting around Korea is very easy with the subway system. One of the more interesting parts of Korean culture is how prevalent drinking and smoking is. Everybody in Korea does it, and usually in excess. Koreans often live stressful work lives, and their way of unwinding is by getting together with some friends, eating Korean BBQ, and drinking the night away. As a foreigner my experience in Korea outside of business has been pretty positive, people are generally shy but almost always friendly. I think Korea is one of the most fun places in the world to live in if you are young and have a bit of money.
I noticed you specifically said 'outside of business'. Do you have any advice for other foreigners considering getting involved in Korean eSports? Would you advise against it?
Whiplash: Unless you understand Korean business and know Korean, I would heavily advise against it – and I would shy away from working in eSports in general. eSports is still a very hard and risky business to get into, if you really want to do eSports then I recommend you have a job that can pay the bills outside of eSports and treat anything eSports related as a passion project. eSports is growing, but we aren't there yet boys.
Well, that's a tough one to swallow but probably very important for many people to hear - especially from someone involved in the industry. To finish off I've just got 2 very short questions.
What is the significance of your nickname?
Whiplash: Ah Whiplash. I didn't really like my old handle so I was looking for a new, cooler nickname. At the time I was a huge Metallica fan (still am) and while listening to the album Kill 'Em All I saw the song Whiplash come up. I thought the name was cool and have been using it since around 2006.
Haha - as good a reason as any for a nickname. Lastly, if you could choose any career outside of eSports what would it be and why?
Whiplash: For me it's hard to pick a job completely outside of eSports. My mind drifts to game design but that field can have a bit of crossover with eSports. I think I would end up being a Poker player because the hours are very flexible, you don't have to be the best to make money, and I could live a relaxed lifestyle. If it couldn't be poker then some sort of high up management/CEO job for a large company could be fun and challenging as well. As long as I have a career that I am passionate about and it's challenging, I think I could enjoy it.
A lot of people working in eSports seem to struggle to imagine not working in eSports. I guess it comes down to what you finished with - passion. Thanks very much for the interview – your answers have been very comprehensive! Do you have any shoutouts you'd like to make?
Whiplash: Shoutout to anyone that has enjoyed my casting, Dota 2 or otherwise. Shoutout to the Liquid community that I have been with since the Brood War days. Shoutout to the HeflaTV guys for being a fun community to cast Dota with. Shoutout to all my Twitter/Facebook followers. Shoutout to my friends/broadcasters in Korea and NADota. And to anyone who understands that you will fail many times before you succeed.
You can follow Whiplash on Twitter or Facebook or catch his broadcasts on his Twitch channel or on Heflatv.