This is the third and final part of my interview with Kevin “CatsPajamas” Knocke, an eSports broadcaster who currently casts games for the IGN Pro League in San Francisco.
Cats talks about his thoughts on the future of eSports and how it can continue to grow in America.
Me: MLG just recently released its viewership numbers, and they were extremely impressive. IPL3’s viewership was extremely high (if you know its peak viewership numbers, please send them to me!). Barcraft was covered in the Wall Street Journal and that has aided SC2 and E-Sports’ popularity as well. Do you believe E-Sports has “arrived” as a successful business? If so, why?
This is the third and final part of my interview with Kevin “CatsPajamas” Knocke, an eSports broadcaster who currently casts games for the IGN Pro League(aka IPL) in San Francisco.
In the second part of our interview, Cats talks about his work at IPL as both a broadcaster and a talent manager at IGN’s eSports division.
Me: As a full-time broadcaster on both YouTube and at the IGN Pro League, what’s been the most rewarding part of the job?
Cats: To me, the most awesome part of being an eSports broadcaster is conveying my sense of enthusiasm for a game effectively to a viewer. I love Starcraft. When I’m not talking about Starcraft at work, I’m planning new SC2 tournaments, reading Team Liquid and /r/Starcraft on Reddit, watching streams, and learning about the game. So when I see an amazing game that fills me with adrenaline and I can see that my presenting the game has directly influenced others’ enjoyment of the game, it’s a big thrill for me. I also count myself as extremely fortunate that I have a full time job in an industry I love. I wouldn’t trade what I do for anything in the world, and will work as hard as possible to make sure I’m always in this industry.
Me: In contrast, what are the challenges that come with the position? Is there anything that took you by surprise that you didn’t consider when you began working with for IPL?
Cats: What a lot of people don’t realize is that I’m not just a caster here at the IPL. I’m part of the management team, so I directly oversee anything related to talent (i.e. all casters for all of our games, any on screen hosts, and allocation of talent time for whatever programs are running/shooting). I cast for about 10-15 hours a week here, but I work about 40 hours a week on everything else related to my division here at IGN eSports. In some ways it’s a challenge because the community assumes that you have no other responsibilities other than presenting a cast, but I think it’s actually rewarding to be tasked with so many different responsibilities. It’s also a pleasure to be able to influence the direction the IPL is taking, as I really feel that I personally am helping to shape the growth of eSports here in the U.S.
Me: What do you think makes Starcraft 2 such a great competitive game? Why is it so universally attractive to so many people around the world?
Cats: Starcraft 2, to me, is the perfect blend of quick thinking and fast reflexes. Unlike chess, it’s a game of imperfect knowledge of your opponent, so it’s extremely dynamic in the way different players approach the game. On top of that (and what really makes it exciting to me) is that the game is not yet figured out, so players individual approaches really reflect their personality. It builds a great public face that fans can grab on to.
eSports broadcaster Kevin “CatsPajamas” Knocke was kind enough to take some time out of his day working at the IGN Pro League in San Francisco to answer a few questions from a lowly Silver-league player. I asked him about his career path, eSports, broadcasting, and, of course, Starcraft 2.
Me: How did you get started as a Starcraft 2 broadcaster? Did you have a background in broadcasting in college or was it an interest/hobby that grew into something you wanted to do professionally?
Cats: Right around launch, I purchased the game with the intention to play it casually and spend a lot of time in the UMS game scene. I make no apologies for the fact that I came to the game casually, and it captured my interest immediately. I started laddering several hours a day, pushing me to diamond pre-masters release. Quickly thereafter, I started watching streams, anything from players to tournaments.
What I quickly realized was that there were a lot of great and knowledgeable Starcraft people commentating, but not a lot of people that approached casting from a professional sports-style play by play perspective. I had previously spent about 3 years on the radio in college, but nothing too serious and certainly no professional training. But, even with that, I decided to fire up a stream and start broadcasting whatever I could get my hands on. Before I was picked up to do bigger tournaments, I was broadcasting 30-40 hours a week to a stream with (for the first few months) 10-20 viewers at a time and later 300-900.
Add on top of that I was updating my social media channels (Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, etc. in addition to video editing) about 20 hours a week, working a 20 hour a week job, and was a full time graduate student (oh, and I’m married :D ), and I didn’t have a lot of time for anything else. Before I was picked up for big tournaments, I seriously considered dropping everything to grow my Justin.tv channel into a full time job, estimating that I could make ends meet if I kept streaming for about 10 hours a day.
Well, needless to say, that would have been a risky future, but I knew that broadcasting was something I loved and wanted to pursue for a job.
Lucky for me, I paid my way to MLG Dallas to do a little networking. I ended up in the front row of the audience next to David Ting, our VP of R&D and General Manager of eSports here at IGN. Unfortunately, there was no commentary in the crowd as the players could hear the MLG commentators. However, that ended up being very fortunate for me as I basically ended up personally commentating Kiwikaki vs Idra to David. He liked it enough he gave me a job a few days later. :D
(Part 2 of the 3-part interview will be made available within the next few days)
As I sat up at 10:30 on a Tuesday night, my brother Sean came over to to me, wondering what all the commotion was about. I had been furiously typing at my desk while listening to some “weird noises” from my computer. He asked me what I was doing and who I was talking to. I told him it was a couple guys from Sweden and the Phillippines. He gave me a peculiar look.
"No Sean, I’m not in a cult. We’re playing Starcraft 2!"
I had played a couple of RTS(Real-Time Strategy) games before Starcraft 2. Age of Empires 2 and Warcraft 3 were my first real forays into the game genre. They were both creative, fun and extremely well-designed games that brought a lot to the table. However, like many other games, you sit down, play it until you get bored and then move on to whatever is cool to play with your friends at the time.
This is what separates Starcraft 2 from other RTS games. While I was explaining to Sean how I was talking to people from all over the world, I realized: I was talking to people from all over the world because of Starcraft 2.
Starcraft 2, released a little less than a year and a half ago, sold 4.5 million units within 6 months of its release. Impressive numbers to be certain, but nowhere near the stratosphere of CoD: Modern Warfare 3 or the market penetration of Angry Birds(over 100 million downloads worldwide). So what makes Starcraft 2 so special? Its community.
The SC community is global. While many point to Starcraft’s popularity in Korea, few recognize its notoriety throughout Europe and China. The world’s top players are not only from Korea, but come from around the world. Starcraft has spread its popularity while connecting these countries. Players are not recognized by their real names or country, but by their unique player aliases.
Chris “Huk” Loranger, winner of multiple international tournaments is from Canada, while his teammate and fellow champion Greg “IdrA” Fields is from New Jersey. Aleksey Krupny, aka “White-Ra”, is from Ukraine. Johann “NaNiwa” Lucchesi, considered one of the top players in the game right now, is from Sweden.
Competitions have taken place in Germany, Sweden, the United States, Canada, the Philippines, South Korea, the United Kingdom and countless other places around the world. What’s bringing it all together is the internet. Players and tournaments can live stream all of their events online for viewers at home to enjoy. Within minutes, tens and even hundreds of thousands of SC2 fans can watch their favorite players go head-to-head with the best.
Fans of IdrA can watch him play at the ASUS ROG Stars Invite in Finland and go up against a Swede, a Ukrainian and a Korean. While multiple translators must be in attendance to care for the foreign players, everyone has a mutual understanding and passion for all things Starcraft.
With the announcement of the PSN Pass, the cold war between game developers and game retailers have put consumers in the line of fire. The PSN Pass, which according to IGN, is a one-use code similar to EA’s Online Pass, which “grants the account holder redeeming the code full online access for that title,” a spokesperson said. Those who do not have a pass(i.e. whoever bought the game used or is renting it) have to pay for a code via the Playstation Store, which costs 10 dollars.
So what does this mean for gamers?
For years, retailers like GameStop/EB Games have made the buying and re-selling of pre-owned games a major portion of their revenue. It’s a lucrative premise. Allow a gamer to buy a new game at your store, wait until he/she sells it back to you, then re-sell it for a significantly higher price. It’s a winning formula, for retailers at least.
Developers, however, have been left out in the cold. Developers receive absolutely no income from the sale of these pre-owned games, leaving many studios with middling first-month sales to close up shop in the months following their game’s successful release. In order to get a.) encourage consumers to buy games new and b.) get a piece of the pre-owned gaming pie, Sony has decided to force the consumer to make a choice. Either he/she must buy their game new for 60 bucks, or play only the single-player portion of the game(a part of video games that has become increasingly ignored by gamers and developers alike).
As a college student living on a part-time hourly salary and commuting from home, this is an economic gut-punch. What if I wanted to borrow Resistance 3 from my buddy and test the multiplayer out? Tough luck. What if I was planning on renting Uncharted 3 from Redbox for a night? I guess it’s just me and Drake jumping out of exploding planes on our own.
While this news is troubling to the regular gamer, it may be even more disturbing to game retailers. Companies like Gamefly and Family Video, who depend on rentals of multiplayer games may potentially lose millions in business because of this change.
While it is understandable that game developers want their piece of the pie, this is not the best way to go about it. Not only does the PSN Pass(and other developers’ versions that will surely follow) alienate consumers, it put extra strain on the developers themselves to create an outstanding product, because it if isn’t a 9.0 or higher on IGN, Gamespot, Gameinformer or any other game review then it won’t be worth a purchase. Even if it is critically-acclaimed, games like Resistance 3 have shown just how harmful the effects of this program can be. Many gamers were turned away from renting the game(and then buying it) because the online portion was restricted for only the people who bought the game new.
Developers are playing a dangerous game of pushing consumers to buy new, and in the next few years they will find out if gamers are willing to push back.
That was the first and last movie based on a game that amounted to anything resembling a truly successful move from the game industry to the movie industry. And it was a board game I played with my grandma.
Lara Croft, Max Payne, Doom, Resident Evil, Bloodrayne, Alone in the Dark, House of the Dead, Dead or Alive, Prince of Persia, Hitman, Streetfighter, Super Marios Bros., and Double Dragon are all casualties of one of the newest phases in feature films these days: take a gaming franchise and suck the life(and more importantly, cash) from its fans by putting out a nice plate of hot garbage during typical slow seasons for moviegoers(February-May, September).
It appears as though Hollywood’s incessant desire to ruin great shows from generations ago(the honeymooners, king kong) has bled into the gaming industry.