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Q&A: Jacob Wolf on his decision to join ESPN and thoughts on the future of Esports reporting

During his brief time at The Daily Dot, Jacob Wolf made a name for himself breaking some of the most impactful stories in Esports. When news surfaced a few weeks ago that he would be leaving The Daily Dot, many in the Esports community speculated as to where the talented young reporter might end up. Now that it has been confirmed that he has accepted a job at sports powerhouse ESPN, Slingshot decided to catch up with Jacob about how he got started in Esports, his career at The Daily Dot and decision to move to ESPN, and where he thinks the future of Esports reporting might be heading.

Colin Nimer: So tell me about yourself, Jacob. Where are you from, what education do you have, and what were your interests growing up? The floor is yours.

Jacob Wolf: I’m originally from a small town in southwest suburban Atlanta, Georgia called Newnan. I lived there most of my life, but then moved to Austin, Texas to work with the Daily Dot and their esports people.

I went to college, but for computer information systems, with a focus in networking. I found out (during college) that I really enjoyed esports writing and talking more, so I pursued a career in that.

My interests growing up were mainly sports and computers. That’s why esports makes the most sense for me, and one of the many reasons why makes sense for me. I grew up watching their channels and events and now I’m getting to work with them on what I love. That makes me incredibly stoked for the future.

C.N: What initially got you interested in trying a career in Esports?

J.W: I had always been a spectator, and for a brief period, I had been really invested in Modern Warfare 2 and Black Ops. Although there were tons of competitions, I was really young and couldn’t commit as much as I wanted to due to schooling.

But I also had watched League of Legends and the occasional Smash Bros stuff beginning around mid-season two (for League.) I continued to watch and play more until I finally got interested fully and played a ton in season three. I wanted to start writing in season four, and did so as a freelancer, beginning with Esports Heaven.

C.N: You started as a freelancer and then you made contact with Richard Lewis on his Twitch show, Trash Talk, and he brought you onto the Daily Dot. He strikes me as a mentor like figure showing you the ropes. Is that what is was like?

J.W: I did make contact with Richard, which was a lot of fun talking on Trash Talk. We kept in touch via Twitter direct messages, but he actually wasn’t fully responsible for my employment at the Daily Dot.

Funny story: the Daily Dot esports crew as a collective chose Josh Raven as their new contractor hire back then. But about a week after that choice was made, I started freelancing with theScore eSports. In fear of theScore picking me up in a contractor/salaried position, the Daily Dot pulled together excess budget from other projects to hire me as a contractor for a decent monthly amount.

As for Richard, he’s played a big part in my life for over a year now, but in a different way. He was who I’d go to for advice on how to deal with people behind the scenes, and the occasional writing advice too. Unlike rumors, he’s never given me a story or information – which I respect because it’s made me work hard for it by myself.

Now that we work at completely different publications, he’s been super helpful in guiding me through good decisions. He’s been really supportive (on a personal level) in the process of moving over to ESPN and leaving Daily Dot, as well. My nickname for him (“Papa Richy”) is fitting, because he’s basically like a wise granddad to me.

C.N: And now here you are with consistent hits for your site, incredible accuracy with your reports, and a salaried job at the age of 19. That story almost reads like a Hollywood script: a young man puts his education on hold to pursue his dream career and hits his lucky break by being picked up by a notable mentor who trains him to be the best in the scene.

J.W: (Laughs and sarcastically speaks) Yeah, who knows, maybe one day esports is big enough where I can get Jesse Eisenberg to play me and write about some video games.

C.N: Was there pressure on you when Richard left the Daily Dot last year?

J.W: There definitely was. I had already been doing more frequent reporting than he was, but his giant business scoops would make my traffic numbers look tiny. So when he left, I contacted my superiors and asked for his job. The answer was a “no”.

But even as a contractor, I busted tail to put out a lot of work last fall/winter. That led to me getting a full-time position at the Daily Dot in December. So yeah in the end, I did my best effort to pick up the slack once he left.

C.N: You’ve reported a lot of things: you’ve covered Martin Shkreli owing money to esports, Team Huma’s financial problems’, and multiple roster changes in nearly every single organization in League of Legends:  Is anyone safe from reporter Jacob “Brayll” Wolf?

J.W: Not sure if “safe” is the proper word. But if anything happens that’s reportable, I’m gonna report on it. That’s always been my mentality on everything. I want to bring esports reporting to the forefront of the industry and I think ESPN is the best way to do that.

C.N: But that leads to a tangent: do you find that some of your personal relations with people have changed as a result of this career? You continue to break news consistently, so it’s obvious that people talk with you, but is there ever some tension with individuals?

J.W: Some teams aren’t cool with reporting, so we don’t talk much anymore. Others are super nice about it though and respectfully say “no comment”, offer a comment, or give press releases under embargo. It’s a very person-to-person ordeal and I think it’ll get better over time as the industry learns more about media education.

C.N. So enlighten me: how does the workday of Jacob Wolf go? Does it begin with reading the news on Reddit?

J.W: Ha, I do check reddit once/twice a day. But no, my day starts with me looking at Skype and talking to sources. Most of my mornings are phone/Skype calls and lots of text messaging. Then I check my emails and make sure I didn’t miss anything there.

From there, if there’s nothing newsworthy, then I’ll write a feature. If there is something newsworthy, I’ll write/investigate that depending on the situation. It varies from day-to-day obviously but yeah, those are the basics.

C.N: You’ve had a lot of backlash from various players and organizations with your stories. One of the more recent examples was Vander and Jankos leaving Roccat to join H2K. Initially, Jankos denied that story, which riled up the community, and then it turned out they did in fact join H2K. Why do people react that way to you breaking news?

J.W: People will believe players, organizations, & companies more than reporters. There is, in most fields and particularly digital media, some kind of negative connotation about people creating news (that isn’t accurate) for clicks. While this does happen some, that’s not how I operate. Anything I’ve written had factual basis behind it, even those that changed at a later date.

I’ve never understood it, but I guess that’s because I’m not the subject of a story – I’m just the author.

C.N: Is this only a problem in particular Esports communities, or Esports as a whole?

J.W: It happens in all esports, but happens more frequently in League of Legends, because it’s a bigger community and has more motion in between rosters (and things of the sort.)

C.N. Is it frustrating to have the community pitted against you like that?

J.W: It used to hurt my feelings a lot. But I’ve grown a really thick skin and a lot of confidence in what I write. If I stick my name on it, I believe in it and believe in my sources, so I don’t worry anymore. I just have to – as always – fact check every little detail.

C.N: We’ve seen people like William Turton start in Esports breaking news and he left because everyone was so negative about him despite his accuracy. Now he’s killing it over in Daily Dots Political and Cyber News section. In fact, he was included in TIME Magazines “30 Most Influential Teens of 2015,” which included actor Will Smith’s son Jaden Smith and Malia Obama, President Obama’s oldest Daughter. It’s kind of sad to think this community drove that kind of talent away.

J.W: William was and still is (in politics/hacking) a great reporter. His situation was so sad, especially considering that MeetYourMakers had done the Kori stuff only weeks before that. People should’ve trusted him (as he was eventually right) but I don’t blame him for his decision to leave. Esports isn’t for everyone. Now, he’s more successful in his other beats, and a lot more happy. That guy is the future of political and internet culture reporting; a young Glenn Greenwald, in my opinion.

C.N: How can we improve the relationships between reporters and the organizations involved in Esports and the community? Is there even a way?

J.W: Education and communication. We need both ends to be educated on how to deal with the other better (in a more traditional sports/entertainment reporting fashion). We also need to talk more together. I’ve talked to team owners about reporting, explaining how much it matters and why, and they really respect it. I want that to happen more.

C.N: So now you’re going over to ESPN Esports. Are there any new responsibilities you will have there?

J.W: At ESPN, I’m gonna be focused on what I’m best at: writing. At Daily Dot, my roles have been writing, producing talk shows, booking guests, and making graphics. While I’m capable of doing all of these still, I don’t need to at ESPN.

So my main focus will be investigating leads for reporting and writing features and reports (or any other kind of content they need me to write). I’m excited to be more focused on my craft in particular, instead of being spread out a bit.

C.N: How did this opportunity come about? Have you been looking to leave Daily Dot for a while?

J.W: This opportunity came from Darin Kwilinski and Tyler “Fionn” Erzberger really wanting me to be a part of what they’re doing. ESPN wasn’t the first (or last) to offer me something – it was just the one I think is best for me.

C.N: Are there any specific staff members at ESPN you are excited to work with?

J.W: I’m really looking forward to working with all the team, especially some of the editors I’ve met; they’re super intelligent and I think I’ll learn a lot.

But in terms of mutual content production, I’m really looking forward to working with Tyler (Fionn). We’ve become quite good friends over the past few months and as much as we joke on Twitter, we have a lot in common in terms of content process. He’s extremely smart and I’m looking forward to growing as writers/journalists together.

C.N: What long terms goals do you have with ESPN?

J.W: I can’t speak for their long-term goals, but on a personal level: I want to grow esports reporting so that it’s taken very seriously (on par with sports reporting) and that more people are interested in getting into it. It’s sad that I’m one of the few and I want that to change.

As for other goals, I want to feel it out but I’m confident, after talking to them a lot, that I’ll be happy there and that together, we can produce some great things in esports.

C.N: So for our last question, I’d like to go with this broad outlook into the future as you see it. What is your ideal vision of Esports for the future? What is it that you want to see Esports become as it continues to approach the mainstream?

J.W: I want esports to be different than traditional sports but as big. I want it to grow, become legitimized, and have large amount of spectators. I think media is an important piece of that – and I hope that I’ll be a part of that piece.