Q&A: Dash on TSM/CLG, college esports and caster preparation

Calling a championship is nothing new to James “Dash” Patterson, a veteran caster for Riot Games. He was on hand in Las Vegas this weekend to call the North American League of Legends Championship Series spring finals, and Slingshot had the chance to catch up with Dash before the final Sunday to talk about the weekend’s games, college esports and what goes into caster preparation. The transcript is below:

Vince Nairn: First of all, what are your overall thoughts on the weekend and the teams that are here. You had the new guard, so to speak, yesterday, with newer players on Liquid and a new team in Immortals. The old guard today. So how would you sum up this weekend as a whole?

James “Dash” Patterson: It’s kind of fitting in the sense that the new guard managed to make it to third/fourth place, and the old guard got in that 1-2 matchup. As much as the fans might have liked to see Team Liquid or Immortals, with the new blood, make it up to that final game, it does kind of showcase and solidify the idea that as rookies they still have room to grow. There are still things they need to improve on when it comes to playoffs and best-of-five series, and they have the time to do that. It’s really good the experience they’re getting now in the 3-4 matchup in the stadium in front of thousands of people, so when they get to the summer split they can make another run at it. Maybe we do have something other than TSM/CLG in the finals.

I’m not gonna lie, TSM/CLG is hype, but it would also be nice to see those teams challenged. A lot of people thought Immortals could do it. A lot of people thought Liquid could do it. Maybe we’ll get that in the summer split, and we’ll have a new NA LCS champion.

Colin Nimer: Speaking of the stadiums here, what’s the difference in terms of preparations working in a stadium like this as opposed to the LCS stadium?

JP: Funny enough, the major preparations, or the major things to concern yourselves with, is how little time we have to prepare. So it’s about being efficient with preparation because unfortunately as casters, we don’t get a ton of time because the stage is being built in 24 hours. Our crews are absolutely insane with how quickly they can turn this venue into a League of Legends championship stage. What that means is they’re doing a lot of tech work, and we don’t get a lot of time, as casters, to be up there doing anything. For example, we run into tech issues where everyone is just gonna have to go with the flow. It’s funny because I get more prep for my weekly stuff than I do for this in terms of being in the venue. I get plenty of prep for the tournament from an actual game knowledge standpoint. I’ve been watching the whole season, and we go through VODs, and now we’re narrowed down to only four teams, so I don’t have to focus on 10. I can really just zero in on the four. In that regard, I’m more prepared. I have to rest on my laurels, in that sense, when something technically goes wrong. Boom. It’s OK. I know so much about these teams, I can sit here and talk for an hour. The guys in the production booth, they’re sorting it out. I know how to fill time.

An example was yesterday, since we run EU and NA through the same production facility, prompters were wigging out because they have different tech there than we had here. So with the countdown clock at 10 seconds, I didn’t have a teleprompter. So it’s one of those things where I didn’t necessarily memorize my stuff. I had a sense of the show, so me and my producers were like, we’re winging it. Let’s go. And luckily, they got the prompters up just in time. Literally as the show was starting, my prompter came live. It’s just one of those elements where at that point, you have to know it’s a live show, and that’s the fun of it.

Joe Cannavino: How often are you guys doing that. When you’re talking about the games, is it mostly unscripted?

JP: When we’re talking about the games, it’s almost entirely unscripted. The only portion of the show that’s really scripted is what we call A Block, that very first, opening segment. And that’s because we’ve had a week to prepare for that. And that’s not gonna change because the teams haven’t played yet. So when we come in and we talk about the pregame show and I say, “Hey Jatt, what are the major matchups you’re looking at here?” That is “scripted” in the sense that we’ve already had many meetings about that in the week leading up to discuss what we think the major points of this series are gonna be, and then we run through that.

Within that, we’re not reading it off the teleprompter. It’s bullet point: Jungle matchup. And then we have it written in, we have a graphic to show some stats and then boom. And then we ad lib the discussion around that. But that’s the scripted portion. Once we get into games and come out of that game, Jatt, Phreak and I, Kobe, we’re sitting there, watching the game and talking about it. We make our own notes. We develop our story points throughout the game. We come out of that and all (the teleprompter) says is “Thanks, Riv.” And right underneath that it says “ad lib analysis.” That is what the prompter says. Then there’s a line that says “We gotta step away for three minutes, but we’ll be back.” That’s scripted for me to turn back to the prompter. But everything between those two lines is entirely unscripted. It’s us coming up with what we want to talk about between the games. We’re pulling replays, pulling stats, whatever it is.

VN: League of Legends casters, you guys are kind of a unique set in that you see and are casting about every game a team plays. Other sports, an announce crew will see a team once and might not see that team for another 10-15 games. How are you guys able to just monitor the actual movement, up or down, a team makes through an entire season?

JP: I’d like to say we can see it as it’s happening, and in some cases we do. But it’s also a question about how do teams evolve. Some teams, TSM as an example, the regular season finished, TSM looking in shambles, might not even make it out of the quarterfinals. And then, oh hey, there they are, they’re in the finals. So we didn’t really see, because that happened somewhere between the regular season and playoffs. So we do get to see the before and the after, but we didn’t necessarily see and watch them make the changes and in the struggles. We can, in hindsight, analyze what happened and see this is what they did. And then I get to interview them, and I talk to them very specifically about what they did. And Bjergsen said “Yes. I duo-ed incessantly with Svenskeren to get that synergy up. But beyond that, we basically made a collective agreement as a team that when someone makes a call, we’re gonna follow it.” Because that’s not what they were doing during the season. And yes, I can see those changes being made. But unfortunately, because they happened during a dead period without us seeing them, I didn’t actually see that evolution.

In other scenarios, though, you do, With Renegades, once they finally brought on Seraph and had their solidified roster the last few weeks, you saw a significant change. But even throughout the last two weeks of them playing, you saw them fall into a more team-oriented kind of situation. And you saw somebody making a rotation without having to be told. That’s something that had been more second nature to them because they had more time playing together.

VN: What’s your schedule like between splits? I hear you’re going to PAX East?

JP: Immediately following Vegas, I’m gonna stick around a couple days. Basically it was that or fly back to LA for a day and then fly to Boston. You know what, let me just reduce my travel time. But I’ll be going to Boston. I’ll be hosting the uLoL championships, so NACC, basically at PAX, which will be really cool because we’re partnering with Big Ten (Network) and all of that. That will be with myself, Phreak, Zirene and Dom. So we’ll be out there.

I’m really excited. I’ve never been to a PAX event. In the past, the analyst desk has stayed in LA when we’ve sent crews to PAX Prime, for example. So I’m really excited, ready to go, hang out with players and interact with them, cast that tournament as well as serve to help the evolution of college esports. I think that’s a huge thing. I myself was a college athlete, so i love the fact that esports are gaining momentum in that realm.

VN: How much preparation is going to go into that? Because you probably haven’t seen much of the teams.

JP: A lot. I’m really lucky that I have a lot of resources for it. The team that put it on is not run by our esports department. It’s run by our community department. But they have a ton of resources in terms of statistics that have all been sent to me. So I’ve already been looking at them. I have categorized VODs. I also have packets that break down each of the teams, by an analyst. So they hired an analyst to watch all the games. So he’s given me a ton of information. I an now use that information to go back, watch all the pertinent VODs for each team, look at some statistics that are gonna support what I do. So I make sure I can come in super prepared. That’s essentially what I’m gonna be spending my Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday doing this week. I fly out on (Wednesday), to Boston, but I’ll be spending three days in a hotel room. So I don’t know how much I’m gonna be experiencing Vegas. I’m gonna be VOD watching and a lot of reading. But I’m very lucky that those resources are provided to me so that I’m not having to spend the time scrubbing VODs to find certain things.

JC: Do you and the other casters go over VODs together?

JP: Occasionally. If there’s something super interesting, and we want to talk about what happened in another region, we will. But for the most part, everybody is expected to do things on their own time. Because different people have different processes. And so to try to normalize the process would almost hurt us. If you and I had to do all our preparation the same way and together, that might not work out for me because that’s not the best way for me to prepare. So same thing. Jatt and Kobe like to prepare different ways. They have different processes. So we’re not gonna force them to do any one specific thing.

Cover photo courtesy of Riot Games

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