Joshua “Jatt” Leesman was one of the first professional League of Legends players. He was also one of the first to transition to on-air talent. He’s been a caster and analyst for Riot Games since April 2012 and has become one of the most recognizable faces of the North American League Championship Series broadcasts.
The summer split has introduced some new wrinkles for the broadcast crew, which now must handle multiple games going at once and run three days of broadcasts instead of two. Slingshot’s Vince Nairn had the chance to catch up with Jatt during Week 4 of the LCS to talk about those adjustments, Team SoloMid’s strong start and what it’s like going from player to caster.
Vince Nairn: What are your overall thoughts on (Week 4) games and how the standings are starting to come together as we reach the midway point in the summer split?
Joshua “Jatt” Leesman: Before, we talked about this on the analyst desk, right now there is a relatively clear top 4…at least that was before we saw the TSM/Envy game, where TSM seems to be clear and far and away the best team. Then, honestly, Immortals and Cloud 9 seem to be fighting for the next spot. Then you have your next pool of teams. They are kind of putting themselves in groups.
VN: With the format change with best-of-threes and games on Fridays and Saturdays, what kind of adjustments have you had to make?
JL: Watching two games at once is surprisingly fun, being able to catch the important moments of each game. But I will say it becomes much more difficult to pay attention to the little things like the macro movements in the games when you are doing two games in a row. Specifically when I’m going to be casting another matchup, I will go back and kind of watch in more detail the previous week’s matchups. I have to end up doing more prep just to re-remember the picks and bans because when everything was on one stream and we had one continuous source of information, it was easier to commit to memory. While it was really fun to watch two games in a row, you don’t commit nearly as much to memory, you just double the amount of things to remember.
VN: What other adjustments do you need to make on the fly?
JL: It’s actually really cool, and most of the planning is done by the producers but we basically have done a bunch of variations that make us very flexible. One thing that is nice is when we have a long tech delay on one stream, instead of having to fill for that time, we can just do bonus coverage of the other game. But what happens when both games end at the same time, essentially the analyst desk will still cover both games. They’ll cut over to the analyst desk, and it’s basically just a bunch of communication between production and casters. Everyone is paying a high amount of attention to all the games when they can. Even when I’m not going to be on the analyst desk that day and I’m casting, even though we don’t give out specific spoilers about the other stream while we are in the game, I will open up twitch or YouTube to start my memory process so I don’t fall behind the other games.
VN: Was there a learning curve or some stuff you had to do to prepare before the big change for this split?
JL: Yeah there as a decent amount, but a lot of it was just trying to mimic the coverage from traditional sports. Like the NFL Sunday Morning is doing like eight games at once, and in the afternoon is like three to five games. That type of watching experience is something you want to emulate. We take more meticulous notes. The guys that cast the game try to give a short verbal recap.
VN: What do you think about TSM this split and how they have gotten off to such a good start?
JL: They are looking super good. You have to remember they only had a 50 percent win rate during the regular season. Last split was a disaster; until the playoffs they didn’t pull it together. They seemed to just build off of what they did in playoffs last year. Biofrost coming in has been huge for them. Now more than ever, everyone on the team is on the same page. Now when they make mistakes, it’s not the blame game anymore, it’s something that the team committed to that just didn’t workout. Because I think they are taking more risks than I’ve ever seen them take before as a team, but they are now working 75 to 85 percent of the time and they are finally leveraging all the mechanical skill they are talking about by putting themselves into smart situations where they can actually outplay the enemy team.
VN: What does that say about TSM and fit? Most people wouldn’t say Biofrost is a better player than Yellowstar, but he seems to fit TSM better. Is fit something that is being overlooked from time to time?
JL: I’m not exactly entirely sure how this is happening. Even though Yellowstar is a veteran and you cannot question his results about making it to every LCS final, I think he has a lot of leadership qualities and shot-calling qualities, and he’s good at leading younger players to victory, but this isn’t what TSM needed. They needed someone to help Doublelift bully lane. That would combo with Svenskeren aggressive counter jungling and aggression in the mid lane by Bjergsen. When you had a support like Yellowstar, who kind of wanted to play back in lane, it was a miss fit. Whereas Biofrost is a player that, as laning mechanics, is higher than Yellowstar. Combine that with all the experience with the rest of TSM, it’s fitting a lot better. I’m not saying that Yellowstar has less value than Biofrost, just Biofrost is a better fit for the team.
VN: Moving on, you were a former player, and now have transitioned to an on-air talent. What was the landscape like back then in terms of when you didn’t want to be a pro player anymore?
JL: It was pretty bare bones. I always liked talking about the game, and at the time there was this huge opportunity space because broadcasting League of Legends was still really new. We didn’t even have the LCS. I recognized that in all traditional sports you have the play by play commentator and generally an ex-player to bring in the analysis. And because League of Legends wasn’t a game for that long, there just wasn’t any ex players. I was the first one to jump in the opportunity, and it was a pretty natural fit. It wasn’t something that happened right away. I casted a few games, then I worked for Riot in QA and then worked in the design team and did some balance changes for about a year. Then we started to begin spinning up serious esports stuff at Riot, that’s when I made the jump to full time caster.
VN: Early on people didn’t really know how long this was going to be around. When did you first start thinking that you could do this for a while?
JL: When I first started thinking that this could be a long term thing was around the time of the formation of the LCS and the league format. Because previously it was a quest I wanted to do for a long time. I wanted to make esports more accepting and popular to the mass populace. Especially growing up as someone that loved playing games. For the longest time it has been this thing that people kind of wanted to hide, or at least it used to be. It was like, oh yeah I play these games, but it”s not really cool to play that many games, and they don’t want to be thought of as a nerd. In a sense, when it becomes more popular you can create communities. Whenever I found these communities where they would talk about these games very passionately, it was one of the most amazing feelings. What I see with esports is that the more popular it gets, the more experiences you can make. Like coming to an LCS game, everyone in the audience is on the same page and is really fun to have conversations. That’s one of the coolest things working in esports, at least with League of Legends, kind of before it began to explode and help build that together. I think that is the ultimate goal in esports. Esports is just as acceptable as mainstream sports, and I think we are getting close.
VN: What were some of the technical aspects you needed to learn when you became a caster?
JL: A lot of it was just trying to mimic traditional sports broadcasts. Like with the NBA finals, the Mark Jackson, Jeff Van Gundy, Mike Breen trio casts are so good to listen to, and our tri cast is somewhat modeled after. You have two color guys that come in that bring in their own perspectives and then a play by play guy. The other duo I really loved was the Monday Night Football duo with Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth. Those things and people were what I really looked up to and tried my best to emulate the way they told a story and the way the had a cadence with their speech. Because those guys are the best in the business and they have been doing it for decades.
VN: How long did that you to get comfortable?
JL: The on-camera stuff definitely was a little bit slower, and a lot of that just comes with practice. Being able to speak like you aren’t reading off the prompter for certain things is a difficult skill or even just being able to guide your conversation without it feeling guided. A lot of the intros we like to have pre-planned because the production guys need to know what you’re going to say beforehand so they can line up the camera shot.That’s the type of stuff that takes a lot longer to develop. Some of that is just being in a room reading some random text and make it sound like you are having a regular conversation. That type of practice takes time.
VN: A problem a lot of players face is what to do next after they are done playing, and one option is to become on air talent. You have players like Krepo and more recently Crumbz who have joined the analyst desk. What is the dynamic like now, and is it appealing for pros to become on air talent?
JL: For the other guys, the guys that like to watch the game very analytically, like to explain it to other people. As the ecosystem grows larger, there becomes more opportunities for those guys to make it. It was different when I wanted to do it because it seemed like there wasn’t anyone out there that was giving the in depth player perspective in a simplified manner. Now there is more people that can do that. I think that is appealing because they get to have an opportunity because it is a different skill set that leverage their other skills. Like a player like Crumbz, who has been playing for years, knows so much about the game, he’s not going to improve it that much by grinding and making sure his mechanics are good at the same time. Instead he can leverage all the knowledge he has gained over the years and then add delivery skills and composure and keep building on that foundation.
VN: How does the path of a pro player contribute to that as well? In traditional sports they get done playing when they are in their mid to late thirties. In esports some of them can be done by age 22 or 23. What is the importance to the players to have something to do after their career is over at such a young age?
JL: Honestly, there is still so many players, and it is still so new. Even League of Legends being in the LCS for only 4 years is still so new. Even the guys that are doing the broadcasts, if they wanted to, can find a way to get back to playing. It is a way to stay involved in the scene and develop as a person. It’s not like these guys can’t really go back to playing, or go back to coaching. It’s about finding the thing they are most passionate about, and if they are talented enough and willing to work hard enough, and willing to put in effort, they can jump in all these different directions.
VN: What’s it been like having Crumbz on the desk?
JL: It’s been great. We have worked with him before, and he’s always been giving great insight into the analyst desk. It’s always great to bring in someone new to have a different perspective so that we aren’t caught in an echo chamber with the rest of the casters. The casters, we are always around each other, always talking with each other, so when we bring in someone new, it’s sometimes enlightening or sometimes reaffirming with the same things we are talking about with someone that we have a lot of respect for. His delivery has been improving over time and the more he does it the better he gets at it.
Cover photo courtesy of Riot Games.