Slingshot’s Blake Bottrill had the chance to talk to longtime caster Anders Blume at the ESL New York at the beginning of October to talk about casting Overwatch in addition to Counter-Strike and how to stay fresh in different games.
Blake Bottrill: How was your time in Atlanta (casting the Overwatch Open)?
Anders Blume: Really fun. I had a really good time working with ELEAGUE, I always do. The crew that is working there and the level of professionalism is incredible. Really good time. It’s the first time that I’ve casted anything that isn’t Counter-Strike, so that was a real challenge and a really fun experience for me.
BB: Obviously you’re talking about Overwatch. It’s the new kid on the block for a lot of people. When did you first think about getting involved, or was it something that ELEAGUE just approached you about?
AB: I am kind of an elitist when it comes to video games in general. I’ve never owned a console. I bought a Wii at some point, but I’ve never owned one myself. I usually only care about very few gaming studios, Valve is one of them going back to Half-life. Blizzard, the first game I played there was The Lost Vikings and Warcraft 1 and 2 and Diablo and all of it. That’s always been an interest. Actually way before I started all of this I thought maybe I could have a future in game development and game design because to me it is very interesting and it is a world that just fascinates me. I just have a lot of respect for the work that Blizzard do in general. Using some of my connections from the casting side of things I just reached out to Blizzard at one point and said, “Hey I don’t know if I can do this but if you want me to look at the competitive side and esports side of Overwatch, then I would love to take a look at it and give you any feedback that I have. Maybe it will be useful and maybe it won’t.” I tried that and they were like, “Hey, cool, we’re doing a bit of a test in Irvine,” which is where the Blizzard campus is. They actually flew me out, back when the game was still in beta. I went there and looked at it and talked to all the different players and Jeff Kaplan and all the rest of them. They were definitely fun to talk to and I emailed back and forth with them a little bit with what I thought would be interesting. When the ELEAGUE Overwatch thing came around I thought maybe if (Semmler and I) can’t do any of the casting we can just look at the production, look at the game and look at the sort of spectator friendliness of it and can we help with anything. We’ve got now close to four years experience doing this so maybe we could come up with something that could help out. We offered that and said if you guys are willing we will come and check it out. Instead they told us to come and cast the game instead. We said, “Yeah, we’ll come and try and give it our best.” I had already played the game a lot, mostly in Season 1, less in Season 2, and tried to watch as many games as I could. I think it is very hard to learn from Overwatch matches what is happening. I was kind of like going in the deep end and just trying to do it, but it was a lot of fun.
BB: I talked to Sadokist about how important it is to be able to pivot as a caster. What are thoughts on being in multiple games to outlive the lifespan of Counter-Strike? Not that it is going anywhere, anytime soon.
AB: No, I mean, no one knows that right? The life cycle of esports titles is a much discussed topic, especially for industry insiders. Everyone seems to be of the opinion that everything is sort of cyclical so that eventually things die and something else comes along. Counter-Strike does have, I think, an unbeatable track record for being a competitive game that people are playing. Of course, just like if you were a translator, the more languages you can pick up and translate from, the more hireable you will become, and the less chance you will be out of a job one day. So I think the difficulty is that it is very hard to be an expert on even two games. If you add three or four, I’m not saying it’s impossible. I don’t think it is impossible, but it requires a real dedication and a lot of hard work I think. That is just an obstacle not many people can overcome I think.
BB: What has the reception from fans been like? I imagine it has been pretty split.
AB: Actually I am surprised. What scared me initially is that the Overwatch community has one subreddit that is called Overwatch, which is the official one, and one that is called CompetitiveOverwatch. I think whenever that happens in a community there is always a chance that the competitive version will become filled with people who are very cynical and sort of self-proclaimed experts on everything. They were not even that bad. They weren’t that unfriendly. The points they were bringing up were reasonable. A lot of the early articles and interviews with people saying, “Why have they brought in these people?” and everyone was saying that the fear is that maybe they don’t know enough about the game, maybe they won’t be able to cast it well enough because they didn’t understand the game. I think that is a valid concern, and I don’t mind that people raised that, or even if it is raised in the future I think that is alright. The reception was pretty good. There was lots of good feedback that I got. Small points from people saying this could definitely improve but overall it wasn’t nearly as bad as what it could have been. It wasn’t, “Get back to Counter-Strike, we never want to see you again and you’ve ruined this event for us.” That could have happened, but luckily it didn’t. I’m really grateful. I feel like the Overwatch community has been super so far.
BB: You’ve had to cast with a couple of new people thanks to an unfortunate situation with Semmler. You’ve been casting together for so long. What is it like casting without your partner?
AB: Most of the people I’ve been casting with recently, Metuz being one of them at DreamHack in Bucharest and Moses here at ESL New York. They are people I have cast with before so I feel like it’s not completely alien. I think what’s lacking, and this sounds sentimental, what’s lacking is the general atmosphere backstage. That is unfortunate but in some ways it is always good to try and mix things up and even events that we’ve both been at sometimes we will try and mix things up a little bit. You learn new things whenever that happens and that is okay.
BB: You worked well together despite having very little time to prepare but you ended up doing a couple casts with ZP this week. What are your thoughts on ZP?
AB: ZP is obviously, I think the most respected personality in Overwatch right now in terms of dedication and knowledge about the game, and that is not an accident. You can tell that he is really deep into it. That is really good news. I enjoyed that, I thought it was easy working with him as a caster. There was no weird interruptions or weird things. So that was all fine and it obviously helped because I had an expert to rely on. That is very helpful if you are a newcomer to the scene. I do want to say, just to broaden that a little bit, the people that I met at this particular event, including Huk and Goldenboy and MrX, and I met Malik as well for the first time. They were all so friendly. Rachel, I’ve had the fortune of working with before, and she is always cool. It was just a really fun experience for me to work with people who have a different background in esports and they were just a really cool bunch of people.
Cover photo by Helena Kristiansson/ESL, eslgaming.com