Slingshot’s Vince Nairn had the chance to catch up with caster Auguste “Semmler” Massonnat during Group B of ELEAGUE to talk about this season’s changes, the state of the game and dipping his toe in Overwatch.
Vince Nairn: How would you sum up the weekend’s matches?
Auguste “Semmler” Massonnat: I don’t really feel like there were many surprises considering the group. Echo Fox definitely a massive underdog in this group considering they had three of the best teams in the world in it. As far as the rest of the teams are concerned, VP clearly expected to take first seed. They’re playing the best CS right now. Some people are saying they’re the best team in the world right now. So you really expected them to crush through, especially in a best-of-one format. When they get rolling, it’s really hard to stop. Maybe in a best-of-three, NiP or G2 could have held their own, maybe come up with something. But I think best-of-one really favored VP this time around. And then it could have gone either way, right, with NiP or G2. A few key rounds lost on Train. Had G2 won them, they’re going to a third map. Just the way it goes sometimes. All in all, I think we got a good result.
VN: You had some format changes for Season 2. How do you think they are working so far?
AM: I think it’s great. I want to see — and this is personally — I’m not a huge fan of (online) leagues. I think they drag on. You lose track of the story. You kind of just lose interest. There’s so much CS, and all these group stages and all this, it’s too much. Frankly, I’d be happy with a return to just LANs, and we go back to the LAN circuit. It’s over in three or four days. You get teams that are really in form at that time. I feel like the results are a bit clearer and less misleading than some kind of group stage that lasts three months and it’s like, “Oh, they were good at the beginning but they were poor at the end. But they did well in the beginning so they’re still gonna be at the LAN.” I’m kind of glad we have a very short or sweet format, or at least ELEAGUE is starting to shift over to that format They benefit a lot from that, and I’m personally appreciative of the new format. I like it.
VN: Obviously, when you’re calling a game, you’re very focused on it. But what’s it like calling a game in an empty arena?
AM: That’s always gonna be the tricky thing, right? Because in the back of your head, you’re always going to be like, “Well I could just be home right now doing this from a studio. Do I need to be on location when we’re not doing the whole show aspect?” But the thing is here in this scenario, it’s different because there is that live show and it is LAN.
VN: At least the players are right there in front of you, too.
AM: Yeah. That’s the thing, and I think that’s the main thing for me why I really enjoy working with ELEAGUE as well. It’s like the cherry on top. Yes, the players are here. We get to see them play. I get to see how they’re interacting live. And better yet, during breaks, between matches, back at the hotel, I can sit down and chat with them. We can go over the games together. I stand to gain a lot personally as a professional because I get to interact directly with the players. In a studio, you’re not able to get that first person feel. That’s what puts it over the top for me.
VN: And with the Friday night match being the one that determines who gets out of the group now, does that kind of add more to the TV match?
AM: Yeah, absolutely. And the TV match, the fact that it’s best-of-one (is also important). It’s still the winner match. It’s a best-of-one match. It’s cutthroat. High tension. I still think that works out. And then we come into Saturday and there’s a lot less stress as far as scheduling is concerned. I think the mood is improved a lot because with a best-of-one it’s manageable. Because with TV, you really do want to keep the show short and sweet. Once it goes over two hours, people stop tuning in. They’re tuned out. You feel kind of rushed to try to compress everything. The best-of-one format helps a lot. Now, it’s just best-of-one. You have all the time in the world for the analysts to do their jobs correctly and really talk over the game, get into the nitty gritty of it. There’s a lot more you can do when you have more time to work around the show. If the game is long, like it was the other day, maybe it’s a little more rushed again. But again, I’m fairly pleased with how they’ve done it. It’s a good adjustment from Season 1. Because Season 1 was also (tough) because you had two days that were worthless basically. Then you got into the two days that actually mattered, but what was the point of the first two days? So it was a necessary adjustment.
VN: How did you like dipping your toe into Overwatch?
AM: Oh, it was a lot of fun. I played a lot of the game. I like to look for casual games I can play every now and again. Overwatch can be challenging, but I think what I mean when I say casual is games that can be played pretty quickly. So I can just get in, play a quick game and get out. It was the same reason why, with my girlfriend for example, we would play League of Legends, and then Heroes came out. And Heroes was just really short games. I’d much rather play that than waste my time in a 50-minute long LoL game. It’s kind of like that with Overwatch. When I have a full afternoon, and I have time to just zonk out and play games, I’ll play CS, obviously. But if I’ve got like one hour and I just want to chill and unwind, I’ll play Overwatch. It was fun to get to cast that game because also it feels like a throwback to three years ago when the CS pro scene was really kicking off again, and you had players coming to LAN who had never been to LAN before. You get to learn and see them adjust and learn and figure out how it all works. And we got to do that with the overwatch players because of a lot of them are fresh and new with LAN environments. They’re going fresh and new into the big leagues. So it was really fun to talk with them, interact and learn the game from their point of view. But also see how they’re adjusting to the LAN environment was really cool. I had a lot of fun with it.
VN: It’s been a big year for Counter-Strike. So much going on. ELEAGUE coming in has been a big part of it. How would you sum up where the game is and where it’s headed going into 2017?
AM: This year felt like a cluster fuck, man. There was a lot going on. So much going on. Then on top of it, we go from having three majors to having two majors, and it still felt really charged, with a lot of big tournaments coming out. It was kind of tough to get a grip on it. There was so much. It got to the point about a third of the way through the year where I stopped keeping track of online results and watching every game online. There’s too much of it. I was sitting at my PC every night watching games trying to keep up. I’m like, you know what? I’m taking more of a Thorin approach now. If an online game is truly outstanding, I’ll go back and watch the VOD, but I’m mainly focused on the LANs now. And even with that, there’s still LANs every weekend. So it has felt really intense. This whole year has flown by. It still feels like it’s January right now. I don’t know where this year went. In August, I was feeling pretty overwhelmed with everything. I’m glad we had that little break there to kind of come back down off it because the first six, seven months there were just insanity. And it’s looking like it’s going to be the same next year. PEA, (ESL) Pro League. You got two big leagues there. We don’t know if ELEAGUE is gonna do a third season. We don’t know if FaceIt is gonna do another season. It’s just like, could we have four leagues running simultaneously? Is this how it works? I feel like we’re learning, but there are mistakes being repeated. I find that interesting. Esports is very circular. People try to get in, they build their business model a certain way, and they feel like they have to do it in that way, right? And I don’t know if that’s always a very beneficial thing for the game. Meanwhile, a tournament organizer, they’re focused on their company and are going to go game to game. They aren’t always necessarily making the best decisions for the game. They’re focused on their company first and foremost. So it’s always interesting to see how all of this works together in our scene and in other scenes. At this point, I’m just sitting back and trying to watch a little bit of the show, the big show, and see how it goes.
VN: One thing that’s been really interesting to me — and it’s not really a secret — but ELEAGUE has been good at getting non-endemic sponsors and also having them be accepted by this industry that can be very picky. What has been the key to the non-endemics being able to be accepted
AM: It’s easy. You have the Fragbite approach. I don’t know if you followed Fragbite back in the day when we used to run the Fragbite tournaments online and all that, but you saw those ads. You just don’t take yourself too seriously. That’s the whole point. If you’re going to try and make it so you relate to an audience that’s blasted by ads every day, and obviously there’s Adblock. A lot of these people use that. But (fans) are blasted by ads every day. You need to stand out in some shape or form, and Fragbite had massive success just by doing fun, kooky ads that didn’t take themselves too seriously and were really just joking around. It’s not like these try hard ads, and “our product is so good and so much better than all the other products.” I don’t care. I’m gonna get a good product whether I watch your ad or not. But what’s gonna stand out for me is playing poker with chickens or blowing up sandwiches with a gun. That’s a fun way to look at it. It’s a bit different. So I think that Turner really succeeded there because they’re not taking themselves too seriously. They’re looking at it like how to have a fun time. Obviously, Turner has a better sales force or a pretty strong, established sales force, so they’re going to be able to get that direct line to the non-endemics. That’s their strength, really. But it’s how they’ve handled it afterwards that is where they’ve done a really good job. To me, they’ve repeated the Fragbite model.
VN: Has the success shown that there is room for non-endemics in this space if it’s done well?
AM: Absolutely, I think so. It’s just a matter of educating non-endemics and making it so that if you can sit down and really get it across to them. Hey, this is what it’s all about. It isn’t this scary, spooky, basement-dweller sort of thing anymore. This is your every man kind of thing where you have all sorts of people from all walks of life playing games now. It’s a very open market. It’s a fun market. It’s a great place to be. You get that message across and don’t be scared and don’t burn them either. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Yeah, I definitely think it’s a great space for non-endemics. I think we’re gonna see more and more of them come into this space because it’s still a growing space, so it’s a good place to be. It’s just a matter of properly sitting them down and educating them, getting them to understand and managing expectations. I think that’s it. Don’t promise them the world. Just say come in a little bit. Test the water and we go from there. If it doesn’t look like a right fit for you, then it doesn’t. We’re probably not gonna see an Aston Martin sponsorship anytime soon, but a hot sauce, sure why not? No matter how much I’d love to get an Aston Martin one day. I can only hope.
Cover photo courtesy of Turner Sports/ELEAGUE