As esports continues to grow, specialized roles among teams have become more common. Among them is a team chef. With players living in a house, it’s become more common for teams to hire a designated chef to cook those teams’ meals. Slingshot’s Andrew Kim caught up with Andrew Tye, chef for Counter Logic Gaming, to talk about the profession and what it’s like to spend so much time in the CLG house full of gamers.
Andrew Kim: Please introduce yourself and tell us what you did before you became a chef for a gaming house.
Andrew Tye: Sure, my name is Andrew Tye. I originally (come) from Peterborough, Ontario, up north in Canada. I’ve been cooking professionally since I was 14 years old. I started in fast food, did that for a few years, had a few brief stints in retail until I started working pubs and bars and so on and so forth. Right around age 19 or 20 I started working a little more fine dining establishments. Eventually went to culinary management, where I completed a dual co-diploma program or something. It was two credits in one course for culinary management, and then I also did bit of competing. So I took first place in Ontario in a collegiate cooking competition and then fifth place nationally among Canadian collegiate programs. From there, I kept on working, traveling around Canada, did a few stints out west working at different hotels, always coming back to Peterborough, working at different establishments there, until eventually I dropped a cold email to the CEO of CLG, Devin Nash. Two weeks later I had an interview and I was out here. So that all really happened really fast. From the time I applied for the job and the time I had my interview was a turnover of 24 hours and then two weeks later I was out here.
AK: With your impressive resume, it would have been very easy for you to work in any fine dining establishment, but it seems like you prefer to get a lot of experience from a wide variety of places by moving around. What made you feel compelling to settle down to a single location, and why was it a gaming house?
AT: Working on a hotline in a kitchen is very stressful and demanding work — not to say that what I’m doing now isn’t demanding, it’s just a different kind of demanding. So when you’re slaving behind a hotline and you’re working in a very tense environment where everyone’s working around hot things, sharp things, the customers are anxious and they want to eat. When the opportunity came up, I found this as a way to kind of reset myself I guess? Again, not to say, it’s not challenging, it’s just a different type of challenging. Also I’ve been playing games ever since I was little, when I was sitting on my father’s lap playing Railroad Tycoon and Civilization 2, so gaming has been ingrained in me throughout my entire life. I’ve been playing League of Legends since I think Season 2. I’ve been following Hotshot (George Georgallidis) since Season 2 when he used to do the Own3d streams. Not only was I a fan of gaming, the whole romantic idea of living in a gaming house, but more specifically I was a fan of CLG and George. It was really a culmination of my two passions coming together. I couldn’t ask for a better opportunity. So far it’s been a perfect fit.
AK: Was there some kind of expectation you had going in? When someone you’re going to be a cook for a gaming house, is there an ideal or an imagine you had in mind when you started? And if you did, did the reality meet or not meet those expectations?
AT: It kinda goes like esports as a whole. Esports is still the wild wild west, or so it seems from what I’ve seen. The idea of what it is and what it actually is are two completely different things. I came in with the expectation that I was going to be — and so far it has held true — but I really wanted to run it like a restaurant. Other than the set dining times, I wanted to have that professional atmosphere where you can have restaurant quality food three or four times a day, every day of the week. Something I feel like in esports, when you ask something of somebody you might not necessarily have the same expectations. You’re always trying to go above people’s expectations, and those are the people who are really going to thrive in this atmosphere. Right now, because it is so wild wild west, we’re still in that kind of age, when you go above and beyond either your own or your management’s expectations, it really shows. I feel like that has allowed me to shine and (show) what I can bring to the table. I don’t know if that makes sense, but you can really showcase yourself if you are ready to get after it, go for it, and go all in, then you can really showcase your skills and your dedication also.
AK: When you say expectations for a chef in the gaming house, what kind of expectations are on you when you work in the gaming house?
AT: I feel like I was kinda blessed that way where when I came in, I had a better idea of what and how it should have been done than the management, which is a testament to getting the right person in the right role. I’m a firm believer that if you have the right person working the right job, you can be very hands off. The management wasn’t really even sure what having a cook kind of meant. It mean yeah, we will have meals however often they get prepared, but I feel like I had a better idea of what I wanted to bring to the table, and how it needed to be executed, and the kinds of food I wanted people to be eating, because here we are very health-focused — also because another thing that I can showcase when I have a pretty good idea about big wholesome food compared to just eating Chipotle or whatever it may be. Having people that weren’t really concrete on what they really wanted allows me to be a little more flexible.
AK: Looking at your role as a whole of cooking, we see more investments going into gaming, and more organizations looking out and reaching out for their own chefs. I wanted to ask you opinion on the importance of having a chef in-house and what they bring to the team that makes them so attractive to gaming organizations?
AT: Two of the major things that I’ve heard and witnessed: If financially, the organization is willing to provide the team with food, that is a huge benefit obviously on the cost for the player, but more importantly is the time commitment. If players are able to not have to worry about getting food throughout the day, I feel like there’s a huge value out there. Also being able to pick up and tidy up after them and make sure that the environment is up to standard is another part of my role, which I feel like is a huge thing. When players don’t have to worry so much about their environment being clean and tidy and organized and having bathrooms swept and well kept, I think that’s another reason why you have to add to bring up the level of the standard of living. Definitely the most important thing is having the time.
AK: What is something that you find is the most important when it comes to when creating a menu for a gaming house?
AT: Well me and the physical therapist, big shout out to him, he’s really been a guiding light as far as nutrition and what we want them to be eating. My idea of nutrition and his idea of nutrition are not far apart, but his is definitely more focused on performance, so me and him have been able to come up with different diets for different individuals that are going to help hopefully maximize performance. Overall we try and keep pretty low carb for general diets, and some people have a little bit more tweaking to what we want them to be eating. Maybe we get them on Keto or maybe get them on a different cutting diet, or maybe we really need to get a lot of protein. Darshan (Upadhyaha), for example, he’s vegetarian, so where we can get other proteins, we need to maximize on that. So there’s not a Band-Aid diet for everyone. We try and tweak to what the individuals need.
AK: You’re saying that it’s not so much making a schedule or a menu in general where everyone eats, and it’s more looking at the individual, seeing what they need, and then creating a separate menu for them specifically?
AT: Not necessarily. Sometimes we’ll do a big family style meal, but then some things maybe, one individual needs to eat more protein and less of the starch or vegetable or whatnot. We do have a set menu, but because there are some meals where I don’t know what I’m making until an hour or two hours before — which is another blessing really. They allow me to be so creative. I can wake up and look in my fridge, look at my pantry, or I can go to the grocery store and see what they have or what jumps out at me, and then I can use my creativity or expertise to turn that into something. It’s not like we have a static menu. It’s not like it’s mac and cheese every night or something like that. They really let me be flexible and creative, which is a huge blessing.
AK: Have you ever had trouble trying to convince a player to eat something that they need to eat more of or convincing them to eat less of something?
AT: There’s definitely challenges with some of that. Challenges come in every job, but I’m not a babysitter. I’m not gonna force feed these people. I’m working with all fully functioning adults who can make their own choices. I can steer them in the right direction. I can lead them to water, but I can’t make them drink, you know? I do the best I can. Being open and available to talk to the folks is another really important thing. When they feel like they can come to me with an issue, whether it’s food or otherwise, and I can rebuttal with either constructive criticism or something like that, they’re more apt to listen when you’re available. When you give and take, when I notice someone maybe needs to eat more vegetables, I can only harp on them so long and then they have to make their own choices.
AK: You are in a very intimate position with the players in the context where you know their diets, what they need and what they do. Has there been any interesting or funny stories that came with this occupation?
AT: I can’t put my finger on anything individually, but it’s not just a League team that shows up, right? We have the League of Legends team, the Overwatch team, the Black team, the Blue team, the Red team, and then all the staff here. We got Smashers that live on site also, so the environment’s got that very — I don’t want to say dorm because that degrades it, but it is. It’s almost like dorm living and college life. There are things that happen in here all the time, we have ping pong happening every day. People are getting thrown in the pool all the time. As much as we work really hard and everyone is really driven toward success, everyone’s always having fun and poking fun at each other, and these different relationships that show up where people go out for a meal at night or whatever, go to movie. Every day there is a funny story.
AK: When you mentioned difficulties that come with your job, what is the most difficult?
AT: Being a central pillar of the house is very difficult. There’s a lot of buzzing that goes around in the kitchen. It’s kind of the same thing that happens when you go into restaurants, where the wait staff is always on. You can’t be off as wait staff. You always have to be ready to listen: listen to customers, complaints and praises. So being in the center of it all the time, 12 to 14 hours a day, some days, can be very draining. Because I am a central pillar to people, I always have people coming in and they’re either telling me their issues or something’s not good at home, or these struggles within the game, or whatever it may be. Struggles with other people. It’s almost like I’m working as a therapist kind of. Not really, but it has that kind of vibe to it. I always have to be open eared, I always have to be accessible, so that’s probably my No. 1 challenge personally. Challenges otherwise, just the sheer work, waking up everyday, maintaining creativity. Some days it’s just hard to think about what I want to do for lunch or a dinner or something like that, so thank goodness for my assistant Jordan Pind. He’s been a huge help just allowing me to have some breathing space and have my own time because for a while there they just acquired the CLG Black team, and then the Overwatch team. I was running around like a chicken with its head cut off every day. Jordan has been a huge help and a good source of inspiration. He’s still young, so he’s still learning a lot of these skills, so it’s nice to have a totally different set of eyes and a different opinion on whether it’s food, or how the way we approach the problem or whether we’re fixing a drain, fixing a toilet, whatever it is. Having another mind that I can bounce ideas off is a huge help.
AK: It seems like when people say “cook” or “chef” it’s not like a lot of people’s minds go to janitorial work like you mentioned…
AT: I mean, they go very hand-in-hand.
AK: Yeah, so is this the case for other chefs in gaming houses?
AT: I cannot speak to that. I’ve always been a pretty driven individual and I like working. Anywhere that I can find value and add to the company or to a person, or to whatever it is, I’ll go and seek that. We had a leaky shower today, actually, so we went out and grabbed all the tools we needed to fix it. We’ve got it taken care of now. We’ve got the silicone sitting in the bathtub. Whether or not people are going to go above and beyond expectations, that’s on them. I’ve always been a firm believer of that. The whole union idea of you work outside of your boundaries, you can potentially get penalized, I hate that idea. I’m a firm believer of working hard, doing what’s asked of you, and go above it.
AK: Is there something you want to accomplish in your career outside of where you are right now?
AT: Right now I’m really just enjoying where I am. Working as a cook can be a really draining and tiresome life. Where I am right now has me, I mean I was in a pretty bad spot before when I came here, and working at CLG has turned me around 180 degrees completely. I have more aspirations, eventually maybe open a restaurant, and all these sorts of aspirations, working as a head chef in some fancy restaurant in France, or whatever it may be. That all comes later. I’m just enjoying right now.
AK: What do you mean you were in a rough patch before you joined CLG?
AT: I mean just like working day in, day out at restaurants or wherever it may be, it can be really brooding.
AK: My last question is, with the infrastructure of the gaming houses expanding adding chefs, physical therapists, and the like, what is something that you want to see not necessarily just with CLG, but the general scope of gaming houses in esports to make the lives of the players or staff members more comfortable?
AT: That’s a really tough question. I cannot really speak to that only because I kind of keep my nose to myself. I have my branch within CLG, I run the food program, and as far all the other things that happen within the org, I try to keep my nose out of so I can’t really speak to that. Always putting the players first, and giving the players what they need within reason. Obviously we don’t want players to feel coddled and babied, but there’s an immense amount of pressure put on, some of them are kids, you know? Ethan (“nahtE” Arnold, CSGO player), he just turned 17. They’re coming out of high school. Giving support to the players, we have to understand that these kids need support. When you hear some horror stories about five kids and then some overlord owner that just kind of stays in the shadows, without giving them the proper structure and support they need, you’re destined for failure.
AK: In that case, what is the moment when you felt the most fulfilled and accomplished?
AT: There’s this one moment and it’s very specific, and it happened with Jake (“Xmithie” Puchero). He tweeted out, it was really quick and really small, or maybe feel small to some people, but he said something along the lines of “Oh I wish I had zucchini or something. I never enjoyed zucchini before Andrew cooked it.” You know what I mean? Those moments when people have an idea where “Ew vegetables. Ew brussels sprouts. I don’t like brussels sprouts.” And being able to turn them around and say, “Oh I really enjoy brussels sprouts” or even a meat that you never enjoyed. I’m a firm believer of eat everything, so when I hear people say I don’t like this, I don’t like that, it makes me die inside. Opening people’s palates to new flavors and combinations that they might not expect, that is rewarding.
Cover photo courtesy of Counter Logic Gaming