Q&A: Smix on balancing schedules, favorite StarCraft moments and how she became a host

Slingshot’s Blake Bottrill has the chance to catch up with veteran host and personality Sue “Smix” Lee during DreamHack Montreal to talk about balancing schedules, her favorite events and how she got to this point in her career.

Blake Bottrill: You do a lot of traveling to host events because you are in high demand, for a good reason. Is there ever something you’ve had to turn down or maybe a better question is what is the most unfortunate thing you’ve ever had to turn down?

Sue “Smix” Lee: I had to turn down DreamHack Stockholm last year and that was because I needed to go to TwitchCon because my full-time job is a job at Twitch. I needed to turn that down and I also needed to turn down The Summit this year for StarCraft 2 because I had been traveling so much. I had just gone to two events back-to-back and The Summit, if I had gone, would have been one weekend off before I had to go to DreamHack Valencia. There are times now that since I have a full-time job that I need to make a sacrifice. Luckily, so far, I think I have had a pretty good track record with being able to incorporate staying on top of both in terms of the job and doing the events that I want to do.

BB: You’re a little sick now. I always see you tweet about being slightly under the weather at events, but it is something that affects everyone. What is the one piece of advice you have to give people who want to avoid the esports flu?

SL: Whenever I come to these events now I started taking Vitamin C. Emergen-C is the powder that you put in. I have that like every day. I always try to have breakfast in the morning if possible because I used to not do that and I didn’t realize how having breakfast, earlier on in the day, gives you so much more energy that carries on throughout the day. Also, just try to keep eating. That was something that I didn’t really do well when I first started working, because of the adrenaline rush I would lose my appetite and I just wouldn’t eat, and that was really bad because you need to eat if you want to have energy. I know it sounds really basic but just remembering to eat, especially breakfast, try not to have any energy drinks until you really really need it. Preferably after halfway through the day because if you start with an energy drink in the morning — I’ve done that, with no food — you end up needing to continue taking energy drinks. It sounds like really basic common sense advice but a lot of people, you would be surprised, just don’t do it and it really does affect you.

BB: You’ve been doing StarCraft for years now but what was your favorite event that you have done that isn’t StarCraft?

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SL: Oh that’s not Starcraft? Well actually the other game that I host for currently, other than Starcraft, is Counter-Strike. So with Counter-Strike I’ve hosted a couple of events for them now. I’d have to say the one that I feel was the most memorable out of the Counter-Strike events that I’ve done would have to be the DreamHack Masters Malmo. The reason for that was, it was a standalone Counter-Strike event where they filled an entire arena. Because a Swedish team made the finals and won the finals, and it was in Sweden and it was a team that was very much beloved and adored by the fans in Sweden, it was absolutely electric. The combination for a host to have a team that is a crowd favorite to begin with and then to have that crowd favorite team to be in their home country — so that the crowd favorite chants are even more intense — and then to have that team win is like the perfect combination that any host can ask for. To experience that live and feel the electricity was on another level.

BB: The follow up question to that was then, what is your favorite DreamHack memory? But I guess that’s the one that takes the cake?

SL: The thing is I don’t want to say that because when I think of DreamHack Masters Malmo, I don’t it associate that with a standard DreamHack because it was a standalone event and it was only Counter-Strike. My favorite DreamHack memory? I think it would have to be a couple of DreamHack memories. There was a few times where I saw Koreans who normally don’t show a lot of emotion, actually get very emotional when they won. There are two examples that I can think of and they were both in 2014. It was when Solar won DreamHack Stockholm. He actually got so emotional that he was tearing as he answered my interview questions. He was able to kind of get all his words out but I remember tearing as I watched his tears because it is always very humbling to see that moment where, for a player, all their hard work eventually pays off. It was the same thing for ForGG when he won DreamHack Winter because, I think everyone remembers that, he was like (coughing noises) and he was actually choking his words. I think as a host, to witness those very special moments where you can see that for a player, it is hitting them, all that work and time and practice hours finally pays off with a trophy and a cheque, that moment is priceless.

BB: A big part of your job is obviously interviewing players after matches. Who is the best interviewee? Who do you like interviewing the most?

SL: Ooooh that’s a good one. I always really like interviewing Parting because even when he gives a standard answer he always gives some sort of Parting flair to it so it never feels very boring. He always likes to do that banter even though a lot of people don’t like to do banter because of what that can do if they lose. I love Parting because he always does have banter. When it comes to the players now that I’ve interviewed the most in 2016, i don’t know. It is hard. They are all so different, let me think about this for a second.

I have to say one of my favorite players to interview was ShoWTimE, actually. That may surprise people because it isn’t like he is the most banter-y person and it isn’t like he says the most dramatic things or anything like that. The reason why I say him out of the players I’ve interviewed this year was because every time I interview him, I feel like not only is he always very humble, and not a boring way. I feel like the Korean humble is always a very boring way because they don’t really say much other than I was lucky or something. When I say he is humble it means he always gives due credit to the player he was facing. He’ll say, “Oh I actually think they are a very talented player, they were a strong opponent. I think that maybe this decision that I made just came out on top this time.” He will always give them credit where credit is due. He won’t just blindly attribute his win to luck or anything like that. I think he gives good answers and that he is a nice player.

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BB: You started your on-air career doing mostly just translations. Was hosting just a natural progression from there or did someone tell you that you should be hosting too?

SL: I thought about it sometimes but it wasn’t until DreamHack asked me, “Oh, what do you think about hosting at the same time?” I was like, “Well, I’m just happy to work for DreamHack” because up until that point it had always been a dream of mine to try to attend a DreamHack. It was Europe. You know, I never really had a chance to visit Europe before so that was really cool, so I was like alright! Let’s do it! Obviously when I first started, I didn’t realize that it is very, very different just translating to actually asking the questions as well. It was really tricky for me to try and balance the two. It was something that I had thought about, and it wasn’t a reality until DreamHack made it a reality. That’s why whenever I’ve done interviews in the past I give DreamHack so much credit. I don’t honestly think I would have gotten to where it is now without DreamHack taking a chance on me.

BB: is there someone that you idolized when you were developing your hosting style or someone that you really looked up to?

SL: Let me think about this. There is a few people I really admire. The first person I always like to mention is Rachel (Quirico), Seltzer. The reason why I mention her is because she was actually at the first DreamHack that I worked at and I’m going to be perfectly honest: I was a mess. I was so nervous, I was shaking, I wasn’t eating because I had no appetite because I was so nervous. I drank six Red Bulls the first day and I couldn’t stop shaking. I was just a nervous wreck. She basically just guided me. She gave me advice. She was patient and since then she has been this sister and role model that I really look up to. I think she is an exemplary role model for anyone to look up to because she works really hard and has become a host that is so versatile that she can do any game.

When it comes to another host that I really looked up and really tried to study what he did to become better myself was Chobra. I think he is just insanely talented. When I look at him I just think, “Wow he’s just such a naturally talented on-air guy.” What makes it even crazier is that he’s so nice and humble and that is very rare to see someone who is as talented as he is and to also be that humble is crazy. It blows my mind. You can’t be this talented and this nice. It makes no sense in my brain. He is always willing to talk me through different situations, give advice, share his stories and experiences. I just really look up to him, not only for the talent that he has a host and on-air talent but also as a human being because he is just such a nice guy. Both him and Rachel I just admire so much, not only for their talent but for how good they are as human beings. That always inspires me to really remember talent is cool and being a host is cool, but it is more important to be a good human being.

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BB: I know you always do a bunch of research and stuff before any event. Outside of StarCraft, what do you follow esports wise from week to week?

SL: If it’s not StarCraft, nowadays I only follow Counter-Strike. I don’t really have time to actively follow other esports. Sometimes I’ll tune into a League of Legends game, but I like playing more than watching to be honest, which is really funny because I feel like in StarCraft 2 it is the opposite. Starcraft, I think watching is always beautiful because you can always appreciate the mechanics involved in harass, in multi-prong harassment or crazy engagements. There is always something that you can ooh and ahh at. League is a game I definitely prefer playing with friends and just having fun with them. Counter-Strike I follow just because I do host the events now and I am invested in some storylines and stuff like that. Same with Starcraft. I like watching just to keep up with the storylines.

BB: You have the lovely job working at Twitch. If you were to be able to transition full time into hosting, would it be appealing to you?

SL: I have thought about this a lot. I think I would choose the full-time job at Twitch over hosting full time. The reason why I say that is because I think hosting is a job that I’m extremely thankful to have been given the opportunity to do. It is a very humbling experience. You meet so many different people. Everyone that you meet is in different facets of life. For example, the players that are working and grinding their asses off just to have a chance to come to these tournaments and get maybe their one best-of-five. In this tournament format, it is brutal because you might get one series in the round of 32 and lose right? You meet players, you meet the staff that are working harder than anyone even sees because it takes so much energy and time to put together a tournament like this, and then you meet people like you that are just trying to do coverage for not only the players and the storylines but also the talent. You just meet so many different people from so many different backgrounds and I think that is the cool part for me, to just see all these different people that are just coming from different facets of life and we are all together because we like games. We’re all here because we like StarCraft. That is the only unifying factor.

That being said, I don’t feel like my job or the work that I do as a host is so impactful and life-changing that I should just give up everything and do it. I really believe that while I am honored and blessed to have gotten this position, I don’t believe that what I do is so irreplaceable that we need Smix! I don’t think that way at all. I think there are people like Tasteless and Artosis and Apollo that are these figurehead names in StarCraft that it would be heartbreaking for those guys, who have been the veterans, to leave. I really do not put myself on the same level at all. For me, I feel like I can do more for gaming and this community of people who love games if I can be part of Twitch and the work that I do there, rather than this work that I do that is very ephemeral. It is a three-minute interview or two-minute intro that I do on stage versus what I can do off of it. That’s the way I see it at least.

BB: Last question, what is the hardest part that people don’t see or don’t realize about being a host?

SL: I’ve gotten less nervous now, even though that was really hard for me to get over for the longest time. Trying to get better at the flaws that I know that I have is always a struggle but that is something that I don’t mind doing because anyone that does anything should always try to get better. If I had to nitpick one thing that has been really hard for me to get over, though, it is when I still see people say things like, “She didn’t do much to get where she is” or “She doesn’t deserve that position” or “She got that position because insert crude things here.” Just people who don’t actually realize the amount of time and effort I have put in. That really bothers me. Receiving criticism and seeing people just not like my hosting, that’s acceptable because not everyone is going to like you. Even if I get better, doesn’t mean they will like me. Sometimes it’ll be like, “Oh I don’t like her face or I don’t like her voice.” That’s fine. When people discredit the time and effort and actual love I have for the game, that really bothers me. If I didn’t like this game, why am I still in it five years later? A lot of other people have left. Why would I have stayed? It would have been easy for me to leave. In terms of the work I put in, I don’t tweet every tournament the cue cards that I do, the research that I do because that’s obnoxious, that is crazy. That’s like if the players recorded literally every hour of practice they put into it. That’s obnoxious. No one wants to see that they just want to see the end result. That’s what I’m trying to show. That is why for questions I do research for players about tournaments in 2016 and 2015. That is what I try to focus on and work on but when people try to discredit the effort I put in. So many hours! This goes back to way back when I just did translations. I did so many translations for free! When people discount all of that, it really bothers me, I don’t think that’s one thing I’ll ever get over. Still to this day I see people saying, “She didn’t do anything to get there.” You don’t even know. You have no idea.

Photos by Pierre Yves Laroche/DreamHack

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