By Dave Stapleton
When writing about anything related to the topic of esports, I always run into the same dilemma… do I, or do I not, waste the first time explaining what esports are exactly? One part of me says: “Surely the industry is established enough now that there’s no need for the explainer anymore?” Some of esports most prominent stars, such as Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, are recognised as modern global icons. Or perhaps the fact that some of the biggest brands and sports franchises in the world are investing in it, like Coca Cola or the Golden State Warriors, is enough to justify that I no longer need to explain what it is, but that’s when I remember.
Ireland and esports do not mix. However, that’s a whole other story.
Let’s hear what it’s all about from Irish esports commentator, Mitch McBride “Well, when people outside of the industry ask me what my job is, I always hesitate,” Mitch said. “I guess I always first explain what esports is, by comparing it to soccer. In soccer, two teams compete against each other as part of a spectacle collectively enjoyed by an audience.
“Imagine that audience still exists, but the teams have been replaced with people sitting at computers on a huge stage, playing against each other in a video game. That’s esports. Meanwhile, just like in a soccer broadcast, there’s some person talking over the match to enhance the viewing experience. That, is my job.”
Mitch is a 21-year-old who lives in Meath but spends a large amount of his time travelling across Europe to different esports tournaments, where he provides live commentary over matches. He tells me he’s just returned from an event in Ukraine, called the WePlay Masters. He said: “So this was a tournament for a game called Counter Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO), a first person shooter. I was there for three days as part of the broadcast team, commentating on live matches as well as providing analysis in between games.”
The event was the culmination of an online month-long league, boasting a prize pool of €90,000. Due to the prize pool size and the skill-level of teams attending, the WePlay Masters would be unofficially classed as a Tier 2 event, according to Mitch. “It had some really strong teams there, but none of the world’s best. That’s because the prize pool is relatively small in the current ecosystem for this particular game.” Top tier esports events can boast massive purses rivaling that of some traditional sports. The International, a yearly tournament for a popular real-time strategy game called Dota 2, boasted a crowdfunded purse of over €27 million in 2019.
That’s not to say the WePlay Masters wasn’t watched; the live crowd was huge and “one of the most enthusiastic” Mitch has ever worked in front of. The event was also broadcasted live on popular streaming platform Twitch, where thousands of fans tuned in to watch the action. One of the highlights of the event was the organisers decision to run it as a themed event, which proved a hit for both fans, and the broadcast team: “This event had a wacky theme where the broadcast team, dressed up as train conductors, stood on a train-themed stage where they guided the audience on their journey.
“It was a really unique and fun experience, and that’s something esports can do differently than traditional sports. Although closed environments and licensed leagues have formed, there’s still a lot of room for companies to run tournaments for big titles, all while incorporating unique ways to enhance the viewing experience. If you’re a business and you want to get involved in esports, no problem. Contact me and we can run a tournament in a swimming pool with a €200,000 prize pool.”
Mitch was a mathematical science student in TU Dublin but decided to drop out just before his second year in order to pursue his esports career. One would think that trying to explain this decision to his family would be a challenge, but Mitch mused that he’s “really lucky” as his family were quite open to the idea. “They saw me progress from earning a couple of euros online, into a full-time gig. Invitations to fly around Europe and work on big stages followed too, which is when I knew it was time to go all-out with this. So, when I broke the news to my parents, they were really encouraging and supportive.”
I asked Mitch about the precarity of working freelance, a concept all too often associated with freelance in any industry. “When I first started off, like any other freelancer, most of my time was spent looking for opportunities and tournament organisers to work with. I still spend quite a lot of time searching events, introducing myself to new contacts to continue to build my network – but I’m lucky enough to be in a place where I’m receiving a healthy amount of interest in working with me.
“I even turned down a couple of full-time job offers that were really enticing, but I didn’t want to limit myself to one brand or one game. I enjoy being able to commentate a variety of games and events as it keeps it fresh for me.”
One of the biggest challenges Mitch faces as an esports commentator, is the inability to organise his schedule in advance. “To be honest, there’s no such thing as a normal week for me. One week I could be working up to 12 hours a day, halfway across the world. The next week, I’m in my room commentating on an online league.
“I know what I’m doing for two weeks of this month, but outside of that everything is a question mark. One of the biggest downsides of this job is the scheduling; most events and jobs only come in last minute, so it’s hard to plan in advance.” Mitch feels this makes it harder to have a good work/life balance. “It definitely impacts me being able to spend time with family and friends. If I can’t say for certain if I’ll even be in Ireland in two weeks’ time, its next to impossible to commit to any sort of plans outside of work.”
Despite this downside, Mitch said he doesn’t take any of it for granted. “I’m in a really privileged position that many others would love. Sure, some things in the industry could be done better, but most of my complaints are superficial. Making a solid living off esports was the dream for me, and that’s where I am now.”