Paul ‘ReDeYe’ Chaloner on 2 decades of eSports
We discuss the past, present and future of eSports with the esteemed broadcaster.
Paul 'ReDeYe' Chaloner is the legendary eSports personality who has commentated on over 50 games in a career spanning two decades. The 44-year-old boasts a particularly impressive CV, having hosted the biggest events across a plethora of titles including Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Starcraft 2 and most recentlyDota 2. ReDeYe's eSports career has taken him to every continent on the planet and it doesn't look like slowing down just yet.
We caught up with him to ask just how he ended up in the wonderful world of eSports, what he's up to at the moment and what the future holds for him after hosting the first North American CS:GO Major.
Hello ReDeYe! You’ve been in eSports for what seems like a lifetime. How did you first get into the scene? I’ve been in eSports for probably just over a decade now. Unsurprisingly, I’ve been an avid player of video games since the early 80s. I consider my age a bonus; I’ve been able to live through all of the changes in video games. When I first played online in around 1995/1996 we didn’t call it eSports. Most of us were playing Quake and we didn’t know anything about clans, leagues or ladders. We would literally go online on dial-up on a 28k modem and pay five pence a minute to play for about an hour. That was effectively the limit at the time.
Around 1998 I started playing in a Quake clan online, and then Unreal Tournament was released in 1999. I fell in love with Unreal Tournament, got into a very good clan and ended up competing for the UK team in the biggest tournaments of the time, such as ClanBase Euro Cup and Nations Cup. I also played in I-Series, which started in around 2000. It was about 2005 when I realised that the job of being a commentator and host would take over.
When did you realise that the hosting role would become your full time job and did you foresee that eSports would take off in the way it has?
I would love to say that I had the foresight, but I probably didn't. What people probably don't know is that I fell into the commentary side purely by mistake. I was always super competitive and back then all I wanted to do was compete, as I loved doing it. Being a professional player was only part-time as I was also holding down a job. I first picked up the microphone in 2002, when I commentated on the semi-final of a Euro Cup game of Unreal Tournament. I carried on commentating and built up a strong following, leading to iTG (one of the two big shoutcast stations at the time) asking me to join them.
In 2005, circumstance dictated that I would take it up full-time. The company I worked for offered me a compromise agreement (effectively, a redundancy) because I had gone as far as I could go in management and they couldn't really offer me anything else at the time. They offered me a good severance package and I took it. I spent the next 12 months, with the support of my other half, travelling the world trying to convince tournament organisers that firstly I was a good commentator, and secondly that they needed live commentators at their events.
You've just recently returned from a trip to South Africa where you helped launch the DGL (Digital Gaming League). Tell us a bit more about your experience.
I was contacted by Telkom, the biggest telecoms provider in South Africa, to host and do give an opening speech for the launch of DGL. I was there to fill a hosting role, but was also brought over as an ambassador for eSports internationally. All of the players and managers that I met were very excited to have me down there, and I really felt it was a massive statement of intent from Telkom to make DGL a more serious and respected league.
I also had some time on South African mainstream television. I got the overwhelming feeling of 'God, I'm kind of representing eSports down here, don't blow it'. Obviously I was on my best behaviour, as I wanted to leave everyone with a great impression of eSports.
South Africa is probably five to seven years behind in some respects and the people that came along to the show were a mixture of potential partners, sponsors, advertisers and marketing people. These people do not currently have a great deal of experience with gaming, so my speech was designed in such a way to market eSports effectively. I talked through the things we take for granted in the West, such as the viewing figures, the demographics and the sponsors already involved in the blossoming world of eSports.
Where do you see yourself in a year, or five years?
The one thing I've learnt in this business over the last decade is you shouldn't make too many predictions because they usually go out of the window. A year from now, I hope I'm still hosting and commentating. I understand, however, that the demographic in the industry is young. I am always conscious that I am one of the older people in eSports, but that brings experience and maturity. As long as I continue to do a good job and people want me back for events, then I hope that I can keep going.
There will come a day where it's no longer the case. I've done everything in eSports: running leagues and championships, sponsor marketing, social media management, commentating and hosting. There is hopefully space for someone with such broad experience to take up another role within the industry. I would say that it is likely that I will work for a major publisher at some point in the future, due to the way eSports event management is going.
I think we will be left with one or two very big fish and they may fall away somewhere along the lines to another major publisher. We have just seen MLG acquired by Activision and there's plenty of others looking at that kind of model too. Valve already hire out their events, but companies such as Riot Games do it all in house. This could end up being this year, next year or in five years time. There's definitely still going to be space there for some tournament organisers, I am just not convinced that all of them at the top end will survive.
You first appeared in the Dota scene at ESL Frankfurt in 2014 before going on to host ESL New York and then The International 5. How do you learn to speak so confidently about a new game?
Someone once told me that I could probably make washing up sound interesting if I commentated on. I'm obviously blessed with the gift of the gab, so that definitely helps. My confidence in hosting is derived directly from my preparation. Preparation is the key to a successful job for me. Ultimately you have to soak yourself in the game.
I've been fortunate in the years that I've been entrenched in eSports that I've never stopped on one game. I have always decided that I want to learn other games, whether that be almost every FPS you can imagine or any other game. Over the last fifteen years I think I have commentated on over 50 different titles. In that sense, moving to Dota was not that big of a deal.
It was a different challenge because it's exceptionally well supported, and has a phenomenally gifted set of talent in place that I wanted to make sure I got the best out of on the panel. It also has a very dedicated and passionate fan base that doesn't necessarily like people coming into their space and doing them a disservice, and I didn't want to be that guy.
In the three months leading up to ESL Frankfurt in 2014 I played the game, learnt it and understood just how difficult the game was. For three months before the event, without fail I watched three or four replays a night. The existing talent were also extremely helpful. Jonathan 'Loda' Berg was fantastic in helping me out. Per Anders Olsson 'Pajkatt' Lille gave me a hand too, and both Ben 'Merlini' Wu and Toby 'TobiWan' Dawson were also superb to me.
To many people's surprise you're not going to be hosting the upcoming Shanghai Major. Did you receive any communication from Valve or Perfect World?
Firstly, it's really important to know that Valve did not have any input into the talent. I've had no communication with Valve or Perfect World about Shanghai. I tweeted about it before the talent was announced because so many people assumed that I was going to be hosting it. I got tired of having no communication with Perfect World and then having people assume I would be the host, so I let people know that I wouldn't be hosting it over social media. It kicked-off a bit of a storm, which I really didn't mean it to do. In some ways, though, it was nice because it showed that the community appreciate my work, but at the same time it was not my intention.
Of course I'm disappointed that I don't get to host it because I love the game, and I love being involved. Anyone that doesn't aspire to go to these Majors isn't in the right job. The fact that James '2GD' Harding is hosting it is fantastic though, he's a real Dota community man and he loves the game. It's terrific to see him come back and do a major tournament.
You've been announced as the host of the first North American CS:GO Major. How will it compare to a Dota major?
It's near enough impossible to compare a CS:GO Major to a Dota Major. The Counter-Strike majors are very well established and have been going since late 2013. Before now, Dreamhack and ESL have run all of the CS:GO majors with a bit of help from Pro Gaming League (PGL).
This event is run by MLG for the first time and it's in North America for the first time. MLG have had fantastic coverage in the past and done some incredible events down the years, so I'm excited to see what these guys come up with. It's in a huge arena, so we will have thousands of screaming fans and the best teams in the world. What more could a man want?
Your gaming roots started in FPS games like Quake and Unreal Tournament. Are you excited about Overwatch?
I am praying that Overwatch will be a big deal. I know I said earlier that I'm an eSports commentator and host, but I haven't had done a huge amount of commentary in the last few years. That's probably because people prefer me as a host and there aren't a huge amount of hosts around, whilst we have fantastic commentators in every game. If there's one game that I've been really passionate about in the last twelve months it's Overwatch. I spent the whole of November and December playing it and absolutely loved it. I genuinely can't wait for it to come out into beta again so I can start playing more.
Do you think Blizzard will take it in an eSports direction?
I would love Blizzard to build Overwatch into an eSport, as it will be phenomenal to watch. It can be so tactical and strategic that it will provide great entertainment for a team based shooter. If it does come out competitively, I guarantee you I will be commentating on it because it's amazing fun to play. I can only imagine it will be 20 times better to cast.
If you had to give one tip to an aspiring broadcaster or commentator what would it be?
It's extremely difficult to narrow it down to one, but I'm going to go with have thick skin. I know it sounds very odd but if you don't have thick skin in this industry you will fail, no matter how good you are.