In Conversation: The Rise of esports - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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In Conversation: The Rise of esports

Hannah talks esports (not Esports or eSports, btw).

Esports… It’s something that’s always fascinated me, but I’ve never really understood. I was really into the speedrunning crowd of old and still regularly watch Games Done Quick broadcasts, but the whole competitive online gaming thing? It wasn’t really for me. But over the past decade or so, esports has grown into something much bigger than I think anyone could have anticipated. Arenas around the world host esport tournaments with jaw-dropping prize pools. The top esports players are lauded and revered much like regular athletes.

Esports have had a particularly big presence at E3 this year, with VENN (an esports network) being given its own E3 slot. I decided to sit down with one of the biggest up-and coming names in esports journalism to try and get to the bottom of this multi-million-dollar industry.

Would you like to start by telling us a little bit about yourself?

I’m Michael Hassall, and I’m an esports content creator focusing on written articles. My beat is mainly MOBAs (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena for the uninitiated), so I cover Dota 2 and League of Legends. But I cover esports more generally as well.

What is your first gaming memory?

My earliest gaming memory would be playing Pac-Man on a hand-me-down Atari 2600 at home (it was at least 15 years old when I first played, I’m not that ancient). After that, the biggest moment was my dad getting a sound card for his PC and being able to play Worms United with music!

What is a game that you will always go back to?

I’m eternally trapped playing Dota and League. But I find my comfort games are always Paradox Interactive grand strategy games like Europa Universalis or Hearts of Iron. I’ll load one of those up every couple of months and lose a couple of days on them. And I suppose I do have going on 3,000 hours in Final Fantasy XIV now...

How did you get into eSports?

I have to say this because it’s mandatory, but its esports, not e-sports or eSports. Gotta get that one off my chest!

I dropped out of University in 2010 and had a lot of free time. I started watching and GOM Player streams every day and found myself obsessed with professional StarCraft II and League of Legends. I tried to get a job in the industry around that time as a writer for an esports team, only to join their Skype group and find they were paying in merch. If you google “paid in mousepads” you can guess who that was... Since I had rent to pay that wasn’t an option, and I shelved that idea.

After going back to school, getting a degree, I managed to claw my way into a job at a marketing services company. I was a copywriter, producing the text for advertisements, writing product descriptions, press releases, radio adverts. We had big-name clients, brands that are household names worldwide. But I just didn’t really fit into that traditional environment, and in January 2019, I applied to every single esports job I could find. An editor took a chance on me, and the rest is history!

Why is now an exciting time to get into esports?

I’m biased, but we have the event with the largest esports prize pool in history coming up at The International 10. That’s kind of the World Cup of Dota 2. It starts in August, and I honestly can’t wait.

More generally, I think if you want to get into watching esports, now is the best time because a lot of the championships are coming up. LoL has Worlds 2021 in August, same with CS:GO and ESL One: Cologne. VALORANT is popping off, and overall it’s a really great time to start watching.

If you’re looking to work in esports, the industry is coming out of the pandemic swinging. I think 2020 showed that, as a whole, esports is robust enough to survive a big knock like that. We missed a lot of live events, and a bunch of teams and orgs shut down, but overall, esports soldiered on. Now there are new companies launching, and new games coming to the forefront

What advice would you give to someone looking to start a career in esports?

Bring something unique to the table. A decade ago, the industry was more able to accommodate people who were running purely on passion, and they could pick up skills along the way. You could ace an interview for a content creator, video editing, events management, or whatever gig purely because you knew more about esports than the next person. Now, with the overall viewership and number of eyes on esports growing and companies become more competitive, you need those skills coming in. A bit of game knowledge and passion isn’t going to be enough. It’s still not a huge industry, and you have to set yourself apart.

In terms of becoming a player? That’s even harder. I think a lot of people see these articles about kids winning millions playing games or a 13-year-old being signed by FaZe Clan and think “Oh, my kid/partner/niece/nephew plays loads of video games, maybe they can be like that.”

But the difference between even hardcore gamers and professional esports players is astronomical. And not to mention, these are no slouches academically as well. I wrote a player bio on Puppey, a Dota 2 player, last year. And you look into his background, and it’s like, “Oh yeah, he was also a musical prodigy, speaks four languages, started playing competitively at 13 years old.” These are special people. If they weren’t professional gamers, they’d be top of their field in something else. Shoot for that kind of level if you want to make it.

What do you love most about esports?

There’s so much I love about it. The stories are a big draw, teams that overcome all the odds to win big at huge tournaments. There are documentaries like True Sight that tell stories better than Hollywood could ever come up with.

But also that this is still a bit of an outsider, alternative thing. The personalities we have in esports, from the players to the casters and commentators, and even the journalists, are unique and relatable. They’re nerds who love video games. I think it’s genuinely the most compelling thing you can watch if you love video games.

What has been your favorite moment of your career?

In 2020 before the pandemic I was lucky enough to travel to Katowice in Poland for Intel Extreme Masters. Katowice is a bit of an esports must-see. I was covering the StarCraft II event there, but unfortunately, it became the first esports event to be closed to the public due to coronavirus. I ended up being a reporter on the ground for that, interviewing people who’d traveled from all over the world for this incredible event, only to be locked out and have to watch it from bars and hotel rooms instead.

On top of being an incredible event, it was an amazing experience. I made some great friends there as well, and I think it really helped launch my legitimacy as a content creator.

Do you think esports have a place at E3?

That's difficult to say... E3 has always been about premiering new, unreleased games, but esports has always thrived on existing titles. I also think there’s generally quite a hostile reaction to esports-focused titles presented at E3. Watching the streams, I’ve seen plenty of hate when anything related to the industry comes up. The Nadeshot interview was one example, which has also ballooned into a controversy in the esports world. And Capcom talking about esports for a huge chunk of their presentation certainly didn’t help.

That and I think that some of the most esports-focused companies already shy away from E3. Valve has its own post-E3 show where it’s more likely to show anything CS:GO or Dota adjacent. Riot relies on its own in-built fan base following everything they’re doing rather than waiting for events. And Blizzard has BlizzCon, which is their own E3. Esports is generally events-focused. If a company wants to announce something new, they’ll do it when their fans are watching a big tournament—not wait until E3 rolls around.

Do you think that the divide between general gaming fans and esports fans is growing as esports becomes a larger, separate entity?

I think there’s a rift, (the reactions in Twitch chat show that) but some of that is misconceptions about what esports is. Gamers hear esports and they’re imagining those old trickshot videos with MLG plastered all over them and kids with bad headsets screaming obscenities over a microphone. Or they’re thinking about microtransactions, and Fortnite, and a 15-year-old kid winning 3 million dollars. Esports gets lumped in with a lot of the less savory parts of gaming, often seeming like a cash-grab for developers. And sometimes... that’s true.

But esports is a lot more than that and they’re missing out. I think if you don’t understand esports, or have a preconceived dislike of it, you’re probably never going to get it. It’s funny though. This is definitely a one-way street. Esports fans love games. You’ll ask a pro player what they do to unwind after a tournament, and, of course, it’s play games. There’s always stories of players scrimming for four hours, then practicing for another four, before finally, settling down in the evening to grind out time on WoW or Animal Crossing or something. They're not going to avoid a game because it isnt esports related.

Any upcoming events you are excited about now the end of the pandemic is in sight?

I’ve mentioned it earlier, but The International, TI10 is coming up. I’ve been angling to attend in person (It’s in Stockholm, Sweden). But some changes in the UK in the last 24 months, combined with the pandemic have meant that I probably won’t be able to, barring a dramatic change in the rules.

Do you have any predictions for the future of eSports?

I think the industry is going to grow and branch out into different, more mainstream media avenues. We can already see that with Netflix, and I think you’ll start to see some esports teams become more solidified household names, in the same way something like Manchester United is for conventional sports.

But I also think on the competitive side, you’re going to see a contraction. There’s been a trend of companies just spending huge, ostentatious amounts of money on new leagues, without putting in the groundwork. Most of the longest-lived esports started from the amateur scene, and I think (and hope) there will be return to amateur play as a foundation in the near future.

Finally, what has been your favourite reveal of E3 2021?

I should say something like Halo Infinite or the new boxing game to bolster my esports credentials, but nah. I like the look of Metal Slug Tactics (I love the Metal Slug games). The new Stalker game looks great. But I’m most excited for Monster Hunter Stories 2. My Switch has been gathering dust for months but that might get me to pick it up again.

If you want to check out some of Michael’s work, you can head over to, or to find him.

Preferring the company of fictional characters to living, breathing people; it should come as no surprise that Hannah is a connoisseur of all things geek. Whilst their body resides in the capital of Wales, their heart resides in Middle-Earth and their mind remains firmly lodged in the memory of that embarrassing thing they did when they were eight.

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