When I asked Paul ‘Redeye’ Chaloner who his inspirations were when he first started out hosting and commentating on esports back in 2002, he simply laughed.
He was just about to fly out to Vancouver, where he will once again be hosting The International, the biggest Dota 2 tournament, which will have a prize pool of at least $25 million.
He told me he’s working and preparing for it harder now than he’s ever done, which is amazing considering he’s one of the most hardworking people in esports. Along with his hosting duties, he’s also involved with Code Red Esports and Luckbox.
Redeye started his esports casting career back in 2002, and he looks back on his inspirations
Redeye is one of the most recognisable faces in the industry, but I asked him to think back to when he wasn’t so well known. Was there anyone in particular he looked up to?
‘We were the first ones doing it!’ He said. ‘The people that inspired me were the people around me. Leigh Smith, Joe Miller, those are the people I worked with early on, 2005-6, and I’d like to think we inspired each other and drove each other on to be better, because it’s the only reference point we had. There were probably like 20 of us in the whole world doing shoutcasting in the mid 2000s.’
In this modern age where you can turn on Twitch at any time of the day and find some esports broadcast running, it’s odd to think back to the early days where tournaments were few and far between.
It’s even odder to think about esports being broadcast on radio.
‘In the early days we did a lot of radio. In 2002-2005, most of my stuff was on radio. It was a different time and you had to be more descriptive.
‘Nowadays if it’s Counter-Strike and they’re walking down a corridor, you don’t need to tell people they’re walking along a corridor because everyone can see that. On radio, you not only had to tell them they were walking down a corridor, but also where on the map it was, what it looked like.
‘I’d be like “John’s walking along a white-walled, carpeted hallway at the back of the A site, overlooking the balcony that will spring out onto the bomb.” And I’ve got to do it in a timely fashion that allows me to commentate on whether he actually does jump out and get fired at, or fires back.’
Redeye said that he’s thankful that he learned how to do radio first, as it allowed him to be ‘less mouthy’ when it came to TV and video.
There may not have been many other esports casters out there, but he had to learn somewhere. For Redeye, it was from football commentators, particularly when it came to radio.
Redeye will soon be hosting The International 2018, the top Dota 2 esports tournament
‘Alan Green would probably be my favourite because when you listed to 5 Live, he had this perfect synergy with whoever he was with, Jimmy Armfield, Alan Hansen, or whoever.
‘Alongside that he’d have this tempo about him. He’d understand when the game was a bit boring or in a lull, and then he’d inject some fun, edgy stuff. When it was time to actually commentate, he’d then go full chat, and his commentary was absolutely spine tingling at times.
‘I learned a lot from Alan Green and a lot of commentators on 5 Live in my early days. Every now and then I go back and listen to games now to see if there’s anything I can still learn. More often than not, I spend my time watching people like Gary Lineker, Jake Humphrey, because I want to see their body language, how they do throws, how they interact with their panel.’
Redeye says he thinks the sports commentators on radio back in the mid 2000s are better than the new generation, but mainly puts it down to experience.
‘They miss some of the small things that are important to the whole story that don’t feel important on their own. Just little snippets. I think that’s something a lot of esports commentators can learn and do a bit better too.
‘You can do a lot of preparation for esports, and John Motson was famous for his preparation for football matches. But the real art isn’t the preparation, it’s the delivery of it. Most of the time I won’t use 90% of the preparation I’ve done for a tournament.
‘Modern sports casters have this penchant for babbling everything they’ve prepared in the first five minutes of the match. Then if it’s a bad match they’ve got nothing else.
‘John Motson was very good at pacing his preparation. Sometimes you’d get to like the 75th minute of a game, and he’d bring out such a good stat or story.
‘Something like “yellow card there for Alan Hansen, playing his 500th game today of course for Liverpool. He’ll be disappointed with that yellow as it’s only the 12th he’s had, but it’s his third one in a row which means he does miss the next game.” He’s waited until the 75th minute, or a key thing to happen in the game for him to inject that. He hasn’t forced it in the first time the camera goes on the guy.’
He’s spent over 100 hours preparing for the tournament, and says he won’t use 90% of it
Redeye said he still prepares for a tournament the same way he did 13 years ago, even though he could easily get someone else to prepare all the statistics for him. He said it allows him to find the ‘edges of the story,’ as he believes telling a story to the viewer is essential.
He told me about his giant spreadsheet for The International 2018, which has stats on all 90 players, including dates of birth, positions, how much money they’ve won, whether they’ve appeared at TI before, and where they finished.
He’s got stats for all of the teams too, their form, their Pro Circuit ranking, how many matches they’ve played, what heroes they usually play, which ones they usually ban, which team compositions they’ve succeeded with.
Not only that, he also has statistics for every player who’s played at previous Internationals, all 309 of them.
All in all, he says he’s spent at least 100 hours on preparation this year for just this one tournament.
Nowadays, Redeye is just one of a huge number of on-screen talent that has come out of the UK. He says they’re lucky that English is one of the main languages of esports, and he admires any caster who’s able to do it when it’s not their first language.
In just about every esport, you’ll find at least one British face on either the hosting desk, as an analyst, or as a commentator. Redeye puts our success as a nation in this regard down to younger talent having people to look up to.
‘There’s a natural aspiration to this. I’ve been doing this since 2002. Deman [Leigh Smith] and Joe Miller have been doing this since 2004-5. We have lots of English people already doing esports from an early part of esports’ life. When it came to the bigger stuff, we were then hired for it.
‘When other people looked at that, I think hopefully we gave them inspiration to go and try it, and gave birth to a whole new generation of casters.
‘We haven’t seen what’s coming through the 13-18 year old section of casters and hosts out there. When they start coming through, they’ll probably name people like Pansy [Lauren Scott] and Frankie [Ward] as the people they admired, wanted to be like, and wanted to be better than.’
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