Fifteen years ago may not seem like a long time, but in competitive video gaming, it's a lifetime. An industry that's butterflied into its adolescence and exploded over the past two years was once tiny and in its infancy, despite the common belief that it only just begun. For Paul Chaloner, a 44-year-old man from Brighton, England who goes by the nickname "ReDeYe," this is his playground and it has been for the past 15 years of his life.
From South Korea to Poland to the United States, Chaloner has been at the forefront of esports since its inception. He's hosted two of the first esports, Quake and Unreal Tournament, the rising Counter-Strike, and one of the world's most popular esports franchises of all time, StarCraft. Chaloner has been the voice on the mic, as an announcer and commentator, for more than 59 esports titles in his tenure.
Recently, he hosted Dota 2's The International 6, a $20.7 million tournament that houses 16 teams from around the world in its biggest event of the year at Seattle's KeyArena. Chaloner is no stranger to the International, but this year he not only hosted the event, he was consulted by Dota 2's developer Valve to see what improvements could be made to up the ante for the event.
"The International is very challenging for me as a host," Chaloner says. "It's very difficult, it's a very tricky show, and this year we're trying some new things. I've been involved with Valve this year, and they asked me to come in and consult for them a couple of months ago and help them come up with ideas to make TI different and produce it very differently."
While Chaloner's career has been one of traveling the world and commentating on and hosting events, esports hasn't come without its price for him, he says. The traveling and time away, as well as the heavy workload, has made Chaloner make sacrifices in his personal life as well. Chaloner wishes, if he could go back in time 15 years ago, he could tell a younger version of himself that.
"Be prepared for sacrifice," he says. "I haven't really spoken too much about it, but esports has cost me, there's no doubt about it. Personally and financially. I had a very lovely woman in my life with my children, we were very set, very happy, she was very supportive at the time, but esports took its toll on us. I haven't been with her for 7 years. It's caused all sorts of issues with my children, with my family, so this stuff doesn't come without a price. I think I would've told myself just be prepared for the sacrifice."
Chaloner's interest for video games came in the 1980s. He says his competitive drive, which he discovered while playing traditional sports, made single-player computer games, like "Chuckie Egg" on the Dragon 32 and "The Hobbit" on the Spectrum, enjoyable. While online gaming wasn't an option then, Chaloner says he always had one goal: "I loved the computers and the challenge of beating the computer. It was the biggest thing I got a kick out of."
As Chaloner got older, he witnessed the invention of the Internet. He says this truly fulfilled his competitive drive and mixed it with his love for video games. He was able to play online against others and compete against those better than him. "The Internet came along and that's when a modem got installed in my PC and it allowed me to play 'QuakeWorld' online and play against other human beings," he says. "And I suddenly realized, I wasn't quite as good as I thought I was. Kicking the asses of my friends every Saturday with a few beers, that was fairly easy. Beating people online in deathmatch was like, 'Oh, some of these guys are quite good.'"
From there, Chaloner's unexpected journey began. His passion started with "Quake" and "Unreal Tournament," which were released in 1996 and 1999 respectively. In 2002, Chaloner was given the opportunity to broadcast a "Quake" game online. If you told him he'd be the world's most popular esports host back then, he'd probably tell you that you were crazy.
It didn't take long for the esports industry to begin its early stages of development. More competitive video games, like "StarCraft: Brood War" and "Counter-Strike 1.6," released and immediately took off in South Korea and Europe respectively as top games. Chaloner, who was becoming more involved in broadcasting at the time, realized that he would have to step out of his comfort zone and learn to broadcast other games if he wanted to make a career.
That really hit him after a conversation with Twitch director of programming Marcus "djWHEAT" Graham, who at the time, was an up-and-coming broadcaster in the space.
"In 2004, we were all going to the World Cyber Games grand finals and back then, we'd only take five or six commentators and you had to cover 14 or 15 games, right?" Chaloner says. "So I didn't get to go in 2004, but I went in 2005 because WHEAT said to me, 'Dude, basically, you're gonna need to learn more games than just 'Unreal Tournament,' 'Counter-Strike' and 'Quake.' You're going to be more valuable, and you can be used more flexibly.'"
While now, commentators the likes Anders Blume, Auguste "Semmler" Massonnat, Rivington "Riv" Bisland III, Christopher "MonteCristo" Mykles, make more than a fair living by casting primarily only one game, Chaloner says in the early days of the industry, that was just not possible. But now, 15 years into his career and unlike his peers, Chaloner's covered 59 games, something no other broadcaster in the esports space even holds a candle too.
"I can pretty much do almost any game on stage without really knowing much about it, there's a certain set of skills that I've picked up over the years that allow me to do main-stage for most games: hype a crowd, get them excited," he explains. "I think it's been easier for me to go and do that and transition over to those other games, because I did that very early on as a commentator. And as a commentator, switching games is really tough."
"I can pretty much do almost any game on stage without really knowing much about it, there's a certain set of skills that I've picked up over the years that allow me to do main-stage for most games." Paul Chaloner
Like Anders, Semmler, and Mykles, Chaloner is a freelancer and works with multiple companies in the space at any given time, something that continues to grow in appeal as the industry grows. Unlike standard employment in casting, most notably with Riot Games and its League of Legends casters, these voices of the games are allowed to do as they please, create their own work schedules, and negotiate their market value. It's grown to the point in esports where it doesn't just encapsulate casting, but writing, consulting, designing, and other industry trades.
Chaloner says he believes this model is healthy in esports, as he runs his own consulting business in addition to his own casting and host career. "It's [healthy] because at this time, a lot of companies want to come into this space, and they don't always know what they want. They've heard of esports, they like it, it has lots of money involved, and television viewing figures are really good, so they want in on it since the demographic suits them. That's often the case."
That push from non-endemic companies, those who did not originate in esports but want to come into the space, has occurred for over a decade. Chaloner, for his part, was an integral piece in one of the first major expansions into the space by non-endemics: the Championship Gaming Series. This tournament series was owned by major satellite television company, DirecTV, with direct association to Mountain Dew, British Sky Broadcasting, and STAR TV.
This league was the first of its kind and broadcasted "Counter-Strike 1.6," "Counter-Strike: Source" and "Team Fortress 2" to television viewers around the world. Although it's seen as a disaster by many of those involved or who covered it independently, the Championship Gaming Series took a leap to broadcast esports on television.
The Championship Gaming Series and its affiliates learned one of esports' hardest lessons by trial and failure: being genuine means almost everything. The league changed many in-game identifiers, such as the roles of terrorists and counter-terrorists, to suit television.
Since the league's dissolution in Nov. 2008, DirecTV has never attempted to work in the esports space again, and Mountain Dew only just recently returned this year. "I think a lot of people are sold ideas, they can do this. They can spend $500,000 and can make this really cool tournament, and everyone will love them," Chaloner explains. "But actually, they're the people who get tarnished by it. They come in and do one thing and then are like, 'We didn't have a good experience in esports, no one told us it was this hard' and then they go away and we don't want to do that anymore. We don't want to alienate companies from this."
Chaloner says that he tries to do the exact opposite when he consults. He says that he warns his potential clients of challenges that might be ahead. "When someone comes to me and says, 'I want to invest in esports,' the first question I ask them is: 'Why?'" He says. "What is it that has attracted you? And usually, it's the demographic. Usually, it's because they want to reach those kinds of people. But it's not just that simple. You have to understand what mentality we have, who we are, we're very picky, we're very demanding, we want free stuff all the time, we want it to be bloody good when it's free. We're a tough demographic to crack, so I will advise them on that."
And for those who have been burned before, Chaloner is confident that they should give esports a second chance. But then again, they'll need to truly commit to producing the highest quality of product and work extremely hard at marketing their product. The esports audience only accepts the best, he says.
"Second chance is exactly what it is. [Esports] is a different world now, 10 years later," he says. "I think companies will have a better experience now, but get the right person, get the right set of people around you. If you're gonna hire full-time, take the time, find the right guys. There are plenty of passionate and highly skilled people already."
Among the names Chaloner mentions, he says that his moment with HeatoN at his recent Esports Hall of Fame was something spectacular.
"I had a fabulous moment with HeatoN before he went out and got his Hall of Fame award. ... HeatoN, I've known for more than 10 years as a friend," Chaloner explains. "We've gone through a number of things together, CGS obviously being one of them. I don't know, we just shared a moment backstage, a very nice moment, sort of very nostalgic in a way. I suppose one day it'd be quite nice to put together a book on that stuff. Maybe people would enjoy it."