FireFrog sat in his home in Spain in the summer of 2012 and opened YouTube to watch a three-hour interview between content producer JP "itmeJP" McDaniel and esports commentator James "2GD" Harding. Talking to itmeJP via Skype, 2GD was in his bedroom, with his bed covered in red-and-orange tile sheets and an Inter Milan flag draping his wall in the background.
2GD -- the first hire of Twitch's new European office -- discussed his career, which had spanned professional competition, team management for Fnatic, commentating in Dota, Quake and other games, and creating and developing content for the then-young startup livestreaming company. As FireFrog listened, one statement caught his ear: 2GD wanted to make a game.
FireFrog, who has never disclosed his real full name online, had never built a game to release, but in 2012, he took a sabbatical from his job and dug his teeth into learning more about game development. He knew coding -- he worked in enterprise and business-to-business engineering -- and now had the opportunity to learn new skills and toy with the idea of building a game on his own.
He worked on a massive, multiplayer online game, then a real-time strategy title, but his one-man team couldn't handle everything. He lacked knowledge, especially on the marketing and community fronts.
FireFrog thought 2GD could help in this regard.
"I felt that James was in the perfect place to make things happen," FireFrog said. "I had a certain vision of where the industry was going."
In an act of confidence, FireFrog messaged the then-26-year-old British commentator and pitched his services.
"You don't need those kinds of resources that you think that you needed in the interview," FireFrog told 2GD.
2GD ignored FireFrog for a week.
"I have a tactic, which is if anybody contacts me, I normally wait a week for the first meeting because there's always a lot of people that are momentarily excited, but actually the novelty of the idea of doing what they're excited about wears off over a week," 2GD told ESPN.
2GD tasked FireFrog with a programming challenge, half-expecting it wouldn't come to fruition. In three days, FireFrog assembled a prototype for an arena first-person shooter, the genre made famous by Quake.
"I sent this, and he contacted me back. He told me to come to Stockholm to chat, and we started from there," FireFrog said.
Nearly eight years after their first encounter, 2GD and FireFrog published their first closed beta of a game named Diabotical. "The spiritual successor to Quake," as they call it, Diabotical is a fast-paced, cartoony, arena FPS geared toward the hard-core FPS gamers while being welcoming to new players looking to dive into the scene for the first time.
More recently, 2GD said, he was asked for a beta code by someone looking to have Dennis "Thresh" Fong -- one of Quake's first professionals -- give Diabotical a go. 2GD was elated.
Online, Diabotical has received notable interest, and after three weeks of closed beta, it has more than 28,000 Twitter followers. The goal for 2GD and FireFrog, the founding developers, is to make a game made by gamers, one for which community and competitor feedback is taken seriously and changes are made more quickly than by AAA developers such as Overwatch developer Blizzard Entertainment or Quake developer id Software.
Pros from various games, such as Overwatch, Apex Legends and, of course, Quake, have dived into the new game, with 2GD & Co. leveraging their community feedback to make week-by-week improvement.
What started as an offhand comment on an interview has blossomed into a stable, fun and competitive game. Here's how it was made.
After their 2012 online encounter, FireFrog began making frequent trips to Stockholm, where 2GD lived and produced content. Soon, both realized that if the prototype they were working on were to be ironed out fully, FireFrog would need to move closer, so in 2014, FireFrog moved across the continent from Spain to Sweden.
Around then, 2GD left Twitch but remained involved with the company, both as a consultant and with Twitch contracting his studio, the GD Studio, to produce content and tournaments on the platform. 2GD would become involved more as a commentator, in established games such as StarCraft and Quake, as well as in Dota, which was taking off.
In its first year, the GD Studio put on several events called "The Arena," featuring mixes of StarCraft, Dota 2, Bloodline Champions and Quake games, most of which 2GD would commentate alongside others he recruited.
As the industry continued to grow, 2GD was a smash hit, using his humor to break awkward moments and adding flavor to broadcasts. Through his hard work, 2GD earned himself a gig as the host of The International, Dota 2's multimillion-dollar event, in 2012, 2013 and 2014.
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Throughout his commentary and producing, 2GD found himself flush with ideas. Earlier in 2010 and 2011, he worked on Bloodline Champions and came up with ideas to pitch investors on building his own game, but his game never came to fruition.
After meeting FireFrog, 2GD announced that he would create another game. Despite making announcements online tracking progress on the game, the two often missed deadlines, with FireFrog needing more time to iron out kinks and push forward. The GD Studio pivoted from producing content to creating games, but in the short term, amid a lack of income for the company, 2GD found himself needing money to make ends meet. He took on consultancy gigs, commentating gigs and, at one point, even competed in Quake to keep himself and the studio afloat.
"There were a lot of people who were telling me that I was mental, and I was really good on camera, and I shouldn't do this, and why would anybody want to be a CEO when you can be an esports internet celebrity?" 2GD said. "Like, there's a lot of people that understand the heartache of what it takes to keep a company afloat and what you have to do, and they kind of, you know, maybe looked over and saw the grass was greener when I was on camera and advised me not to go into their positions.
"[They] didn't understand why I wanted to take on such a -- not by myself but with a team -- a big project that everyone deemed incredibly risky."
As 2GD continued to make ends meet, in 2016, he was invited to host his first major Dota 2 event in years, the Shanghai Major. Fans were excited he'd be coming back after his time away to focus on other projects, including Diabotical.
Sitting alongside four other analysts, 2GD began the show by poking fun at Evil Geniuses in a humorous intro, but then he made some sexually explicit comments. After getting off air, Valve employee Bruno Carlucci told 2GD to cut the inappropriate jokes, but 2GD felt within his rights because Dota 2 lead developer IceFrog told him in an earlier conversation to "be yourself."
The following day, in Dota 2's reddit forum, Valve co-founder Gabe Newell issued a statement firing both 2GD and the production company, which had its own set of issues with the production of the event.
"We've had issues with James at previous events," Newell wrote. "Some Valve people lobbied to bring him back for Shanghai, feeling that he deserved another chance. That was a mistake. James is an ass, and we won't be working with him again."
2GD was dumbfounded. He wrote a post outlining his interaction with IceFrog and Valve during past events, but it didn't help his cause, even if he thought the decision was unfair.
"[Being fired] just lit a fire up under my ass," 2GD said.
Just a few months after the Shanghai Major incident, in the summer of 2016, the GD Studio launched a Kickstarter looking to raise funds to further the development of Diabotical.
The campaign featured a 10-minute video, narrated by 2GD, including his common British humor and poking fun at his employees. The video featured a team of developers working on the project and video footage of the game. The studio was looking to raise £110,000 ($127,951) to push the game forward. They exceeded their goal, raising £168,314 ($195,792).
The Kickstarter offered myriad rewards, most notably the opportunity for backers who paid between £250 to £700 to hang out online and play games with esports luminaries, such as casters Anders Blume and Auguste "Semmler" Massonnat, Dota 2 pros Johan "N0tail" Sundstein and Tal "Fly" Aizik, and members of the then-Ninjas in Pyjamas Counter-Strike team, Christopher "GeT_RiGhT" Alesund, Patrik "f0rest" Lindberg and Adam "friberg" Friberg.
To help with the project, 2GD and FireFrog recruited designers and developers with experience across multiple competitive esports titles. On their team is Quake map builder promEUs and Counter-Strike community map creator Michael "Bubkez" Hüll, who created the wildly popular bomb defusal map Mirage, and former Quake pro Richard "noctis" Gansterer. The GD Studio team consists of 10 to 15 people at any given time, 2GD estimates, including contractors who don't work on Diabotical full-time.
FireFrog estimated that he has put 15,000 hours into the game, which GD Studio hopes to release some time in the first half of 2020. Diabotical has already had its first esports tournament, the Juked Cup.
"As long as we have a base, if our decision-making is with the community and what we do is good, then I think there is growth in Diabotical, for sure, in arena FPS," 2GD said. "But just to be stable, I think the community enjoying it, getting updates and some esports tournaments, I think that's success, in a way. I mean, a lot of people say shipping a game is success, but you can ship games that no one wants to play. So, in a way, it's successful because people enjoy it."