By Julius Tabios
Becoming a caster (or commentator) of esports is by no means an easy feat. You have to captivate thousands of people from different cultures with your enthusiasm, while providing expert-level knowledge on your chosen game just with your voice. But both Sean Goh and John Fernandez have managed to make a mark on the international scene, despite the heavily saturated market.
Singaporean Sean 'Hades' Goh never really thought he could make a career out of gaming despite being an avid gamer growing up. Hades finally decided to take a chance with Dota 2 casting shortly after International 3, way back in 2013. He started solo casting a lot of regional qualifier games remotely for Beyond the Summit, a US-based esports production company. Hades even managed to peak with 40,000 viewers on Twitch at one point, an incredible achievement. Despite this feat, Hades still struggles to break into the truly top-tier international LANs of Dota 2 as an official talent.
"There aren't really a lot of Southeast Asian talents around because of how competitive it is to get into the scene," he shares. "Most of them are just hanging around Discord server [an online voice and chat app built for gamers to form a community], but they don't know where to start. They are afraid of the grind, afraid of the rejection. Also, organizers actually look a lot to social media marketability to see which talents are worth hiring. Generally Westerners are more vocal about who they support – especially on Twitter and the like."
As head of talent development at Sin Esports, Hades helps to cultivate the local scene in Singapore, supporting talents and casters. Sin Esports holds regular auditions to help give new faces a chance. (He also helped spread the word about MTV Asia's and Riot Games' Hyperplay esports + music festival to gamers late last year.)
"If you look at anybody who plays video games and watch them at the particular moment they tilt [get angry and lose their cool]. When you tilt, you usually show your worst side. It's nasty, right? Parents not supporting their kids in following their esports dreams is deeply rooted in that behaviour. I always tell the people I mentor to stick to the grind and carry yourself in a professional way. If you want esports to be seen professionally, then you have to be professional yourself."
Hades wants Singapore to take the next step in its esports journey, and he says he'll help push for more mainstream awareness and financial sustainability in any way he can.
Filipino caster John 'johnxfire' Fernandez is a regular English caster for Beyond the Summit for Southeast Asia, and Chinese qualifier games for Dota Pro Circuit LANs alongside his Aussie partner Mike Le Phoenix. He's thankful to his family that, despite growing up in Davao City in Southern Philippines, he got comfortable with English early on, allowing him to be broadcast-ready. With his partner, he peaked at around 15,000 viewers for his Beyond the Summit broadcasts on Twitch. Most recently the duo ended up casting for the Group Stages of the MDL Disneyland Paris Major. Despite it being a remote gig for them, it still tops their list of growing achievements.
Asked about the hurdles that esports talent in Asia must overcome to be invited to international events over Western talent, Johnxfire explains: "The viewers who do watch us when we cast games don't really engage as much as the Western viewers do when watching their qualifiers. In the East, as long as you're casting well enough, it's okay with them. They don't care as passionately as the West unfortunately. Plus since most events take place in the West, it will generally be cheaper to fly out their talent than scrounging East for a caster, y'know."
Exposure remains a big problem for Johnxfire and Mike Le Phoenix. He believes that covering more 'relevant' regions like Europe and North America would give them a tremendous boost in relatability and marketability for the Western crowd. But until then, all they can really do is keep grinding.
Hades and Johnxfire are doing what they can to show that Asian talent can hang with the best from the West in terms of casting. It's still a long way to make that dream a reality, but they're putting in the work to help the esports talent here get the credit they deserve in global esports.