“It no longer feels that eSports is a sideshow at a games convention”: an interview with Richard Lewis

ESL recently had the opportunity to talk to the legendary Richard Lewis in the leadup up to gamescom, where he’ll be joining us at ESL One as an analyst along with SirScoots. Find out what he had to say about his lengthy career, gamescom and more below.

ESL: Hello, Richard! Could you please introduce yourself for the very small number of readers who aren't familiar with your work?
Richard Lewis: I’m a veteran eSports and games journalist with about ten years experience having covered all sorts of titles ranging from fighting games to FPS titles like Counter-Strike. I’ve also been doing commentary and shoutcasting for Counter-Strike on and off since 2005.
ESL: You've recently started working for Daily Dot. How has your experience working for them been so far and how is different to what you did before?
Richard: The Daily Dot is a large website that focuses on all manner of internet generation news, including technology, lifestyle, politics and the all-important funny videos of cats. They have been doing great work in the growing field of eSports and have been looking to expand their ability to provide high-quality coverage and commentary for that community.
I’ve been loving working there so far. It’s certainly a lot more professional than what I have been used to throughout my eSports career. Journalists have to pitch ideas to an editor, and once approved your copy goes through a rigorous vetting process to make sure it meets the standard they have set themselves. I’ve seen a lot of existing eSports journalists come to the Daily Dot and become better writers, even if people haven’t noticed it. I think this was the main reason I wanted to be part of it. There’s a real team spirit among the staff, too, so I’m really happy with the move.

It’s an important opportunity for eSports journalism, too, of course. The Daily Dot reaches 12 million people a month and is growing all the time. I’m sure a large portion of those haven’t been exposed to eSports before, so hopefully with the right kind of work we can win them over and make some new fans.
ESL: You'll be joining us at ESL One Cologne as analyst together with SirScoots. You’ve both worked together before - how far does your relationship go back?
Richard: Myself and Scott do go back quite a way, probably being aware of each other’s glorious existences since 2006, although we’ve not worked together as much as I think we would have liked and, if I’m being honest, we probably didn’t always want to work together, either. We’ve had our little spats, which seem to be the norm for the eSports business, but it didn’t take long to bury the hatchet.
I think what we like about each other is our forthright opinions and open manner in expressing them. Scott’s not the kind of guy to tolerate any nonsense and neither am I. He genuinely cares about the growth of eSports and you know that is true because a man of his talents, a guy who gets to work for some of the biggest companies in the world, doesn’t need to be doing this at all. For an old boy, his work ethic is insane - the last event we did together he slept less than me and was still going until the early hours - and he’s an energizing presence to be alongside.
I always joke that we’re like those two old boys from the Muppets, the ones who sit in the balcony and complain about the show the entire time, but it’s always a lot of fun. I’m really glad to get a chance to bring that dynamic to a bigger audience and hope it works out as well as we know it can so we can make it a regular thing.

ESL: You were able to see most of the teams heading to ESL One Cologne in action at Gfinity - which teams surprised you the most and why?
Richard: Well, I think hands down the surprise was Virtus.pro for me. Their victory over Titan on de_nuke is one of the greatest comebacks in CS:GO history, but they continually defied the odds throughout the competition after an indifferent start in the groups. While everyone was impressed with Team Dignitas and Titan’s respective improvements, Virtus.pro were just a wildcard. They had phases in every game where they looked awful, hopelessly outclassed by their opponents, but they could always find an extra gear. Once they got momentum going, they looked unstoppable. They are without a doubt one of the most exciting teams to watch right now as you never know what you’re going to get.

ESL: Do you think any teams hid strategies going into Gfinity to focus on ESL One Cologne afterwards?
Richard: I never put too much stock in this whenever it is brought up. I think you have to be a team in a very privileged position to think to yourself “we’re going to effectively forfeit this $20,000 prize fund that is on the table because if we do that we may win a much bigger one later.” I am sure that teams will bring something different to the table for this tournament, but I don’t think teams like NiP or Titan were holding anything back at Gfinity. I’m pretty sure if they were they would have been tempted to dip into the well.
ESL: ESL One Cologne will feature an Australian and an Indian team - what are your experiences with these regions and how do you think they'll fare against the European and Americans?
Richard: The Australian scene has always given a good account of itself across multiple iterations of Counter-Strike. Syndey Underground during the CGS era won the 2008 PAN Asia Championships and took scalps from teams like Berlin Allianz when the franchises faced off. When they came over to Copenhagen Games in 2010, which was a pretty stacked event in European terms, they finished seventh to eighth. In 1.6, teams like Immunity have dominated their domestic scene and have had opportunities to make incursions into global events. This Vox Eminor side has some really talented and passionate players, including guys such as Azad “TopguN” Orami and Luke “Havoc” Paton, who I know can hold their own. They have an incredibly tough group so it is hard to pin them for an upset but they will contribute to some great games.
The Indian team, Team Wolf, are a far greater unknown quantity. I know that Counter-Strike has a good following in that part of the world and for a team like this to be at a major tournament is a huge step for Indian eSports. Many might think they will be under no pressure because no one is expecting them to win. However, I know that there will be an expectation that they give a good account of themselves. They will want to shut up the people who are mocking them and they have to face arguably the best team in the world in the group stages. They won’t want to get steamrolled by any means.
ESL: Talking about American teams, many people still seem to think there's a skill gap between Europe and America. Do you think there is any truth to this?
Richard: This will be the event which will confirm that one way or the other for me. We saw when European teams went to the ESEA Season 16 Global Finals that the Americans could beat them on home soil. When they come over to Europe, they fare less well. This would suggest something that is common sense, that travelling to another time zone without time to acclimatize to that change will see you underperform. For this event, iBUYPOWER, who were again disappointing at Gfinity, have been bootcamping in Europe in the build up to this event so they should come into it in their best shape.

Cloud 9 don’t have that luxury but do have arguably the better team and will come up against Team Dignitas and Titan in the groups. Those games are going to be epic, and coupled along with iBUYPOWER’s performances I think we will get to answer this question definitively after the event.
My thoughts on this have always been that the Americans play a very different style to the Europeans, and it seems that when they collide it is generally the case that the Europeans fare better. That, of course, isn’t an exact science, but when you couple it to the infrastructure we have for eSports in Europe compared to the US, where they have taken several backward steps since their heyday, I don’t think it’s too controversial to say that Europeans are in a better place and should be at the moment.
ESL: How do you feel about the current state of competitive CS:GO? What areas would you like to see improved upon?
Richard: I think it’s as good as it has been and feels more akin to the days of 1.6 than CS:S ever did. We have a very clear group of elite teams that, generally, enjoy better roster stability than they used to. This has helped create some great storylines that are really capturing the imagination of fans and winning over some of the doubters about the game’s potential to succeed.
We’ve also moved past the ‘NiP era’, I feel, where they would literally just roll over anyone and everyone. Credit has to be given to them for setting the bar so high, and I feel all the teams that are serious contenders for tournaments have looked to them and have followed their lead. We have dedicated teams that are a blend of youth and experience, very clear and distinct brands, players who turn up to events and look every bit a professional. It’s great to see us operating at this level.
For improvement, I think the next stage is simply to incentivize those players even more, to enter a truly professional era where players are salaried in the same way players from other games are. Right now a lot of scenes are in a catch-22 situation of having talented players who can’t put their lives on hold to play unless salaries are there, but no organizations willing to put up salaries unless the teams ‘earn them’ through hard work. I think the attention we are getting collectively as a scene, thanks to events like these, means that there has to be some finances.

ESL: It's no secret that not everyone is pleased with Valve's decision to add in Overpass and Cobblestone to the map pool. What is your personal opinion on this and the maps themselves?
Richard: I personally don’t see what all the fuss is about. The game has been crying out for new maps for a while, and even if some of these maps aren’t my particular cup of tea, I’m intrigued to see what will happen on them. I mean, with the same old maps we see how teams can apply prepared tactics and in some cases innovate new ways to play, which is great. What we don’t see a lot of is which teams can adapt to new challenges and operate outside their comfort zone. Truly great teams can be flexible, and while there are other ways to see that implemented, I think throwing new maps into major tournaments will definitely show us a thing or two about the teams.
We’ve known for many years the Counter-Strike community is resistant to change, to put it mildly, and at times it has been to its own detriment. I say judge these new maps on the types of game they produce and take it from there. We’ll soon get a feel for whether or not they have a future in competitive play.
ESL: If you had to pick a favorite for ESL One Cologne right now, which team would you give the advantage to going into the tournament?
Richard: Too tough to pick a winner at the moment. Obviously NiP are going to bounce back and will be in better shape than they were at Gfinity, but I think their problems are real and I don’t know if they can patch them up in time to win this tournament. Team Dignitas looked incredible at Gfinity then fell at a hurdle I was certain they were going to clear. Titan then looked like their star players had shown up but they also showed they still have choke potential. Virtus.pro were inconsistent throughout but are a juggernaut when they build up momentum. Fnatic looked much improved with their new roster changes but still had some clear weaknesses on certain maps.
This is a stacked tournament in every sense of the word and I wouldn’t want to commit to a prediction about who is going to win. Whoever it is, they will have earned it and with it the title of best team in the world.

ESL: This is not your first time going to gamescom - you were there in 2012 and 2013 as well. How much has it changed throughout the years and what do you expect to see there now?
Richard: I think the key thing is the eSports presence has grown steadily through the years and we’re at a stage now where we occupy a record amount of floorspace and are drawing huge crowds for the competitions as well as the exhibitions. It no longer feels that eSports is a sideshow at a games convention but rather we have a very prominent place now.
ESL: Thank you for your time. Where can people find more of your work and any shout-outs you want to give?
Richard: Obviously I am at the Daily Dot. People can follow my Twitter (@RLewisReports), my Facebook and my YouTube channel to keep up with my work. I also produce a weekly eSports audio podcast people can listen to here.

ESL One kicks off at gamescom tomorrow at 09:00 CEST - check out the official ESL One site for all the latest information, and click here for an up-to-date match schedule.


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