Interview by: EsportsJohn
Table of Contents
When the Heroes Global Championship (HGC) league was announced in early January, Khaldor was slotted as a permanent member of the casting crew for HGC Europe. Due to some difficulties securing a proper work visa, he has been unable to cast for the first half of Phase 1, but luckily Kaelaris has been there with great commentary—and plenty of Core rushes gone haywire—in his stead.
Khaldor has a deep history with Blizzard games ranging a period of over 10 years, from his earlier days of shoutcasting Warcraft 3, to his big casting debut in GSL Code A for StarCraft II, and now over two years of continuous casting, commentary, and analysis for Heroes of the Storm. As such, there’s no doubt that he’s the perfect fit for the job, and many have been eagerly waiting for his return to casting.
I was incredibly fortunate to catch his attention in early January for an exclusive interview. After he finally acquired the work visa, we chatted about the next chapter of his life and the new adventure that awaits him across the ocean at Blizzard’s production studio. We also talked about his aspirations for HGC, plans for the next phase of his life, and the future of Heroes of the Storm. I’m proud to present his thoughts here, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for the game as we head into undoubtedly the most successful year of HotS so far.
On Moving to the States
You’re about to embark on a journey halfway across the world again. How is this different from your move to Korea to cast GSL Code A in 2011?
Well, I guess the first difference is that this time I already know that I’ll be staying for quite some time. When I traveled to Korea to commentate the GSL, I was only supposed to stay there for three months and ended up being there for three years in the end.
With the move to the US, I’m from the start aware that I’ll stay long enough to justify things like renting out an apartment from the get-go, buying a car, and so on. That’s a big difference when it comes to the preparations. And even though the recent politics sure are a roller coaster for the US, it will be much easier for me to adapt to another Western culture compared to the Korean lifestyle I had to adapt to when I moved to Seoul.
How long have you been planning this move? Was it fairly sudden or have you been in talks with Blizzard for a while?
I expected for quite some time that there might be an opportunity in the US. In the second half of 2016, I was already pretty sure that I would not stay in Germany for too much longer. I was thinking about moving to another European country (Spain in particular), and one of the reasons those plans never became concrete was that there was a pretty big chance that Blizzard might want to establish a league system for Heroes of the Storm which would, by default, require the casters to be bound to a specific location. The rumors were around for some time, so it didn’t come as a shock when Blizzard revealed details that confirmed it.
For the casting team, those plans became more detailed during BlizzCon when most of us also had interviews set up for the open positions. The decision on who’d be casting the league was made after BlizzCon, [which is when I] also started the planning phase for the move and, of course, the necessary working visa.
It seems like all of the visa issues are finally sorted out now, though.
Yes, the visa process took quite a long time since we had to apply for a proper working visa that would allow me to move and work in the US for an extended period of time. Thankfully though, that’s all sorted out now, and I got my passport including a valid working visa a few days ago.
In my last interview with you, we touched on the difficulty of getting “in” with Blizzard during the early period of HotS…now you’re definitely “in”. How does it feel?
There were definitely moments in 2015 when it wasn’t really easy for me, but I have to say that I was very happy to be so heavily included in 2016. I casted at every major European and Global event throughout the year and the highlight was of course to be part of the casting team at BlizzCon—which was for sure one of my highlights in Heroes of the Storm thus far.
Coming back to your question though, I have to admit that this is now a completely different level of involvement. It feels absolutely amazing to be chosen as one of the four official casters to commentate Blizzard’s HGC. Even though I haven’t had the chance yet to be part of the live production, the team included me wherever possible, and I can’t wait to be on-site to do my part.
Another big plus for me is the proximity to all the other departments working on Heroes of the Storm. I was always very interested in the game outside of esports, and simply having the option to talk more directly to people that I so far could only contact via email is amazing to me. I’m super happy about the opportunity, and I can’t wait for it all to start.
On the Heroes Global Championship
We talked a bit before about your skepticism of online leagues. What were some of your concerns for HGC? Do you think Blizzard has done a good job addressing those concerns?
I think Blizzard has done an absolute fantastic job with the system they created for HGC. One of my biggest problems with league systems was always that most people have the tendency to try and imitate the established systems in Korea without realizing the big advantages that Korea has.
Korean esports was always very much focused in Seoul. Therefore, it was an easy decision for the Korean Leagues to establish permanent studios in which those games could be played and commentated. Since all of the players live in and around Seoul, there are no real infrastructure challenges to realize such a project.
In the Western scenes of Europe and North America, that poses a much bigger challenge. Especially since, for a lot of players in Western cultures, it’d be huge commitment that they might not be ready for yet. A move might include giving up another job and diving headfirst into a potentially risky career in esports or giving up a place at a university or even jeopardizing a relationship. To justify such a move, the financial benefits would have had to be enormous. I was always very doubtful if such a step would be justifiable at this point.
An online league, on the other hand, also faces a lot of challenges. One of them is the lack of having the players and commentators on site to provide the audience with live shots. The lack of opportunities for the Heroes of the Storm audience to meet the players and enjoy live events can also be problematic. I’m super happy that Blizzard identified all those issues and came up with a system that allows for a fantastic experience for the audience using several offline events throughout the year, a local studio to increase the production quality and including pre-recorded player shots, live interviews, and much more.
I was, by the way, extremely happy about their announcement to pay the players a fixed salary for attending the league. That alone opens up so many opportunities for the players, encourages them and Open Division teams, and allows for a penalty system to ensure that rules are being followed. So even though I was quite skeptical at first, I have to say that they did a great job, and the end result is amazing. The show has been doing very well, and I’m sure it’ll improve even more over the course of the next few months.
We’re only a few weeks in, but do you think the level of play has risen across the board in HGC due to more consistent competition and compensation to allow the players to focus on playing full-time?
Yes, for sure. The level of play has risen already, and I’m sure that trend will continue. It’s also reflected in the amount of time that players currently invest into their practice. I’m watching scrims on a daily basis at the moment to see how players adapt to the patches and changes in the meta. The new system also allowed the teams to prepare in detail for a specific opponent, analyzing drafts and preparing builds.
One still has to remember though that, as you pointed out, we are only observing the first effects of this new system. I’m sure that given time, the effects will be much more distinct, especially since other Open Division teams are eager to push into the league as well, which in turn raises the level of competition and play on the amateur level.
There’s also going to be a lot more international tournaments this year. Do you think that the regional metagames will continue to stay distinct, or will things start to look similar across the globe as regions learn from each other?
I think we will always have regional differences to some extent. There are quite a few differences in the way that Asian and Western teams approach esports, which has not only been very visible in Heroes of the Storm, but in other games as well. I believe there will always be some similarities and points of agreement between regions on which heroes are given priority, but I also believe that especially Western teams are very good at developing cheese strategies that can blindside their opponents and give them an edge.
One of the biggest advantages of Korean and Chinese teams, on the other hand, was always their mechanical superiority and their fantastic team coordination. But I personally believe that the gaps that we’ve witnessed in the past are becoming smaller and smaller in these areas. Fnatic was able to prove that during BlizzCon by taking down MVP Black, and I believe there is an actual chance that a Western team could have a realistic shot at winning BlizzCon at the end of 2017.
Differences in meta are also one of the most fascinating things to observe during international tournaments. Teams have to be able to adjust incredibly fast to challenges that are imposed by facing off against a different playstyle, and it’s super entertaining to watch. It’s one of the reasons why I’m so excited for all these events that we will have this year!
I know you’re not supposed to have favorites, but if you had to pick one team in EU to root for, who would it be?
Haha, not a fair question! I think my two favorites at the moment would be Misfits and Fnatic. As a fellow German, I’m obviously always rooting for the “home” team, and I think Misfits has proven in 2016 as well as this year that they are an absolutely amazing team with incredibly strong players.
But I’m also very close with Fnatic and still admire the way they have been able to grow during the last year. Their journey from being a talented but over-aggressive team at the start of 2016 to the disciplined powerhouse that we all witnessed during BlizzCon was amazing. But at the same time, they are now of course in a very different position. They have to prove that they did not get complacent and BlizzCon was not a fluke. With the level of competition continuously rising, they have to make sure that they don’t start to slack off or other teams will be able to leave them behind.
Then entire scene in Europe is absolutely fascinating at the moment, to be honest, especially with the big three (Misfits, Fnatic and Dignitas) being under constant attack by challengers like Team expert or Dignitas themselves once again having to find their rhythm with a new player (Zaelia) joining the team at the start of the season. The dynamic within the scene is extremely fun to watch right now.
On Personal Projects and Future Plans
Do you plan on casting minor tournaments in 2017 or are you going to focus on HGC full-time?
I will still continue to commentate smaller tournaments. HGC will obviously be my main priority, but I’m very serious about continuing to commentate on my private channels as well. I still have several META Madness ideas that I want to realize once my transition to NA is complete, and I still want to cover online tournaments and also the occasional amateur league match.
One of my goals was always to help out the grassroots scene, and that has not changed. It’s important to me that smaller leagues and tournaments get more attention, and especially Heroes Lounge and Chair League have made fantastic progress in the last few months. There’s a lot of up and coming players out there that have potential, and those leagues and tournaments are a first step for them to receive some exposure and transition into more competitive teams.
On the topic of your personal projects, consistent quality is something that many people often lack in esports (in general). How do you manage to maintain excellent quality for all of your casting, VoDs, etc.? Do you ever find yourself struggling with the notion of cutting corners?
I feel it’s always a bit of a balancing act. When it comes to my livestreams and the VoDs, I do everything by myself. So during a broadcast, I talk to admins and players about upcoming games, make sure I get invited to the lobbies and look for upcoming games that might be of interest for the audience. Production, observing and of course the commentating itself are also all done by me including the post production, which entails the video editing of the games that I upload to YouTube.
Since it’s quite a lot to handle as a single person, I usually try to find a good middle ground when it comes to “cutting corners”. There are a few things that I would love to provide and technically could but where I simply lack the manpower to make it happen. A good example would be instant replays. I’d love to use those, but it’s not possible without a second person to help me with the production, and I’m simply not in a position where I can pay someone to do that. So there’s always a bit of a trade off when it comes to production quality. I try to provide the best show that I can to my audience, but there’s certain aspects where I will always have to make compromises.
I just have one more big question. You stated in an interview in 2015 that you expected Heroes of the Storm to beat Dota 2 and maybe even League of Legends in terms of viewers and players. Do you think the game still has that potential?
I just recently thought back to that interview. I think I also recorded a video back then talking about my hopes for the game. I honestly believe that Heroes of the Storm is the most entertaining MOBA game to watch. If I didn’t, I would not be casting it anymore. The game eliminates all the criticism that I have toward other MOBA titles, and things like the map diversity and short game length give it a big advantage in my opinion.
At the same time, things have obviously not developed that way in the past. I personally think Blizzard made a lot of mistakes in the past that made it difficult for the game and the esports scene to develop as quickly as I was hoping for at the time of the interview. I believe the game could be much bigger than it already is, but I still think that it will grow a lot more in the future. Blizzard has been working hard to improve the esports infrastructure for Heroes of the Storm and the game itself, and setting up HGC was a major accomplishment. A lot of the initial momentum has been lost though, and we will have to work hard to regain that momentum and continuously improve the game and the esports aspect of it. That’s also something where I see an obligation for myself. Quite often, I come across as overly critical. One of the reasons for that is that I believe in this game and its potential. I’m very passionate about Heroes of the Storm and I want to improve the status quo and raise awareness to aspects that I think should be improved upon, and I will do everything that I can to personally help Heroes of the Storm keep growing.
I don’t think the goal has to be to beat League of Legends or Dota 2, but it certainly should be our goal to do everything we can to show other players how much fun and how amazing Heroes of the Storm can be, especially on a competitive level.
That said, when do we get to see you cast again?
The next time I’ll be casting will be in Katowice for the Western Clash! Shortly after the event, I’ll be moving to the US and will start to commentate the HGC Europe matches together with Trikslyr once the second half of Phase 1 starts in April.