Next on our list of interviews we have a special guest, a man who has been in the business of esports for the past 15 years and counting, a man from whom we can all learn and be grateful that he is a part of the game we play, he is the one and only – Thorin.
Thorin´s main interests are Counter Strike: Global Offensive and League of Legends. The part we are most interested in today is CS:GO for which Thorin has been an on-camera analyst for a better part of the big LAN tournaments today.
He also has a Youtube channel where you can find a big portion of content for CS:GO. A few series worth mentioning are Thorin´s Thoughts where he talks about his perspective on numerous different topics in the scene. Reflections series is a long form interview series with esports personalities and players. Other less frequent series are Counter Points where he invites a few people from the esports scene and talks about everything that is happening in esports and By The Numbers series with Richard Lewis where they talk about CS:GO in general and about people around it.
Thorin´s next appearance will be at Valve´s major in Columbus from March 29 to April 3 where he will be a part of an amazing casting and analyst crew! So without any further delay, here are the questions!
(Questions have been edited for grammar and spelling after receiving the answers, but with great care to not change their meaning.)
Hello Duncan, while most of our readers probably know who you are, .
I’m an esports journalist of around 14 and a half years and I currently specialise in covering Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and League of Legends.
It seems that you and Richard Lewis became very good friends, have you known each other since his CS:S days or only since CS:GO came out and where was the first time you two met?
Very good friends is probably stretching it a little, it’s not as if we’re the kind of friends who message each other every day and so on. I’d describe us as friends and colleagues. I think what best defines our work together is that we have a good natural chemistry and thus, as work colleagues, we get along very well. Working so many events has allowed us to become closer on a personal level, but that happened more last year than in the past. I hope we can continue to build that relationship as we work together, as I think we have a winning formula.
I didn’t know Richard at all during most of his CS:Source days, since I didn’t follow Source at all, beyond looking at the occasional tournament results news post. Esports was a lot smaller back then and more segregated, so it was easy to go through your career without necessarily knowing everyone else, especially since I almost never attended UK LANs, so I wasn’t moving in the same circles as him back then.
Over the last few years, I got to know him a little when he became the Editor-in-Chief at Cadred.org, as I had become the Editor-in-Chief at SK Gaming perhaps a few months earlier and he reached out to talk. Funnily enough, we actually had quite a falling out early on and were not friendly in any respect for about two years.
It all stemmed from a situation in which he wrote an article on the topic of the South Korean betting scandal surrounding sAviOr and others. I posted a comment on a community site in my usual caustic fashion and he took it to heart and was offended by it. It has to be understood that back then neither of us earned much money, so respect was paramount as the currency of the industry, to some degree. When someone felt disrespected, they often held grudges against those they felt had wronged them for years to come.
When we actually met in person and talked, it was easy for both sides to drop any hostility and since then we’ve gotten along well in pretty much every interaction I can think of. I think we’re similar enough in some respects that without the much needed context that comes with knowing someone, it’s probably easy enough for us to disagree over smaller matters. Ultimately, we are both two of the hardest working and most honest individuals in esports, so we have more in common than most.
I think, provided the circumstances make sense, we could be working together for a long time to come. When I watch something like ESPN’s First Take, which is a regular punditry show for American sports, I think that we could easily replicate that kind of formula in esports, as we can both talk at length, have a good general understanding of the industry and have consistent on-camera chemistry.
In one episode of By the Numbers you mentioned that one of the reasons you created a youtube channel is that you have a leg to stand on just in case, did you expect to have so many subscribers and followers back then?
No, it wasn’t actually within my plans that my youtube channel would succeed in its own right. I simply wanted to build up another vehicle for my work. I spent around a decade mastering the art of the long-form historical piece, but I wanted to be able to express my thoughts on esports outside of that variant of the written medium. I felt as if short video essays, with the original concept being that they would be short, made the most sense.
An aspect of my career that has long been noticable is how productive I am, so as I began to produce more and more videos for my channel, I was able to both build a regular audience and an ever growing subscriber base. That I peppered both the CS:GO and LoL scenes with videos also ensured my channel grew larger than those who focused solely on one or the other. Since I wanted to become better at making videos I applied the same basic approach I have applied to each new aspect of my journalistic career: I attempted to be as prolific as possible, so I could learn from my mistakes and develop my style.
I now think I’m in a place where I’ve developed my own unique voice in terms of how I present myself in my videos, in contrast to the writing voice or event persona I have. The one thread which runs through all of my video work that there is a strong indentity with a consistent and coherent perspective.
We often see top tier players requesting B03 group stages, would this be a good thing and why, and do you prefer single-elimination or double-elimination bracket system in big tournaments?
The majority of tournaments now use some form of Bo3 series system in the group stage and I think the results have been favourable, with many classic series produced and a much more reliable rate of the better teams making it out of the group stage. If a team like dignitas can upset Virtus.pro in a Bo3 on route to progressing to the play-offs, as we saw at Dreamhack Leipzig, then few are going to argue the format is flawed and they shouldn’t have gotten that far.
I think with such a large tournament circuit as we have now, that a mixture of tournaments using each is the best approach, so they can have different flavours. Overall, I prefer double elimination, as commonly seen in Dota2, as I like the fact you can’t simply upset someone once, as if they perform well enough they can earn a rematch against you. I also like to see teams rematch to see how they will adapt to each other and how the meta-game of their own personal match-up can shift.
The E-League is the next big thing this year, why do some organizations have reserved spots instead of the teams themselves (who decides on that?), and what type of organizations will profit the most from this?
No idea. The only organisations I think will profit in any significant ways are the ones who didn’t have good teams, or any at all, and now have gotten into the E-League even with sub-par line-ups.
In several podcasts with Richard Lewis you mentioned backroom money deals between organizations about the E-League, why orgs get so greedy, even when the E-League gets $1.2M per season and it will be televised before freaking NBA, shouldn’t that be enough?
The prize money is for the players, with how contracts divide it up nowadays, whereas the organisations themselves can get paid directly to play in other leagues over Turner. In fact, as Richard was speculating, the organisations themselves offered exclusivity, in respects to not playing in Turner’s league, to another league in exchange for more money. Organisations in esports are famous for doing what benefits them in the short-term, particularly financially, and not building for the future.
The exposure and potential benefits of a functional televised league are fairly obvious, but most of the advantages and profit to stem from it will not be seen immediately, so those organisations would prefer to earn some extra money right now that they can see in their hands.
Turner`s E-League is the most impressive league announced yet, although ESL and ESEA shortly after announced their league of $1.5M which will be evenly split between Europe and NA divisions, 750k each. ESL also stated that they are working on a television broadcast for their project, can they have the same number of spectators as the NA television giant and what is exactly Turner`s advantage?
I don’t think anyone can answer those questions, as nobody in the West has made a full esports league work on television. Beyond how mismanaged the CGS (Championship Gaming Series) was back in 2007, it essentially could never have succeeded anyway, based on the expectations I’ve heard. If an esports league is expected to compete in prime slots with big American television programming, then it’s going to mean a new era for esports, because so far there has been nothing comparable to the kind of numbers we’re talking about.
Millions of viewers might be needed, in which case I have no idea if anyone can actually succeed right now. The question is also what the time-frame is like on the channel’s end, if they are considering this a long-term project, say five years, then perhaps a league can overcome the teething problems, otherwise it’s hard to predict the kind of success that might be required. I think the same problems will face ESL as Turner, though I have no idea what channel ESL would work with, so that will play a factor.
Recently ESL banned jump-throw bind which will have a negative impact on the tactical side of the game and that includes the professional teams. They will have to work harder and will have less options to throw the same smokes. How does that limit the possibilities of certain teams?
I don’t think it has a negative impact upon the tactical side of the game, in fact I welcome this change, assuming it can actually be properly implemented, and think it will expand the tactical prowess of teams. If someone knows exactly how to pull off the most complicated smokes without the bind then they deserve to be rewarded for that excellence in what might seem like a minor area of the game, but obviously can have a large impact on how a round plays out now.
Previously, that skill and understanding was negated, to some degree, and any team could be at the same tactical level, at least as respects which smokes they could throw. Now, let’s see which players and teams emerge as the masters of smokes and thus gain an advantage that way. My philosophy on the game is that any area in which we can have a skill component and thus both seperate who is better and allow for minor advantages to be gained, is a good thing for the overall game.
It’s also worth pointing out that since smokes are so over-powered in CS:GO, both in terms of the size and duration, I think it’s better than teams can’t easily throw such fantastic smokes, so it will open the game up more on both sides.
CSGO.one players have left the organisation after being asked to fix some online matches. Who is there to investigate cases like these? We can remember ex-iBuypower players, what if they had the same deal with skin sites back then?
The only person who investigates these stories are the journalists of the community. If Valve actually puts any attention onto this matter, then they certainly haven’t told anyone I know about it. On the contrary, it sounds, from talking to Richard, as if Valve need practically the smoking gun and a photo of the guy running from the scene before they’ll properly investigate and start to track suspicious skin activity.
I think there should be a commissioner who deals with these elements of the community, as well as cheating and league bans. Not just to make the final decision, but to communicate the reasoning for such decisions and Valve’s overall rationale for how they make their decisions.
In last few tournaments we saw an excellent performance from Luminosity, how come they manage to shake the EU scene so often while NA teams constantly fail to do so?
Luminosity is the best tactical team in the world, which all stems from having the best in-game leader (FalleN) and a team who has outright been molded by him to play according to his philosophy on the game, as you can see by how intelligent and efficient they are at playing in power-play (man advantage) scenarios.
A player like coldzera would probably be a pure lurker and abuse their aim if they were an NA star, but FalleN has cold integrated into the entry aspects of the game, depending on the map and location on said map. As a result Luminosity is a coherent unit which behaves according to the same underlying philosophy.
The above cannot be applied in any respect to NA teams right now. They don’t have an elite level in-game leader comparable to Luminosity or the European sides. They don’t play coherently, by and large, though I will give an honourable mention to CLG as a team I have thought did a better job than most of being more than the sum of their parts.
NA teams are more like individual players filling out their roles and working together occasionally, but with a much less cohesive sense to the group approach. NA is more like two man units of a good entry man and then the second entry who trades for the frag. In that respect, NA simply has not evolved to a more team-orientated approach.
NA also has no player, right now, who can perform to the level of coldzera, counting only NA born players, of course. The best in-game leader, a top 10 player in the world and a great team focus is a trifecta no NA team can boast right now.
Few years already passed since our dear Global Offensive came out, during those years you were a part of numerous casting and analysis desks, which events do you find most memorable of them all, and which events – by your own quote were “dogshit”?
Dreamhack Winter 2013, the first major, was the first event I worked at as an analyst and it was a challenging event, since I had to analyse some of the lesser teams that I didn’t know that well, at the time, and also, due to reasons I won’t go into, I was essentially called upon at times to carry the desk outright, so it meant I had to exercise my ability to talk at length and cover numerous aspects of the game.
Dreamhack Stockholm, the one in September of 2014, was a fantastic event in terms of the games played there, even if the delays were a killer. We saw Titan, my favourite team, pull off two incredible upsets, beating what would be the two best teams in the world for the next seven months, on the back of phenomenal tactics out of Ex6TenZ and kennyS transitioning into godhood.
MLG X Games Aspen was the first and only event I worked at where Fifflaren was on the desk with me the entire time and had a particularly unique flavour, since I was the host and it was just me and Fiffy doing the analysis. The tournament had many memorable matches, as we had some non-Europeans upsetting initially, but then getting beaten down and the play-offs being an all-European affair. I think the semi-final between FNATIC and NiP was the greatest series our game has seen thus-far, so it is one I will cherish for a long time.
In terms of dogshit events, most instances are honest mistakes or unforeseen circumstances on behalf of the organisers, so I won’t list many. I will cite E-Frag’s The World Championship event, though, where the most enduring memory was having stage lights shine directly into my eyes every 10 seconds or so for about 12 hours a day, four days in a row. The only screen I had to watch was the one those lights were above and around, so to do my job I literally could not look away and thus not be blinded and irritated. That is my idea of hell and I will never work under those circumstances again.
You will be attending the MLG Major CS:GO tournament with an excellent casting and analysis crew. What are your thoughts on this upcoming Major and more importantly, do you have NA banter and jokes ready?
I think the event talent line-up looks fantastic and will rival Dreamhack Cluj-Napoca as having one of the best of such line-ups in history. Pretty much everyone listed is among the best in the world at their role and the crew includes many people I consider friends and enjoy working with and spending time with. For my part, I think it will be a fun and satisfying event to work at.
In terms of other expectations or thoughts, I think it will be interesting to see if the new FNATIC line-up can legitimately prove themselves to be a dominant dynasty and take down the major or if they will finally fall. EnVyUs have been taking a series loss at every event for a while now, so they will be walking that tightrope of being capable of winning the event but also falling out much earlier than their ability would suggest.
Then you have the two teams who are now contending for elite status and thus the chance to actually be major champions: Luminosity and Na`Vi. Na`Vi have the pieces and with flamie consistently showing up with super-star performances, at least in the last couple of months, they could be crowned champions. I’m much less convinced that Luminosity can actually win the major, but it will be fun to see how far they can make it. Imagine how incredible it would be if we saw Luminosity reach the final of a major! Also, coldzera’s form has risen even further in 2016, but we’ve yet to see him put on a strong play-off performance at a major in his short career.
I practically never prepare banter. I think good banter or jokes should always be related to the actual event and analysis of the games. The way I come up with jokes always arises from thinking about the match itself and then something humourous occurring to me. I don’t come with scripted material.
Thank you Duncan for this interview, any last words for the CS:GO scene in its early stages of development?
Not really, if I have any pressing thoughts then I’ll put them into a video and earn myself some cash money for expressing them. Speaking of which, if you like the sound of using CS:GO knowledge to earn some scratch then you can play fantasy esports at Alphadraft, where they have numerous contests for CS:GO tournaments.