Majors, world championships and The International. All events talent aspire to work at and why wouldn't they?
It might not be clear to you, the fan, but on-screen talent are just as competitively minded as the players. We want to be at the biggest and best events not only to enjoy them - the matches and the incredible atmosphere - but because it's the closest we get to independent validation of our ability.
Being invited to the biggest events in a game means we've proved (within reasonable doubt) that we are among the best at what we do.
But it's not that simple and on the flipside, just because you didn't get invited to the biggest event of the year, doesn't necessarily mean you're not good enough to have been invited.
There is, however, a fine line on the train of thought that goes something like this: "But X caster/host worked on more events and therefore deserves to be invited."
No one owes you anything.
In fact, regardless of how hard you worked or how many events you attended or what your considerable sacrifice might be towards time spent in the game or the community, you're not more or less deserving to get what you want. It's also true in life, of course, yet in esports we do seem to have a mentality of unrealistic expectation and it's not just limited to on-screen talent either.
Finding the right fit
The tough part about this is that you are still required to work hard to get where you want, sacrifice things and people you love and do it all with a smile and good grace. Not always easy when you need another event to earn money to pay the mortgage or feed your children.
So beyond hard work, skill and practice, what can you do to make sure you land the big events in esports? The answer is: Not much, actually. Sure, there is politics involved in deciding who gets to do which event. Some are company-based and if you are associated or work for one, it's unlikely you are getting selected for the rival company's event.
I think it's wrong to suggest that politics and allegiances are the only things that stop talent doing specific events
It isn't nice and it isn't particularly fair, but that is just how it is. So, in that case, if you are desperate to work the big event and you believe the only thing stopping you is your allegiance to the company you are with, change companies. That might still not be enough and there are other risks involved, of course (both financially and career-wise). And you still might not get the event!
I think it's wrong to suggest that politics and allegiances are the only things that stop talent doing specific events. Of course, there is ability, skill, experience and all of the things top talent should have anyway, so these aren’t the things we are talking about here.
No, instead, things like “fit”, theme and tone come in to play. Just as in the movies or TV series, sometimes your face just doesn't fit the role. If someone is looking for a young female to host a show, I, as a middle-aged man, am highly unlikely to be chosen. Likewise, if a show is going for a particular theme or tone, I might not fit that role the way they want it delivered.
Take The International 2017. Valve wanted to go for a different vibe, something they felt I was unable to give them. Was I disappointed not to attend one of the biggest events in esports? Of course I was! But it was slightly easier to understand because Valve were kind enough to explain to me in advance what they wanted and why I wasn’t invited.
They could help with genuine, independent feedback
Many of the problems with not getting an invite to big event, especially when you know you have the skills, the talent and the experience (and the community is shouting loudly to have you included) could be solved by talking to talent who aren't invited and explaining why.
I understand this is idealistic and likely unreasonable for most tournament organisers to do. They don’t have to stroke our egos or make us feel better about missing out, but they could help with genuine, independent feedback - something on-screen talent in esports finds hard to gain beyond talking among themselves.
Striking the balance
I haven’t spoken about one of the other considerations yet and that is money or cost to the organiser.
Budgets are not, as you might think, that big in esports yet. We are still growing and, while every event wants the very best talent on their shows, they often can't afford to (unless you're Valve, of course!). That means having to balance who gets invited. There is only so much money in the pot.
And, finally, there is judging talent itself. It's a rare skill, it takes a lot of time and every talent organiser judges things differently. I always looked for technical ability first and if I felt someone didn't have the technical ability, I'd rather go with someone who did, but perhaps wasn't as popular.
Is that the right way? I don't know but I judged based on what I saw and did the best I could to be consistent and fair. Did I always get it right? Absolutely not.
Then there is chemistry of the entire team. This is especially true of the desk or analyst area. Balance is something I always went for on desks, have something for everyone. An ex-player, someone analytical and a personality who can bring fun to the segments. Therefore, in Dota 2, if I needed only one person in the personality/charismatic role and picked Godz, it would mean Capitalist (who performs a similar role) wouldn't get invited, for example.
Selecting talent for a big event is harder than you imagine, especially when you are friends with some of those you will choose and some who you won't. I won't disagree that politics does play a part in selection (and I wish they didn't) but it's not just as simple as blaming every talent choice on that alone.
Every talent who doesn't get a big event, especially when they meet the basic criteria (skill, experience, ability) will always be upset at not getting that invitation. As I said at the start of this ramble, we are just as competitive as the players.
All we can do is thank our fans, work even harder, get even better and get that invite next time. There is no point in whining about the politics of selection in esports, we know it exists, it sucks, but we aren't going to change it any day soon. And besides, sometimes those same politics benefit us …
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