AT Commentary Part 1: The Road to ReykjavikApothne
It’s fairly common for me to receive questions about my time as an AT commentator in Iceland. A couple people have even asked me to do a full write-up about what it’s like, especially Niden and Xander each September. I was originally a little cautious about writing everything down, but the more I think about it, the more I appreciate the impact this experience has not only had on my EVE experience but to the rest of my life too. This type of piece is a little out of the ordinary stylistically, so excuse any errors as some of this happened up to two years ago.
I saw the reddit thread, wrote and then sent the email all in the space of 10-15 minutes. It was a burst of excitement of a fun project, without any real confidence of even making it to the interview stage. Five minutes after I pressed “send”, I realised I probably should have put more thought into my application if I was serious about it, but it was too late by then so I let it fall out of my mind. I got caught up in the excitement and the realisation of how amazing it would be to be involved in such a project; then, as it tends to, reality set in.
My history with the Alliance Tournament to that point was about as minimal as possible. I learnt that it existed during a roam I was leading in E-Uni and was kind of pissed that no-one was undocking because they were all watching spaceships instead of exploding them. By the time ATXI rolled around I had been in Sniggwaffe for a few months and I had come around to appreciate and really get into the format and approach to EVE tournaments, even if it was still brand new to me. I attended a couple of practices for the SniggWaffe (YOUR VOTES DON’T COUNT) team, but the team captain and I really did not get on, so my attendance dropped off a fair bit. I ended up flying in one of our matches against THE R0NIN where my job was to burn straight at the Vindicator in my Enyo and tackle him, screening him from our important ships. The life expectancy of an Enyo in such conditions is somewhat limited, so I got to watch the rest of the fight from my pod.
Outside EVE Online, I’ve been involved in performance through various media since I was very little, from straight drama to musicals to short-form improv (think “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”) to long-form improvised musicals, as well as playing the trombone and singing in various genres of groups. Given my lack of raw AT experience, I think that the main selling point to CCP was my experience casting StarCraft II, the game I predominantly played before coming to EVE. I casted with ESL, GLHF.tv, SCVRush and a couple other odds jobs including a UK qualifier for the then new Blizzard World Championship series.
To my extreme surprise I made it through to the interview stage. Reading that email was the point at which I decided to really take this seriously. I devoured as many previous AT videos on YouTube as I could, memorised every ship hull bonus I didn’t already know, memorised the fantastic turret recognition infographic expecting (thanks to the PL FF Whatsapp group) to be grilled by CCPs Fozzie and Rise on esoteric points of fitting and spaceship choices. The reality was somewhat different. I reached out to Shadoo via PL forums who was well into his Australian spirit-journey by this point, someone who I’d never really had a conversation before. He replied with a full essay about AT commentary which I am immeasurably grateful for. Elise Randolph even hit me up on IRC to talk about AT commentary after finding out I had applied, offering me advice and asking questions (at no point admitting he was also in the running, the sly dog). One of the things you need to understand about Elise and Shadoo is that they were in-game heroes to me. In the same way that I was a fan of Snute, IdrA and Nestea in StarCraft as Zerg players, these two were the legends of FCing I was told so much about in E-Uni and Waffles. As a young FC, it felt crazy that they were willing to take the time out of their day to talk to me at all, let alone offer the breadth and depth of advice they did.
The interview was to be via Skype-video, so I dressed up in a suit and spent about an hour before on Skype with the lovely Wyddershin to make sure all my tech worked right, that I looked right and tried to keep calm. The interview itself was equal parts terrifying and exhilarating. Firstly, I was not talking to a CCPer, I was talking to about eight of them. They started the call and went round the room introducing themselves, and the list (to me at least) just seemed to go on and on. Oh and did I mention? I couldn’t actually see any of them. They had ~dev notes~ on the whiteboards around them so they had covered the webcam with some red cloth, so I did my best to remember names by sound of voice as they introduced themselves but probably screwed it up at some point. The start of the interview went really well for me, I felt like I was being charismatic, I kicked the ass of most questions thrown at me, especially the one about my favourite vegetable (spinach, fuck yeah spinach), but then I got thrown a curveball.
They wanted me to cast a game with Fozzie via screensharing a video of the Hun vs. G0dfathers game from ATXI. I should have expected that right? Well, sure, but the screenshare was at about a frame every 3 seconds, and anyone who has ever tried will know that casting from even a seamless live feed is incredibly challenging, given that you can never go look at what you want to go look at, it’s all zoomed-in cinematic shots of explosions and the like. Pretty, but not the most important information for a caster. Still, improv and SCII casting experienced carried me through and two weeks later I ended up getting the email literally titled:
“You’re going to Iceland!”
I was tutoring at the time and the little squeal I gave out as it popped up on my screen probably made my tutee think I was having a heart attack or something. I could barely contain myself as we got to the end of the session, and as soon as I had sent him off with his parents I opened the email up fully while simultaneously preparing a ping in the Waffles channel of PL IRC. Literally as I was about to press enter I read down to the part that said “For the moment please keep this news to yourself!” in big, bold letters. As it turns out, reading the first sentence of an email, getting all excited and rushing off is not a good idea.
Sir Squeebles, CCP Fozzie, Elise Randolph and CCP Gargant
The next realisation was who my colleagues were going to be: Elise Randolph, Baccanalian and Sir Squeebles. I won’t lie, this was incredibly intimidating. Elise is one of the most well-respected figures in the history of the EVE Community, a key leader in Pandemic Legion and a regular on their 4-time (at the point) winning tournament team. Sir Squeebles was the figurehead of the most popular EVE streaming community, and while his humour is not to everyone’s tastes, he can handily carry a show. Baccanalian (or “fat Mittani”) was fresh off casting last year’s tournament, a past captain of the Rote Kapelle team, who are a very well respected group that make consistently deep runs in the AT.
“This was what really drove me to put even more effort in, to prove to everyone else (and myself) that I deserved the spot”
One of the things that was quickly picked up on by the playerbase when I was announced as a caster was the huge lack of experience in-game and as a media person in the EVE community compared to my colleagues. This was what really drove me to put even more effort in, to prove to everyone else (and myself) that I deserved the spot, that my passion and work ethic were going to make me relevant alongside people who had played the game for a decade. I was determined to pull my weight and not be the useless caster of the year, so I started mass-interviewing teams and doing all the research I could about each of the 64 teams competing in the Alliance Tournament that year. This resulted in a (now-curry stained) 32 page document, which I kept filling in during our time there with results and what each team flew as well as any other tidbits I could scrounge. Generally speaking, any time Fozzie or Elise opened their mouths was a good time to whip it out and make notes.
Shortly after the email with the good news went out, the group emailing between the commentators and CCPers got a little out of hand with spam so I made a Skype group for us. Fozzie and Rise were the first to join and joyfully trolled me about how I was going to be fired for telling my mum that I had got “that video game thing in Iceland.” The first couple of weeks were full of activity, but then for nearly two months there was almost nothing. This was during the time where CCP lost a large number of employees, one of whom was our coordinator (CCP Loxy). We were also held up by *someone’s* passport not being sorted. Anyway, CCP Gargant ended up taking over as showrunner, and between them we actually got the tickets sorted.
Next time, I’ll go into what happened during ATXII itself. It was one of the most exciting and memorable experiences of my life so far, so keep an eye out for part 2!