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Elfishguy: "Diversification is a requirement for me at the moment, just to get enough work to live off .."

We caught up with Jordan "Elfishguy" Mays, Commentator from Australia, primarily seen covering the Asian CS:GO scene, for a quick chat.

Phoenix

We caught up with Jordan "Elfishguy" Mays, Commentator from Australia, primarily seen covering the Asian CS:GO scene, for a quick chat. Host of the popular show 'In Retrospect' as well as 'Geographically Challenged', and one of the few individuals trying to improve the Asian CS:GO profile in his own unique way, he touches on many topics covering his esports journey, shares his thoughts on the development of Asian/OCE CS:GO region or lack thereof, talent pay in the industry and more.

Hey Jordan. Kindly introduce yourself.

My name is Jordan Mays, otherwise known as Elfishguy. I’m a commentator in Australia, primarily working on CS:GO, but I also frequently cover World of Tanks, Overwatch and PUBG at the moment.

Let’s directly start with your journey in esports. When did you decide to get into esports and how did you arrive at the decision of pursuing it full time as a career?

It wasn’t so much a decision as something that just happened for me. In 2013 I attended PAX Australia, which is where I was first exposed to ‘esports’ as it were, with Riot’s booth displaying an Oceanic League of Legends tournament on LAN. Prior to this I’d done a bit of casting online in my bedroom but this was the first event that seemed to put the idea in my head that this could be legit.

It took a couple more years to start getting regular work, but I was at a good spot toward the end of 2015, and early/mid 2016 is when I started working for ESL Australia as a fulltime commentator. As they say, the rest is history.

Weren’t there other opportunities for work in real life that may have been more lucrative for you to take?

Definitely, I don’t think anyone in esports can claim that there isn’t a similar avenue in another industry that wouldn’t have been more financially viable. I studied Film at University and could’ve gone into that, but I realized after a few years it wasn’t something I really wanted to do.

For me, I have always been the kind of person that said ‘I don’t want an office job’ as a kid/when I was growing up. I guess that’s proven to be correct in my career now. I never really prioritized earning an incredible amount of money, rather enjoying what I did so that I wouldn’t wake up at 6am every morning hating my life. I can honestly say that almost every day I go into work it is because I WANT to rather than because it makes me money (though it obviously goes hand in hand).

My philosophy on life is that it seems unreasonable to commit yourself to 5 days a week of unhappiness so that you can enjoy 2 days off and then do it again on repeat forever. If I can enjoy every day of my life, why wouldn’t I do that?

You’re predominantly seen covering Asian/OCE CS:GO alongside Bleh and others. What piqued your interest in this region?

To be honest, my interest probably started because I was able to cover the region initially. When I was first watching CS:GO I never really paid much attention to Asia, favouring the EU/NA tournaments and big events like Katowice/Cologne etc.

When I started working for ESL Australia, Zen League was rolling around and that was my first foray into Asian CS. Since then I’ve felt that it’s almost my obligation to try to improve the profile of the region seeing as I was a defacto expert by virtue of all the broadcasts I had done.

I mostly started recording Geographically Challenged because I felt there was a niche to fill. Too many times I (and my colleagues) would see people discussing Asian CS in ways that we didn’t necessarily agree with, and since we rarely worked international events/minors we felt that would could to a degree set the record straight/influence storylines before they were sent in the wrong direction. I got a bit sick of hearing analysts/casters working big shows saying ‘we don’t know much about this team cause we don’t see them’.

Image credit: ESL

Speaking of which, what are your thoughts on the Asian/OCE/Australian CS:GO scene or lack thereof? Which factors contribute towards the lack of development in these regions? Is it the infrastructure, or the culture, or anything else that is detrimental towards the upliftment of the said regions?

I wouldn’t say that there is a lack of a scene in Asia/OCE, it’s just underdeveloped compared to other regions. To me the main factor is just generally the popularity of the title in Asia. It’s no secret that there are plenty of great orgs and a lot of good infrastructure in Asia, but it is mostly centered on other titles. Dota, LoL, Starcraft etc all have a much larger following in Asia than CS:GO, so in my mind, if CS:GO would’ve at some point become the most popular, or one of the most popular, titles in Asia, things would’ve been different. It seems too late for that now though.

OCE is a bit different, because we are still playing catchup as an industry in general compared to the rest of the world. So as far as OCE goes, I think we’re still on the right track when it comes to CS:GO. It helps that you have good representatives in the likes of ex-100T and Renegades who are able to put results on the international stage together on a reasonably regular basis.

There are only two teams that I constantly see dominating the Asian scene, namely, Tyloo and Vici Gaming and yet they are clearly leagues below their European and North American counterparts. Is it the lack of discipline or their confinement on a regional level that doesn’t allow them to flourish?

There’s probably a lot of factors, some of which are not so immediately obvious to the outside viewer. The cynic in me says that the skill or will to compete at a tier 1 level is not there, but I think the reality is that given time to compete internationally over a long term, similar to someone like ex-100T we could see similar results from either Vici or Tyloo in their current forms.

In your opinion, will we ever see an Asian team compete neck-to-neck with other regions in the near future?

In the near future, probably not. There’s still a lot of work to be done domestically before that can happen. Consider that currently both Tyloo and Vici are only tested against regional competition, and how long it normally takes a team once they start playing internationally to even start causing dents. I think we’re more than a year out from seeing Vici or Tyloo hitting close to the same heights as the Tyloo of old.

Many people shit on Valve for not caring about the community or assisting regions not having a great esports ecosystem to play, in terms of infrastructure or not having many tournaments in collaboration with TO’s. Is this kind of heavy backlash justified or are there any underlying issues one might not be aware of that is not allowing Valve in helping to develop a proper esports ecosystem, especially in Asia/OCE?

My 2c is that Valve doesn’t necessarily need to assist with building/developing infrastructure. Their product is a game, tournament operators’ product is esports. So at the end of the day, that onus IMO falls on the likes of ESL, Blast, Flashpoint, PGL etc.

The problem is, that none of these companies are native to the Asian region, most being based in Europe. By nature this means they’re employing people who are ingrained in the EU ecosystem, understand how it works and what they can do to further improve it. But the offshoots such as ESL’s presence in Asia/Australia are often stymied by global practices/regulations that are full of good intentions but just don’t work for the local programs. That’s not to say that ESL doesn’t do great work here, in fact I think ESL is really one of the only TO’s keeping the ecosystem alive in Asia/OCE, it’s just that it could be so much more with the right people solely focusing their time to building it up rather than it always being the kid that gets the hand-me-downs so to speak.

The best thing that could happen for CS:GO in Asia is that a tournament operator from that region would step up and take it under its wing. It’s not at all on Valve IMO.

You’re part of two shows; In Retrospect and Geographically Challenged. While the former is your own solo podcast, the latter is in collaboration with Bleh, Sniper and Pilski. Tell us what the shows are all about.

In Retrospect is a show that looks to document the histories of players/personalities and pundits within the Asia Pacific scene by following a chronological sequence of events that defined their careers. I mostly talk to players about particular events/matches that they’ve played in, and how that shaped their path to where they are today.

Geographically Challenged is a CS:GO talk show that primarily focuses on the Asian region. We hope to improve the profile of the region, and promote the players, storylines and events to a wider audience. Sometimes we do discuss global CS topics as well, but the main point of difference for Geographically Challenged vs other CS talk shows is that it has a primary focus on our region.

Image credit: ESL

You recently tweeted on talents undercutting others to land gigs and inadvertently giving the power in TO’s hands. The lure of landing a gig by undercutting others is far too big a risk that jeopardizes the entire talent scene and erodes value. It’d be great if you could shed some light on this issue.

It’s a bit of a touchy topic, and I didn’t really want to get too involved outside of a couple of tweets here and there since it hasn’t directly affected me (yet). The main problem I see is that established talent who already work for proper day rates in other titles, are happy to undercut themselves and others to work Valorant shows for cheap.

I can see why they’re doing it, to get their foot in the door and whatnot. Being the ‘first’ recognized caster for any new titles is always going to lead to more opportunities, but I think it’s an unfair and problematic practice.

If you can in good conscience charge one TO $650+ AUD for a day of work, then turn around and do that same day of work for another TO for $150, then I’m not really sure what’s going on there, either you’re over charging one or under charging the other. If I was the TO that was paying $650 and I heard that you were charging another TO $150 I’d be asking why that’s the case and trying to drive your rate down to match the lower rate.

For those talent that are looking for a rough guide $150 a day is actually below a normal entry level rate even for new casters these days. I’ve regularly seen newer casters getting paid $200-250 for a day. Industry standard for established talent should be around $500-$750 depending on how experienced they are and what the profile of the event is. Once you’re really top of the pack you can probably push for closer to $1000 per day but I don’t think many people in Oceania are worth that much yet.

Anyone who’s not sure can feel free to reach out and I am happy to chat about what I think they’re worth, and how they can negotiate with TO’s/improve their rate (if they deserve it). I have the unique perspective of having worked at a TO, and now having been a freelancer so I can see both sides.

It’s as much on the TO’s as the talent as well. I think there’s a general feeling among TO’s that if talent is on a broadcast for 'x' hours, they will look at that in an ‘hourly’ fashion. Say a day rate is $200 for a 4 hour broadcast, that’s $50 an hour, which sounds pretty damn good, but the reality is that there is all the prep beforehand (depending on the event I’ve sometimes spent up to a whole week prepping), call times adding an hour or two to a day & just general experience, confidence and knowledge level that the talent brings to the table. You get what you pay for and some guys can go on any broadcast and you know they’re going to ace it, those are the ones that can demand a premium rate. So that’s something that TO’s need to think about, it’s not just the hours on the broadcast, it’s everything around it as well.

At a certain point it is better to let some lesser opportunities go and let the new guys have a crack. I think I’m at the point where I can pass over some of those gigs which don’t tickle my fancy, which is why you haven’t seen me working any Valorant shows just yet, much as I wouldn’t mind giving it a go.

It seems to me that Valorant is in the same spot that CS:GO was 3-4 years ago where casters either don’t know their value or don’t care/aren’t thinking long term. It’s taken nearly half a decade for domestic talent rates to even get close to half of what international rates are, and it will end up being the same for Valorant if good/established casters continue to undersell themselves.

It’s not really an issue in already established scenes like CS:GO or Rainbow 6, most of the top talent in those titles are not trying to undercut each other because they are already established and will very likely be working together long term. In Valorant it’s a bit different with every man and their dog trying to get in. Things will probably settle down once 4-6 guys start to get a bit more of a lock down on the scene, but who knows how long that could take.

Let’s talk about the current employment opportunities in esports. Is the esports bubble really bursting considering how organizations are closing one after the other, and famous media outlets are getting shuttered? How will this affect the esports landscape moving ahead in terms of employment, or otherwise?

Well for me, I haven’t really seen a decrease in work personally. In fact I think 2020 has probably been my busiest year just in terms of sheer amount of broadcast days. It’s anecdotal of course, but my career is progressing fine.

Different roles and jobs are going to be affected at different rates. At the moment it seems pretty difficult to monetize teams/orgs but there are plenty of people that are faring pretty well in the esports ecosystem.

I’m not overly worried. I think once things pick up post-covid we’ll be off to the races again, and even during Covid we haven’t seen a drastic drop off in work, outside of the mega events that ESL normally run, obviously a big loss there.

You’re also open to the idea of working on other titles if and when the opportunity arises. Is this diversification a measure to balance out any fall that may or may not happen in the future?

If I could only work one title, I would probably opt for that, it just helps you to be a better caster if you can be totally ingrained in a scene and know everything there is to know. Splitting your time between 2 (or even 3-4 in my case) titles means you’re ‘almost there’ in every single one.

Diversification is a requirement for me at the moment, just to get enough work to live off, but hopefully one day rates & frequency of events will improve enough that I’ll be able to focus on one title.

Alright Jordan, that’s a wrap. Do you’ve anything to say before signing off?

Thanks for interviewing me, if anyone is interested in seeing some of my work they can follow me on twitter at @Elfishguy or find me on YouTube at youtube.com/elfishguyaus.


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Feature image credit: ESL

CS:GO

Phoenix

I write for a living. I write for Esports! Games: Dota 2 and Counter Strike: Global Offensive