Phy: "I'm in the same rat race as everyone else and I've got to do the same work as everyone else"

    Reading time  ~19  mins

    The last professional Counter-Strike tournament of 2023 took place deep in the Southeastern United States as DreamHack Atlanta played host to ESL Challenger, where eight teams competed for the lion’s share of the $100,000 prize money. And due to the event taking place in North America, it was only appropriate for there to be North American talent present in the lineup sheet.

    Among those who contributed to the broadcast was 19-year-old caster Garret "Phy" Schier. Phy started his career during the peak of the COVID-19 global pandemic after spending countless hours watching pro CS on Since then, Phy, alongside Cole "xner" McHenry, would go on to cover notable events like the 2022 Rio Major American RMR, the ESEA Cash Cup, ESL Challenger League in North America and this very event too.t.

    Before the final day of ESL Challenger, BLIX caught up with Phy for a remote interview with Phy concerning his experience covering the event, how he started casting pro CS, working with Cole "xner" McHenry and much more.

    Covering ESL Challenger

    Pedro Romero, BLIX: You mentioned on your X account that this is your international debut by working in ESL Challenger so to start this conversation, how are you taking in this experience?

    Garret "Phy" Schier: In this situation, I'm trying to not let the pressure get to me as an individual. I mean, I know in my head that it is the biggest event that I'm doing—I'm working even the grand final for this event as well—so it feels like I have a lot of responsibility. How am I handling it, though? Again, I'm not letting the pressure get to me and just doing all the preparation and controlling what I can control. Just removing yourself from anxiety and doing the things that I've been doing for the last three years, realistically, is the best way to do it. I'm not trying anything wildly new in terms of my commentary style. I just cast with a lot of passion and I think I've been doing an okay job.

    BLIX: How did you react when they told you that you were going to do it?

    Phy: I didn't actually believe it at first. I was like, 'Are you sure?' Me and my co-commentator saw the talent schedule and we were on call online and we digitally looked at each other like 'you seeing this?' But of course, it was a great feeling. It was the best feeling of shock in my life.

    BLIX: What has been something that you've been learning the most in working an event like this and being given the privilege to be with a mixture of new people like yourself and veterans within the CS broadcasting scene?

    Phy: I think it's a lot more about the professionalism that you bring to a broadcast. What are you adding to the team in a broadcast and working in a team setting? I think that is the biggest thing that's changed. Even from going to a Fragadelphia event, the biggest thing is working with other people other than your co-commentator. I think that has been the biggest thing that I've learned moving up from just being a guy who's online. Me and Cole [Cole "xner" McHenry] run the desk and we run everything around the clock and it's been working with a team.

    BLIX: If there's one thing you can pinpoint in which you felt you learned the most, what would that be?

    Phy: I think it's a lot of hearing perspectives from the people on the desk specifically. Tech Girl has been pretty instrumental in just getting me on board with what is required of me here as a commentator as well as helping out with the desk and things of that. Again, I haven't tried to change up how I commentate necessarily and I think that's what you're not supposed to do. As you head to LAN, it's the same thing as all the pros say but you got to play your own game and unfortunately they were right about that, but I think Sam has done a lot in terms of being a professional.

    BLIX: Looking at the other side of the coin, what did you feel you brought to the team from your end?

    Phy: A lot of passion and a lot of heart. For a lot of people, this is not their first Challenger event ever, but one of my missions in Counter Strike backs some of the passion that I have for the game. At least when I started off as a commentator, that was one of the big things for me. I just try to bring a lot of energy to the team and I hope to get the other people who are working with me really invested in the North American side of things. And to play up a bit to the crowd, I think, is what I need to do for North America. I feel like I'm bringing a bit of that patriotism and passion to the spot.

    BLIX: And I also want to touch upon the fact that you're working remote from Stockholm and not being able to actually experience what the crowd is bringing to you in person. Is it similar to how you normally do online events online or is there a twist to that sort of sensation?

    Phy: If I was on LAN and directly there, it would have a little bit more impact. I wouldn't say it's exactly like being online though because I can still get a response. I can still hear the crowd as well so it can still get me energized. It also gives me a little bit of feedback on how I was working and things like that. I wouldn't say it's directly one-to-one. With online, it hits this weird middle ground where you're not necessarily there in person and you can't hear yourself completely in the arena. I would say I would get in this middle ground because of your preparation and you're interacting with a talent team but you're not directly there taking all the energy in.

    BLIX: So there's a bit of a sense of restriction, right?

    Phy: Yes. I would say it's a little bit of a restriction. I did it at Fragadelphia. and I had a very small crowd in front of me, but the impact that crowd had on myself and Cole was was a lot in terms of our casting and keeping the energy high.

    Casting with xner

    BLIX: Talking a little bit about the partnership with Cole, it's another person that is rather young within the casting scene for CS in North America. How's it been for you to work with him specifically and how did that partnership start?

    Phy: The partnership started sort of by accident or just by coincidence because we both started commentating here in North America at about the same time. I was brimming with high energy and, on his end, I would say he was almost like the launders [Mohan Govindasamy] type, you know? He's kind of high and low and we're almost mismatched like Scrawny [Conner Girvan] and launders which is funny. We're doing our best to differentiate from that but it was just more of a coincidence and a timing thing.

    And we've kind of gone our own ways a couple of times--we have to hunt for jobs at the end of the day--but more recently, we've teamed up back together and are working all the big events. What is it like working with him? Well, he's a very level-headed individual. Much more, he's very realistic about things. I'm 19 and I'm kind of still young in college but he brings a much more realistic perspective to the commentary, at least to the commentary and to ourselves on the mental end of things. He's definitely an older figure in this casting relationship.

    BLIX: So in a way you build the blocks for casting a match and then he gives the direction? Is that the best way to describe it?

    Phy: I'd say that. Yeah.

    How Phy started casting

    BLIX: And one of the biggest reasons why I wanted to talk to you in the first place is the fact that you're 19 and you've been able to already cast an event like this. We've seen other people get around this sort of level of their own game at a young age, but I'm intrigued as to how you decided to start working in CS at a young age. How did that even come together?

    Phy: I've been a fan of Counter-Strike since 2015 so since I was 11 years old. Before the COVID pandemic, a very funny story but my school's Wi-Fi would block a bunch of different websites but the one website they didn't block was so I was just eating up every thing on that website from about 2019 onwards, and then when the COVID pandemic hit, that's time for you to watch six to eight hours of CS in my junior year of high school. Then my parents walked up to me with an offer and they said 'you can either do A, finish your senior year of high school'--and it's going to be all online of course because it was still in lock down--'or B, you can just go to community college' and I said, 'Okay, let's go to community college' and that gave me infinitely more time. Then I said, 'I think I can do this casting thing really well. I have a decent voice.'

    There's a Mark Twain quote that says, 'In this life. All you need is a little bit of ignorance and confidence' and I thought I could do a better job than these other guys or at least thought I could fill a void. I heard commentators and they were in tier-two and they just weren't that interested. They didn't feel like they were invested in the game so I felt I could do a better job than that and I can be invested and passionate about the game. That's why I started commentating at the age of 16.

    Phy casting Fragadelphia 15 (Credit: Christian Gillespie/Nerd Street Gamers)

    BLIX: Amidst those days of COVID and having to just watch CS all the time, was there a moment during that phase in which you firmly decided this is what I want to do? Did that happen during COVID or somewhere before that?

    Phy: I wouldn't say it was when I was watching CES but it just started out with me setting some goals in front of myself. I started commentating and I'm like 'okay, what do I want to do with this?' I was 16 years old so honestly money was not really the first thing on my mind. Then I'm like, 'Okay, I want to do some, want to get some viewers.' Actually, I think my first goal was to get on an ESEA premier broadcast or at least get the partnership for it. 'Okay, how am I going to do this? ESEA Cash Cups don't have a lot of viewers or broadcasts right now. Okay, I can run coverage for this and do a real service.'

    For me, it was setting a couple of goals in front of myself and as I accomplished one, I moved to the next. As I felt maybe I can make something out of this,' I sacrificed a lot of my weekends when I was like 16 to 17 years old and I think I got my first paid gig in Europe with the CCT guys and it just kind of went from there. I just kept looking for the next challenge.

    BLIX: Amidst all this, I want to touch upon what your parents were like when you let them know of your desire to be a caster. Were they open to the idea from the start or was there a little bit of hesitancy there?

    Phy: My mother was certainly hesitant. She thinks in a very traditional sense. But my dad was like, 'You go kid!' The only thing I had to do was move my entire setup from my room into my garage so they wouldn't hear me. That was the one deal I had to make so if I want to break the reality of everyone who watches my online broadcasts, it's all from my garage.

    Looking back at 2023

    BLIX: And it's no doubt that, as you mentioned, you've been able to take your career step by step from those local events to now being in the international level which certainly lets you stand out this year in particular. How would you compare what your casting was like this year to when you started?

    Phy: I think the most important thing is I still have the same passionate energy. I've actually watched back a couple of my very first casts and seen how different I was, but it's all about fluidity and refinement of your passion, emotion and energy. The words come out of your mouth quickly, you have good rhythm and it's also understanding the dynamics of a commentator duo. Passing back and forth, creating good conversation--I think I had a very good skeleton to build on from the very beginning and right now it's all just filling out at this point. There are some even better things to continue adding on. Right now, I'm getting pretty close to mastering the fundamental casting encounters right.

    BLIX: For you to be able to get to this point still at around 19, are you supposed to have been able to grow so much so quickly?

    Phy: Not really. I don't really think about how old I am when I'm commentating because at the end of the day, I decided to jump into a field where my co-workers are all in their mid 20s and even in their 30s and some getting close to their 40s. And it's not like, 'Wow, I'm so young. I deserve all of this stuff.' It's more that I'm in the same rat race as everyone else and I've got to do the same work as everyone else. I don't think I've surprised myself.

    I think I've gotten to the point where a lot of commentators get when they're three years in, but it also like 'where am I going to go after this' in the rat race, I would say. I don't want to call it the rat race. It's not that fun but you have to work up the ladder at some rate. I decided to work in the same industry as all of these people who are older than me so I can't just run around and say, 'I'm 19. I deserve something different.' I do not think of my age when I work.

    BLIX: You mentioned the similarities between yourself and Cole and Scrawny and launders but I'm curious on who do you view as your main inspiration. When it came to trying to get used to learning the ins and outs of being a caster, who would you view as your role models?

    Phy: I've never even talked to him before because I just haven't had the chance to meet him but JustHarry [Harry Russell]. His looser style of commentary made for more entertaining games and his play-by-play emotion and energy was really just encapsulating. When I first listened to this, I was like CS needs more of this raw emotion and energy and excitement. This guy's play-by-play reactions makes it seem like he's a guy in the crowd almost reacting to these plays and it just feels like CS needs more of that. I'd actually say Harry and Hugo [Hugo Byron] are, to this day, my favorite commentator duo currently running.

    There are some other legendary duos out there but it's more of a modern inspiration compared to 'oh my gosh, I gotta be Anders [Anders Blume], Semmler [Auguste Massonnat], Machine [Alex Richardson] or something like that.' I definitely would say, with the way I think about play-by-play commentary, I want to be like Harry. I want to be emotive and be a part of the crowd.

    "[JustHarry’s] looser style of commentary made for more entertaining games and his play-by-play emotion and energy was really just encapsulating. When I first listened to this, I was like CS needs more of this raw emotion and energy and excitement.?

    BLIX: It's interesting to see that we've been able to look at the development of talent from North America in CS. What was it like to try to develop as a bonafide talent from North America as opposed to other regions in the world for CS?

    Phy: With developing out of North America, you're already at a disadvantage. I joke to Cole by saying why did we choose this game to cast sometimes. Don't get me wrong, we love CS but doing this from North America is very difficult. Every year, myself and others hope that ESL comes back around for a North American event so we can get another shot. That's because not every EU tournament wants to hire North American broadcast talent.

    I would say the next step for us here as commentators, I think, is the point where a lot of commentators say this isn't the game they're going to do and then they dip out so, for us, developing in North America is very difficult to break out. Looking at DarfMike [Mike Winnick] specifically, he worked tirelessly to get out of North America and get to the spot that he's in. I think myself and Cole need to be putting in good work obviously, but I would say getting out of NA is just as difficult for a local and regional team as it is for talent.

    BLIX: When it comes to reviewing your 2023 and all the events that you did, what do you feel was the single biggest thing that worked well for you? Also, what's the single biggest thing that you feel you need to work on for 2024 and beyond?

    Phy: Honestly, believe it or not, I wouldn't say 2023 was an improvement on 2022. Again, it really helped out by getting the ESL email for Atlanta, but for me, what was the biggest deal? I think it's planning, seeing things in advance and putting out what you need to do. As a freelancer, you don't have necessarily work given to you. You have to make your own work happen. It's more in the later end of 2023 where we got around to truly planning out what we need to do as a duo to be successful whether it be practicing, watching back broadcasts or taking in new ideas as well, but I think the biggest thing is planning out your future and giving yourself the tasks you need to do to succeed.

    BLIX: If now is the appropriate time for me to ask, what do you view as your best casting showing this year so far?

    Phy: Personally, I loved doing the ESEA Cash Cup circuit. That was great. But do I have a specific moment or a great moment? You know, Pedro, the year isn't over yet. Maybe it'll happen today. I can say one from last year. One of my happiest moments was when me and Cole did the IEM Rio Major Americas RMR. Every time when we talk on a broadcast, I don't want to think of it in that way where we have to try and replicate that, but that was a really defining moment for myself and Cole as a commentator duo and now we hope to do the same thing back here in Atlanta.

    BLIX: With that said, what do you view as your ultimate goal in broadcasting CS?

    Phy: A couple months back, the goal was just to say, 'I gotta be the best' but how is the real question. Then I sat down with myself to figure out what are some new goals. Right now, I'd say it is to hopefully be broadcasting other RMRs and more of these types of events. We're going to be consistently going international. Of course, that's the goal by the end of the year. I wouldn't say there's an overall goal in CS. I don't think there ever really has been like I said earlier, but we take it goal by goal instead of looking at the huge big strategy. It's event by event for us. Of course, we want to be at the top of the CS game but you have to look at it on a smaller scale as well.

    CS Virtual Trade Ltd, reg. no. HE 389299 Registered address and the principal place of business: 705, Spyrou Araouzou & Koumantarias, Fayza House, 3036, Limassol, Cyprus
    Copyright © 2024 BLIX.GG. All rights reserved.
    CS Virtual Trade Ltd, reg. no. HE 389299 Registered address and the principal place of business: 705, Spyrou Araouzou & Koumantarias, Fayza House, 3036, Limassol, Cyprus
    Copyright © 2024 BLIX.GG. All rights reserved.