Cap: "You don't get paid any extra money for doing Grand Finals. It's mostly a status symbol"

    Reading time  ~21  mins

    The International 12 marked a significant moment in a lot of ways for people, but few, if any, could be matched in magnitude as it did for commentator Austin "Cap" Walsh. Up until this point in his career, which spanned more than a decade covering Dota 2 and Heroes of Newerth and saw him appear in numerous TI’s, Majors and other third-party events, Cap had not cast a TI Grand Finals. To many in the Dota talent spectrum, covering the TI Grand Finals is the peak of their careers.

    Given the prestige and history that had been built surrounding that phase in the event, only a select group of people have had the opportunity to cast that series in itself. Such names include ODPixel, TobiWan and other notable casters within the field. However, Cap had yet to ascend to that stage in his own right.

    Despite that fact, however, he had no qualms over not casting the Grand Finals. Having cast a score of memorable series at TI, Cap felt satisfied with the work he’d already undertaken since it allowed him to elevate these series to the level of a Grand Finals and be revered in the same breath as that. Eventually, though, after a long time of hard work and diligence, Cap, alongside his casting partner Avery “SVG” Silverman, finally received his chance to step onto the biggest stage Dota had to offer as he cast the TI 12 finals between Team Spirit and Gaimin Gladiators.

    During the final weekend of TI 12, BLIX caught up with Cap for an interview on his experience covering the event, returning to Seattle, how he viewed his prospects of covering the TI 12 Grand Finals before actually doing it, his past and current co-casters, comparing the talent from the early years of Dota and the present and much more.

    A Seattle homecoming at TI 12

    Pedro Romero, BLIX: Thank you so much for this interview, Cap. We're gonna start off with the generic question about you being back in TI in Seattle. How are you feeling being here after six years?

    Austin "Cap" Walsh: Oh, it's great. I love Seattle. I grew up around here for the first 12 to 13 years of my life, around half an hour away from Seattle so it is my kind of home. Personally, I think it's the home of The International, and for me, there's no better arena to be able to have it in. Maybe it's not quite as good when it's in the fall, and it's October in Washington. It gets really rainy and really cold, but for me, the best part of TI was the fact that we all get together in the stadium and watch the games, but you could also go outside and be on the grass and watch it on the big TV. That, for me, was a very unique experience that made the venue in TI so much better than almost any other esports event I've ever been to. There is viewer fatigue when you're really a diehard fan, but even spending 12 to 14 hours of Dota sitting at a stadium can get to you, so being able to go outside and watch Dota outside was always super great.

    BLIX: How much has changed within the arena for you in coming back here and working the event compared to how it was back then?

    Cap: A fair amount has changed. I've gone through some co-casters along the way. I think the last time I cast with Blitz was TI 9. And, yeah, a lot has changed for me. I'm definitely a better commentator than I was back then—I would hope so, anyway. I try and work on it every single year and try and get better year after year. I think that I've gotten a lot more experience, but I'm also probably a lot more mature, especially when it comes to general life stuff. Simultaneously, I love this event, and it means so much to me, but I would say that it doesn't take up my life quite as much as it used to. I think I'm a more well-rounded human being.

    BLIX: I want to dive into the life aspect. What kind of aspects have changed within that front for you and not just within your Dota casting, but outside of it?

    Cap: At TI 7, I didn't work the main event. In 2016 and 2017, I remember I quit joinDOTA and I moved back to the US with my mom, and my girlfriend moved with me at the time, so that was where I was back then. Financially, I wasn't really in a great spot. Since then, I've moved to Los Angeles, my girlfriend and I have gotten married, and I feel a lot more secure career-wise. That, for me, was always something that caused a lot of issues.

    I was always thinking how long can I do this as a job because I love it as a job, right? But there is no job security at any point in time. People could just stop hiring you, or Dota could die, and I don't really have much of a skill set to fall back on after that. I never went to college—well, I did go to college, but I dropped out to join the military—and then I did four or five years in the military and then I went from that to becoming a caster. I don't necessarily have the best skill set to move on to a different job, so that caused me a lot of anxiety at the time, but now I'm a much more well-rounded person, and I worry a lot less about that. I feel a lot more secure, so that helps quite a bit.

    As for other life stuff, I got diagnosed with liver disease in probably 2016 or 2017. Since then, things have changed. I've now been diagnosed with ulcerative colitis as well, which I talked about in a blog, and those autoimmune diseases have begun to affect my life in some way. But I'm mentally in a much better space when it comes to those topics in my life as well, so all in all, I think my life has improved pretty dramatically since then.

    Taking a look at Cap’s success

    BLIX: Was there a point in time when you weren't as certain as to the success that you would eventually be able to garner?

    Cap: I don't think I actually ever really doubted myself. I'm a pretty self-aware and self-confident person. I think I understand my strengths and weaknesses, and I believe in myself. Even when I started casting, and everybody hated me, I never really thought to myself that I couldn't be a good commentator. I knew that I was a good commentator. Even if people didn't see it back, I knew that I could be a good commentator. Solo-casting isn't really my gem, so I was doing a lot of solo-casting at the time, and that was problematic.

    I knew I needed a good partner to be able to work with. Having a partnership in a casting duo is super important, so I've had some great partners throughout my career. So yeah, I never really doubted myself in that regard. Maybe I doubted how successful I would be, but from my own perspective, I always knew that I could be great at it if I just kept working on it.

    BLIX: Right when we finally met up for the conversation, you mentioned how it doesn't really matter to you if you end up casting the TI Grand Finals. Why is that?

    Cap: I think that TI Grand Finals is something that Valve decides with the community in mind, and I think that ODPixel is an amazing commentator, and he deserves to cast TI finals till the end of time. I think he's amazing. If Valve ever thinks that I'm good enough or better than ODP for that job they helped me elevate me to that. that's great. But that's their opinion, and I have my own opinion of my strengths and weaknesses.

    I think I absolutely can cast the TI Grand Finals, and as long as I think I'm good enough to do it, that's good enough for me. As long as the community appreciates what I do and loves what I do, and as long as I keep on improving, it doesn't matter what the results are so much. You don't get paid any extra money for doing Grand Finals. It's mostly a status symbol. I've never even worked the final day as a caster for TI and that's fine with me. One thing is, with the Grand Finals, they're supposed to be the best games, and ultimately, that's what casters want to do, which is they want to cast the best games.

    I've cast every single Mega Creep comeback in playoffs in TI history. I've cast all three of them, none of which were Grand Finals. None of those were on the final day of TI, and they were amazing games. I think that's part of my philosophy with Dota, which is that every single game has the potential for greatness. Every single game can be amazing. You just work with whatever you get and make the most of it and I think that's the entire job of a commentator. You do not make a game great. A game is great by itself. You elevate it by 10-15%, and I think that's always important to keep in mind.

    BLIX: It's interesting to listen to your philosophy and how you go about your casting in Dota? Does it differ from person to person, or is it the same all around?

    Cap: I think so. I know Lyrical and I have talked about this subject, He definitely views it in a similar light. Actually, all the casters that we have are all—I'm not even gonna stay humble—more self-aware enough to know that casters aren't the most important thing in the game, right? We all understand that we are a narrator of a story. That's all we're really doing. We're narrating, providing some entertainment and providing some analysis or whatever, but ultimately, the main characters are out there on the stage. So yeah, I think that philosophy would probably stretch to the other casters for sure.

    BLIX: By that logic, what's the best story that you've ever told?

    Cap: I think the best story I've ever told, and I think it was probably one of the best casts I've ever done, was Liquid versus Thunder Awaken in TI 11. South America having their time to shine and pushing one of the best teams in that tournament to a Game 3 and having it come down to where either team could have won almost all three of those games, I think that was an amazing story. Liquid's perseverance going through the lower bracket. I mean, they started off going through the LCQ and then they had a rough group stage and then they went through the lower bracket. I think that level of perseverance was an amazing story and it got a pretty satisfying finish too.

    Cap + SVG (and other past partners)

    BLIX: It's interesting that you brought up that series because SVG said the same thing when I did my interview with him some time ago. That said, your partnership with SG is a topic that has been talked about many times in recent times but how has it been working with SVG? Additionally, what has been the biggest thing that you had to adjust in working with him from 2021 to now?

    Cap: Avery has been a great partner to work with. That was one of the things that really appealed to me. We talked about casting together and I immediately had a really good feeling about Avery because he said that he was going to apply the same mindset and hard work that he had for playing Dota as he would in casting Dota. I think for a lot of former of ex-pro players, playing is their dream and when they can't do that, talent is the natural next step. And some of those guys are super charismatic.

    Those guys who have achieved a lot and are charismatic are great to have on talent, but personally, with the philosophy I've talked about, I always work best with people who I think work hard. With Avery, he's definitely not the person who's the most natural talent, but I think he worked hard at it and he's gotten really good at it and we've done some really good work together as a result of both of us putting in the time and effort to make each other better.

    Cap + SVG: one of the many dynamic duos in Dota casting (Credit: Valve)

    BLIX: In your opinion, when it comes to defining success, what percentage of it is made from hard work and what percentage of it is made from talent?

    Cap: There are three different factors mostly for casting. This is always my philosophy when it comes to succeeding in commentary. I think you needed hard work, luck and talent. You needed some of all three of those and as competition goes up, you need more and more. I always said that if you work hard enough or you're talented enough--or if you're lucky enough; a lot of the early talent got in early and they just became names through that--you could succeed at one point in time. Nowadays, I think you need all three of those.

    As far as hard work versus talent, there's that saying of something like "talent will only carry you so far as the work you put into it" and I think the opposite is also true. Hard work can only take you so far if you don't have some innate talent for it, but I think hard work can definitely take you farther than talent would. That's my gut read for like 99% of people. One thing is that you got to work smart in some ways. A lot of people think they put in effort, in the casting example, of just casting game after game after game but working hard, for me, is a lot more about I cast a game but then I go back through and I listen back to that game.

    I think replay review is super important for casters and for players and you want to put in the effort in the correct way. And I think that's usually the biggest problem with people who think that they work really hard, and maybe they are working really hard, but they're putting it in the wrong direction. They're not doing it in a way that actually benefits them. So I think hard work will outshine talent most of the time and fortunately, with almost all the people I work with, I think they're all good workers to varying degrees and I respect all my colleagues for that fact.

    BLIX: Is SVG the best co-caster the best you ever had?

    Cap: I will never say that either SVG or Blitz [William Lee] is the best co-caster I have. I also casted with Kyle [Kyle Freedman] and I've also casted with some other people over the years. They all have their strengths and weaknesses. Blitz's was the fact that he did not enjoy the talent aspect and his job being dependent on the community. Now he's a coach and his job is dependent on the analysis he brings in the drafting that he does and what his team believes in him and that's much more objective than being subjected to the whims of a community.

    It's hard to be able to control that and I think that's frustrating when some people just don't like you. There are people in the world who will always not like you and I think that is the frustrating part of talent work. No matter how pure your motives are for doing something and no matter how hard you try to do something successfully, there are gonna be some people who hate you just to hate you and that's just a fact of life you just have to work with and I think that's something that Blitz didn't like. But he was crazy charismatic. Blitz is still one of the most charismatic people I've ever met and I love him like a brother and he was great to cast with him but I'm happy he's moved on to coaching. I think he's in a better space and he would agree with that so I always want what's best with him. If that means I don't get to work with him every day, then that's okay. I only want the best for him.

    Avery is by far the hardest working talent I've ever worked with. I trust him implicitly 100% when it comes to the effort he puts in to the work that we do. I always feel like I have to do more because I know he's doing everything that he can to be good. That helps drive me to be better and I think that's great and I love hanging out with Avery. He's a super funny guy and I love his dry sense of humor. So yeah, they're both great guys to cast with.

    Kyle is a close friend of mine. Unfortunately, our partnership, I feel like, didn't work out. Despite our friendship, our casting partnership didn't work as well and I almost feel like part of that was just that we almost feel like we were too good of friends and we didn't grow a friendship like me and Blitz or Avery did as in working together becoming friends over time. And maybe it just needed more time or something but Kyle has moved on and he's doing very well and I'm happy for him too. I think those are all the main guys that I've casted with and I'll never say one was better than the other. All have their different strengths and weaknesses and I think I'm malleable enough to work with a lot of different people.

    Who can ever forget the Cap + Blitz duo? (Credit: Monster Energy)

    Looking at the new and old breed of Dota talent

    BLIX: In watching TI and seeing the progression of the Dota scene, we've seen more new talent grace the scene and make a name for themselves. Of those new people, which one has stood out to you the most as a veteran of the scene?

    Cap: We've always been missing endemic hosts to Dota and NatTea [Natalie Mahoney] and Snare [Sean Rihlamvu] have both done an amazing job stepping into those roles. Valve reached out to other games to get hosts for a reason, right? From their perspective, I think we just didn't have enough great hosts and for this year they brought only Dota hosts and that says something. It's a vote of confidence in those people. I think Sheepsticked [Alexandra Roberts] is one of the best analysts to come up in the last year or two.

    My favorite thing about working with Sheep is she's so good natured and is super fun to work with. Also, it's her birthday coming up so happy birthday to her. She has great energy when it comes to the greenroom. I've always said that a large part about doing a show together, especially those shows that are week long, back-to-back-to-back days, is making sure that everybody's vibes are good and she does that amazingly whilst also doing a great job on desk. So on camera and off camera, she's an amazing talent and we're lucky to have her.

    BLIX: I'm curious about how you view the green room aspect of working with other talent. What are the advantages and disadvantages from working with the group of people that you worked with in the early years of the Dota scene and nowadays? How do you see that difference?

    Cap: So there was one thing about working events back in the day. When you got hired for an event, it was pretty rare because events were relatively rare back then and you had to do a lot more work. One thing I always say is that back in the day, the bus would arrive in the morning and we would all get on the bus and we would all go to the venue and then the day would end and we would all go back together. So there was never any sort of griping about who went to work more or work less because, ultimately, if you were working every single series, it also meant the day went by a lot faster.

    Whereas for the guys who were stuck there at the venue who only worked one or two series, it's like they didn't do as much work but they were also still there. So that aspect, I think, is very different to now where, I mean, yesterday I worked less than an hour in total with that nouns series because it was two 25-minutes stomps and then I was done for the day, right? Meanwhile, you have the hosts who are working twoo series and some of the analysts are working two series and you've got Tsunami and Slacks who have to work all day and those guys have to put in a lot more effort than I do when it comes to casting.

    And the talent role has just changed in that regard. You used to have to be a lot more versatile and you'd have to fill the gaps and just do whatever. Either be a play-by-play caster or be on the desk, you know? Fortunately, almost every single person that I've worked with in Dota has been good people and I love working with them. There's some exceptions out there but I think, for the most part, Dota talent are not necessarily people who want to be talent and want to be in front of the camera and have a bunch of egos and stuff like that. Some of us are just introverts and all of us just love Dota, right? It's a pretty good group of people. We work really well together.

    On and off camera, we work together to establish rates and we want to push everybody up. I think that's just the nature of our talent group which is that we have tried to raise and bring each other up and we want the best for our colleagues. That part, I think, is really nice. So I think the green room vibes haven't really changed too much. I would say it's just scheduling. It's just a natural element of the entire production becoming more sophisticated, right? It just means that tournament organizers have the money to have play-by-play casters only work one series which is something that you never used to do back in the day.

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    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.