In the realm of Dota 2 content creation, no name generates greater attention than Jake "SirActionSlacks" Kanner. Since starting as an obscure interviewer and video producer, Slacks managed to garner the appeal and credibility of fans, players, and talent alike to become a full-fledged member of talent.
Furthermore, it is through his endless contribution towards the growth and popularity of the game that Slacks is seen as an invaluable part of the community. That, in turn, has allowed him to work and continue to produce the thing he knows best: content.
Similar to the game itself, content creation has seen its fair share of adjustments. Many people have come and gone, the subject matter differs in each piece of material, and the kind of people receiving it morphs from time to time. As someone who has devoted countless time towards Dota, Slacks has practically seen it all.
Amidst a busy final day of the Major, SirActionSlacks spoke to BLIX.GG for an interview on the current state of content creation in Dota, how it moved past the COVID-19 pandemic, his thoughts on the current crop of talent emerging in the scene, and much more.
Working the Arlington Major
Pedro Romero, BLIX.GG: To start things off, how has it been traveling to Texas and working the Arlington Major?
Jake "SirActionSlacks" Kanner: It's great to be in America again. I think the last actual big-stakes Valve event was in 2017. There's been some Captain's Draft and Midas Mode along the way, but there was nothing quite like this so I'm going all in. It's very fun. I go to a lot of different cultures around the world and I'm very respectful and I don't want to poke fun at them or do any gimmicks, but here in America, nobody can be mad at me if I make fun of my own people. I've had a blast and it's been very very fun, disgusting sideburns and all. I love it. I really do.
BLIX: Honestly, the sideburns look fine to me. To return to NA after quite a long time, not to mention doing so in front of a crowd, was there a difference in preparation when it comes to creating content between pre and post COVID?
Slacks: It's a lot easier, I'll say that. Not a lot of research is needed. I know what a stockyard is. It's actually fun to tell our tournament organizers about some local content to do in Texas. We should go to the rodeo! We should go ride a mechanical bull! We can have a shootout! It's fun to be able to share local NA stuff on the world stage again with PGL. They were down for any idea so it was really fun to do. Usually, a lot of it is me researching other people's cultures, so it's been a blast.
BLIX: And I guess it wasn't as difficult compared to whenever you're preparing for Stockholm.
Slacks: Especially Stockholm. Gosh, what culture does Sweden have? None. There was an ice hotel and that was about it. Just a cultureless people who just sit in their rooms, it's nighttime for 18 hours, they just play video games. They're my kind of people, don't get me wrong, but when it comes to exploratory segments, it's just the worst. Sorry Swedes, but you know it's true though.
Defining the current era of Dota content creation
BLIX: As someone who has been working within the Dota content scene for quite a long time, you've seen many things, you've done many things and you've seen other people do other things. This constant stream of changes goes in line with the game's own general trajectory. Likewise, it has seen various adaptations in its existence. Taking a look at the content side of the game, how would you define this current era?
Slacks: That's interesting. We're still recovering from COVID is how I kind of think about it. Content was really popping off prior to COVID and then we had to transition into an online-only thing. No offense to any tournament organizer but they just had to survive.
There was no way to do really good remote-only content. I think that other esports have kind of gotten into it a bit faster with them being like 'Yes, we're at LANs again. Yes, we can do fun things again. We can involve teams,' but I don't know. The world stage is still pretty hesitant, especially in Dota with the prestige that we put on our players. It's hard to risk them getting sick or something at the event especially with things like TI looming over.
This event, for example, if any player gets sick with COVID and it impacts their TI stuff, then I mean oh my God, what a horrible thing to do. We're slowly getting back into it. I tell you it's like a recovery period for content but I don't know. Dota is in a weird place right now. A lot of other content creators around Dota are starting to fizzle out, but we have a lot of new great guys coming in.
There's some guy with Mr. Chickens or something that posts on Reddit. Small-time content creators are starting to come back, which is super exciting. Unfortunately, we've lost a lot of our long term guys, but yeah, it's just interesting. It's kind of like a renewal period and I just hope that renewal continues and it doesn't fizzle out. It's kind of like a Wild West. I hope to see a lot of people coming up with new innovative ideas for things to do at tournaments again since we've had a two-year break.
BLIX: Taking the direction back towards the Major, in consideration of the initial struggles of returning to work in-person events, do you feel like you're doing the content nowadays in a reserved manner so that you wouldn't do too much at a time and you can phase your way back into the normal swing of things?
Slacks: Me? Oh my God no. I'm typically not reserved in any way. We kind of got done with what we got done. Obviously, players are trying to readjust to having to do this again. It took a long time. Back when I started at around 2016, players legitimately did f*****g nothing in TI5 and before. There were hardly any interviews and hardly anything. It was like pulling teeth. Then they started to realize content is good for their careers. They realized that it makes people like them, watch their streams, and watch alternate stuff which, in the end, makes them more money.
But then, with that COVID thing, they're a little reserved but I think they get it. Players that are smart and understand having fans and letting them enjoy moments with you which builds your personality, character, and likeability. Some players are definitely coming back to jump on panels and be on camera. SabeRLight-, what an absolute god. He gets it. He understands that being a likable, cool, nice guy will, in the end, give you a lot more opportunities than being some grumpy 'Oh no, nothing for me' kind of guy who scuttles back to their hotel room and loses.
Building personal brands, similarities with other talent
BLIX: It's funny you mentioned SabeRLight- because he's been one of the only people within this scene that has actually been doing trash talk, or the sort of trash talk that is prevalent in other games.
Slacks: Yes, he has a personality. It's something that explains why he has fans from across the world. Dota attracts a certain person, because you have to sink 100,000 hours into it to be good, you know? You need 30k hours to be a pro player and it's just not the same in any other esports. Of course, we're not going to attract the most outgoing, energetic, media friendly peeps, and that is part of the game.
That's why we love them too. I mean, I'm not s*** talking to anybody. They're here to play, but to be able to go the extra mile and be likable and good, that is a real diamond in the rough. You got SabeRLight-, N0tail and that's about it. *laughs* I'm just kidding. But no, to me it's reaching some kind of nirvana in Dota where you can be good and still be a human. It's tough. It's like being good and not toxic.
There's like two people that are good and not toxic: GH and s4. That's because there's just something about the game where you have to fully invest yourself and to be able to be in such a position where you can care about winning every single game and also not be an a*****e. It's super hard.
BLIX: Going in line with more players and talent creating a personal brand, do you feel that aspect has been gaining prominence within the scene?
Slacks: It's also tough in Dota because of the way that we're set up. TI means everything, so nothing else really matters if you can make it to TI. If you get an offer that's like ‘A bunch of people will like you as a person OR you can place fourth in TI,’ there's not a single player that's going to be like 'I want to help the community.' That's just not what they give a s**t about. I don't know, but at the same time, it helps in other ways. The recent ESL thing where everyone was complaining like 'Oh my god, Alliance got invited. Why am I not invited?' Well, maybe you're an a*****e. Maybe you never go to media days and stuff like that.
Skill is not everything, especially in the land of third-party tournaments. It's about who actually has fans that are going to watch and support and make the experience positive. It's weird in that stance. I'm not calling anybody out, by the way. I hope you get the journalist headline here but no, I'm just kidding. I think there's importance but Dota is weird. It's the only sport in the world where nothing really matters except going to TI. They have to make their calls.
BLIX: Diving more into that field, there have been former pros who are not as well known as the major players in this game that have built up a decent following regardless. What do you make of this current generation of content creators?
Slacks: I think it's pretty natural. As players begin to be unable to compete at the level they want to compete, they still want to be able to ride that wave of at least being good at Dota and providing something. It's something that not a lot of people can do. A lot of players, when they retire, they're just going to be retired. They don't really have the personality for it and the likability, but other people know how to intelligently shift. We're seeing it more and more and I think Fear is probably the next biggest panelist/content creator out there that is no longer a player.
That's because, quite honestly, you’ve got to know when it's time. You can keep trying and vying to compete or you can enrich the game and the community that's given so much in a new and interesting way. Nevertheless, it's not for everybody. Some people would say, 'I got the bag, I got my money. Thank you, Dota. I'm gonna leave now.' Other people are pretty grateful for what they've been given and are still interested in that life. Respect to those guys, I think, but that's just me. I think we're gonna see more pro players that have any sort of interpersonal abilities start to go to that.
BLIX: Which person would you say best resembles your mode of work?
Slacks: Definitely Tsunami. He's rising up and is killing it. He has been a great host for the DPC. He's creative. I've always said before he became a talent that he was the funniest guy in Dota.
He's great. The s*** he comes up with is amazing. That's an easy question there and I hope he continues to rise. He's on a great trajectory. I hope he continues.
BLIX: What about former players that have since become content creators?
Well, Jenkins is insane so I don't know if I would compare myself to him. He's more of a "burn it down" kind of guy. BSJ is a psychopath so I don't know if I can compare myself to him. I have emotions and the ability to love. I don't know about that one, friend.
It's hard to have a personality like mine and be successful and have a high ranking in Dota because it takes intelligence, repetition, and practice. I guess SabeRLight- would be the closest. When he decides to be on a panel, he's a showman. He gets it. He's fun. I respect him the most out of any Dota player right now. I honestly do.
BLIX: In spending a long time producing content, do you see yourself as one of the pioneers of this part of the community?
Slacks: No, there's no pioneers in Dota. This game is 15 years old. Whenever you think you're the oldest dude in DotA, you can think of five other people that are older than you in the game. I think Dota goes in stages, of course. There was Bruno and James in the GD Studio, you know? They were the top dogs and they were what Dota was before transitioning to other stuff. I think I probably had my time where I was the front face of Dota. It's not really something you think about.
Everyone has something that they add to the scene to make it the incredible thing that it is today. Without all these influences from 15 years of different people coming in and putting in a piece, it wouldn't be what it is. I wouldn't ever consider myself a pioneer. I'd say that I did put impact in it, but I think we all do. From the people that are on camera, to the Redditors complaining, to the people playing the games, it's a beautiful product because we all shape it in a way and I think that's what makes it so special. It's not forced down our throats. It's not like the Overwatch League where they're just like 'YOU WILL LIKE THIS!' We built it organically and that's why it's the best game ever made.
BLIX: You've taken a bit of a perspective behind your career to this point. You posted a Tweet during the Major of two photos that featured yourself in TI7 and yourself in the present day to provide a sense of perspective as to how long your career has been. What do you feel has been the biggest difference between you back then and you right now?
Slacks: Ah, hair? Weight? I don't know. I guess I took more risks back then, which was a lot more cringe, but also more fun for me. Over time, I learned that my brand of humor is not what most people consider funny, so I've had to dial it back a lot based on community feedback, which I am very thankful for. It sounds like a negative thing, but I'm not. I'm just a f*****g weirdo. I think that really weird off-brand stuff is hilarious. That's always what I wanted to do.
I have played it a little bit safe now. I play it a little bit more enjoyable because now I'm less interested in what I enjoy and I'm more interested in making good products that people enjoy for the good of the game, you know? I want non-Dota people to watch Dota content and be like, 'Wow, this is cool.' because I'm thankful for what I've gotten. I want to continue Dota to keep growing and being better and better. It's less of me being able to laugh alone in my room watching me just embarrass someone, and now it's more about making stuff that makes the game look good. I guess that'd be the biggest difference.
BLIX: By not pushing the limits or playing with the risks of your job nowadays compared to before, do you feel you've gotten complacent in that you don't have to do too much nowadays?
Slacks: I don't think complacent is the right word. I think that it's more something like--God, it's disgusting to say this but pseudo-mainstream is the way to do it. I think Dota has become such a big thing that, although it is organically grown and it's all about its community, we don't have to be so secular anymore. You don't have to s*** on League every single time you're on camera because it's funny even though I still really want to, which is just not the right thing to do.
Arcane was better than Dragon's Blood. They won. We need to just give up and accept where we're at. The future of Dota is being more inclusive and getting people to try the game and not have to be like 'We're the best in the world. F*** every game and f*** everybody.' The content has kind of gone there, where it's less of us doing inner memes and only talking about stuff we all know because no one else is allowed to know these jokes and more inclusive stuff because that's how the game survives at this point.
BLIX: What is one piece of past Dota content that you feel could be done more nowadays?
Slacks: I liked those player pieces back in the day. I know they were kind of lame but the ones that Valve would spend a lot of money and time on to investigate a player's story. I think they stopped doing those because they were all the same. It's like, 'Oh, My PaReNts saID I ShoULdN't PlaY ViDeO GaMeS But LoOk At mE nOw!' and then the parents come on and are like, 'We LiKe tHaT He DoEs ThiS. THis iS GrEaT.'
However, sometimes there's unique stories in there that I think are still worth showing. I love professionally put together pieces because it's what I don't do well. I do on-the-fly, off-the-cuff crazy, funny s*** but I have a lot of respect for people that can make something that looks professional and well put together and we haven't seen a lot of those lately. I'd love to see a lot of that stuff come back.
BLIX: What do you think of the current crop of small-time content creators? After all, they've been helping you produce content for this particular event. For example, that GeoGuesser segment. What do you think of talent using content created by the public for their own use?
Slacks: Oh, I love stealing it from the little guy for my own personal gain. I really love this. *laughs* I mean, this entire thing is about the community. It's about all of us coming together to make cool shit. I think that's great. I'd love to see new people find their niche and grow in the scene and get to these events and become big. I think having new people making new stuff is the lifeblood of any game.
Look at Sheepsticked and NatTea killing it in their first time working in front of a crowd. It brings a smile to my face. I love all of my fellow talent. I love the DPC and all that stuff, but nobody can watch the same group of people doing the same thing over and over again and have it be a product that's interesting. I follow every single new Dota 2 YouTuber I see making funny videos because that's our future and I hope it continues. Otherwise, the game is dead.
BLIX: As someone who has worked within this scene, I can only assume that you, like the rest of the people, have thought about the future and what you're looking forward to doing later down the line. Have you thought about how much longer you have left in continuing to make Dota content?
Slacks: I'll probably stop tomorrow, I think. What kind of interview is this--when should I quit!? Is that what you're trying to ask? You're a real f****** bastard. I gotta admit this is the most aggressive interview I've ever been in. When should I quit? I don't know. *laughs* Who knows? Who knows when it will end, bro? You got to ride the train until I say something super stupid and then my career's over.
That's pretty much it. Planning for the future? That's for smart people to do. We're riding on the seats, bro. That's Dota. I haven't really put a lot of thought into that one, I'm afraid...but I will now. Thank you for the question.