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Blitz Spotlight with MonteCristo: on his “caster crucifixion,” how League casters have grown, and what he admires about Riot

By Mark Register
Jul 11, 2017

Q: You're called The Jesus Christ of League casters, allowing your League career crucifixion for their salary increase. Would you allow your crucifixion again if it meant making life better for the next generation of esports casters?

Well, I mean, my name Monte Cristo - means Christ mountain in Italian, obviously based off of the Dumas novel and this tiny island, which is still called Monte Cristo, in the Mediterranean. I would not say that. I think that's overblown from the fans. I think that the Riot casters did a lot of their own internal negotiations during that process and they fought for it themselves, and I don't want it to seem like I just... you know, blew up publicly and then Riot changed things, and that I was the only one doing anything, because I know that they they went through a lot of garbage as well. And they can't talk about it, unfortunately, because of their positions as salaried employees with the company, which I still think is fundamentally wrong for casters to be in that particular position. For example, that's not something that I wanted from Blizzard, was a salary. I wanted to maintain my own entertainment freelance contract so that I had a level of distance from them, because I think it's important to be able to speak frankly about certain topics. And obviously, regardless, with NDAs and other considerations, you may not always be able to speak frankly, but at least you are more aligned with the majority of your colleagues, which in this case, whether it's Call of Duty, CSGO, Dota, Halo, or Overwatch. Because they don't have salaried people for Overwatch or Hearthstone, Starcraft, Heroes of the Storm or really anything like that... we're all freelancers.

And I think that, as a caster, it's much better for you to align yourself with the majority of the market rather than the interests of the company. Because when a company has a monopoly over a game and you are living inside the Riot bubble, it doesn't really help you understand how things are operating with your colleagues. And I see it more as all of us casters against the companies, rather than me being a Blizzard freelancer or them being Riot employees and thinking about it as Riot versus Blizzard. It's all of us versus Riot and Blizzard. And not to say that I have an antagonistic relationship with Blizzard, because I don't at all. It's been wonderful working with them. Way better. Just so much better than Riot - just unbelievable. So I want that relationship to continue, and they are treating me very fairly. I have no complaints.

But I think, in that particular instance, there was something that was very wrong going on with the casters at Riot. They were severely underpaid compared to the rest of the market. And that has changed. They definitely now seem to be meeting or very close, at the very least, to the industry standard, which is nice. And they have relaxed some of those restrictions on their casters but it was to a certain degree sort of an industry-wide effort. It wasn't just me. It was a lot of other people; a lot of other casters talking to them, as well having conversations over a period of months or years that sort of ended up gaining the necessary momentum to actually do something. I do think--and I have said this before--that the Riot casters were too slow, and I think that one of their biggest problems is that they don't seem to be able to make decisions as a unit, which is very strange to me because, for example, in Korea, even though we had casters across three companies, whether you're working for SPOTV, AfreecaTV, or OGN, we were all working across many different games so we're talking about basically all the English casters in Korea. We would periodically have meetings and discuss rates, treatment, and everything to try and help each other out. And we tried to align ourselves as a unit, even though obviously there were some differences depending on the game or the developer or the company we were working for. But just so we had an idea and we could agree on certain things and how we were going to work with the Korean companies, so we presented sort of a unified front across everything. And I cannot for the life of me figure out why it is so difficult for the Riot casters to accomplish this feat. Because you need that alignment, and the lack of that alignment, I think, held them back in terms of finances and ability to promote their brand enormously over the years. And I'm happy to see that breaking down now.

Now, as to your question "would I do that for future casters"... it entirely depends on the circumstances. So at the time that I released those videos about the casters and their poor situation at Riot, I was in contract negotiations with Blizzard and I was already pretty done with League. I didn't want to deal with it anymore. I was sick of Riot trying to undercut me and fucking with me and my team and everything like that. So I was pretty much done. And even though I was afraid that releasing a lot of these topics could be detrimental to my contract with Blizzard, fortunately Blizzard took an approach which was "hey, maybe if we don't treat him badly then he won't do this." And I was like, "good idea, guys." Wow, weird. Weird how treating people nicely makes it so they don't blow up and air all of your garbage. And I like said I didn't want to do that but... I tried for years through back channels to get a fair wage through Riot, and they were resistant. So there was tons of internal negotiation. It's just that with Riot, when you deal with them... unfortunately, oftentimes the nuclear option is the only option, because they are very unwilling to listen or be partners. And I'm hoping that the franchising arrangement they released looks good. They seem to be more willing to work with partners and, like I said, they did renegotiate with their casters due to their own casters doing a good job of negotiating with them and coming armed with more research about casters in other scenes. And that worked out successfully, which I'm very happy for my friends and colleagues who work at Riot. I'm hoping that this means that I won't have to do this for a future generation of castors. And I hope in talking to a lot of casters--because I probably talked to more casters than anybody else--I keep pretty active contacts across amateur, professional, different games everything like that, so I tend to have a pretty good idea of what is going on and what rates are and what common industry practices are. I would hope that I could affect these things before it came to the point where it went to shit again and everything had to explode in order for it to change.

For the most part now, I think with Riot catching up with everybody else, thankfully, there is less of a need to do that. And I don't think we're going to see a point in the future where another company is going to be able to get away with doing that, because now the one that was lagging behind has caught up. And a lot of casters who are starting to get their first big professional gigs are speaking to me or other casters, inquiring about rates, asking what's fair, and taking our advice, and the companies are not trying to undercut them or treat them to unfair contracts or anything like that because people feel more comfortable as time goes on, reaching out to each other through their colleagues and saying, "Hey, I got tapped for this event. How much you think I should charge?" I get that question a lot, and then I say, "Okay, well, what are they offering?" We have a conversation about it. And usually, they're like, "Okay, well came back, I asked for this or got a little less. Do you think it's fair? Yes, no, etc. Should I hard line for this?" So the more conversations we have as casters, the better it is, and therefore we need to stay at a distance. And I hope that, in the future, more of the Riot casters move into a freelance route so that they they have that degree of separation that is really necessary not only on paper but mentally as well. I think it's super important.

Q: To close the book on a large digital footprint talking about Riot and all those other things--to do a cathartic sendoff--what is the list of positive things that Riot has done well?

I mean, they've done many good things, which I've talked about. I'm really happy that the NA LCS is going into a franchise model because I think it's going to stabilize a lot. I know a lot of fans prefer having the relegation system because they have this perceived idea that it increases competition. But I don't believe that's true, and I think it's just better for the players and better for the owners and better for the league to have more consistent storylines. And there's no draft, so they're not going to throw games for draft picks or anything. There are mechanisms that Riot has put in place for dealing with teams that may be on the lower end of the league. So I'm excited about that. They made a good game. You know... almost all of my problems don't come from Riot as a whole. It comes from a very specific... not even the entire esports department. It's not even the production. It's the esports management that were unqualified for their jobs when they were hired and made a whole mess of the department. So it's really just a very small slice of the company that unfortunately has not been run very well.

And you've expressed that, so this is the final send-off of the best of times with Riot.

So what I'm saying is the rest of it was awesome. The production guys have always been great. It's been a pleasure to work at their events. They really do care about the players, which I appreciate a lot. And they made a game that was strategically deep, and they did so much--and I've said this many times--they did so much for western esports. You look at where western esports was before the LCS started and where it is now, and how much money they have invested into making sure that the quality of the production is top tier and that their casters get training and help where they need it, whether it's helping Deficio with training out his Danish accent and lessening that and them paying for that process, or any of the other things they've done for their casters in terms of career training has been very, very good. And I think they really created so much interest in western esports by having the LCS and by meticulously leveling up the quality of the broadcasts and the structure of the league and making sure that it had this great appeal and this phenomenal polish. And so I admire them very much for doing that and for being part of it. It was a lot of fun over the years to work with them at events and be there on the ground and work with their producers and their feature directors, and their casting team is great. So that part of it was all wonderful and continues to be really good. So I hope that they can continue to sort of push that envelope in terms of the esports production, because even if I don't like some of the things they've done, there is absolutely no question that what they have done has been very good for esports in North America and Europe. And I think that if they had not done that, I would still be in Korea, because I don't think that the market would have evolved to the place that it is right now, where it was possible for me to come back and have a level of investment and a level of interest that could potentially rival what I had in Korea at OGN. Because the way I viewed it when I first went to Korea was that I would come back to the States eventually, but I could just sit there for however long it took the West to slowly ramp up, and without Riot and without what they've done with League of Legends, it may have taken years longer than it has. So pretty amazing work by them overall, and I am quite grateful for the times that I had with them. And it's nice to feel like they are developing into more of an entity that is interested in partnerships, rather than so much control, like they have previously. So I think we're starting to see glimmers of that and it does give me hope, and I do appreciate everything about that.

Riot Games
Mark Register profile
Mark Register
Mark is the Editor-in-Chief @ Blitz Esports. He was the creator of Esports in a Nutshell, led production @ the Young Turks for 5 years, and in his other lifetimes won an Oscar, recorded albums (on Spotify), and most importantly spent a summer as a SeaWorld performer.
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