Years ago, it was hardly believable that one could make a career by just playing video games. Fast-forwarding into the present, the unthinkable happened and eSports as a field of work has become reality. As a boy who has been playing video games for a long time, it was a no-brainer that I would get sucked up into the trend. I picked up a game called League of Legends four years ago, and now I’m sitting here as more than a player: I also watch the competitive scene and I aspire to work with this game.
When we were given the assignment to make an interview with someone, I instantly knew who I wanted to do it with: Ákos “PierceTheHeaven” (or “Pierce” for short) Német, one of the founders of the Hungarian broadcasts of competitive League of Legends. Given the fact that I also watch competitive play, I felt like this would be a great interview for me to find out more about someone who works with eSports, a field I’m also interested in. We managed to find a date for the interview and after having the opportunity to glimpse into the studio during broadcast, we found a quiet place and I started asking my questions.
I’d like to ask about how it all started, but go further back into the past: at what age did you start to take interest in video games?
Well, this is one question I’ve never been asked before. The addiction started when I was 11, around my early to middle primary school years, and I used to go to local internet cafés in Debrecen to play old-school first-person shooters like Counter Strike, Quake and Doom. But even before that I had some knowledge of the world of computers as my father was an IT teacher at the time. I was always hyped up when he brought home a Commodore or Celeron computer, knowing that I’ll be able to play some cool games.
You mentioned some examples of what you played during the early years and I was wondering, was there a game before League of Legends that you took more seriously?
I started playing with the first Call of Duty game in 2003 and there was a Nation’s Cup in 2007 where I played with four of my friends as the Hungarian representatives. We managed to take second place and earn the silver medal, only being surpassed by the Czech team. Although it was a huge thing at the time, I don’t really consider it that important of a factor that lead me to playing LoL, therefore I don’t talk about it that much.
Where does your nickname “PierceTheHeaven” come from? What is the backstory behind it?
Actually, this is not my first nickname as I was running under the nickname “Jimmy” during my CoD era. Don’t ask why. You see, I used to watch anime a lot when I had the time next to my studies. The nickname “PierceTheHeaven” comes from an anime called Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, it is the catchphrase of a character who has a massive drill as a weapon and claims that this drill easily “pierces the heaven”. However, “PiercesTheHeaven” was too long, so I had to omit the ‘s’ to become “PierceTheHeaven” which nowadays is just “Pierce”.
When you’re here you are either shoutcasting (providing commentary during gameplay) or supervising the broadcast. What are you occupied with when there is no broadcast?
There is no other thing. I’m either occupied with the broadcast itself, the preparations, or the additional work which takes place after. This has been my main job for two years now. Though the way it has been remunerated is another debate, this is what I work with on a daily basis. I studied event organization and marketing management in Debrecen and while I can definitely use parts of them in this field, they are not the main profile of the job. It’s the broadcast itself. The tasks that take place behind the scene, the team being on the same page, basically everything revolves around the work of 7-8 people and it can always be traced back to the broadcast.
Sometimes series can become dragged-out, especially if it’s a best-of-five. Given that you’re a play-by-play caster (a caster who describes each play made in the game), you often have to scream and shout. How do you prepare your voice when you are casting?
For elevenses or for an afternoon snack we usually have a Negro candy along with tea and honey, as the amount of shouting a play-by-play caster has to do is like having a three-hour long argument with someone every day. You really need to take care of your throat. Smoking is also capable of causing damage to your vocal chords, ranging from vocal cord inflammation (hangszálgyulladás) to even worse consequences. I’ve only had vocal cord inflammation once and I’d like to keep it that way by consuming these Negro candies with honey tea. Next to these preparations we revise what we have learned from speech therapists in order to minimise the number of mistakes we make and even to this day we have lessons. I was stammering and jabbering six years ago but I’ve improved a lot since then.
What other difficulties do the role of a play-by-play caster hold?
Preparation. Just like in football, you need to know the strengths and weaknesses of the teams and players and their chances of winning. It’s the same with LoL, but instead of two teams, you have to keep track of 10 teams in a region. If you work with two regions, that’s already 20 teams, which rises to 40 if you include the emerging Challenger teams. When it comes to the World Championship, there are 8 additional teams per region, meaning that we need to find out the champion picks, trainings, statistics, why’s, contracts, past, present, and future of 80-100 teams. Needless to say, preparation requires a ton of work on a weekly basis. It’s like when you sit down to memorise a poem, but instead of the text, you memorise all the stuff I just mentioned.
There are cases when the gameplay needs to pause in Berlin or Los Angeles. Those two studios have an easier task as they can go to the analyst desk and fill the time until the game resumes. How do you work around pauses without an analyst desk?
That’s a good question. We make narratives before broadcast with keywords or themes that we can use to talk minutes about. We use these in case of a pause or when the game is on a very slow pace. There was once a 50-minute game without kills and you obviously can’t talk about statistics when there was no action. We are prepared with 3-4 topics for such instances so the casters have something to make a discussion out of. But when there are even longer pauses which require assistance from the analyst desk, we go on a break. Pauses don’t cause us many problems, we are prepared for them, but an analyst desk is definitely planned.
You’ve been casting in Hungarian since 2014 when the LoLFoglalás (the event made to celebrate the Hungarian dub of the game, wonder if LoLquest would work as an English equivalent) took place. How hard was it to transition from using the English names into saying everything in Hungarian?
If I remember correctly, we were not using the Hungarian terms in 2014 just yet. There were no official requests from Riot Games to do it in Hungarian, we simply wanted to honour the release of the Hungarian dub by saying everything in Hungarian. The transition wasn’t that hard, but sometimes items caused us troubles and when it comes to a new champion release we instantly open Google to look up the official Hungarian names. It’s all about getting used to it. It was weird at first, but only because of how silly the Hungarian version sounds compared to the English equivalent.
You had a series of weekly reports called the LCS Híradó in 2015 and 2016, but it did not return this year. What happened to it?
The answer is simple. We didn’t have the time nor the resources to do it and we didn’t want to release something of a lower quality. While collecting statistics is not that time-consuming, editing these videos takes a long time. Instead of working on them on Monday or Tuesday, we decided to focus on the upcoming week starting on Thursday. It was easier to let it go, but that doesn’t mean it will never come back.
You gave an interview in 2015 in which you mentioned that you had seven instances of constructive criticism. How much has this number changed in the past two years?
The biggest problem is that we wanted to get constructive criticism in platforms which can’t have that. You obviously don’t get appropriate criticism during broadcast in the chat. You can’t do anything with a “you’re shit” remark, it’s very rare to have something constructive when we are live. We got more valuable feedback when we distributed surveys in order to do research. Still, during broadcasts, it’s not a common sight to see criticism like this. It’s not necessarily me who gets a lot of these unintelligible remarks. Whenever there are new members, people bash on them with harsh language for a long time as they are not capable of accepting new faces among the usual ones.
In an article on Esport1 I read that less and less people watch the LCS (League of Legends Championship Series), especially the European side. Why is that?
If I knew the answer to that question, I would have probably contacted Riot Games with some suggestions. I have some ideas of my own though. We all know that the departure of European players and teams has a negative effect on the games played in the EU LCS. Games played in EU are not as exciting as in North America this year, and the fact that there are only three good teams while the other seven are struggling does not help either. The import of Korean players won’t solve the problem either, no matter how many imports there are. There is a lack of togetherness in the teams: if there is a new player, said player is often substituted after a few games since he didn’t play good enough. NA, on the other hand, has the elite players, a region where they probably receive better contracts and deals. Since their careers will probably end after six or seven years when they retire, they need the better options in order to make a better fortune.
Many people say that the Hungarian community is one of the worst with toxic, unfriendly players who curse a lot. What is your opinion in this matter?
Well, I’d trace it back to how jealous and weary Hungarians are. We don’t take criticism well, we have a short fuse, we become tense very quickly and use harsh language. We could become the best community if we counted to ten, but instead crap is coming out of everyone’s mouth. There are very few exceptions for players who can respond to criticism in a way which doesn’t cause an explosion. I think there are issues with attitude and mental problems present and I think it can be traced back in history as well. But all in all, Hungarian people are more envious with many cases of backstabbing. What we own is never good enough, we always want what the others have. A lot of factors are present here, including laziness. We are not toxic in the game itself, we are toxic as a nation. That can only change if we succeed in a field like that.
In an interview you gave to Esportmilla in 2014 you said that 95% of Hungarian people have no idea what eSports are. How much has this changed in the past three years?
I’d say now only 75% of Hungarians don’t know what eSports are, which is an improvement. You could feel the effect last year with the start of the Hungarian Elite Championship (Magyar Elit Bajnokság, MEB), as well as with Hungarian players going to international competitions. This created a buzz among people which is not restricted to just relatives: fans have been talking about it as well. I’d not start with what eSports are, but rather what possibilities this competition holds on an electronic platform The concept of electronic competition should be pushed even further. People don’t know what it is to fill a whole stadium in China with the purpose of broadcasting eSports. I believe many people know about eSports, but not enough in order for it to be that well known. Older generations won’t be bothered by eSports that much. The next generations, as well as my own, know or will be born into an era where eSports are present, it is only a matter of time until it gets full coverage in Hungary.
Currently we have three Hungarian players abroad. Do you see the possibility of further Hungarian success, both on individual and team level?
I said in an interview during the World Championship last year that a Hungarian team in the LCS could start its career anytime. We had a team which lost to ex-LCS players, being very close to qualification. I think that we could even see a Hungarian team qualifying next January. However, there are not enough players abroad so they don’t know what it feels to play in a team. In Korea for example, each game is equivalent of a war. Unless they experience something like this, they can’t bring anything valuable home. We currently have three players abroad, maybe three more can join this year. If these six players returned and formed a team with the help of a sponsor, they could qualify as our country’s representatives next year. It depends on the players, when they use their knowledge to achieve greater goals instead of getting comfortable with what they currently have.
You mentioned that a player retires after 6-7 years and many of them decide to become streamers (players who broadcast many hours of their gameplay). How long can they keep streaming as their “job”?
I think that streaming can be perceived as a “job”, but the way they see it in my opinion is that they stream so they don’t fall out of public awareness after their careers have hit their peak. I have believed in a saying for a long time: “a person lives as long as he/she is remembered”. People may stream in order to stay in public awareness as long as possible but it is not necessarily a job. It can be a communication channel between you and your fans, even if it’s tiring and requires a lot of time. It’s like having a conference on a daily basis with your viewers, who all support you.
I started the interview with questions about you and I’d like to return to you for my final questions. A lot of people recognize your voice from the broadcasts. If you were asked to voice an upcoming champion, would you do it?
Well, one of my famous sayings has made it into the game. It’s such an honour for me that Riot Games included it, I don’t think it can be topped. If I were asked to voice a champion, I’d probably die from a heart attack. For us, humble workers, these little things are huge acknowledgements, they are fantastic experiences. I’d definitely accept the offer and probably prepare for weeks, as well as go on a holiday in order to be as good as possible. There would never be an opportunity like this again.
Last, but not least, what are your plans for the future?
My plan for the future is to represent a team which will be eventually recognized by everyone who is familiar with the world of computers and eSports. They will recognize us as the people who have been doing this for X long and who used their weekends to do this instead of going to a party. As my final goal, I want us to be looked up on as icons and for others to use our work as a basis. I want every minute of our LoLTV broadcasts to carry forward a certain value and, of course, we want to expand further and show others that it can be done in this way as well.