Decoding DeKay, Rise of an Engineer turned Journalist

KarY 2020-09-21 11:40:38
  Decoding Dekay -- a feature interview. You can find the original Q&A format including more context here. Esports journalism has been evolving rapidly in recent times and while many have flourished in different areas within journalism, only a select few have made the cut in “reporting”. Reporting itself is a behemoth that many fail to understand and is more often than not misconstrued. Jarek “DeKay” Lewis -- one of the, if not the, finest journalist in esports -- is one such individual having found success in reporting on Counter Strike: Global Offensive, a feat that only a few have been able to achieve. Today, we navigate his journey and meteoric rise in esports. DeKay, like most of us, grew up in a lower-middle class household where he had to work from an early age in order to look after his own necessities such as phone, school clothes or just about anything other than food. Having worked most of his adult young life working at a car wash and enduring numerous hardships, he managed to pull through school, a fact that he’s happy to look back at as those experiences taught him important life lessons. A Mechanical Engineer by profession, albeit reluctantly, bowing to pressure from different parts of his family, he worked as an Aerospace Engineer within the ongoing Air Force One program and at about the same time he began to dip his toes in esports. Interestingly enough, DeKay outworks almost everyone in the field, but passion for the art itself doesn’t bind him to his work ethic. He elaborates, “Writing has never been my passion and probably still isn’t to this day. I would say my first taste of genuinely helping someone in esports and a love for Counter-Strike is what inspired me to work towards where I am now.” Helping people get paid, getting them in contact with other people, smoothing out relationships, and holding people accountable are the core fundamental values that he believes in, one that comes with the job. It is what the public never sees that he enjoys more than anything else.
Related: Into the mind of the esoteric esports historian: a Thorin interview
Trust and credibility are two important traits of being an investigative journalist. People have to know they can trust you at all times if a journalist ever wants to build a real network. A journalist must be willing to sit on stories or know all their hard work might not result in something that goes public. They need to be prepared to face intense backlash by the community and orgs for doing their job along with other sets of accompanying problems. Echoing the same, Dekay adds, “People will use you and offer nothing in return. They will ignore you endlessly until they decide they need something. Orgs will be furious with you for just doing your job. It’s all very thankless and requires genuine passion if you ever want to make it an actual career.” He has his trusty source network and lengthy process he’s developed over the years to thank for breaking a story without the worry of inaccurate reporting, or the possible backlash he might receive under any given situation. Who is an investigative journalist? What is the foundation behind being an investigative journalist? Is it someone who breaks roster moves? If you agree, DeKay disagrees! According to him, someone who breaks roster moves but ignores any and every opportunity to report wrongdoing or help people behind the scenes is not an investigative journalist. From his perspective, those are just glorified fans. The first thing that comes to mind for most people, when Dekay’s name flashes in front of their eyes is that he’s the guy who breaks “roster moves”. However, if one wants to truly understand the journalist behind the computer screen, then take a look at the PEA report from the start of his career, or the Lanxess Agreement report, or the Quantum Bellator Fire report. You’ll know who he is and what he really does. dekay

(Image Courtesy: Dekay Instagram)

He continues, “No one wants to do real investigative work because it takes actual work. Hours on hours of actual work for the same or even less pay. Remember when I said passion is a necessity? This is why. You have to want to do something because it’s for the greater good of the industry.” Esports and employment are two sides of the same coin where instability is the norm. It is accurate that there is a limited amount of space in the industry for journalists, and there are only so many that can turn it into a full time career. However, he is optimistic that more people can do it than are doing it now, provided they are consistent and put out enough content. He adds, “No one writes as much as I do, no one puts out as many videos as Thorin, and hardly any of them stream. No one is just going to magically hand out full time positions to people who aren’t demanding it with their work ethic. No one offered me the opportunity, I created it. There was no one doing what I did in CS:GO before I did it. I made websites come to me asking to pay me, not the other way around.” “Most people should expect to work outside the industry in some way, shape, or form. I worked full time elsewhere until only a year ago, for example”, he adds. He is of the opinion that one’s goal shouldn’t be to make esports a full time career, and to only embrace it if it happens. He’d rather people follow their passion and satiate their curiosity, and if that’s where it takes them, so be it. Monetization of esports through avenues such as sale of broadcasting rights, pay-per-views, sales of merchandise among other things is a widely discussed topic between the community across all gaming genres. So is the topic of the whole “esports is a bubble” charade. Dekay’s idiosyncrasy certainly evokes a smorgasbord of thoughts in our minds. He believes that the player salary in CS:GO is a bubble, and not necessarily the industry as a whole. He says, “The tough part about esports is that the demographic skews so young that you often have to go through two points of contact. Convincing a child to convince their parents to spend money on event tickets, merchandise, etc. That’s always going to add friction, especially when there are still older people out there who believe gaming is a waste of time.” Instead, he’d like to see pay-per-view events experimented with, something that would help with the profitability. He also speaks about tournaments needing to mature in regards to their structure, and praises FLASHPOINT for the same. He continues, “FLASHPOINT has been a step in the right direction to do that but we still have a long way to go [..] gaming is only gaining popularity in comparison to traditional sports.” Professionalism in esports is often questioned with many instances coming to the foray in regards to unprofessionalism, mismanagement and amateurish behaviour that leaves a bitter taste for many. Echoing the sentiment, he feels that these are just a characteristic of an industry that is still very young in the grand scheme of things, in the hope that one day it’ll look much different. As alluded to earlier, people often misinterpret the meaning of being an esports journalist. The nuances that come along with being an esport journalist are far too many, but DeKay is kind enough to shed light on a few of them, the first one being breaking “roster moves”. He emphasizes on building a trusted source network as the “tough part” rather than the actual act of breaking roster moves, “Building a source network is the tough part, but breaking a move really isn’t. I’m not special because I do them, it’s just part of the job really”. He also speaks on another often ill-mannered assumption that people make and voices out his opinion, “Everyone who says something that publicly contradicts me or another journalist is automatically telling the truth. Just because they are a pro player or a higher up member of an organization doesn’t mean they aren’t lying.” He continues, “They have reputations and brands to protect, whereas it’s explicitly my job to report the truth. I can’t tell you the number of times I know something for a fact because I saw a written conversation only for one of the people involved to publicly call me out and say I’m wrong”. The COVID pandemic has severely affected the usual way of working in our day-to-day lives and, contrary to popular belief, esports hasn’t been spared either. Yes, esports has seen a huge surge in terms of viewership and activity though the magic of a live event is something that we all miss. The crowd, the atmosphere, the energy, the chants, the cheers -- you name it, is being dearly missed by all. For DeKay it is no exception. He says, “I’ll be honest, it’s been tough to stay interested during this period. Online is so volatile and deceiving that I can’t get myself excited to watch it. I’m not sure how it works in other esports titles, but CS:GO is dramatically different online vs. offline.” Even though he thinks that ranking teams because of online tournaments is almost a waste of time, he’s also grateful to remind himself that everyone is lucky to watch something at all. Looking at the recent chaos regarding the coach bug exploits, we all yearn for LAN events to return.

(Image Courtesy: Dekay Instagram)

Counter Strike Professional Players’ Association (CSPPA), a great initiative with the mission of safeguarding the interests of players, is slowly being ostracised by many for deviating from its original purpose. The people involved, few of whom DeKay knows, really have good intentions, but the problem arises in getting well paid pro players to care that much outside of their other obligations. According to him, this aspect has made it easy for other stakeholders who want to use the association to benefit themselves personally to come in and hurt the CSPPA’s reputation. Even though he is having a tough time feeling good about what CSPPA has done so far, he hopes that one day soon they will right the ship. Transitioning to esports from a real life job is not always easy, however, for Dekay it is straightforward. He doesn’t believe in sunk cost fallacy and is of the opinion that anyone can always go back and get a regular job if things don't work out in esports. For him, life is too short to look back and regret not taking a chance on an opportunity in an industry as special as this. It was rather a straightforward transition for him because of how passionate he felt about the work he does here. Speaking of passion, writing isn’t the only gig he does. There’s also an entrepreneurial side of him that has been doing tons of different things in the online business world for nearly nine years. He has a passion for ecommerce and anything that involves investment or buying and selling, even having built a business during the same period, on top of everything else he had going on. All this stems from his childhood where he spent a ton of time doing everything under the sun such as running lemonade stands, selling candy at school, pulling weeds and mowing lawns. You do whatever it takes when you want school clothes and other toys at that age. Earlier this year, DeKay just kind of realised that his passion for helping people could easily expand to other areas outside of esports, and so he has started documenting some of what he’s been doing and helping others where he can -- something that he’ll always enjoy and do for fun. For those who are interested, follow his business Twitter. Last but not the least, it was only apt that we ask him about his ‘rivals' in CS:GO. He says, “If you want to talk about journalism in general, Thorin has everyone beat by a country mile. I wouldn’t call him a rival though, he is someone I consider a dear friend and one of the most important people in the industry.” As for what he does in particular, no one even comes close, at least according to him. Exuding confidence, he adds, “You can even leave out all the work I do behind the scenes, no one has been able to match my work ethic and consistency over these past four years. As long as I am here, it will stay that way.”
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