Into the mind of the esoteric esports historian: a Thorin interview

KarY 2020-08-18 05:17:36
  You can find the interview in original Q&A format here. Having a stellar career spanning over a decade in esports is no less than a feat, an achievement only a handful have ever been able to achieve. Today, we navigate the journey of Duncan “Thorin” Shields in the world of esports. A talented individual heavily into esoteric knowledge, Thorin still stands tall after all these years due to his quenchless curiosity and a knack to understand or assimilate certain topics that fuels his passion to work in esports. He believes that anything learned or studied practically is applicable in some sense to everything else. To the uninitiated, Esoteric can be simply explained as “understood by only a chosen few”. To further elaborate, an esoteric person would have select interests shared by few others and would speak in big or rarely used words, that would typically go over the heads of the people s/he converses with. Moving beyond the general, Thorin explains the dynamics of an esoteric order following the “guru” or mentor system through which knowledge or technique is imparted to others, an outlook that has made him realise the value of a teacher-student relationship and also made him aware as to why so much wisdom is hidden away, since to give it away freely would cause many to assume it is of no value. In his own words, “Often in my career earlier on I was naive and assumed others had a similar drive to my own and thus would relish an offer of mentorship.  In reality, if you take away some people's chains they will assume you have stolen them.” He emphasizes on improving, whether it be in the spiritual context or esports, that often involves confronting uncomfortable, challenging or even scary ideas of notions that one either has no experience with or far too much. Doing so has allowed him to see his life and career being shaped by individuals who only appeared when he positioned himself appropriately for them to recognise his talents and the will to improve. Thorin is known for being ahead of the curve in terms of work ethic in the industry, much of it stemming from seniority and experience. In his long and far-reaching career, Thorin has got a sense of how industries operate, since many of the issues seem to be correlated with scale and opportunity. He expresses disappointment for the lack of passionate people in the industry not willing to dedicate themselves to studying their craft and daring to reach for excellence and the unheard of. He adds, “Simply to be doing well or making money or achieving a level of public fame has often been enough for so many.  For me the issue is epitomized with a sentiment one will often hear from people who work in esports that goes "I get paid to play video games!” Echoing the same sentiment, he continues, “I'm staggered how many times I've heard similar statements from those who were not hired as professional players but instead were on camera talent, backroom staff or journalists.  My response would be "you are not, but that explains why you accomplish the bare minimum.”

Thorin at DreamHack 2013, sporting his old signature jersey style.

For Thorin, he’s not here to play video games or become particularly proficient at them. He’s here to be the best journalist, on camera talent and thinker he can be, based on where he came from and where he is heading. This is what he wants to do. If those reasons were to change, he’d almost certainly go elsewhere and find a new discipline that’d pique his curiosity. He advises on becoming more well-read, well-reasoned and a diverse-thinker in order to find the untold and unrecognised depths in all areas of esports. Simultaneously, he also points out the apparent inherent laziness that comes along with a field of “gamers” where the primary activity is described as “play”. He goes on to add, “In time, I imagine the ever-increasing investment and scale of the industry will get to the point where more are as dedicated as the best sportsmen and content creators.” Every successful journalist is required to work on their socialising skills which in turn helps them in character development. The onus lies with the journalist himself. To be a great journalist, one must be willing to face the risk of rejection or failure or being slapped in the face by life and essentially been given the choice of running home and crying about it or resolving it to succeed. He adds, “There are plenty more difficult moments you will experience in this industry than someone not replying to your message or saying no. Get over your ego or stay stuck under it.” In the earlier days of esports, the onus was on a journalist at events to seek out interview targets. This meant they had to build relationships with them and approach them, sometimes in uncomfortable scenarios. This is no longer the case, at least in League of Legends where interviews are basically guaranteed. After all, the necessity of learning social skills and even tailoring them to specific individuals you have researched which comes along with securing interview opportunities yourself serves an interviewer well in the interview itself. Thorin chimes in, “I think being granted interviews puts the interviewer in a more uneasy situation, as he has no way of knowing how interested or enthused his subject is. Not knowing as much can be a poisoned chalice, for my money.” According to him, if the player doesn't want to do the interview, on at least some basic level, then he wouldn’t particularly want to subject him to it. Surviving financially in esports is quite tricky and more often than not, people hold side jobs to supplement their income, just to make their ends meet. He was lucky enough to find his way in the early days when he was 18 years old, and although there were a few patches which were more difficult to survive financially, he persevered. Thorin has relied on esports as his only source of income since 2001 year-on-year. At the offset, he had interest in becoming a comic book writer and perhaps transitioning his skill-set developed from esports to another competitive discipline, but as we already know by now, it has been esports all the way for him. Even if he remains full time in esports, Thorin imagines that one day, he will branch out into building a small part-time career creating and studying another field. Simply put, “Curiosity is the compass I follow, not simply the dollar amount.”
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Thorin is known for his demeanor and having a sort of an “abrasive” personality. While it’s good to be true to yourself, there’s a certain level of respect and outreach one should hit before being fully open and expressive, especially, in regards to social media. One often wonders whether it’s best to let their work speak for themselves. Thorin finds it difficult to come up with an opinion on this matter since he came up in a radically different time across the board and had to often do things the hard way as opposed to the shrewd or advisable way. He’s often told others on being able to barely get away with doing things in his style and that it wouldn’t be apt to imagine it as a sure-fire path to success. He says, “I agree that it is good to be true to yourself, but I'd go further and say it is essential.  It could cost you opportunity or even success entirely, but I would say that there will be a place for you somewhere, it's just it might not be here and now.”  He also cautions that just because someone is true to themselves, it doesn’t justify having or retaining negative or unhelpful elements to one’s personality or persona. The reason he’s found success albeit the hard way is solely due to his talent, work ethic and prolific output. Had he been any lesser in any of these areas he would have had limited opportunities of work. This is also one of the reasons why he empathizes with the career stories of players like s1mple. “That's one of the reasons I have been able to empathize with the career stories of players like s1mple”, he continues, “who eventually must realize that no matter how good you are it is necessary to develop yourself socially if you want to work along with others and create more than one man can alone.” He also sheds light on the best qualities a person should embody to work and succeed in this industry as, “fun to be around, reliable with your output and level of performance, and trust-worthy with your word. I had the latter two but too long ignored the first.”  Speaking of social media, Thorin advises most people to massively limit the range of topics and opinions they are willing to express there. He suggests sticking to discussing esports topics or limiting the amount of interaction or conversation one has with those that are simply there to distract, trip up or annoy. He rarely has regrets since he strives to learn from his mistakes, but has anyone ever wondered what Thorin would do if he could go back in time? And I quote, “I would almost certainly have tweeted far less and kept some of my opinions for private circles or trusted friends only.” Burnout is prevalent in every field, and can be a cause of worry due to the lack of productivity it leaves behind among many other things. We were curious to understand where, a while ago, Thorin mentioned that he utilized “streaks” as motivation to be consistent in his work output regardless of circumstance. He adds, “Streaks are good for squeezing out additional productivity, since it's far less likely you abandon a streak of 10 days in a row doing something if you don't quite feel like it that day.” However, there’s another anomaly to this streak and as Thorin says, “I found those streaks in particular took the premise too far and burned me out like little else ever has.  The lesson I learned, though, was to work smarter rather than harder.” To further elaborate, he has found a way to increase his efficiency in a number of ways to produce more output while working less and simultaneously freeing up more time for his social life and other hobbies. He continues, “I think willpower is a massively misunderstood topic. I used to think it just meant forcing yourself to do something and demanding greatness of yourself.  Instead, I have found it more helpful to encourage myself to succeed and cut away at elements of my circumstances that make it a little harder to concentrate or create.” Moving ahead, we get the opportunity to discuss his favourite games to cover along with his least favourite as well as the lack of monetization in esports. Counter-Strike as a general franchise fits the bill of being his favourite, since his resources and opportunities were significantly more limited in Counter-Strike 1.6, and he couldn’t simply pick it due to his preference for it over CS:GO. CS:GO has been the game in which Thorin has arguably accomplished the most with his work and is most famous for. Through it, he's achieved financial, locational, and chronological freedom, which has been life-transforming and affirming. The game has not just the long historical basis that plays into his strengths, but also pairs tactical depth with flashy and exciting game-play, a perfect fit for Thorin. He expresses his dissatisfaction in covering certain games which he thinks are underwhelming or less interesting and adds, “My least favourite game to cover would in the most literal sense be smaller and less interesting esports games like FIFA when I worked for SK Gaming and Team Acer.  In terms of a game I covered in more depth, I'd say that Overwatch was a very underwhelming game to cover and create content for.” He is visibly upset with the fanbase being actively hostile to content creation from the beginning and the limited outlets available to publish while having some brilliant individuals within the industry side to work and collaborate on ideas with. True to his style, he calls out the reddit mods by stating, “Even worse, the idiots that call themselves reddit mods decided to kneecap the game from early on by creating a niche subreddit and thus locking off content creators from the vast underwater part of the iceberg of traffic within the game.” Pivoting to the more often debated issue regarding monetization in esports or lack thereof, Thorin is of the opinion that esports will continue to remain a bubble as long as a sustainable solution isn’t found. He believes that many will bleed out or waste tens of millions in investment only to disappear entirely or accomplish little. He also agrees that having a PPV (pay-per-view) model to some degree a la GSL/MLG as production value goes up and Adblock becomes more common is not just important but seemingly a necessity as well. Cementing his thoughts, he further explains, “I think MLG were almost a decade ahead of their time with their Arena PPV events and I'd point to the often misunderstood case of OGN's LoL English Twitch stream subscription as an example of the PPV model working and to much success.” The notion a fan will pay for the computer, game, merchandise and even in-game items but not the broadcast itself suggests to Thorin that too many in the industry are afraid to leave the relative safety of the pack and innovate.  According to him, “If so many of us will pay for Netflix, even in an age when so many could figure out how to illegally acquire such shows, I suspect the right packaging or model exists to get esports profitable thanks to the consumers.” Before signing off, we asked him for a quote that he thinks embodies his journey and efforts in esports: "I saw that there comes a point, in the defeat of any man of virtue, when his own consent is needed for evil to win—and that no manner of injury done to him by others can succeed if he chooses to withhold his consent. I saw that I could put an end to your outrages by pronouncing a single word in my mind. I pronounced it. The word was 'No'." -Ayn Rand
We hope you've enjoyed our newest feature. Kindly support us by following Esports Heaven on Twitter and keep tabs on our website for more interesting content. Follow the interviewee on Twitter at @Thorin. Feature image credit: Epicenter

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