Lyrical, also known as Gabriel Cruz, is someone who just like other aspirants has had a tough road on making it into the esports industry. A graduate with a degree in Economics and Maths who had to take up a cooking job to support himself and his family in the thick of a recession, a man who left his job to try his luck in commentating right after his marriage and making literally no money for the first six months, Lyrical has indeed made the cut in this intrinsic industry and is looking forward to establish himself as one of the elites.
It has been my pleasure to interview Lyrical and get to know him better through this piece. For you folks out there, do read into this conversation and get to know the man from a different perspective as we delve into Lyrical's journey into the wonderful world of Dota wherein he speaks about his life prior to casting, the golden chance to cast at TI8 as well as his future plans.
Hey Lyrical. How are you doing?
I'm doing great! Very excited for the next DPC season to start back up again.
As we were speaking earlier, you mentioned that you had a day job when you decided to venture into casting. Do you mind sharing something about your life prior to casting?
Yeah before I got into casting I had graduated from college with a degree in economics and maths but it was in the thick of the recession and there were not a lot of jobs around so I had to take whatever was available which was a job cooking in a restaurant. Most days I would work on the dinner shift anywhere from 2PM-2AM or somewhere thereabouts.
After 3-4 years of this I found Dota and was instantly hooked. I was working around 40 hours a week as a chef and by the time I started playing and casting for fun in in-house leagues I was probably up to around 50ish hours a week in Dota. That kept going for about 6 months before I started to get noticed by people.
Wow .. that is really something. Seems like Nahaz has competition but you chose a different field. Didn't you?
LOL nah not really, we do have some good conversations whenever we get to events together. I mean really the big thing with a degree like that is that it gives you a way of thinking about the world and making decisions.
Say no more because Nahaz is going to be the next person I interview. You'd possibly not want me to have one less interview to conduct just because we say stuff about him .. right? haha. Anyway, as you mentioned that people started to notice you .. how was the transition from being a chef to casting really like?
Well it was tough at first I didn't really think anything was going to come out of casting I hadn't watched any pro matches of dota I hadn't even really heard of TI so when I started I had a TON to catch up on. I think I spent more time researching players history and team history and performances than I did casting through my first couple of events.
Throughout most of my early casting days I was doing tier 2 teams in jDL or FPL and so when the time came to cast bigger matches I just didn't know much about Secret or Alliance or EG. I knew about CIS rejects, ATN, hehe united, Scaryfacezz. I didn't feel connected to the scene and constantly had to make up for it with research
How did you make up for it? Anyone who helped you out?
Yeah there were a ton of people to many to name really, lol but I'll try to get some of them. Jack was a big help around the time of the shanghai major and after he gave me the info on the Chinese teams and even some contact info so I could try and do some off the record interview type stuff.
All the people at BTS have been huge with the emotional support side of things, at every stage of my career they have supported me by giving me encouragement and help with specifics of how to research and what to work on with my casting. Then of course there are the co-casters Trent, Gorgon, Blaze, Ryuu, Eosin, Mikelorus and all those guys from the early days.
Sounds like you'd good friends to back you up and encourage you. I'm really curious to know how you got into gaming in general and why choose Dota 2 of all game genres to cast or get into?
I've kinda always been into gaming. I think when I was around 4 I remember watching my brother play SNES 7th saga and being super into it ever since then it's just been a part of my life. During school years it was my escape from the awfulness of the public school system and when I was working a job I really didn't like I was just looking for another escape and I remembered hearing about Dota from a couple of different SC2 commentators.
It really wasn't my choosing to cast Dota I just played dota found a group of people to play it with then started casting it for fun with them and they encouraged me to keep doing it. The only real moment where it felt like a choice was when I quit my job to pursue it full time.
I had been casting for no money for 6 months but I was started to talk with BTS about casting on their channel and I asked my then fiancee if she would be okay with me taking a year off the restaurant to give this a shot she said yes I quit my job the day we got married and then 1 week later BTS invited me down to cast the qualifiers for the Frankfurt Major
You've one tough, loving and caring fiancee - now wife - by your side. Lucky man. Tell us how you came to keep "Lyrical" as your game alias?
LOL yeah she is amazing, as far as Lyrical goes it originally was Lyrical Gangster it came from the TV show Psych. There is an episode where the main characters are in a place they aren't supposed to be.
Gus questions what happens if they are caught Shawn says "Gus I'm a Lyrical Gangster if anyone shows up I'm just going to drop some sweet vernacular and if necessary you'll engage them in fisticuffs." that phrase stuck with me and I made it my Dota name. LUCKILY I took out the gangster before my first event or I don't think I would've been super hire-able.
You attended TI6 as a spectator. How did that event change your perspective of the game and casting? What were your key takeaways from the event?
It invigorated me. TI has this crazy pageantry around it that's accentuated by all the fantasy elements in Dota and the fact that you have these amazing voice actors voicing the team intros. It's like walking into a nerd filled fairy tale every time you walk into the area. But the biggest thing that makes TI special is that everyone there loves Dota you can talk to anyone about it. I don't know about you but where I live I would be shocked if 1% of the population even knows what Steam is. When you suddenly find yourself surrounded by people that love the same thing you do you just want more of it.
I'm not shocked as it is the general norm where I live. Moving on, WESG MEA Qualifiers was the first tournament you cast right after TI6. By then, you also had ample of experience casting at BTS Americas as well as The Summit 6 and then ended up commentating through TS6 qualifying matches. However, your first big break came when you were invited as a talent at SL i-League StarSeries S3 for the LAN portion alongside Lacoste. Do tell us, how did the latter part come to fruition?
It's sort of a weird thing I had been casting a lot that year in qualifiers and at hubs with not a ton changing day to day and then I woke up one morning and I just got the message asking if I was free to come and cast at this LAN event. It was with StarLadder who are kind of known for taking a chance on up and coming talent and I had worked with the production team before at the WESG event as you mentioned, so I think I just sort of impressed them and they wanted to bring me back out.
The event itself was pretty terrifying but Merlini and Parker who were my co-casters recognised I was freaking out and helped me calm down before the casts.
Overall that experience was pretty amazing I had met most of the talent before but everyone was just so encouraging and helpful I feel like I can't emphasise enough how cool all the people are that work in Dota.
Then comes the big break; TI8. Tell me, how did it feel when you first came to know that you'd be casting at TI8?
I was excited at first but afterwards and throughout most of TI I felt very scared and stressed. Don't get me wrong, TI is amazing and casting it is one of the coolest things I've had the privilege of doing in my life. But it needed to be beyond perfect from me because that's what TI deserves.
It was super scary and my coping mechanism was diving into prep work. After the qualifiers when I found out I was casting main event I starting pouring over replays of my casts with a pen and paper criticising every tone shift or vocabulary choice and I kept doing that every day of the group stages and main event.
Trent and I made a discord to practice casts and build chemistry playing other games together and basically spent the whole event just hanging out together (stole that trick from Cap and Blitz). So yeah overall I was excited, stressed and terrified but that's good because it led to me being ultra prepared.
Speaking of Trent, how is he as a co-caster? In which ways did he help you overcome that fear, anxiety, etc that you had inside of you?
Trent is awesome. I think we were both going through it tbh I mean TI is a big stage and for both of us it was our first time. Really the biggest thing about him that stood out was he was willing to work with me and be as crazy about prep as I was.
There were little things like fist bumps before games, hugs afterwards and generally just keeping very open communication. But I think the thing that stood out most is that we are very comfortable with each other if you look at the datdota aggregates for casters both him and I are up there at the top of games casted with each other and once we were in the game it was just like casting at home just with some extra noise.
There's something else that I should mention, all that stress and fear I was talking about was all outside of the casts. Once I was up on stage and actually into a game it was pure euphoria. I love casting it's a ton of fun getting excited about this game I love. But when you add to that a stadium of people who are getting excited with you and you can just ride this wave of energy from the crowd there is nothing like it in the world.
One of my favourite moments in my life was 37 mins into game 1 of EG vs LGD when the comeback was starting for EG and they killed off 5 people and after I called the fight we just paused for a second and listened to the crowd screaming .. it was nuts.
That's some strong bromance going on there and yes I do remember that comeback very vividly. Speaking of favourite moments, mention two more moments as such that left you in a complete awe.
I think in general I tend to gravitate towards the games I cast. So for the first the Secret - Liquid series Chen send back with storm specifically at around 26 mins they take the fight, burn through all of storms mana and hp while he is being sent back and then win the fight because they are near enough to the fountain that storm can get back into it.
Shout-outs to Weppas there observing and pointing out the send back mid fight. The other one has to be the finals I mean every freaking game was amazing and I was SOOOOOoo sure in game 4 it was over but holy crap OG did it.
Yeah, I guess everyone thought that game 4 was over for OG before that insane turnaround. By the way, I forgot to ask a question related to TI7. You did commentate, however, that was only during the group stages. You mentioned that you'd brought shoes, shirts and ties in anticipation to cast at the main event but came to know later that it wasn't meant to be. That is kind of funny. Do explain this in detail!
lol yeah it was this big whole ordeal I had convinced my wife I had to come super well dressed for TI so we went out and bought a couple of suits, shirts and ties. Then together we spent probably like 5 hours mixing and matching to find the right combos for each day of the group stages. However, we get there and find out that I'm literally never going to be on camera.
All of the group stage casting work was done from hotel rooms with Merlini and myself casting in sweats and t-shirts. It wasn't all a loss as I got to wear most of those outfits for TI8 and I also wore them to the stadium and TI7 while working the newbee stream just in case.
I cannot stop smiling on this incident. The new season has begun and rosters have started to shuffle. Amidst this, we have our first Major announced and it's going to be held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Considering you've been to Asia before, how stoked will you be attending an event in SEA again?
Well I hope I get the opportunity to work this event no matter if I do or don't though this event should be spectacular. PGL always put on a good show and the SEA scene is hungry for events.
The fans there are amazing and absolutely deserve a major. I have worked one other event in KL -- the ASUS ROG Masters finals -- that was a lot of fun and I really hope to go back because the city is gorgeous and the food is to die for.
What do you expect out of the second DPC season?
I expect more easily digestible story lines. For all the Dota we had last year, even as a caster it was hard to keep track of all the match-ups and how often teams played against each other. For a casual viewer it would have been impossible to keep track of all of the story lines.
I think it's great to talk about individual matches but to really get people invested into the scene, you need to be able to talk about what this individual game people are watching means in a greater context for the players, for the organisation and everything.
I think because we are going to be able to follow teams more easily and as broadcasters tell their story better, this has the potential to be the best year of Dota ever.
That's a wrap up. Thanks for agreeing to this interview Lyrical. Anything you'd like to say?
Just thanks to you for the interview and to everyone out there reading and listening you all rock my socks and I hope you keeping tuning in! Much love!
If you would like to know more about my work, you can follow me at KarY.
Feature image credits: Star Ladder i-League
Image credits: Lyrical