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The Voices of the Overwatch League

Volamel 2019-10-05 05:42:36
  The Shock are now champions and the Titan’s have proven that they are mortal, but what often goes overlooked are the voices that are behind the curtain. Matt "Mr X" Morello and Mitch "Uber" Leslie are easily two of the most recognizable voices in the Overwatch League and their calls, shouts, and screams rang out through the sold-out Wells Fargo Center for the 2019 Overwatch League grand finals. They are the voices that impose meaning and give colorful context to each detail, no matter how general or nuanced. And their own individual journeys that led them to the City of Brotherly Love are just as intriguing as the poetics they bring for every match they lend their voices to. “It was really interesting, to be honest with you,” Mr X admitted.  “Starting out doing Overwatch, I knew it was a game I could do because Call of Duty was the same type of speedCall of Duty was probably even be faster if I’m being honest.”  “I’ve kind of gotten fortunate because I feel like the change for me, as opposed to people who have come from other games, coming into Overwatch and people looking at people trying to get into Overwatch from a casting point of view, Call of Duty has the same kind of fan base, same type of speed and is the same game. So for me, it was just getting accustomed to the players and the little things like making sure you use all the ability names when it’s needed.” “I’ve gotten fortunate,” he said with a reflective nod. “I’ve been in esports since 2006, even before Call of Duty I played Rainbow Six professionally, I played Battlefield, I played so many games.” He continued explaining how he picked up games quickly when they first release. Once he sunk his teeth into something, it was only a matter of time before he began to understand them on a deeper level. “New heroes and new things like that don’t really affect me much because I play a ton and I just get used to it.” “I just think I’ve had one of the more fortunate runs to the Overwatch League, to be honest.”     Sat to his left was his partner in crime, Uber, who immediately jumped on the tail of Mr X’s final comment.  “Wow, that’s funny, you hear Puckett and Matt talk about their careers in esports and they’ve been in it for a while and comparatively and I know this will sound crazy but I’ve been a professional broadcaster for four years and I’ve been in esports for nine. So for half that time, I’ve been a professional, but that’s a stretch.”  “It hasn’t even been that long,” he said contemplating. “It feels long, [but] it feels very lucky. I can pinpoint twelve different divine intervention level occurrences that ended up getting me here. I don’t know man. I was going to be a second-rate sommelier or I would have continued working in a pharmacy as a dispensary technician.” “I mean, I was in trouble because I got my engineering degree and then I got an engineering joband I hated it.”  “Then I left it to work in a pharmacy so I had time to work on esports things,” Uber said. “I was literally pimping out World of Tanks in a trade booth in PAX Australia. This game that I barely understood, but eventually come to understand quite intimately, I was just trying to get people onto this stage to play this game I had no interest in. The same weekend I put together a stage, I worked production and hosted an event I was casting because there was no one else back then. And we honestly bombed that event. It didn’t go well. We were trying to do a lot with very little. So I wasI don’t even know what I was doing.” “I got lucky to even get out here in the first place.” After a brief pause, the tone shifted.  “The main thing I look at this year as opposed to last year is understanding to stop being so hard on myself and how to consistently put out a product that is consistently at a high level, but that also has something for everybody,” Uber said. “I’m not going to give a broadcast that has everything your hardcore APEX fans will want or the people who love movie quotes. I really worked hard with Matt on trying to provide something that is accessible to everybody and a lot of that has me asking Matt questions.”     “I spend a lot of time asking questions, I’m not afraid to look dumb for it. Sometimes I learn something and sometimes I already know the answer, but one of the most rewarding parts of this year was working with Matt and putting out consistently good products, one that I think we can be pretty proud of,” he finished and turned to his partner. With a warm smile, he roped Mr X in for a follow-up. “Yeah and I’ve always kind of thought that the audience and the stream was the third person in the room,” Mr X said. “It should be the three of us having a conversation about the game and we should all have fun with each other. Sometimes we take esports a little too serious. I mean these are young kids that are living their dreams and playing games for a living. This should be fun and celebrated regardless of win or loss.”  “Matt and I are very stream of consciousness type casters,” Uber said, celebrating their style.  “We react in the moment.” “For us, it’s not about being right or being the authority or the end all be all when it comes to knowledge and expertise,” Uber explained. “We want to experience things along with the audience because there's no elevation. We’re not elevating ourselves above the viewer at all. I mean we’re experiencing it in the moment and we feed off the audience. So it’s a loop of feedback between the three people in the room and I feel like that’s authentic, that’s genuine and for us, it’s a very natural way to work. Every broadcast is just an extension of the conversations we have in the car on the way to work and I wouldn’t have it any other way.” Throughout the discussion, Uber’s point around his office job resonated with me. Before our time together was finished I had to prod for an expansion on the topic. As two people who took a chance and invested their time into something they were passionate about, would the most prominent casting duo in Overwatch League share their story as advice for the younger generation? “I think as people you try to figure out what you're going to do at 18, right? You just don’t know. What I liked at 18 and 20 is different than what I like now at 30,” Mr X said. “I went from playing games to managing and coaching and now I’m casting. “I mean last night we did a pod…” Mr X came to an abrupt halt midthought, laughed and rolled his eyes. “...I don’t even know what the hell it was,” referencing the live episode of the Four Heads podcast that was filmed the night before. “It felt more like a comedy show where we were doing skits and stuff. Just try a bunch of stuff, you don’t really know what’s going to hit.”      “I wouldn’t say that I grew up in a rough situation, but one of the reasons I got into esports later than some people and my career was started later was because I was pushed by my mother to focus my studies,” Uber added. “She was not really interested in discussing the prospect of other stuff until I finished my degree. So, yes, I was in a job I didn’t like, but [realistically] I had an education behind me and qualifications. It would be very quixotic of me to tell someone to follow their dreams. It would be disingenuous coming from me because I had a fallback and that was always my mother's plan. And I’m glad she forced me to do that because it helped a lot.”  As quick as lightning, Mr X cut in.  “My fall back was that I was going to play in the NBA.” The joke landed perfectly and well enough that even people outside of our small cocktail table got a chuckle out of it.  Fighting through the laughter, Uber course-corrected: “At the core of what we do in esports—it's not numbers we get excited about, it’s not people hoisting trophies, it's not the confetti—it's the genuine connections we build towards teams and players and fans.” “And for me, when I cast, it’s purely a physical manifestation of my passion for the game, that is pretty unadulterated at times,” he said with a slight laugh. “Being in a job where I can literally express passion in my everyday life isn’t something many people can boast to have and that’s a big part of the reason why I feel so fulfilled.”  Mr X added one final touch to an already poignant statement. “Yeah, I think it’s about creating programs that people enjoy. Last night one of the coolest things that resonated with me was that when we were done, people had made friends in the crowd. And just creating something where other people can bond around, like Overwatch League in generalthink of how many fan Discords have popped up. I think that’s just cool.” Uber noded in agreeance, “Genuine community.” After a few laughs and exchanging some pleasantries, we said our goodbyes and went our separate waysthey had a season finale to prepare for and I had to figure out what exactly “water ice” was.  In a market where your words and mannerisms can easily be contorted, both Mr X and Uber have shown a sense of authenticity and vulnerability in how they recalled their past. They didn’t have to traverse Dante’s Inferno to get to the positions they held today, but somewhere along the journey there was hardship and they were not only comfortable but humble as they shared those intimate hurdles.  Their words were genuine and acted as a backlight as I sat in the sold-out Wells Fargo Center that Sunday. That same duo that joked and prodded each other just a few days before was lending their collective voice to one of the most important games to happen this season.  They were as sharp and as poignant as ever, but throughout the match, it always felt like a conversation between the commentary team and the audience members who not only sat in the arena but the fans who watched in awe all across the world. That’s what makes them the voices of a generationthe collective voice of the game we all love to our cores. Unbridled and authentic passion.
Joseph “Volamel” Franco has followed esports since the MLGs of 2006. He started out primarily following Starcraft 2, Halo 3, and Super Smash Bros. Melee. He has transitioned from viewer to journalist and writes freelance primarily about Overwatch and League of Legends. If you would like to know more or follow his thoughts on esports you can follow him at @Volamel. Images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment.

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