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Because sometimes it’s OK to talk to strangers.

In this occasional series, OZY takes to streets and neighborhoods across the globe to ask a simple question: “How was your day?”

Kevin Knocke
San Francisco

We’re an extension of the tech crowd, so we all roll out of bed at about 1:30 in the afternoon and go to bed around midnight. That’s my normal workday usually. But today I’ve been making plans on how we’re going to cover Esports worldwide for the first quarter. I work for Ign.com; we do a Sports Center for the Esports community, also known as online video gaming. We’ll do interviews with top players, recaps, weekly highlights. We get pro players to talk to fans and explain the strategies and how they can play video games to win millions of dollars.

I’m that booming voice that announces live games. I’ve never had any sort of professional broadcast training. Self-taught. It’s funny when I talk to people and they’re like, “Stop talking in that voice.” And I’m like, “Well, that’s just my voice.”

I’m prepping for an event in Atlanta to cover the Smite world championships, a video game in the same vein as League of Legends or Defense of the Ancients 2; the players compete for a few hundred thousand dollars over four or five days. In November, the League of Legends global championship had 32 million viewers. They did the playoffs in Brussels, London, Paris and Berlin, and each one of those were sold out. It’s now to the point where live video gaming sells out major arenas, real sports arenas, across the world.

I was the kid who would spend six hours every night trying to get that high score when I was 6, 7 years old.

 

Esports is really starting to approximate professional sports; it has gotten to a place where people are able to have quite honest careers. I’d say the top 20 or 30 players around the world are all now millionaires. The second tier is starting to get real salaries, sponsorship deals, quarter-million-dollar signing bonuses. There was a tournament last summer called “The International,” where we interviewed a 16-year-old kid from Pakistan, Sumail Hassan, who came over to compete for an American team. He won and became the youngest millionaire in Esports history.

I’ve always had an interest in sports. I grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, as a massive Cardinals fan, and I really respected the old broadcasters of radio baseball: Jack Buck, Vin Scully, that era of broadcasters. In college, I hosted a sports talk show. And I’ve always been a big gamer. I joke I came out of the womb with a keyboard and mouse in my hands. I was the kid who would spend six hours every night trying to get that high score when I was 6, 7 years old. Growing up in the late ’80s and ’90s, I better not touch a violent video game or I risk the wrath of my mother. It was the mindset of “Don’t spend so much time on this. Where is this going to take you?” But I was actually building career skills.

Then when internet games really started exploding I found my competitive outlet. I started seeing these internet streaming sites launch, like Justin.tv and Twitch.tv, bringing people online to watch other people broadcasting themselves playing and talking online. So I started watching to learn from the top players, and that led to watching tournaments. You know, 500 bucks to the guy who wins from the 50 top players. And eventually these events just grew and as I was listening to the commentators, I was thinking, “Man, these guys are really knowledgeable about StarCraft, but they don’t really have a broadcasting voice.“

Eventually I decided I wasn’t good enough to play professionally, but I realized I could start commentating — so I fired up my stream and modeled it off of the great baseball announcers. I was living in my mom’s basement with my wife when I started announcing. They’d hear me screaming about StarCraft a couple of hours a night and didn’t understand what the hell I was doing. I was a one-man-band production team. I started with five viewers; then five became 50, 100, 1,000. Then it just kept getting larger and larger. And then when I got a job, my parents were like, “OK! All right!”

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Good stories from around the globe. Essays and immersion, into the harrowing, the sweet, the surprising -- the human.