Trevor Henry doesn't like to think of himself as "famous." He prefers the term "recognizable," and then only in certain situations -- like at the League of Legends World Championships in Europe this year. Henry, professionally known as Quickshot, is a shoutcaster for League of Legends, which means he's often the face and voice of professional matches as he commentates on live games and analyzes important moves afterward. Literally millions of people know who he is: In 2014, 27 million fans watched the final match of the League World Championships. For perspective, the NBA Finals in 2014 averaged just 15.5 million viewers per game.
Quickshot has been in the shoutcasting game for half a decade, first as a hobby and now professionally in a rapidly evolving industry. He knows where professional League of Legends started and sees where it can go -- and he told us all about it.
How do you explain your job to people who don't know what eSports or League of Legends is?
It's something I have to do often. The simplest way to explain it is: I'm a full-time commentator; colloquially in the industry we call ourselves shoutcasters. It's my job to describe what is happening on-screen to anybody who is watching the game anywhere in the world. So, I have to dilute the information that I'm being fed from the game, from the players' decisions, from how the video game plays out, into a story and a narrative that's easy to understand; that's exciting, educational and in the terms of the business and the industry. I'm also responsible for driving some of the emotion. Yelling and screaming, and really building up the energy when it deserves it.
Full disclosure, I watch a ton of League of Legends and I really enjoy your shoutcasting. Is the energy you bring to each match forced in any way, or is that your natural reaction?
I'm naturally as loud as I am in real life as I am on-air, and I have a very, very, very real love for competitive video games and for League of Legends in particular. I've been playing the game for five and a bit years now, so when I see the best players pulling off some of the most incredible maneuvers, I legitimately jump for joy. I'm just fortunate enough that that natural expression actually helps me in my day-to-day job.
Shoutcasting is a fairly new career. "Full-time eSports commentator" is a job that didn't exist in this form five or 10 years ago. Do you feel like a pioneer?
"Pioneer" is a strong word. The reason I say that is shoutcasting and commentating video games has been around for a very long time. But it's only in the last five, six years that it's now growing to be something you can do as a full-time profession -- at least in the Western world. I'm very fortunate that I got to watch a lot of the people who I considered pioneers, you know, eight, nine, 10 years ago, when these guys were doing it as hobbies -- going to LANs that were organized by big communities, competitive events that were done from people who just loved the game they played. And through watching and learning from some of the older events, and being fortunate enough to then get involved in some of them myself four years ago, led to me getting hired by Riot three years ago. I would say that I'm fortunate that it's grown to the point where it's a full-time position, but by no means would I consider myself a pioneer.
You have roughly 160,000 followers on Twitter. You present to sold-out stadiums and millions of people watch professional League of Legends matches online. Are you famous? Do you get stopped on the street?
It's such a weird question because in some ways, yes. And in some locations and cliques, yes. By definition, there are a lot of people who recognize me and know me. But it's not something that I would consider like mainstream fame. It's very exciting because I've been recognized in grocery stores and I've been on vacation and people have gone, "Are you Quickshot?" It's a really cool experience, but it's still the exception -- it's not once every three weeks or once a month, that kind of thing. But as the years have rolled on and ... [I've] traveled around the world, I'm fortunate enough to bump into more people. It's an exciting time and I guess, in the right circle, you could consider me... recognizable. Let's use that one.
Sure, we'll go with that. When you're at an event like Worlds, which this year involves championship matches played throughout Europe, how long are your days? How much work goes into these events?
You can't count the hours, I'm afraid. It's tough. What goes into Worlds is a bigger and a more intense version of my regular workweek anyway. To give you a bit of an idea, we've got a very big production team behind the camera that a lot of people don't know about. We've got producers, directors, scriptwriters, graphics guys, video guys, editors, journalists, statisticians -- so our weekly prep and show prep involves touching base with each and every one of them. What story do we feel is the most important? Which players do we want to look deeper at? Are there interesting stat trends? We've got qualified statisticians breaking down some of the game numbers to give us an even more in-depth understanding of what these guys are doing by the numbers. We've then gotta prepare graphics to explain some of the stats; we then gotta decide where in the show we want them, so we talk to the script guys. Then we gotta do rehearsals where we get all the production and the technical directors who have to push the buttons.
"There's a whole lot that goes on off-air that leads up to what is a short, one-off broadcast per day."
Above all of that, you've then got personal prep, where I'll get together with my fellow co-casters and we'll talk about the things that are important to us. We've even got things like vocal coaching and improv lessons and some of these value-added things that sort of bring out our personality while simultaneously making us more effective at a full-time job where we are literally required to talk for five, six hours a day. There's a whole lot that goes on off-air that then leads up to what is, relatively speaking, a short, one-off broadcast per day.
And that's all that the audience sees -- the final product of you talking in front of a camera. I bet a lot of people assume you just step up and do your thing, simple as that.
There's actually a lot of people that are unaware of how big the team is or how involved live television -- which is what we're doing -- really is. It's one of those things where, if you're doing your job right, people shouldn't need to know. If you're really interested and invested, you want to know how we got some of the numbers or how we do the show; we're always happy to share. But it's always a great feeling when we can put on a seamless broadcast with so many moving parts, that's so technical, and honestly that's quite impressive to watch, especially when you're sitting in the audience and you can feel the energy of the crowd for a well-delivered line and an exciting play.
When you're casting, how do you view each on-screen champion? Do you see each character as the in-game champion, the actual pro player or as a chess piece moving around the map?
I do all three. It's a great question for many reasons because when I look at a game in particular, there's so many different angles that you can take. During the likes of a pick-and-ban strategy right at the beginning of a match -- where teams have to ban out champions either because they don't want to deal with them or they want to deny them to their opponents -- to me, that's a little bit more champion-specific. There are so many technical sides of the game that happen during that phase and it's very much determined by the spells that they can cast and how they interact. But every now and again, you'll have the scenario where a player supersedes the value of a champion.
[Ed. note: Here's where our conversation gets just a little technical. We've provided relevant (and exciting) videos, plus links to the champions and players Quickshot discusses, if his pitch has piqued your interest.]
There's been some really great guys like MadLife, who used to be one of the most incredible Thresh players. When I would see that champion, especially when MadLife was in a tournament like the World Championship, I would then go: Actually it's no longer Thresh; now it's MadLife. Because he is now the golden tier that everybody aspires to be. At this year's world championship, I start looking at champions like Riven and the European player in the top lane called Huni with Fnatic -- he's the guy that I think of when I think of Riven. I kind of make these associations when somebody is head-and-shoulders above the rest. And it's gotten me in trouble a couple of times.
"In 2011, I was just a major fan and the idea of working in the scene wasn't there."
I remember last year, I was shoutcasting a champion named Caitlyn and -- it was Elements who was playing and Tabzz was the guy who was using it, and it was against SK Gaming. And SK's AD Carry -- his nickname is CandyPanda; his main champion used to be Caitlyn. There's jokes about him being called CaitlynPanda because it's all he used to be known for. And I just kind of spaced out for a second and I called him Caitlyn just by accident. So it's one of these things where I always have to check myself, but only when somebody really supersedes the champion itself do I start saying it's the player instead of the character in-game.
Over the years, what are the biggest changes that you've seen in the professional gaming industry?
The evolution of our broadcast is one of the most impressive things to me. I've been shoutcasting with the LCS and with the world championship for three years, since 2013, but I watched 2012 from home. I was a freelancer at the time. In 2011, I was just a major fan and the idea of working in the scene wasn't there. If you just look at year on year, how the broadcasts, the graphic assets, the camera cuts, the interaction with players, the interaction with the stage -- each year, the show iterates on itself and it gets better. So does the regular weekly format; the world championship format has evolved, so there's so much change year on year and it's very exciting to be part of it. It's never just accepted that this show was good enough and this stage was good enough. After every event, we look back and say, "How can we do it better?" And I think that's probably one of the most impressive -- because we're continuing to find ways to make it better for the players and for the fans at home, and even for the guys on the ground who are actually casting the events. We get these incredible tools and stages and sets to work with.
Is there anything you would change in the eSports industry in general?
"I'd love to see some growth and education and informed growth coming into the eSports scene because it is still so very, very young."
That's a tough, far-reaching question. If you look at the eSports industry in general, one of the things that I'd love to see develop and grow in the coming years is the player and the team interaction with professional sponsors and even their own fans, in some ways. Because eSports is still so incredibly young. I think there's a little room to wiggle when it comes to understanding value, understanding marketing. Hell, even just their own players and their own teams. Some managers could do a lot better at looking after their players. Personally, I'd love to see some growth and some education and informed growth coming into the eSports scene because it is still so very, very young. Very juvenile, might be a good word.
A little maturity, maybe.
Exactly. And it's one of those things where it's the nature of it, right? Competitive League of Legends has been around for five years. Some of these teams haven't even been around for two years, let alone dealing with sponsorships and contracts and marketing and things like that. So that's the one area where I'd say there could be a lot of room for growth and in the right direction: in positive, upward growth.