'Esports almost killed me' – Paul "ReDeYe" Chaloner talks burnout and the importance of downtime

redeye interview paul chaloner burnout 1

Esports News UK had the opportunity to interview veteran caster and host Paul “ReDeYe” Chaloner about all things esports, from football clubs getting into the industry, to the challenges of going freelance, the new Unreal Tournament, the future of League of Legends and – perhaps most importantly – looking after your health.

ENUK: You are very active on social media and video platforms. How important is it nowadays for players and other professionals in esports to utilise self-marketing and grow their own brand?

ReDeYe: If you’re a freelancer it’s really important. I think people misunderstand that if they only get 100 views on a video they think that sucks and they shouldn’t do it anymore. And actually I’ve never worried about it too much, I don’t have a particularly huge YouTube following and I don’t work hard on doing that because I don’t want to be a YouTuber, but it’s part of my portfolio.
People who want to be a successful broadcaster must show they’re part of a scene and are active and ready to work.
The majority of my social media is Twitter, 75,000+ followers, it gives me a lot of exposure and I get a lot of interaction. But I push stuff out everywhere – Facebook, Periscope, Instagram, my own website… I try to cover all bases but not spread myself too thin.
Twitter is the main one and the most obvious one. You need your fingers in many pies as a broadcaster. I don’t stream all the time, but I get 1,000 people watching me playing crap at video games.
They’re not interested in the game as such, or if I’m good, they don’t really care too much – they’re tuning in because of the personality. It took me a long time to do that. You’re a personality when you’re out there in esports.
When I moved to Wimbledon last year, I went to the coffee shop and the guy behind the counter said ‘oh my God you’re ReDeYe!’ And I’m not in ReDeYe mode, I’m in Paul Chaloner mode, I’m relaxed and chilled out and going to the barber shop in a bit. Then I have to transition to esports mode because there’s a fan behind the counter!
When you’re in esports it’s always-on, 24/7. I’m never surprised anymore when I’m found. So you’re always-on and that applies to your social media too.
Some people said to me you need your own Snapchat or Discord channel, but there’s only 24 hours in a day. I might do a day of Ask FM or Instagram photos, but that’s the limit, I almost need time out.

Is a lack of downtime a problem? Are casting and hosting some of the more time-consuming roles?

I don’t think it’s any more time consuming than other esports roles. If you think of a full-time job, 35 to 40 hours a week, or if it’s managerial maybe 55 or 60 hours a week, whereas esports is probably more like 80 hours a week because it’s so full on and a changing world, you need to keep on top of it.
Players are being dragged all over the world for events now, and some are starting to skip events. The money coming in for the players mean they can start skipping stuff (Na’Vi, Virtus Pro etc), I’ve skipped three events this year, and I think it’s the first time I’ve turned down an event, on the grounds that I’m knackered and I can’t do any more.
I spent the best part of three months on the road earlier this year (April to mid August), I didn’t go home once. I just went from event to event to event, Russia to Manilla, Cologne to Frankfurt, Valencia, back to Seattle, then to Gamescom, and only after then did I go home.
You have to have that mentality when you’re doing these big events: ‘okay I understand to make money and remain in the public spotlight, I need to do this for three months’. It’s business and it’s my job, it’s not a rockstar lifestyle but it’s the kind of thing you need to do.
But at some point you have to recharge. And I’ve learnt that the hard way – I almost killed myself last year doing esports. I got to the end of November and I genuinely was at the end of my career, basically. I had just had enough. I wasn’t tired of it – I was just tired. And actually very, very emotionally burnt out – and physically exhausted.

“I almost killed myself last year doing esports. I got to the end of November and I genuinely was at the end of my career, basically. I had just had enough. I wasn’t tired of it – I was just tired.”

Luckily my CEO at the time at Gfinity – Neville Upton – saw this in me and said ‘you need a beach, you need to turn your phone off and you need to go away’. He signed that off and I’m glad he did. I spent two weeks on the beach in Tenerife with no phone, then I came back and spent time with family. Then I didn’t do any work until January. And honestly, without that month, I think I would not be in esports right now.
I think people don’t talk about it enough. I’m very lucky, extraordinarily lucky, to have the job I’ve got. To have the flexibility I have and earn the money I do, and to do something I genuinely love. But let’s not forget that sometimes there’s a lot of work to do, and if you don’t look after yourself – and I didn’t last year – then it can come back to bite you on the bum.
Without Neville stepping in last year, and recognising I burnt myself to the ground, I would definitely not be in esports right now. I have Neville to thank for that.
It’s true that players can get burnt out and I don’t think we give them enough credit for bouncing back, but if you look at the broadcasters – just look at CSGO and Dota this year and the talent doing event after event after event, I think Sheever had four events back to back on the road this year, where she never went home. That was doing Dota.
I’m sure casters have had moments this year where they’ve thought ‘Jesus Christ’, and need to stop and take a breath.
It’s a choice, right. I don’t have my family anymore so that’s the price I’ve paid, it’s not a particularly willing price I have to say, but sacrifices have to be made in this industry.

Above: UK caster Ceirnan “Excoundrel” Lowe spotted ‘resting his eyes’ at the ESL UK Premiership finals last weekend, after a non-stop week casting the UK Masters, Schalke scrims and more

You said on Twitter recently that some invoices remain unpaid for months. How hard is it as a freelancer making a living in this industry?

Honestly, it’s still very tough. The top 5% that do the big events can earn enough money and put up with the 120 or 150-day invoice payment terms that they seem to be thrown at these days.

It’s not very nice, it’s very stressful being a freelancer. When I left Gfinity in February, I was genuinely worried, am I going to get enough work and are people going to pay me? So there’s lots to consider before going freelance and it’s a massively risky world. But on the other side the rewards are there. You have to balance that risk.
You have to accept not everyone is going to pay on time and sometimes you have to put up with it, or you get a full-time job with a company and get paid less, but you have the security. That’s the choice you have to make.

Back in the day you started out playing Unreal Tournament. What are your thoughts on the next game in the series?

I did some work with Epic Games a couple of years back, when they first announced they were going to put a team on it. And I did a voice pack for it. I’m hoping at  some point that makes an appearance in the game. I played the early betas, I didn’t enjoy it, it felt very much like Unreal Tournament 3 which I felt was horrible.
And it didn’t really have the feeling I got from the original. That was an iconic game, the weapons were ludicrously overpowered yet somehow it was well balanced. You have people who liked the minigun, those who liked the rocket launcher and so on, and they all countered each other. I think game makers have forgotten that now, they try to make games almost too tame in some ways.

ReDeYe is unconvinced by the upcoming Unreal Tournament

I’m not interested in spending 20 seconds killing a player in a one-v-one. If I have a better position than him and a better gun, I feel I should be rewarded for that.
I haven’t played it for a little while, but I might go back and give it another go. Someone needs to make a game that was as fun as those old games like Unreal Tournament and Quake, if they did I think they’d have a success on their hands. Trouble is, they’re obsessed with maps and graphical things you can do to look incredible, but they seem to have forgotten that without the playability, no one cares.

Further reading: Why do esports pros retire so young and what can they do next? We ask Snoopeh


You also said recently that by 2019 there will only be a handful of the original esports teams around, the rest, owned and run by sports teams. What if those clubs eventually abandon esports?

Now we come full circle. Herein lies the biggest issue of growth in esports, and that is that you’ve got many people out there pertaining to be experts, who aren’t, many people advising large clubs and sporting clubs to get involved in esports, but what they’re not talking about is how to engage properly in esports, because it’s a finickity niche industry with young people involved and we’re also very demanding, and companies needs to understand who we are first to understand what they’re getting into – and I’m not sure they do right now.
Secondly, if they come into it with their eyes firmly goggled on the fact they can reach these millennials, great, at least they understand the target demographic, but if they don’t reach them properly and engage with them, then they’re already going to lose interest very quickly. That’s a genuine fear I have too that in the next three to five years we’ll see a lot of these teams disappear, because a lot of sports teams don’t understand how to fully engage in esports. An example of that is Team Dignitas being taken over by the Philadelphia 76ers. It’s fantastic and I’m really thrilled for Michael O’Dell in particular, thrilled for Dignitas as a team.
And then what happens the other weekend, they win their first major CSGO tournament and what do the Sixers put out? Nothing, absolutely nothing. Now to me, as an esports fan, forget who I am, I’m looking at them saying I think it’d be cool to see the 76ers put out something on social media about Dignitas’ achievement. And if I see that, suddenly I’m in love with their brand. I see these people in a different way, one small tweet and I think ‘holy sh*t, these guys are genuinely in love with esports’. They’re part of our scene! I welcome these people.
But they did nothing at the weekend. Now their viewed as they’re only in it for the money. They’ve already had a bad experience by not doing something that could have taken five seconds to do.

“You’ve got many people out there pertaining to be experts, who aren’t, and they’re advising large clubs and sporting clubs to get involved in esports – but what they’re not talking about is how to engage properly in esports.”

We’re going to have to get used to esports [becoming more corporate]. It’s commercial, it’s capitalism and it’s where we’re going. It comes with the territory unfortunately. I’m a bit old school, I liked the old IRC channels but we’re moving away from that. I welcome the sports clubs getting into esports, there’s bigger marketing and player opportunities, stable salaries… my concern is they don’t understand what they’re getting into and several of them have already demonstrated that.
If they embrace it properly I can see the sports clubs dominating in esports. Who doesn’t want to watch Man United versus Paris Saint-Germain in League of Legends? Or Real Madrid versus Barcelona in a FIFA match? I’d want to watch it. What it does for sports brands is it allows them to cross the border. It’d be great to see the LA Lakers playing Man United, they can’t play each other in their sports fields but they can in esports. That really excites me.

What are your thoughts on Riot taking a leaf out of Valve’s book and adding a crowdfunded prize pool to Worlds this year? And how do you think Dota and League will evolve in future? Fnatic’s former coach Deloir said recently that he doesn’t think League will be around in 20 years’ time

I think Riot adding crowdfunding makes sense. These are smart people we’re talking about at Riot, they might not want to follow other people, they want to trailblaze themselves, but they’re not naive. If it makes sense to their brand, they’ll do it, and it does make sense. I think it’s great.
I don’t think either League of Legends or Dota will be around in 20 years’ time. I think some form of their game will be around, it could be Dota 5 and League of Legends 7, we don’t know, but the past tells us games don’t tend to last more than a decade in esports.
We have Counter-Strike, but that pretty much died in 2012 and we had to resurrect it from the grave. It’s only what we’ve done in recent years that has made it full again, but even that has plateaud and I would argue viewership has dropped off recently… so you just don’t know.
The length of an esports game’s life is dependent on its community. If publishers and developers embrace that, it can have a long life. If they don’t, and you think you can blithely go along and make any game into an esport, then you’re wrong.

More from ReDeYe


The player’s opinion: Rekkles on burnout

Fnatic League of Legends ADC player Martin “Rekkles” Larsson told Esports News UK: “When I’m having fun playing the game or when I wake up in the morning and I really want to play League right now, in comparison to when I wake up and I’m kind of doing it because I have to do it rather than I want to, it’s actually having a huge impact on how I am and how I behave, both inside the game and to my teammates with it.
“Having downtime is really important, because it’s pretty much the only thing that gives you perspective on how you’re doing and how you are in life. Because after all, League of Legends is our life.

“At the beginning of my career, I just thought if I played 16 hours every day for a whole year, I’d be the best player. But I think these days that’s one of the worst things you can do.”

“For example, when I do meet up with family and friends, they often give me these opinions that aren’t maybe expertise level, they aren’t Challenger, they don’t play the game – at least most of them don’t. But they still can give me very basic life advice that I can use to my favour in many situations I face on a daily basis.
“I think in the beginning of my career, I didn’t value this at all. I just thought if I played 16 hours every day for a whole year, I’d be the best player. But I think these days that’s one of the worst things you can do. Obviously you should play as much as you can, but you shouldn’t block out other things due to it.
“These days I play as much as I can, but if we’re having dinner in 20 minutes, I won’t play an extra game and not have dinner with my teammates, because eating dinner with my teammates is going to help more than playing an extra game.”
Check out our full video interview with Rekkles here

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