The UK has a long history of producing great broadcast talent for a plethora of titles – from CSGO to League of Legends and now Overwatch, among others.
We caught up with Overwatch Contenders shoutcasters Thomas "Tridd" Underwood and Derry "Dezachu" Holt, who have plenty of experience in the UK scene.
George Moncaster asked them about how they've found the tournament - which is one tier below the Overwatch League - so far, what they think it will do for UK esports and their views on British Hurricane.
Esports News UK: Firstly, how have you found casting Contenders so far?
Dezachu: A stereotypical answer maybe, but absolutely amazing. It's been great seeing both the players and broadcast team go from strength-to-strength each week and the game is so fast-paced that it's hard to not be constantly excited!
Tridd: Casting Overwatch Contenders has been a personal dream for me since I started casting. That’s not specific to Overwatch, but rather having a consistent high level league to really focus in on.
When you start out freelancing, you have to be prepared to jump games to sustain yourself. For the foreseeable future, I won’t have that problem. Myself and the rest of the team can make this region our own.
What's been the biggest challenge for you?
Dezachu: As weird as it sounds, re-learning the game from a 'pro' perspective. I've done just under half a dozen Overwatch gigs before Contenders and the level of play wasn't top-top tier.
Contenders is considered second only to OWL and it's got a hardcore fanbase. You've gotta know your stuff so I've spent quite a bit of time reviewing pro matches, watching analyst streams and talking to players to ensure I'm at that required level.
Tridd: The biggest challenge for myself has been polishing up a little bit. The grassroots UK style is very much banter-laden and to a wider audience can be divisive if not done right, I think realising I’m on a larger stage has been important to just trimming everything in a little bit.
That’s not to say we don’t have a laugh, it’s just a little more calculated now.
"The future of UK esports is entirely dependent on how all stakeholders work together. It’s all easier said than done, but I’m yet to see UK esports retract in recent years, it’s growing and it can keep growing."
What are you looking forward to the most in the next few weeks?
Dezachu: The finals on May 12th to 13th in Poland. It's gonna be amazing to meet all the players that we've been casting for almost two months now.
I've made friends with a good few and it'll just be super chill to sit down, put a face to a name and learn more about them as people.
Tridd: Obviously it has to be PoLANd. The Top 4 playoffs on LAN, this will be my first large venue broadcast with an audience, something on a personal level.
In terms of the games, it’s too tough to call who’s going to be lifting that trophy as the European Contenders Season 1 Champions, but it’s gonna be one heck of a show.
What are your highlights of the event so far?
Tridd: The highlights of the event so far has been the Quarter Finals. Going 4 for 4 on predictions, against the judgement of my colleagues and coming up top. Seeing Gigantti (the #4 Seed from Group A) come in and 3-0 Eagle (the #1 Seed from Group B) was magical.
Dezachu: Hmm... I think the first week where we saw tournament favourites Mosaic get 3-2'd by a team many had written off was probably my favourite moment.
Mosaic went on to show they had a number of problems that saw them pick up the worst record in groups, but we didn't know that in week 1!
"Re-learning the game from a 'pro' perspective has been a challenge. I've done just under half a dozen Overwatch gigs before Contenders and the level of play wasn't top-top tier. Contenders is considered second only to OWL and it's got a hardcore fanbase. You've gotta know your stuff."
Do you think Contenders will benefit UK esports on the whole? And how so?
Tridd: I think not only Contenders, but Blizzard’s entire esports system (The Path to Pro) is great. It gives a very clear path to reaching the upper echelons on Overwatch esports.
So it’s very beneficial to developing regions because they have realistic milestones: “Let’s finish well in Open Division”, “Let’s win an Open Division bracket”, “Let’s get into Contenders Trials”, “Let’s get into the Contenders”.
You’ve already seen UK orgs like MnM keep hold of an Overwatch roster, which is atypical considering how far and few between UK Overwatch events are. They’re keeping hold of them because they’re going to be trying to go down that Path to Pro.
Dezachu: It's always good getting British broadcast names on international events!
Do you think Contenders team British Hurricane will influence grassroots esports?
Dezachu: I think by being tied to Hurricane, yes, although all of the Contenders teams are pretty influential.
It goes to show where hard work can get you as one player from Europe has already moved to OWL this season. Would expect to see a few more follow him in the coming weeks and months!
Tridd: British Hurricane is an interesting one. It’s the same as London Spitifire, you can get behind these teams because they’re so good in their respective tournaments.
Because of the logistics of their competitions it’s hard to get some face-to-face community engagement going. That can and from rumours and speculation will change when the comp schedule dies down a little.
But there are plenty UK esports players who grinded through ESL UK, Insomnia’s, the NUEL. Having a solid proof of concept that these OWL franchises can and will back teams with UK talent... that has to be promising to the grassroots players.
"There are plenty UK esports players who grinded through ESL UK, Insomnia’s, the NUEL. Having a solid proof of concept that these OWL franchises can and will back teams with UK talent... that has to be promising to the grassroots players."
What does the future of UK esports look like to you?
Dezachu: Like most esports ecosystems, it's only going to get better. Ubisoft is pushing a Rainbow 6 league here, Riot has just opened its UK office, Cloud9 are going to be basing their Overwatch teams in London - it's gonna be great! Can't ignore the majors we've got here this year too [Dota 2 UK Major, CSGO London Major etc].
I'm just dreaming of the day I can walk into a bar with my mates and watch some games over a beer. You get places like Meltdown in London, but I want to see more widespread acceptance.
Tridd: The future of UK esports is entirely dependent on how all stakeholders work together. Players, keep grinding, keep getting better. Fans, keep watching content, keep going to events. Orgs, keep supporting your UK players. Tournament organisers, keep finding new and engaging ways to work with devs and bring grassroots esports to the UK.
It’s all easier said than done, but I’m yet to see UK esports retract in recent years, it’s growing and it can keep growing.
I also want to thank Blizzard for bringing me on board for Contenders, the staff have all been great. Thanks to CodeRed esports, fantastic guidance throughout. You might not be able to get to Poland for the Season 1 Finals, but I can guarantee you some sublime Overwatch, from both Europe and North America. I wanna see people rallying behind Team Europe in that grudge match against NA, it’s gonna be mahoosive.