IEM Katowice 2024 coverage powered by Predator Gaming
Stage host and BBC radio presenter OJ Borg is back for his eighth Intel Extreme Masters Katowice appearance, hyping up the studio crowd before every game. Esports News UK’s Reece Barrett spoke to OJ backstage at IEM Katowice 2024 to dive deep into his presenting career, differences between radio work and esports hosting – and once dressing up as Princess Leia in Celebrity Mastermind.
Reece Barrett, Esports News UK: How’s it been at Katowice so far? A crazy crowd!
OJ Borg: It is a crazy crowd!
It’s always a great crowd, and I think one of the great things about doing IEM events is that you get these wild crowds!
I’ve done quite a lot of sports across my career, and it’s possibly the best crowd you get. The more wild, the more into it crowd, it’s been great and it’s great every year.
It’s your eighth IEM Katowice now!
Is that what it is?
I wasn’t sure because we came here for the BBC to make a documentary, it was the BBC dipping their toes into esports, and we called it ‘Gaming: Rise of the Cyber Athletes,’ and I went around loads of IEM events and did loads of stuff.
It was here [in Katowice] that I met ‘Carmac’ [Michal Blicharz, Vice President of Product Development at ESL Faceit Group] and they asked me if I was interested in doing some stage hosting work for them, which I was!
And it’s crazy because I’ve then spent loads of time here over the years, and it was a city that I knew nothing about.
Growing up in the UK, I knew nothing about Katowice, and now I’ve spent so much of my time here!
And you are, of course, employed full time by the BBC.
I think so!
You keep coming back for this ‘rock and roll’ Counter-Strike, as you put it on stage, so how does that conversation with the BBC keep happening? Is it like, ‘lads, it’s that time of year again?’
Well no, because it’s a weekend!
I did my show Wednesday night, got a flight first thing Thursday morning, got no sleep and went straight to rehearsal.
I just fit these events into it!
I used to do way more events, but with two young kids I can’t really do the travelling.
I pick a couple, and that’s my annual couple of weekends out.
It’s a very different atmosphere being in the BBC studio, still loads of viewers but obviously you can’t see them, it must be different being on stage! Do you prefer being up there and having Phil Williams [BBC Radio host] sit in for you back home, or do you like being in the studio getting things done?
It’s totally different! Radio is such a beautiful medium because it’s live, it’s about music, it’s about vibe.
I do my show between midnight and three so it’s this about this overnight audience.
I always think if you work nights it’s dog hours, so every hour you work feels like seven in the real world, so it feels like I’m doing 21 hours a night!
That ability to come on stage, and say ‘are you ready’ and have people cheer, it’s never not going to make you feel great!
And I tried some Polish today, and apparently it wasn’t s**t!
And that ability to go on stage is completely different…
But maybe not too different from what you were doing on Nuts TV in 2005…
Oh mate you have read my Wikipedia page! Jesus Christ!
Nuts TV was completely different because it was just a studio with no live audience, so it was just TV.
So how do you transition from being in a studio with no audience, to coming over to esports?
I’ve worked around tons and tons of sports, so I’ve done darts, I’ve done motor racing, darts, MMA, and realistically I’m not an expert on any of them!
But what you understand quite quickly is that you don’t need to be an expert, because most of the people watching it also isn’t an expert, but what you’ll always have alongside you [on these productions] is people who are experts.
So in esports you’ve got ‘Moses’ [Jason O’Toole], or Chad [‘Spunj’ Burchill], or Alex [‘Machine’ Richardson].
They’re the experts, I don’t need to be an expert, and when it comes to these esports events I don’t really need to know that much because what I’m doing is hyping up the event.
My career has been very much about dipping in and out of different stuff, so I’m absolutely a master of nothing, nothing at all.
I’m not an expert on anything on at all, except blagging it a little bit!
So the difference in skill is multi-faceted that you do different things. I’ve always enjoyed being on stage, I’ve always enjoyed the live experience, but I also like the intimacy of radio.
And that comes into my next question, about how you’ve done so many different things, you’ve done football, even stuff like Zwift, do you have a favourite? Is it a bit of a blur?
Oh mate it’s all a bit of a blur. I can’t remember! I went through the year I had last year for an Instagram post and I had forgotten most of it. I look back and I did so many great things!
I did a couple of great esports tournaments, I DJ’d in front of 50,000 people, I did a couple of gameshows as well that I was on.
I did all these different things, Celebrity Mastermind, Pointless, and I look back and think ‘oh my god, I remember none of these!’
But I guess that’s the point of being busy, and I think it’s quite good that I never reflect on past glories, so no, it’s all a blur. Absolutely a blur!
So do you prefer to be busy?
If I sit around, I start obsessed about things, so it’s always best to keep me busy.
But then I can be too busy, my wife says I can be ‘toxically busy.’
I can find something to do all the time, and that is possibly not always a good thing.
Is that why you’ve gone into so many different fields [within presenting] then?
I just can’t sit still!
People always say that my career has been so strange, they ask, ‘how have you planned it’, and I haven’t planned a thing!
When you do what we do, sometimes you take the next job that’s offered to you, because you’ve got to pay your mortgage, you’ve got to earn a living.
People asked why I went to go work on darts, and I was like, because they offered me a job to go and work on the darts and I said yes. Sometimes it’s as simple as that! I’m not saying that I would do anything – although I possibly would – but variety is the spice of life.
If you look at people who work within Counter-Strike, they work within Counter-Strike.
Look at someone like Chad, he knows everything about this game, this is his dream to be in this world.
I have never been somebody who is an expert!
Speaking of doing lots of things, you’ve done work for the British Forces Broadcasting Service in the past and the British Army recently received criticism on social media for targeting young people through Fortnite. Is this an area you have any thoughts on?
With the British Forces, these people are so isolated. Just ask ‘stunna’ [Tres Saranthus, who was an Infantryman in the US Army for three years].
These people are so isolated and they have nobody to talk to. Gaming gives them an opportunity to talk to people. I only catch up with my mates online.
I jump in, we will play some Call of Duty, and that is where I get that outpouring of talking to my friends.
The Forces thing is interesting, because when you’re away, it is a really good way of keeping people’s mental wellbeing.
People struggle in the Army, they absolutely do. With esports, we found that people are talking more. And because sometimes you’re just talking about whatever match, you’re talking face-to-face. It’s a really great thing for people to get talking.
It’s young, predominately men [in the army], and young, predominately men play computer games.
If people playing online is a way of parlaying that with other skills to get people being connected to home, and friends, and life, and family, then it’s an amazing thing. And that’s why we did the show.
Thanks for your time, OJ, and thanks to our coverage partner Predator Gaming for supporting our IEM coverage.
Reece is a sports journalist who has previously worked with the likes of BBC Radio Solent, Southern Daily Echo, Salisbury Radio, VAVEL and many more. He is currently studying a degree in Sports Journalism at Solent University.