Interview: Austin “Capitalist” Walsh
DotA2 caster Austin “Capitalist” Walsh catches up with me to speak on current scene topics, Valve’s approach to esports, what games he could be casting alongside DotA2, and what his ultimate goal is.
The International 7 will take place during the second week of August. Currently sitting at $13,000,000 up for grabs, the premier level DotA2 tournament will attempt to break its own record— $20,770,640— the most money offered in a prize pool for a video game in history.
Austin was a viewer of The International 1 in 2011, who will now be joining others on the main stage as a caster and panelist six years later. I wanted to learn more about his journey, take a few questions from the community, and delve into his thoughts about some current happenings within the scene.
You initially got into the casting scene when Heroes of Newerth was taking off. Toby Dawson helped you break into your first gig, and after a rough start and another chance, you established yourself as an up-and-coming caster. If Toby hadn’t given you that second chance to redeem yourself and secure a job, do you see yourself being a professional player today? In what game?
It’s funny you ask that, because during my entire time as an amateur caster, I was also playing on teams as an amateur player. My life was basically divided between military duties, civilian job, playing, and commentating. I never tried to focus my attention and efforts into a single one thing which probably made me sub-par at all of them. I do believe that if I hadn’t found success as a caster, I would’ve continued to play on tier 3 NA teams but I highly doubt I would’ve found success, at least not anything meaningful.
I know my limitations, and even if I poured myself 100% into the game and being a player, I’m not nearly as talented as many of the young stars we see today. People like Sumail are prodigies, special talents that don’t come by very often and have dedicated themselves and worked hard for years to get where they’re at. It’s hard to see how I’d have much success as a mediocre player focusing on pro play at 22. I definitely would’ve stuck with Dota though. I sometimes get offers to delve into other games as a caster or as a streamer but I’ve never found a game that intrigues me as much as Dota.
I could secure myself legacy status, the kind of status that guys like Toby or Merlini hold, where you’re there at the start and become indispensable to the scene. If I’ve learned anything from this year being independent, it’s that I’m not indispensable like some of the others. Owen & Toby are much more popular PbP casters, panelists slots will start being crowded out by ex-pro players.
I’m not tied to a studio that’s contacted for coverage of LANs & online qualifiers. So, when I think of these things, I sometimes wonder if I should push myself into other games. It would broaden my career opportunities and increase my fan base considerably if I’m successful. But, I know I wouldn’t be as happy as I am learning about the complexity of Dota. Plus, I only do my best work when I’m very passionate about the subject matter at hand.
You served our country [served in the USA’s military], which I find is interesting and unique, being one of the only people in esports who is a caster and also a military veteran. Mentioning a thick skin from your time in the military alongside discipline, what other ways has it helped you?
Yeah, thick skin definitely helps for sure. That said, my time and experience also helped develop a personality trait that can be… Not so helpful, I guess. I don’t like bullies and I have a strong sense of what I consider justice. I can’t stand sitting by and letting things happen, and I can’t stand other people who do it too.
When I become incensed, I have a tendency to act before fully evaluating. Someone yells at me for fucking up, I get right back in there face for all the times they fucked up and not a word was said. If I think someone is screwing me over or someone I care about, I call them out on it and lash out. It’s not a very political or smart mindset to have.
Sometimes you lash out at people who don’t deserve it or others get caught in the crossfire. Then you have to make right with them. I guess all the focus on acting fast and quick means less time for patience and evaluation.
Coming back to casting, what made you pick DotA2? Why choose this game to cast over say, Smite or League of Legends, or an unrelated game of a different genre?
I started playing Dota at its inception, and due to its long history as well as the mechanic limitations of the War3 engine, the complexity of the game drew me in. Every game that came whether it’s strategy or mechanics, paled in comparison to the OG. However, what has kept me and many others in Dota 2 is the dedication of IceFrog and the rest of Valve to continue to push Dota 2 in new directions.
Dota hasn’t stayed the same. It’s constantly moving forward, evolving in new and different ways that we’ve never seen before. From a competitive standpoint, it means players and teams must change with the game.
The game itself has broken and reformed industry standards for esports several times with Valve’s approach and techniques for making a tournament happen. What are your thoughts on The International VII and talk to us a little bit about what you’re doing to prepare.
Much like the creation of Dota itself, I think Valve has ignored what the rest of the esports scene has done and focused on what they believe is the correct system to have. To expand on that, League of Legends had a freemium model that Dota easily could’ve followed, but they attempted to keep the purity of the game intact while making money off of everything else surrounding it.
In similar ways, I believe The International and Majors systems were setup looking to keep the competitive spirit of the tournament as pure and untainted as possible while looking to the community to support this dream. As a result, every TI has been the largest prize pools esports has ever seen and the Majors are easily the most important tournaments outside of the International.
Every tournament organizer, caster, admin, etc probably has something negative to say about Valve’s tournaments. But, while esports is in its infancy, we’re all still learning and redefining how this genre of entertainment should look and no current esports system is ideal.
You’ve worked your way up with dedication and passion for esports along with DotA2 as a game itself. Since 2011 you’ve transitioned from viewer to main stage caster and panelist. How did this opportunity fall into place post-HoN casting, and how has it felt?
I remember staying up late to watch the first International with my cousin. See, at the time, no one in America knew what Dota was. At least, not that I knew of. Explaining wasn’t exactly easy either.
“So you play Warcraft III?”
“No, I play another game inside of Warcraft III called Dota!”
Of the very few exchanges I had about Dota in those days, they were all pretty much like that.
So this weird, game inside of a game was finally becoming a AAA release and The International was it’s coming-out party. I was so excited to see the game that I loved, the game that I had casted and played scrims and followed competitively for all of my adolescent life, turn into something real and tangible.
But all that excitement and passion for the game in that moment doesn’t instantly give you the connections to start playing & learning Dota with the best. It doesn’t jumpstart your career in commentating, giving you the opportunity to cast for thousands. So, given that esports wasn’t really much of a thing and very, very few were making a living from it, it stayed as a passionate hobby.
I fit my play times and casting times between my jobs and military duties. I used my vacation time for TI’s, since it was in my neighborhood anyway and I was lucky enough that my military duties never overlapped with it either.
I attended TI’s, I worked as press and casted for various organizations that were doomed for failure. I got by like many other people on Reddit do, tasting a bit of the esports life here and there by watching or playing games but knowing I’d never be a part of it. One of those times, I was watching Toby casting a game solo while talking to my friend Chappy.
I mentioned to him that I didn’t understand how someone as popular as Toby couldn’t get a co-caster for the game (I later became all too familiar with that problem). He asked me why didn’t I co-cast with him. I told him I didn’t really know Toby, I contacted him once long time ago in the Dota days, but I didn’t really know the guy. Chappy insisted that he could get me in and contacted Toby on my behalf. Next day, Toby hit me up for co-casting and that’s where I made my broader debut.
After a little trial and error, I learned about how to become a co-caster over the PbP that I was used to doing, and I became a regular on the stream. I knew how rare an opportunity this was, so I worked every single cast I could.
Even if it didn’t pay, it didn’t matter because I loved doing it and the exposure couldn’t hurt. Then late one night, I was working a 16 hour shift at the paper mill. I was exhausted and reclining in my forklift, listening to music while I talked to Toby on Skype. Out of nowhere, he asked if I’d ever be interested in a job and moving to Germany.
That was the hard part. Everything that happened afterwards, I had some modicum of control over, so it felt more natural. Working hard and grinding my way to become a main stage caster at TI was all about improvement and that hard work became even easier when I had someone as special as Blitz by my side.
Who will you be quietly rooting for to take it all at TI7?
One of my favorite storylines from TI6 was that we continued the tradition of not having a single player or team win TI two times in a row.
In that spirit, this TI, I’ll be cheering for anybody that’s new to the scene or has players that hasn’t won TI yet. If it wasn’t for stupid, sexy, TI-winning S4, I’d be all-in on OG to win the full thing.
I think it would be cool to see a true dynasty finally cemented. People forget that OG were a dominant force the previous year and only stumbled at TI so they aren’t looked at as the team of the year. This year, they’ve won both of the Majors and have a chance at redemption for the biggest prize of all.
In the past you have created posts regarding the professional connection between players and casters. Mentioning no one really reached out after the post was made, what are your current thoughts on that same topic, 2 years later?
Oh yeah, the annual X pro player vaguely shits on casters in general for lack of knowledge and having the gall to criticize players. I can only point to a few players who have ever shared unique information and ideas with me about Dota, despite me actively seeking it. I don’t want to be that guy asking questions you aren’t comfortable answering
I’ve also worked hard to be very discrete with the knowledge I do have, never disseminating certain ideas or concepts into casts if I feel it’s not common knowledge. Sure, that seems a bit paranoid, but I never want to burn the few bridges I have when it comes to Dota knowledge straight from the source.
Dota is all about knowledge, and pros hoard that knowledge with good reason. I’ve even heard that some captains have made sure everyone on the team is very strict with the knowledge they have and to never talk to other pros on other teams about the concepts they’ve come up with. Because this knowledge isn’t something that comes to very many individuals on it’s own.
Which is why you learn Dota exponentially faster in a team environment, where everyone is thinking about and experiencing these various factors that come into play. Hero match-ups, hero synergies, hero timings, strategies, strategy timings, positioning, vision, items.
Every single one of those factors seem simplistic to start but actually grows more complex the deeper into pro Dota you go. And you need to keep to date with all of them as the game and ideas about the game change.
So, if the important part of Dota is all about strategy and the knowledge that goes into those strategies, and that knowledge is both hoarded and hard to earn as an individual, it leaves casters and analysts with little to work on.
You’re own individual efforts may not even net you anything simply because you don’t know what to look for in the first place. There’s no wonder some casters can seem woefully uninformed.
I don’t think any of those flame tweets have ever been directed to me, and I’ve worked very hard to stay up-to-date with the current ideas about Dota. I’m still going to step in if someone is flaming my colleagues, especially in a very passive aggressive way. Some of them don’t NEED knowledge to do their jobs, like OD or Toby. Others don’t have the opportunities to learn from the people that do know better and are just grasping at scraps.
It’s ok to have strong opinions and ideas about the game and to clash with what the players are doing, as long as you’re trying to explain the ideas behind it. Synderen is someone who’s quite good at balancing both sides of decision making but people don’t realize it’s only interesting because he has deeper knowledge than most others on the subject.
I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve been able to make friends with some very smart Dota people and gotten some of their insights into Dota because I don’t think simply playing at a high-level or studying replays would net me half the knowledge I have thanks to learning from others.
That said, I do think analysts of Dota could do more and they’ve been able to get by with poor knowledge in the past. Dota talent should play and watch more Dota. I don’t mean watching casts, I mean watching replays, watching from one teams perspective.
Fuck the casting, and really try and think about what’s going on in the game and why people do what they do.