Interview: StarCraft II casters Axslav and Axeltoss

T.J. Hafer at

Maybe even more so than the players, casters are the public faces of eSports. Their engagement with the audience and the community has been a big part of growing and shaping the scene—even someone who couldn't name a single StarCraft II pro might recognize icons like Day[9] and TotalBiscuit.

We recently had the chance to pose some questions to two of the veteran StarCraft II casters who will be bringing you the play-by-plays at MLG's Winter Championship next month: Alex "Axeltoss" Rodriguez and Nick "Axslav" Ranish. Read on to learn how they got into the scene, which players are the hardest to cast, and where they'd like to see eSports in the not-so-distant future.

Nick "Axslav" Ranish

Axslav is a pro-level Protoss player for team Infinity Seven. He acted as an analyst at the first MLG 2012 Spring Arena, and has since come to be known as one of the more knowledgeable and in-depth casters in StarCraft II. He hosts Rules of Engagement, a nightly advice and analysis show aimed at all skill levels of StarCraft II players.

PC Gamer: How did you get involved in the eSports scene?

Axslav: Growing up, I always had a passion for strategy games. As I strived to become a better player, I naturally gravitated toward learning from the best and discovered the eSports scene. I started out watching/practicing, then competing, and now casting.

Can you identify a particular most surreal moment in the growth of the eSports phenomenon?

My most surreal moment was in March 2006. I made the final four of the Warcraft 3 GGL Trans-Atlantic Finals and got a free trip to New York to compete. While I didn't win first place, I still won a couple thousand dollars. I was in University studying computer science at the time and that was when I first realized playing video games could potentially be a career.

What has been your favorite event to cast so far?

My favorite event to cast was the 2012 MLG Fall Championship in Dallas. Leading up to the event, I worked full-time for MLG so I had the privilege of seeing all of the event components come together in the upcoming months to the tournament. When it finally all fell into place, it was a great sense of accomplishment.

Which player would you say is the most fun to cast? Which one is the most difficult?

While casting any world-class player is a treat, Leenock is the player I have the most fun casting. His intelligence and creativity is amazing to bear witness to. While many players come up with creative and unique strategies, Leenock’s thought process in coming up with mid-game creative adaptations to the present situation is unparalleled. Flash is one of the more difficult players to cast because the casual observer won't notice his mind-blowing macro, and it can sometimes be difficult to convey just how amazing he is at the game.

StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm

Do you have a particular favorite player to follow?

I've been a fan of Stork for almost a decade, so while he's not currently one of the most dominant players, I still love to follow him. I also really enjoyed watching FanTaSy's play in SC1-Brood War and am hoping to see his multitasking harassment skill show in the upcoming release of SC2: Heart of the Swarm.

Where would you like to see eSports go in the next 5-10 years?

I find eSports to be extremely fun to watch. In the next 5-10 years, I would like everyone to at least be aware of eSports, and have the opportunity to enjoy watching as much as I do.

Where do you stand on the whole, "Is StarCraft technically a sport?" debate?

Whether StarCraft is technically a sport is not important to me. What is important, is that it is played professionally, and watching the professionals play is absolutely amazing and entertaining for the spectators.

Who do you see as the relatively unknown players right now who are going to be big in the future?

There are so many great players in the Proleague over in Korea that aren't yet known to most of the Western audiences. As they get more exposure I expect players like Soulkey, Hydra, Classic, Cure, and Effort to be really big.

What elements of eSports casting do you feel like aren't visible to viewers, but that they should be aware of?

I feel many viewers aren't up to speed with classic strategic concepts. Understanding these concepts makes a viewer able to be entertained not just by massive engagements, but also by watching the way the professionals tactically move their armies around the map.

Do you have a favorite new unit (or units) in Heart of the Swarm?

I really love the widow mines, and while Ravens aren't new to HotS, they've been changed so they're now super fun to play around with.

On the next page: Alex "Axeltoss" Rodriguez