Interview: StarCraft II casters Axslav and Axeltoss

T.J. Hafer at

Alex "Axeltoss" Rodriguez

Axeltoss is a protoss player for team ROOT Gaming, as well as a StarCraft II commentator and content producer for MLG. He will be casting alongside Axslav at the Winter Championships in March.

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

Axeltoss: I had no idea eSports existed when I first started playing StarCraft II a few months after the [Wings of Liberty] beta came out. After some light investment into the ladder, I wanted to improve to beat my friends, so I did some research on YouTube. From there, I realized StarCraft II as a spectator experience was a thing, and did more research to find out how I could get involved. A few months later, I discovered GosuCoaching.com had some writing internships, and that turned into a community relations role for NASL's (North American Star League) Season 1. I knew I wanted to get into casting eventually, and used my relationships locally, at my university and at the NASL, to advance myself to bigger and bigger casting stages.

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

I was casting a non-stage match at the MLG 2012 Winter Championships. It was a match between the final two foreigner players in the tournament; Huk and Naniwa. It was the closest game I've ever had the pleasure to cast, and the energy was palpable in the venue and extended back stage. It was championship Sunday and the loser would be out, the winner moving on and deeper into the money. As the game approached the more intense stages I could literally hear the crowd from across the entire venue and was later told how massive it was. For that many people to gather around a non-main stage match blew my mind, and the fact that I could hear them from so far away truly helped me understand the passion that exists within StarCraft II and eSports, and enhanced my confidence in its ability to grow and prosper.

What has been your favorite event to cast so far?

My favorite event to cast was the 2012 Battle.net World Championships in Shanghai. It was my first opportunity to travel across the world as a StarCraft II commentator, and I soaked up the experience. It was a very emotional experience for me as I considered how far I had come from a year prior, when I was casting in my bedroom to 50 or so people for hours on end, to being on the biggest stage among the best commentators in the world. I had made it.

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

Leenock is definitely up there as far as the most fun player to cast. You never know what crazy strategy he's going to pull out next. You never think it's going to work, but then you realize, it's Leenock... of course it will.

Do you have a particular favorite player to follow?

I have many personal relationships with a lot of the players, so it's hard to pick a favorite. I am a member of team ROOT gaming, so I'm always super excited to cast players like Vibe, TT1, Catz, Drewbie, Major, etc. I am tremendously good friends with all of them, so it's always fun rooting for them and hoping they succeed.

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

In the eSports world, 5-10 years is such a long time. It might be more important to think about where technology is that stage. Will typical packages with cable/dish companies be exclusively Internet with 100up/100down around the world? If so, is TV even necessary? In 5-10 years, I'd like to see video games as an acceptable pass-time for the world's majority, rather than some niche that only certain people participate in... rather than something unhealthy, reserved for individuals with no social life... I want to see worldwide acceptance of video games as a spectator sport. I want to see parents encourage their kids to try out video games. I want to see gaming as a Friday night activity, an acceptable relief from the typical, "party, party, drink, drink" weekend mentality. I want to see an MLG weekend eclipse the Super Bowl in numbers by a magnitude of 10.

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

I think it's all fairly silly. (I understand I used the word "sport" in my previous answer.) To me, it feels like, okay, do these players work hard? Do they deserve what they are given? Is it worth someone's time to sit down and watch these players do their thing? I feel like there are arguments to support a positive answer to each of those. These players do work hours and hours of a day to perfect their trade. They have coaches, they have regimens, they make similar sacrifices as players in any typical sport. No, StarCraft isn't technically a sport by my definition, but why does it matter? Watch it, research it, possibly enjoy it, then make your own claims.

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

Look out for the players focusing completely on HotS. They have a fantastic chance to blow people away and truly make a statement in Heart of the Swarm. A lot of the highest level players right now have obligations in Wings of Liberty, so they can't dedicate most of their time to HotS. This leaves an amazing opportunity open for those players who were on the cusp of achieving great things in Wings of Liberty. Those players can get the most practice time possible in HotS, and set a bar that will be very difficult to surpass. This is a great opportunity for North Americans to get some respect back from the worldwide community. Let's see who takes advantage.

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

The amount of work and discipline is actually pretty staggering, especially considering the current state of the community. One wrong move and you could potentially be fed to the wolves. It's a dangerous yet thrilling occupation. I have to stay on my toes and watch my every move. I can do a thousand things right but one step in the wrong direction and that's all I'm remembered for. It's honestly slightly terrifying.

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

Hellbat! Widow Mine! Having been a Protoss player in WoL, I've been playing pretty much exclusively Terran in HotS. The new units are so much fun to play with, and I felt I've only skimmed the surface of the potential of the race.

Thanks to Nick and Alex for taking the time to talk to us, and to MLG for the opportunity. You can check out the casters in MLG's ongoing Winter Showdowns, and at the upcoming Winter Championship in Dallas. Passes are on sale now for $35, and streams will be available in 720p free on MLG's Official site.