Things we learnt from our chat with TobiWan

Vignesh Raghuram

22o, May, 2018

Toby "TobiWan" Dawson appeared on Timelapse, AFK Gaming's Dota 2 podcast last Friday to talk about everything from hardships in his personal life that had him rethinking his career as a caster, to PUBG casting, to Indian esports.

While the podcast is a long one (we spoke to him for over an hour and a half) several interesting points were brought up and discussed. Below is a short summary of what we discussed with TobiWan. You can watch the much more comprehensive podcast here:


Where and how did esports start for TobiWan? 

He started off with Call of Duty – United Offensive way back in 2002. He played for the ADF (Australian Defence Force) and Arsenal. He ended up winning a couple of titles with those teams


How did he get into casting? 

He was admining and playing in the Call of Duty – United Offensive tournaments. But the tournaments started dying when Call of Duty 2 released and players moved on to the other game. Tobi teamed up with another person to start casting to bring in more attention to that scene by virtue of coverage.


What he thinks has spurred SEA Dota's recent success?

SEA has always been quite unstable. They needed some leadership to stabilize it, and that has come in the form of players like iceiceice who have come back to SEA after their stint with Chinese Dota 2 organizations.


How does Tobi prepare for a cast? Does he ever get nervous?

He gets nervous sometimes, more excited than nervous actually, but that’s mostly when games get delayed. The only preparation that happens is making sure that his eyes, mouth, brain are all on the same page. He never drinks when the tournament is running (except maybe sugarfree energy drinks).

Sometimes before the games, he stretches to get the blood flowing. He also watches replays in 2x or 4x speed.


What does Tobi think of Dota 2 casting as a career? And what he is looking to do outside of casting?

It involves a lot of travel. He says it’s very difficult to maintain friendships. He says he can’t even have a cat or a dog since he just can’t spend enough time at home because he travels too much. He says he is looking at other things he can do from home. Like doing consultant work in esports from home. He eventually wants to build a game, and spend less time traveling.


Casters he looked/looks up to.

Originally he was inspired by traditional sports commentators like Ray Warren and Richie Benaud. When he came into esports he was inspired by Day9 and Artosis, because they had the ability to form connections with their audience through youtube/twitch like no other. They could fit into every role you want them to fit into.


Fun incidents at LANs

The Shanghai Major had headsets whose cables were split. When Tobi took pictures of it, he was advised to not share it on social media by the event organizers. During the Nanyang championships, the headsets were electrocuting the casters which forced them to wear the devices on top of their hoodies to get an insulation.

But his favorite story from dodgy LAN events is from a Warcraft 3 Dota event, SMM. The event took place in the middle of nowhere. There, they found themselves in the middle of a tropical storm in which the venue got struck by lightning. He was watching one of the monitors when you could feel the surge, he saw a flicker and an electrical fire began in the back of the monitor, a puff of smoke came out the back and then “BOOM” the lights went out. Everyone was left scrambling in the dark with the dim lights on their old Nokia phones!


Play-by-Play casting in Dota 2 vs CS:GO

Play-be-Play in CS is a little more complicated than in Dota because in the latter, once you see the draft you can understand most of what will go on during teamfights. You have a clear picture of the momentum, the buildup, the teamfight, and the end. Dota has this flow because there is plenty to talk about, even when not teamfighting. It’s a smoother buildup to the hype moments.

In CS:GO and any other FPS, there is just a lot of setup before the quick headshot. They have a lot of problems with fakeness, that is casting in a way which makes people think that they scream for anything and everything. It's not easy to avoid in those types of games.


On observing PUBG matches

You just can’t build a storyline in a PUBG the way you do in Dota. There are 20 different storylines; and 4 each within these 20 which makes it very difficult for a director to focus on a particular storyline. Especially since the map itself doesn’t have any focal points (think objectives like Roshan in Dota).

Which means that most of the casting for PUBG are movements which unfortunately highlights the RNG factor inside the game. He said that it still needs work, as well as balance before it is ‘esports ready’.


More info about TobiWan’s Game

He says he can’t reveal much about that except that it is a sandbox game and it’s not a Battle Royale. He thinks that his game will be the ‘Next Port of Call’ for the gaming genre.


About JoinDOTA, and the sacrifices he made

He says Australia was very difficult to work from because of the timezones as well as living expenses. It also made sense since it meant that he didn’t need to work a full-time job in addition to his casting job. He says it was hard to sell off everything he had and arrived at Berlin with a 1,000 Euros. He says he didn’t have much money, but he had enough to do what he wanted to do.

Eventually, he felt that what he wanted to achieve didn’t line up with what they wanted to achieve and that he wanted to own something he built on his own. Hence he left JoinDOTA earlier this year.


On the teams coming into The International 8

He thinks that Virtus Pro is stronger than them all. He also feels that people need to stop analyzing about what has happened to these three teams. He says teams who have qualified for TI might be ‘saving strats’ and are probably looking into flying under the radar in the lead-up.

When asked about his TI8 invite, he says that anyone who might have received an invite isn’t allowed to talk about it.


On bias in casting

Tobi learned his lesson with the Na’Vi of old. A caster has to be unbiased in English casts of Dota 2, unlike regional ones. This is a difficult thing to break out of if you are used to watching mainstream sport because mainstream sports are always a little biased.

Personal opinions will always flitter around in your head, you need to let this come through every now and then because without it you can’t portray your emotions accurately. At the same time, you need to disconnect a bit, by being biased towards the game itself. Be biased towards fantastic moves, well though-out strats, and great execution.

The only time where you might want to take a break from this is when someone is trying to sing the song of underdogs and you want to portray that picture. But there needs to be a balance even in that. Otherwise, fans of the opposing team will get mad and flame you.


On Indian esports and viewership disparity between CS:GO and Dota 2

CS:GO is fundamentally easily to consume and watch, because nothing much really changes every patch. You can just jump in and its easy to follow. It’s just the same guns, and objectives with some minor map changes. Whereas in order to follow Dota 2 you need to be constantly following and keeping up with patches, etc. It’s also hard to pick up and thus has a problem of attracting a newer playerbase.

As far as India goes, he doesn’t know much of the scene. He says that you usually start locally, build your own strength (as in strong organizations to run these leagues) and then you can move to International waters. He says there are stereotypes about India, and people need to fight against that if you want more events coming into the country.

Just like China, there are some really poor parts of China. But, when players take pictures in 5 star hotels, in venues and in stages which look crisp and clean; you show that you can run something that looks good, enticing for people to actually come to and that there is a local crowd that can be marketed to.


On Dota 2’s declining playerbase

The game has lost an average of 48,000 players per week. Dota 2 has lost 500,000 players from the game from it’s peak. There is a problem of age and transition. It’s hard to stay fresh and stay unique.

Maybe Artifact is the answer.


On ESL – Facebook controversy

ESL wants to run Dota Majors. But their prizepool before this season was $300,000. In order to run a major, they needed another $200,000 in order to get Valve’s funding to push it up to $1,000,000. They can’t start cutting costs everywhere else, so they sold sponsorship deals to groups like Mercedes Benz. But when they needed more, they took a page out of the mainstream media and sold distribution rights.

But the audience wants to watch it on Twitch, and it’s not as transferable as something like flipping a channel. It’s like watching a movie on Netflix and on DVD. When you force someone to move from a DVD 5.1 surround system to a data system which only has low bandwidth, mono-sound etc. That’s the equivalent of the reaction that people are having when you get them to switch streaming platform. You can’t expect a viewerbase to just accept it when they lose features without giving them something more in return.


Favourite play-by-play caster and analyst in Dota

His favourite play by play caster is ODPixel because of his energy and diction during teamfights. Analyst-wise Synderyn in-a-way yes, in-a-way no but it would be hands down Merlini until he retired. He moved towards ‘I know what I am talking about but I am having fun with it’ which is what makes a great analyst.


Is there any chance for the MOBA scene to make a comeback? 

We don’t need to comeback when we are still up on top! This genre will never die because of the loyalty that exists which can’t be dismissed. It’s very difficult to walk away from this type of games. The biggest problem is that it’ll always be compared with other upcoming games.


Will the 'Well Played' series continue?

Yes. By the end of this year.