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In conversation with John Allen - Inside the mind of one of PUBG Mobile's top talents

Shounak Sengupta
17th Dec, 2019

2019 has been a breakout year for mobile esports and one title which has continued to impress has been PUBG Mobile. With global esport powerhouses such as Cloud9, Fnatic, Spacestation Gaming and Tempo Storm getting in on the action early and a well defined road map for 2020, PUBG Mobile's esport ecosystem is looking more stable and set for a brighter future. While it's true that the title is nowhere close to a Counter Strike or a League of Legends, there is a passionate community dedicated to getting it there and one such name is that of John Allen's. The 24-year old has established himself as one of the top talents in the scene, having worked at some of the most premier events of the 2019 calendar year. His love for the game coupled with his natural command over the English language has made him an ideal candidate as a storyteller for the game. We caught up with the man himself to get his take on all things PUBG Mobile, to understand his passion for casting and what his goals are in the coming year. 


Hi John. Please introduce yourself for our readers and tell us a bit about what got you into casting?

My name is John Allen and I am a professional PUBG Mobile commentator. I'm 24 and based out of London in the United Kingdom.

My esports journey started back when I joined the University of Manchester Esports Society back in 2013. Not only was it my first year at university, it was the founding year of the society as well. One which I would eventually come to be the head of in my final year attending university.

They were putting on an event called the King of the North and were asking for help from the society members in all aspects of orchestrating the event. One of those roles was as casters and streamers for the tournament that was to be run alongside the event. I thought it sounded fun, I joined up, and enjoyed the experience immensely and ended up commentating my first ever live finals on my first casting gig. From there I joined the National University Esports League (NUEL) in the UK as a CS:GO commentator and started to put effort into something I really enjoyed.

I cut my teeth on the university scene and, up until this point, it had all been voluntary work. I was then contacted to work with the team at the biggest gaming event in the UK, Insomnia. The fact that I was being offered money to do something I enjoyed so much was astounding to me. I seized the opportunity with both hands and continued to develop my craft within CS:GO and eventually was even able to work on the ESL Pro League B stream.

As time went on, new games started to be released that captured my interest. Most notable was Overwatch. This is where I met one of my best friends and long time casting duo, Blank. We worked on the UK tournament circuit for the best part of a year and developed our synergy very quickly. At the end of 2018, I was offered a long term contract in Spain and he was offered the job on the Overwatch Contenders broadcast so we split ways for almost half of 2019 as we trod our own paths until we came back together for the Fall split of the PMCO, and now here we are!


In terms of being involved with esports, what sort of goals did you set for yourself in 2019 and how much of that do you think you have achieved?

I had a goal for the longest time that was to commentate on a large, truly global final event. Back during the Spring split, I was on the analyst desk for the global finals, which I was thrilled with, but I wanted to be the voice over the closing moments of the tournament. I was able to realize this goal in Kuala Lumpur at the Global finals of the Fall split and it was such an incredible experience.

On a more mercenary note, I had set a goal for myself to hit 700 followers on twitter by the end of this year and was able to achieve that early. I changed the goal to push over 1000 and was able to achieve this about half way through the run of the PMCO Fall split. Next year, I think I want to focus more on my Instagram account as it's a much more involved community with PUBG Mobile, so my next goal is to break 1000 followers there!

I started the year without a particularly clear direction other than to find work in esports so it was a surprise that I got caught up in the passion and growth that the PUBG Mobile community was displaying. Now, at the end of 2019, I have a clear goal for myself in that aspect, and that is to be one of the best PUBG Mobile commentators in the world.

2019 has been a spectacular year for me so far, and I hope that I can continue to grow in the future.


How did you find yourself in the PUBG Mobile community?

I was brought into the PMCO Spring split broadcast on luck mostly. They needed a last minute replacement for the Indian regional broadcast and I was available and looking for work. I had had some experience in the Battle Royale genre before so I was able to fill the slot. I was then picked as part of the team to go to the live finals in New Delhi which was a crazy experience. It was by far the biggest event I'd ever been a part of and I loved every second. From there, I knew that I had found a community that was as passionate as I am about esports and in particular about PUBG Mobile.

Now I'm proud to call myself a part of the rising tide of mobile esports in the west and to bare witness to the incredible fans and players in the eastern regions.


As a caster, you have established yourself in the PUBG Mobile space. Are you also involved with other titles be it on mobile or PC/console? Tell us a bit about what titles you like to watch or some titles you'd want to eventually be involved with.

I am friends with quite a few commentators and broadcasters from other titles and so I do keep tabs on them to some degree. I am currently only working towards PUBG Mobile but I keep track of games like Overwatch, CS:GO, and League of Legends.

The main reason I watch other titles is because I'll know the people involved so I actually tend to stick to more grassroots things in the UK like the BELONG Arena Clash, or the NUEL and NSE University tournaments.

In terms of titles I want to be involved with, that remains unclear. I am very happy to be a part of PUBG Mobile and have no intention of moving away from it for the foreseeable future. Having said that, recently Riot Games have announced a whole suite of games to be released in the next few years which I'll be keeping track of to make sure I have a full knowledge of the industry. Who knows what the future holds!


You've traveled to quite a few events in quite a few regions in 2019. What has been your most memorable esports memory of 2019?

Definitely my first event in New Delhi for the PMCO Spring Split India regional finals. Hearing the crowd there moved me deeply with the pure excitement and passion they gave to the show. I will never forget the roar when Soul were announced as the winners after the final game. Not only was it a great moment for me working on my first international finals event, it was a great moment for the fans who had shown us how fantastic supporters can be.

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John along with other talent at the PMCO Fall Championship | Image via @johnallecasts_


As an English talent, is it harder to reach the core audience since most mobile titles have higher viewership on regional language streams? What is holding back viewers/players from EU/NA from growing?

Time. The majority of competitive esports in the west is normally played on PC with some console tournaments too. Because of the fact that there is a history behind LAN events, behind gaming in general, this is where the west invested it's passion and drive to grow the industry. They have the same feeling about PC/console esports as the east does about Mobile esports. As more young people grow up playing mobile games primarily, I believe that will shift towards what we see over the rest of the world.

I am a good example of this! I was PC pretty much exclusively until I was made aware of games like Vainglory, and after that worked on Arena of Valor. I was shown, as I believe many others will in the coming years, that mobile games aren't just candy crush and flappy bird. That they are there in their own right and have merits all their own. It just needs time.


Traditionally, PC and console gamers have sort of looked down upon mobile gaming. Do you feel this is slowly changing in regions where PC or console has been dominant? Is the same true in casting circles? Is it hard for casters who have grown up with PC titles to switch to mobile games?

As I said in my previous answer, there is definitely some way to go for mobile games in terms of their outward facing impression. I have seen derision towards mobile titles from fans, gamers, and broadcast talent as well but it is definitely changing. Even within myself, when I started my esports journey, I would never have thought I'd ever want to cast a mobile title and yet here I am with no hesitation when I say that I love what I do.

In terms of difficulty transitioning to mobile, I think it's relatively minimal from a purely technical point of view. It's still digital characters running around with guns, it's just the control scheme has changed. The issue we've had is that mobile investment in English language esports has been somewhat shaky in the past, prone to fickleness. With the structure that PUBG Mobile is building however, I think now is the perfect time to treat it as a serious career path and that's exactly what I intend to do.


 Who are the people you've looked up to the most in esports and in what way have they influenced you?

I think there are many people worthy of admiration but a few who stand out to me come from the early days of my esports journey.

Someone who showed my the value of honesty and feedback when working on your craft was Derry "Dezachu" Holt who now works in Rainbow 6 Siege. He was never one to beat around the bush and always gave fair criticism which allowed me to make the first steps towards improving myself as a caster.

I also look up to my casting duo Blank. The way he works to learn and absorb knowledge is actually very difficult to keep up with! I am very lucky to be working with him on my journey. He helps to drive me to not settle for where I am right now and to adhere to my old school's motto of alto peto. Aim high.

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John with his partner in crime - Blankcasts | Image via @JohnAllenCasts

 

Outside of broadcast talent, I would have to say one newer and one older friend, Jan, who works at Tencent games, and Sam Deans, who is a freelance producer and show director. I greatly value their transparency and how easy they are to talk to. They are the best people to work with at an event as they are constantly in communication with us about anything we need as talent or that the organisers need from us. More people should work like they do!


Unlike 3-4 years ago, more talent are getting into multiple titles to try and find a place in esports. Is this because legacy titles such as CS:GO, Dota 2 or even LoL have reached a saturation point where it is becoming harder and harder for new talent to make a name for themselves? Or does it have more to do with the fact that these titles give you room to be more flexible and build a more diverse portfolio?

Esports is a very young industry when compared to other entertainment sectors. Because of this, there are very few titles with a truly viable tier 2 scene for the broadcast talent to survive solely from. There is some degree of saturation in the legacy titles mentions, but I wouldn’t say it’s impossible to break through. It’s like the top of any profession, it’ll be hard to make it there without experience and skill.

There currently isn’t the money in most of those titles’ esports budget to lock down a full talent roster exclusively all year round and as such, the talent will look to supplement their income with other work. It’s a natural part of a young industry.


You've worked with a lot of personalities in 2019. Who are the people who you absolutely want to work with in future events and why?

As long as I’m working with my friends, I’m at my happiest. Although that didn’t stop me being envious of some of the other PUBG mobile people getting to meet Megan Fox at the Save the Amazon event they had recently!

I couldn’t do anything without Blank of course, and I mentioned how valuable Jan and Sam are to  work with at an event.

Talking about slightly grander appearances, I have recently been really enjoying Billie Eilish’s music and would love to see her do something PUBG Mobile. I also definitely want to have Gordon Ramsey show me exactly how to cook the perfect Chicken Dinner.


 What are you thoughts on the plans PUBG Mobile has for esports in 2020? As the esports calendar starts getting more and more packed, is there a concern that the average viewership will drop?

Next year looks to be very exciting for the PUBG Mobile esports calendar. I think as an esport scene, it’s being looked after very well and in the right way. I can’t really speculate on viewership, however I don’t think people will be disappointed by what’s in store.


Unlike other titles, Battle Royales have a very unique problem in the sense that it's incredibly hard to build narratives and storylines consistently since a lot of teams and players are involved and keep changing. Is this something that you agree with and what do you think is the approach to address this?

I think I’m going to have to disagree with you there. The stories exist and I would in fact say that they are much richer and deeper than in traditional team vs team games. There’s so much going on that it can sometimes be difficult to catch, but the notes are there and our jobs as broadcast talent are to arrange those notes into a symphony that helps the fans listen to and enjoy the scene.

I think what I’m trying to say is that change doesn’t stop the story but is in fact the driving force behind it. Nobody reads Lord of the Rings to find out Frodo stayed in the Shire and was happy with his life, they read it because he embarks on an adventure, they read it because the journey changes him and the other characters and that is exciting to be a part of.


What does John Allen want to achieve in 2020, personally and professionally?

I want to keep improving my craft and be one of the best PUBG Mobile casters in the world. I want to be a part of the community and make my mark. I’m aiming to be amongst the casters covering the world league next year.

On the statistics side, I want to break 2000 followers on both instagram and twitter and continue to grow myself as a brand within PUBG Mobile.

I want to create more content and give more back to the PUBG Mobile community that made 2019 such a great year for me.

Personally, I want to find a more permanent place to live, so I’ll be looking at places in the next few months. I need to sort out a proper base of operations for next years work. There’s a lot to do!




Follow John Allen on Twitter and Instagram for his regular takes on the PUBG Mobile scene and some exclusive BTS action at LANs among other things. 

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Shounak Senguptatwitter_link

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Shounak has been one of AFK Gaming’s longest-serving esports journalists. From Dota, to Counter Strike and now Mobile Titles, you can rely on him to bring you the latest scoop and news from the world of esports.

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