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Red Bull LAN Orlando - Interview with Marcus "djWHEAT" Graham

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Posted by: Dustin Steiner

Marcus “djWHEAT” Graham is a former Quake player that’s since moved on to become a major face of eSports in general, working for Twtich.tv as their eSports Manager. He’s also commentated for several games spanning from Quake to most recently StarCraft 2 at MLG events and here at the Red Bull LAN! He graciously agreed to sit down and have a chat with us – check it out!

1)You’ve been a caster for several games now – what about the StarCraft 2 Community sets it apart from other games?

That’s a good question because the StarCraft 2 community is really unique compared to other gaming communities.  Part of the reason I think it’s different and unique is that I feel like it has a maturity level because of the community that grew up with Brood War. They already have respect for the players, the Korean culture, for the foreigner scene that always tried to break through that culture and because of that I think that we generally have a older and more mature community. That’s just one part of what really sets it apart

The other part of that is that the community supports what’s great – whether it’s a new tournament  coming out or a new project, even something like the Red Bull LAN, the community really gets behind it. They support it, spread the word, tell their buddies about it, and that’s something that we don’t necessarily see in other communities.

2)What do you think the StarCraft 2 community could learn from other gaming communities, such as the fps or fighting game scenes?

That’s a good question too – I think the one thing, with being mature and being a little bit older sometimes we forget that sometimes we forget that this is ultimately about playing a game and having fun.  Even though we sometimes get caught up in the drama and we like to follow the really serious issues, y’know sometimes we need to step back and say to ourselves “We love the game, It’s fun and that’s what initially drew us together as a community”. The Fighting Game Community in particular, they have a strong foundation of being grassroots, we have grown with our community and that the social factor has always been very relevant. It’s not something we need to learn necessarily, but its definitely something we need to remind ourselves of.

3) Describe your role at Twitch.tv for me – what do you get up to at the office?

I wear a lot of different hats at Twitch - technically, my role there is eSports Manager. I work with a lot f streamers that are currently streaming and guys that potentially could be streaming . This is guys from StarCraft, the Fighting Game Community, Quake.  Lately I’ve been working with members of things like the Magic the Gathering community streaming their draft games and big competitions, guys from the FIFA community are starting to stream. It’s really important to me to keep adding streamers from a variety of games – one of the best parts about Twitch.tv is the wide smorgasbord of content available.

One of my favorite things that I’ve seen recently at Twitch is that, being a console gamer myself, I’ve always been  familiar with the concept of speed runs of games, taking Mario 64 as an example seeing how fast you can get 120 stars. People have actually begun to stream these runs, which is really awesome because now they have full documented VODs of themselves breaking world records without tool assistance. That to me is awesome to be able to foster and build those communities.

Another of my roles at twitch is working with streamers to get ideas for new innovations for streamers, getting the ideas that RnD needs to pursue and to build these tools that we all really need.

Additionally, I work a lot on the business side of things, working with companies that are beginning to see streaming as a marketing tool. We look at the success of a game like Kingdoms of Amalur, a game that would have been moderately successful on its own, but because all of these broadcasters on Twitch got behind it, for a solid day you had massive exposure of this game. It’s really cool to be able to work with companies as they discover that they can show new builds of a game, maybe preview new content they have coming out,  or just a sneak peek of a new game.

I’m pretty spread out at Twitch but that’s just because I really love the concept of streaming video so much, so whatever I can do to get new people involved is what I shoot for.

4) What’s your most memorable eSports moment since you’ve gotten involved, either as a player or as a caster?

I’ve got quite a few… Most recently, I would say that seeing the explosion of the spectator side of StarCraft 2 has been amazing. That’s not one specific event, it started at the MLG events, kind of eclipsing at Anaheim. Same with the Barcraft events, being in a bar, enjoying a beer and loving the games is a big first step in taking StarCraft to maybe more of a mainstream audience than it currently is right now.

As far as general gaming stories go, I’ll never forget the World Cyber Games 2002 – we were there watching a much younger SlayerSBoxer playing in his groups, destroying everyone as you might expect, and he had to play this Peruvian player. We were watching the match and the most unbelievable thing happened – he beat Boxer. This Peruvian player beat the Korean Boxer.

I’ve never seen anything quite like it, the entire Korean press contingency at this event in Korea just flocked to this Peruvian player asking him “How did you do it?” and he said “I didn’t come to win – I just came to beat Boxer. I studied Boxer for three months. I watched every VOD I had available, every replay” And to me, that is someone putting their mind to something and beating the odds. Beating someone that people said “You can’t win”.  Even Boxer was humbled by the experience, seeing the look on this kid’s face as he beat his idol. It was inspiring to me because he was smart enough to look for the one strategy that would defeat his idol. It’s just one of those moments that I’ll never forget.

5) So it was kind of like the Rocky of eSports?

*Laughs* Yes, kind of. Now of course, this player didn’t go on to do anything amazing. That was his shining moment, but that’s a pretty damn big shining moment, so it’s an interesting thing to take away.

6) Where do you see eSports heading, 5 or 10 years down the line?

You know, I think a lot of that has to do with the sponsors that continue to get involved. Being here at the Red Bull LAN, it’s a great feeling to know that Red Bull is getting behind events like this.  And not necessarily duplicating what other tournaments are doing but rather coming up with something unique that ties into the tournament circuit. And the reason I bring that up is because I feel like the sponsors will play a major role in what direction we decide to go. We have video streaming now and that’s a great way for us to have maximum exposure to a global audience.

A lot of people say that television is the key and I disagree because if it comes on the television in the US, what about everyone else in the world who wants to watch these events? If we do it online and keep it there not only do we have a revenue model that can sustain it but we keep it open on a global market.  I really see us continuing this path of staying on the internet and having massive global exposure, and as more sponsors see not only the demographic it appeals to, the audience and the fan base that endorsement opportunities are going to come up even more.

A lot of companies sponsor teams right now, but Red Bull is one of the few companies to sponsor specific players, such as Walshy or Bomber.When more companies are specific to players, that to me is the next major step.

 In 5 to 10 years, I hope that we’re filling up stadiums, seeing a North American audience of 30,000. Will it happen? I don’t know, but I’d love to see it. If we continue to ride the momentum that we’ve been riding, I think we could.

7) Your son, MiniWheat, is a crowd favorite – does he realize that his dad’s famous? How does he feel about it?

It’s kind of weird, I don’t know that he fully understands – he knows that its there. He’s been to MLG, he’s had people come up to him and and ask him for an autograph.  But when you’re six years old and you are experiencing something, you might think that these things are normal.  So we try to explain to him the best that we can, he understands the concept that we make videos and post them online and he’s actually started streaming himself. But no, I don’t think he really gets it. It’ll be really neat to show him all of the things that we’ve kept. We’ve had things arrive at the house before for him from fans – I don’t know if you remember Glyde, who did the Team Liquid portraits for the TSL, he did one of Miniwheat we have that hanging up in our living room.  It’s little things like that that will help him understand when he gets older.

He’s really into the technology of it all. I would’ve killed to be six years old and streaming or playing games at the rate he is. He doesn’t quite know, but we’re definitely keeping all the important memories so we can look back and show him what a cool period of life for him this was, that he may not even realize.

8)Seeing all of these gamers here training their hearts out has got to bring back some memories – what was the best thing about being a Pro Gamer, specifically in the Quake community?

It’s such an easy question, the best thing was just the competition. It’s the reason I still do this today. I love to win, I hate to lose. I have got that fire in me just like every single player up there. A lot of people who just enjoy the game, that’s one of the reasons why. The spirit of comp was the reason why I would drive 1000 miles to go to a competition, spending more than we even made winning the tournament. That’s what I miss most about being a pro gamer, if you even want to call it that cause our prize pools were like 800 dollars… *laughs* Nothing really matches that.

It’s very similar to people who join sports leagues and play just because they enjoy the competition.  It’s the same thing. I love to compete. Being around these guys I get to live vicariously through them. This season, Twitch got to compete in the After Hours Gaming League, and that was great. Not only captaining them but also I got to play which was great. I got to experience victory, defeat.. There’s nothing like it. Makes you feel alive.

9)Do you have any closing words for my readers (and your fans) on GameZone?

Thanks for supporting StarCraft 2 and GameZone and all the other communities out there. I hope that we’ll continue to see these communities grow and see more involvement from people. I would urge anyone to get more involved if they wanted to. I’ve heard a lot lately how do I get more involved in eSports? How do I get involved in writing? Join up with a site as a writer, take pictures, shoot some videos. Everyone can get involved and everybody can contribute. If you want to go out and do it, then GO OUT AND DO IT!

Thanks very much for the interview, Marcus! You’ll always have our love and support here at GameZone and I for one, am going to keep doing my part for the continued growth of eSports! You can follow Marcus on Twitter @djWheat

Dustin Steiner is GameZone’s eSports Correspondent! You can follow him on Twitter @SteinerDustin

Tags: Red Bull LAN, Interview

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