Getting started in hosting

One of the questions that keeps reccuring in my DMs on social media is; “how did you get into hosting”.

I don’t tend to reply to message requests from people I don’t know (I have email for that), so I wanted to try and give this topic a bit more space on the blog instead.

I’ve been hosting full-time since I left Twitch at the end of March, so I’m by no means the absolute authority on this – there are a variety of ways people have got into this sort of work, so I reckon the best thing is to explain my personal experience.

At university, I was desperate to work in radio, but ended up not being able to get work experience, so moved into online. However, in my third year a blog I had written about new music and BBC Introducing led me to be picked up to produce and present a show for Amazing Radio, a then-digital radio station. I moved to Newcastle before my official graduation and worked as a producer and presenter. I was let go nine months into the role very suddenly, and ended up heading to London to work at Channel 4 as an online producer. I podcasted and dabbled with YouTube and an interactive platform called Touchcast, but had no idea how to work as a presenter again.

Towards the end of my four years at the BBC, I started trying again. I enjoyed working as a producer on various different bits and pieces, but now I was tempted by presenting again. I’d worked on the BBC coverage of the 2015 League of Legends World Championships and realised how much I loved the idea of working in gaming. I started attempting to talk to my co-workers at BBC Three about the possibility of pitching something about esports, but there was no interest (or perhaps my hints were not strong enough). The BBC Academy were kind enough to take on my interactive video idea Strangecast (a behind-the-scenes interactive look at drama series Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell), and let me host a podcast, but I still didn’t have the experience outside of my own external projects (some of which you can see in an old showreel, embedded below).

I needed to leave; and so I did. Moving to Twitch as a producer was such a fantastic experience. I wasn’t thinking of hosting at this point, but more about how to immerse myself within the Twitch community. I started streaming and learning as much as I could about the eco-system of Twitch. I worked with a lot of Twitch Partners to bring them onto our stages, but often didn’t have the budget to hire enough to cover a typical 8-10 hours of hosted content, and so ocasionally I’d pop up onstage to help fill in. Bit by bit, the hosting bug came back. And yet – I loved my job; it paid well, I felt confident and my colleagues were fantastic. Why leave a safety net you enjoy falling into?

I decided to do bits and pieces in my spare time, asking agency Code Red to take me on as a client and writing to contacts to suggest they consider me for gigs. I cobbled together a showreel from my various Twitch stage cameos and waited. Nothing much came my way until I did an interview with GINX TV at gamescom about the Twitch Stage, joking about the pink stain on my bum from the cake I’d recently had to scrape off the stage, post Steve Aoki appearance. A few weeks later I was in their London studio being trialled for live weekly show The Bridge as a co-host; I got the role.

The Bridge gave me the experience (and examples of work) I needed to get my face out there. I’d already built up a network within the industry as a producer, but my work on the show now meant I had video evidence to show I could hold my own on live TV, interview and be part of a general esports conversation. I didn’t get to lead host until earlier this year, covering for usual anchor Frank, but again, that was a huge opportunity to prove my worth in the lead host’s seat. I also spoke to ESL UK about trying to host and they asked me to come and host the ESL UK Hearthstone Premiership Finals in January. It would later transpire that my stage hosting at this show would spotlight me for my co-host role at the PC Gaming Show at this year’s E3.

I’d just completed my most recent showreel when I found out my job post was to be closed at Twitch. After a bit of steady breathing and a quick chat with my Dad, I headed to a generic coffee shop chain to start emailing contacts to make it clear I was ready to work. Then I headed to GINX to co-host my final episode of The Bridge.

Since April, I’ve filmed in London, Bristol, Stockholm, Katowice, LA, Austin, Las Vegas, Berlin and Bath. I’ve covered titles such as NHL 18, CSGO, Overwatch, Fortnite, PUBG and a game where you get to play as a shark. Oh, and co-hosted with a duck. But if I hadn’t had to leave my day job, I might not have experienced any of it. I’d be happy, but quite possibly not as happy as I am now. There’s no safety net anymore – but maybe in the end it was less of a net, and more of a wall.

Tips for breaking into on screen esports roles

  • Decide what you want to do; stage or desk host? cast or analyse? What’s your expertise? You could do a bit of each, but then how will you make people see you as the go-to for a particular role? I’ve mostly desk hosted in the past few months, with a bit of stage hosting on the side. Currently TOs (tournament organisers) are considering me where they think I’ll fit in based on my “brand” (see below).
  • Be vocal about who you are and what your “brand” is. Before breaking into gaming, I was asked this by someone during a BBC careers session, and I honestly didn’t know. Now, I think you get a good idea from my showreel – I marry energy and humour with knowledge, am able to control what’s happening during a broadcast (no matter what goes wrong), without it feeling dry, and I can “charm and disarm” my guests.
  • Build a showreel that showcases your values and your versatility. My showreel is due an update, I admit, but what it does do is distill what you can expect from me in less than three minutes – and the latter part is key. Keep your reel to less than three minutes. When I was a producer, I would make up my mind about hiring someone in less than 90 seconds. You don’t need to include all your work in there – feature the work that sums you up best, and shows you in the roles you want to be considered for in the future (ie. stage, desk, casting etc). As a host, I can work across multiple games on stage, and on the desk, and my reel shows that – although my next reel will feature more esports desk hosting, and less consumer roles, as that’s the route I’d like to go down in future.
  • No footage? Make your own work. Some events, such as the recent PGI 2018, will let you co-stream their feed so you can add your own commentary. You can also start a podcast, create and stream a chat show on Twitch, or make YouTube videos on your phone. This will be vital for developing your skills, too.
  • Get involved in the community you want to be part of. PUBG is one of my “first loves”, esports-wise. I’m regularly engaging with discussions on social media about the game, and I stream myself playing it with others, too. Maybe you could stream some scrims or charity events to get some valuable practice and showreel footage.
  • Approach grassroots events to gain experience. I’m not necessarily saying work for free, although money might not be amazing at first (which is another reason why I was lucky my previous job let me freelance on the side, taking annual leave to work). In the UK, epic.LAN and Insommnia are great events to try and approach.
  • Be professional and be nice! Whether working as a producer or presenter, I always try and give back the support I receive. Although esports is growing, the UK community is still small; you can get to know people quickly and make lasting connections. When I work with production teams I’ve worked with before, it’s like family. Always contribute to the team effort; rehearsals aren’t just about your performance, they are also for the benefit of everyone in production too. If you have feedback, think about whether it’s time urgent or would be of more value at the end of a broadcast day, or even the event itself. In terms of presenting yourself externally, I’m really lucky to have people approach me at events for photos and such – I always try and have a conversation, rather than just a seflie when I don’t have to rush off to film; someone has spared time to come and speak to me, so I like to try and find out a little bit about them, even if it’s as simple as “who is your favourite team?”.
  • Be good at what you do, but work towards being better. Now I’m full-time as a host, I’ll stream at home to get to know my audience, write posts like this, produce my podcast, and review footage from events to pick up on any weaknesses – I’ve been working to erase words like “basically”, for example. When I first started out I’d practically dance on the spot, or shift erratically in my chair. Even watching back PGI I can see a few phrases I repeated when reporting and interviewing and I know to be more concious of this – because I was in an unfamiliar role, my lack of experience showed through via habits I might not fall into on the desk, for example. If you’re worried about Twitch chat comments, just minimise chat, and focus fully on the VOD. Twitch chat are not the people that hire you – their support can mean a lot, but just because they think your hair is gross, doesn’t mean it actually is (ahem).

I hope this helps in some way – although my DMs are closed, you can leave a comment below, contact me on Twitter or via email if you have further questions. Good luck!

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