What is it like to go from the top of the world in one game to the new kid in the world’s biggest and most vocal game community?
Before the finals of the NA LCS 2017 Spring Split, The Rift Herald had the chance to sit down with Riot’s newest color commentator and former World of Warcraft pro Isaac “Azael” Cummings Bentley, and talk about his transition from a player and caster in the Blizzard community, how he prepares for a broadcast and what getting used to the League of Legends fans has been like.
Rift Herald: So first off, easy question, you have the [Canadian flag] pin, you’re here, what is it like to cast in front of your homeland?
Isaac “Azael” Cummings Bentley: I think it’s amazing. I was a pro gamer for many years and as a Canadian I always wanted there to be more events in Canada, and it was always so disappointing that there never was.
For someone that played Blizzard games — Blizzcon is in California ten times out of ten pretty much, well there was the one exception where it was in China — but there is not a lot of love given to Canadian fans of esports. and Canadian gamers. The one event I can think of that I went to in Canada, there was one that was literally in the Olympic Stadium in Montreal and they put us in the middle of a car show with seats for like ten people or something like that. It was a complete joke.
I think both being able to go to Toronto and the ACC for Summer finals and now in Vancouver, it is showing the passion Canadian fans have for sports and for esports and it is kind of a special connection for me.
RH: People seem to be realizing that now, and Riot has done two in a row here. Why do you think it took so long? I mean, one of the oldest and most prolific League of Legends players is the Oddone, who is infamously Canadian. Why did it take so long to get here?
ICB: I think the reason it takes so long is honestly, people are scared of failure of events right? People want to go to high population areas. I think that is certainly what it is. When you look at all the highest population areas in the US there are so many bigger cities and people are thinking, “hey if we go to a city like LA, it has a much bigger population than Vancouver, there is a higher chance we will sell enough tickets and our events won’t be a failure.
I think what people are realizing now is that population doesn’t always correlate to popularity of the game or to ticket sales as much. So, I think it is something that was a long time coming but I think people were afraid of not being able to sell out events.
RH: You talked about playing Blizzard games, when you switched over to League were you weary about the community were you nervous, were you excited to see the reactions? The League community can be very specific in their tastes and very vocal about that. So what do you feel like that process was like and how do you feel it went?
ICB: I was definitely very worried about it. Coming from WoW and stuff, everyone knew who I was. I was considered one of the best players, I was considered at the top of the commentating and stuff, so it was one of those things that was like, Big-Fish-Small-Pond almost.
Then coming into League, it is much more established. There is a huge fanbase, there are incredible commentators who have been around for so long so it is only natural for, A. there to be comparisons and B. for people to be like “I like Kobe, where the fuck is Kobe? Who is this idiot, why is this guy casting instead of Kobe, why is this guy casting instead of Jatt?”
So, I was definitely expecting that. I actually think I was expecting more of a harsh reception than I got. I have gotten a lot of really positive feedback both internally and externally, which has been really nice and I have found that, although certainly there is some of that, and people are really wanting to have the old guard, there is certainly people who are appreciating what I am doing and are very happy about that too.
RH: With someone like CptFlowers coming in so recently, with you being the previous “comer-in” to the scene, what is your relationship with CptFlowers like now when you have just kind of gone through something similar. Is there like a discussion that goes on there?
ICB: Yeah, Flowers and I are actually pretty close. He stayed with me for a bit when he moved here and we talk a lot. I definitely wanted to try to mentor him as much as I could, to try to help him in a lot of different ways. Because A. not only is he just new to the League scene, but he is new to professional commentary as a whole. He has just really done like smaller tournaments and not really gotten attention both negative or positive on the level that he will doing the LCS.
So, we talk a lot about ways to improve, ways to deal with things, ways to take criticism and all this stuff. And I think he has done so so well. Super super impressed with that guy. So, yeah it has definitely been something I wanted to help him adjust to.
RH: You always seem extremely prepared. As a color commentator that is your job right? But, you seem, since you came in to always have something ready to go. What is your prep process like?
ICB: I watch a shitload of VoDs. I definitely think that for me a lot of is I like to talk about the game so it is not just something I am doing professionally, I am always talking about the game with friends, I am always talking about the game with coworkers, I am always talking about the game with pros if they wanna talk about it. It is something where I am very opinionated, so I form opinions and I want to have them challenged or confirmed and I like that process.
A lot of the prep for me is simply I watch the games and then I wanna talk about them with people and kind of get a good baring of like, “hey am I on point with this, does that make sense does, that not make sense.” I think it is also something where, I am not afraid to give my initial reaction whether it is good or bad, I am pretty confident in my opinions, so even if I am wrong or someone disagrees with me, I will always have a reason for what I thought so I am okay giving that.
RH: Do you feel like your experience in WoW and working with Blizzard games brought some unique experience to LoL casting that maybe other analysts and commentators didn’t have?
ICB: I definitely think it is really different. The big thing with League compared to other games is that League is ultra defined in like, this is your role or that is your role. And while I had to learn that too, I definitely think I had some experience that helped with that, with the pro gaming background I think that helps me a lot to understand the players and the scene and stuff.
As far as commentary, when you are commenting WoW or Starcraft or Hearthstone or whatever, it’s like “you got excited when a play is happening, you are now doing play-by-play, oh the game is ended well now you are doing analysis.” Whereas this is like, “oh, something hype is happening, well shut the fuck up and let Pastry talk about it.”
So, I think it is definitely different, and I try to walk the line, cause I want to convey my excitement cause I am hyped up and I want to talk about plays when crazy shit is happening, while also not stepping on their toes and trying to stay in my role too.
RH: How do you contain yourself after that? Kobe is infamously known for his yelps in the middle of exciting moments, do you like bite your cheek, what do you do?
ICB: Sometimes it is just forcing yourself, where you are like jumping, and like nervous energy. We do a lot of hand signals and stuff when you have a point or whatever, and you will be sitting there like, “Gahh, let me talk!” But, a lot of it is kinda trying to find a way that is appropriate to express something that is happening.
So, one of the things I do a lot with the play-by-plays is — sometimes there will be times where it’s probably time for them to be talking or pointing something out — and if I really want them to point it out I will have a pen or point to something on the screen. Or they are talking about a fight mid and they haven’t seen a teleport and I’ll say, “oh, a teleport’s coming in.” I try to find appropriate ways to jump in or contribute and that is how I try to deal with it.
RH: You kind of mentioned this, but how do you adapt when something like the “my turn to talk now” meme kind of blows up on Twitch. Does that impact you at all, what do you do?
ICB: I think you pretty much have to embrace it. I think it is fun and everyone at the office thinks it is fucking hilarious, so whether I liked it or not wasn’t really relevant; it was going to be there. And I think stuff like that, as long as it is not malicious, I’m gonna enjoy. I mean, it is funny and and it is good because it is something that people are associating with me which is kinda cool. And I get a good laugh and people are always sending me screenshots of the Twitch chat when I’m casting. And some of them are freaking hilarious.
There was one I remember and — it was during some bug or whatever — and we were talking on the analyst desk and one of the comments was like “OMGSCOOTS: I created this bug for more airtime!” I was just like, Jesus Christ, I gotta give it up to you for that one, that is pretty funny.
RH: To end the conversation — we have been talking too much about League of Legends — are you playing any Legion right now?
ICB: No, I am not playing Legion. I am playing Persona 5 I am super addicted to that, I played Horizon: Zero Dawn before that, I have Nier I want to play. I bought all these games thinking, “I will have time to play that for sure,” then I haven’t found time to get through everything yet, but I am super addicted to Persona 5. Waiting to play Nier, I wanna play Nioh, I wanna play New Zelda Game. I love single player games, but finding the time is sometimes hard.