RobAJG on Hosting, WePlay! and Autobattlers
The WePlay! Dota Underlords Open is underway, and Rob “RobAJG” Gonzales is at the head of the desk. 2019 has been a very good year for the experienced event host, seeing him launch into esports full-time.
Despite his busy schedule, RobAJG was able to chat with Hotspawn ahead of the WePlay! Dota Underlords Open, talking about WePlay!, positivity and autobattlers.
Hotspawn: I wanted to start by saying you’re a busy guy! You were just in New York, covering Fortnite World Cup (FWC) for ESR. Before that, you were at VidCon for HyperX. What are some of the challenges or positives of all that travel and filling different roles in so many different contexts?
Rob Gonzales: The first thing is that I really love to do what I do. I love to work with the public, I love to be in front of the camera, and this is something that I’ve always wanted to do. The main challenge here is that you’re on the road, you’re in many different time zones and you’re away from your family. And if I didn’t have a great support system at home, there would be no way to do this. My wife, my family, and my friends — everyone is very supportive. They send me messages and pictures and tell me how happy they are. They follow around all of my travels and it makes it very easy to be gone so that I’m not homesick.
The other challenge is that there’s nothing guaranteed. You always have to be working, you always have to have another event to go to, and if you don’t — you won’t be able to survive. So the challenge here is the stress that maybe this is the last event you ever work. Maybe people don’t like you, and maybe no one will hire you. So there’s always a worry in the back of your head that if you’re not getting better and you’re not continuing to network and meet new people, then you will have to go back to a normal job.
The positives are that I get to wake up every day and talk about video games, analyze a tournament or be in front of large groups of people who are excited to meet someone. It’s a dream to have woken up in New York yesterday and then today be in Kyiv! It’s a feeling that you can’t mimic, a feeling you can’t replace. How many people can say they worked on the Fortnite World Cup for five days and then immediately flew to Kyiv and worked on another really big event? It is a great feeling! So through many challenges, the positives definitely outweigh everything.
You’re back in Kyiv now, in the WePlay! Studio. Does it feel comfortable at this point – returning to WePlay! for an event?
Rob Gonzales: WePlay! is my second family, they are the reason that I’m here. By here I mean esports in general because previous to working at WePlay! Artifact tournament in January 2019 I’ve been working in sales and marketing for the last twelve years. I’ve been a ‘Magic: The Gathering’ player and traveling around the world that way but not as a commentator or host. So when WePlay! sent me a message saying that they would want me to be their host in January, that set off this string of events that led to me being full-time in esports.
Everyone here is very nice! I was here in February and since then I messaged people on Facebook and Instagram, we discussed all the production for this event and things like that. So it’ll be nice to see everybody at WePlay! again during Dota Underlords Open.
Can you talk about what makes WePlay! different from other tournament series?
Rob Gonzales: The big difference I see is that WePlay! brings a different energy, they bring a very playful style to their tournaments. The production itself is top-notch — people love watching it, the things are funny and light-hearted, but the competition is also very serious. So it’s a good dynamic to have the tournaments being intense and people playing for big money and prestige, and then for the hosts and the casters to have a good time. We’ve worn full unicorn pajamas during WePlay! Dota 2 Valentine Madness and that was funny, but everything else is still very serious.
What theme would you like to see at a future WePlay! event?
Rob Gonzales: I missed out the WePlay! Lock and Load CS:GO tournament with secret agents theme and I think that would have been fun. I would like to see a Superhero theme, I think that would be much fun to have as well.
How does hosting an event in a studio setting compare to working on-site at a LAN event like the FWC or VidCon?
Rob Gonzales: It’s completely different. Things like VidCon normally aren’t on stream so you are just talking to the audience and getting them involved. They’re coming on stage and it’s very different because the only people who you are focusing on are the people who are right in front of you. As for the Fortnite World Cup, it’s a recorded event so you’re doing different shots and then afterward you have to put it all together and make a documentary. This event is challenging because everything is live, there’s no room to mess up. You don’t have a second take and you have to think on your feet a lot.
We have a media day prior to WePlay! Dota Underlords Open and we’ll film something very special. The experience that I’ve gained from the last WePlay! tournament in February is massive. I’ve done so many different aspects of what goes into a WePlay! and I definitely feel much more prepared to do all of these things now, for my third WePlay! event.
This is one of, if it not the first serious competitive tournament for Dota Underlords. I understand you’re quite the fan of autobattlers – what about them appeals to you?
Rob Gonzales: I really love autobattlers, I remember the last time I was in Kyiv in February we were all playing Auto Chess whenever we had a chance, and saying that we should have an autobattler tournament right now! Even though it’s called Auto Chess, there’s no real chess part in it except that you have to worry about the position of your pieces, which is very much like chess. And you also have to know different openings — if you get certain pieces in the beginning, you need to know how to use those pieces to get into the mid-game and react to your opponents and that’s very much like chess. I was a chess player for a long time, it’s a very first game that I ever learned, so it appeals to me that way.
I think autobattlers appeal to a very large audience who can be good at it, study and learn and get better. There are other competitive tournaments, but nothing this large as WePlay! Dota Underlords Open — more than five thousand players participating in the Open Qualifiers! It’s going to be very interesting to see the strategies that the finalists take because all of them are top-level, and they had to play many rounds to get here. I’m sure it’s going to be exciting to see.
Does hosting an event for such a new esport come with additional difficulties? Does it change the way you prepare or think about segments for the show?
Rob Gonzales: I don’t think that hosting a tournament for a new game is more difficult. I think in some ways it’s even less difficult because there’s no history, so there is no host that people would look at and compare you to. It’s very much like with Artifact. When I was the host of WePlay! Artifact Mighty Triad: Agility event, I was really the only person who has ever hosted an Artifact tournament. I’ve been around so many other great hosts like with Sheever and Goldenboy, and I take a little bit of what they do and incorporate it into what I do so that when I am hosting an event it’s different. I’m also very familiar with Dota 2 because I studied a lot of it for when I was hosting the Dota event. And Artifact has these elements as well, so it feels very much like being at home talking about the different characters that are in Dota Underlords.
If it’s okay with you, I’d like to sidestep for a moment to one of my favorite topics! You have this incredibly positive presence not only in the content you’re involved in events but also in social media. Can you tell me a little bit about whether that’s deliberate or who you are as a person? Where does all that gratitude and positivity come from?
Rob Gonzales: I came from a very poor background, and when growing up I didn’t have a lot of the same things that other kids had. So I just appreciate everything that I have — I appreciate my family, my kids and all of my friends and colleagues. And I know what it’s like to work in a career field that you may be good at but you don’t enjoy working. Working in esports around these competitors who spent so much time and so much energy to be the best is something I feed off of. I remember when I was competing and trying to win, and all the time and blood and sweat and tears that I put in to try to be the best. So I don’t take anything for granted.
One of the things that another really popular host told me was that all you have to do is just work. Work as much as you can and if you work enough people will notice you and people will appreciate what you do. You also have to help people. I try to bring other casters up and help them because when I was starting people did that for me.
I’m so happy to say I’m in Kyiv and that I get to travel and spend time in Ukraine! If you would have told me a year ago that this was possible, I wouldn’t have believed you. But here I am, so I have to be very gracious because like I said before, this could all be gone tomorrow. Every event could be your last event and if you don’t think of it like that you really can’t appreciate what you have. I tried to tell the kids at the Fortnite World Cup the same thing: you can’t get used to this, you’re not going to always have a 30 million dollar tournament to be able to play. Same for myself and hosting, so I just want to try to do my best. I want people to remember that I worked hard and also that I was easy to work with. I think if you work hard and you’re easy to work within this business and being good at what you do, then people will continue to want to work with you.
With so much on the go, what do you do to recharge yourself so you can stay upbeat?
Rob Gonzales: I just think of the next time I get to see my family. I’m here today and I get to my home early next week, and I will get to see my son, my daughter and my wife. So being able to work these events and then come back to my family is really great. And I still play Magic [the Gathering], Fortnite and all the autobattlers all the time. It happens to be that it’s for work, but I also like doing it.
Again, thank you so much for your time. Are there any shout-outs you want to include or upcoming projects you’d like to plug?
Rob Gonzales: I’ll be doing a lot with the HyperX Esports Truck here in the fall. I have several other events we’ve booked for that. That’s always nice, I love the crew there. And I just signed with an agent so we’ve got some other projects, the ball is rolling! But the biggest shout-out goes to WePlay!, as they brought me here to Kyiv and they started my career in esports. I’ll be forever grateful to them for that and every broadcast and every production we do will be better than the last.
Thank you so much to RobAJG for taking the time to chat with us. You can catch him hosting the WePlay! Dota Underlords Open August 1-4 on the WePlay! Twitch channel.
Also, be sure to check out our interview with fellow WePlay! caster, Joel Larsson.