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Q&A: CHARM3R on Artifact, Casting and Esports

Chelsea Jack | 
Darick Oswalt aka CHARM3R talked to us about getting involved in esports, his experience with the Artifact tournament and the future of Artifact.

Darick Oswalt aka CHARM3R talked to us about getting involved in esports, his experience with the Artifact tournament and the future of Artifact.

We had the pleasure of interviewing Darick “CHARM3R” Oswalt. He recently hosted the WePlay! Artifact Mighty Triad: Strength tournament, the first post-release, professional Artifact event. CHARM3R talked to us about getting involved in esports, his experience with the tournament, and the future of Artifact.

Hotspawn:

To introduce you to readers, first, can you briefly talk about your involvement in esports and content creation leading up to getting involved with Artifact?

CHARM3R:

So the hard part of your question is the “briefly” clause because I’m naturally long-winded. But I’ll do my best. The short version is, I started streaming on Twitch three years ago primarily to meet people that shared my interests. I played a variety of games, and I was far from being “successful” on Twitch because it was just a hobby for me. I have multiple day jobs, and making content was just a way for me to explore the stuff I enjoyed in my free time. In 2016, I ended up streaming The Elder Scrolls: Legends for a bit when they dropped the NDA for that game.

I love card games, so I had a blast playing it. I started to pick up an actual following while playing Legends, which led me to stick with it. It turns out that talking to people while streaming is addicting. After streaming for a few months, Bethesda reached out to me about some upcoming community events that they had planned. It was the usual stuff like card reveals, set previews, and other events, but I was honored just to be included. I started streaming more and more, and I started making YouTube content on a more regular schedule. I helped cast some small community tournaments. Bethesda continued supporting me in various ways. Pete Hines was a guest on my podcast. They invited me to PAX East and their HQ. We have a great relationship. When they decided to host their first big tournament (the Masters Series), they contracted ESL for the job. ESL reached out to me to help cast the qualifiers, and I agreed. The very first rehearsal went awful. I legitimately thought they might not invite me back. I buckled down and practiced all night, and came back much better the next day. I ended up casting all of the qualifiers, and the finals at Quakecon. It was some of the most fun I’ve ever had, and it really made me want to start casting more. Bethesda was kind enough to invite me to PAX West for a panel, and that was how I connected with Artifact. I was eager to try it out because I’m a huge card game nerd. I made an appointment to try out the game while I was there, and Valve’s staff was very kind to me. I got to meet some developers, try the game, and talk to Bruno. I got into the closed beta after getting back from the show, and I’ve been hooked on the game ever since. At some point in the closed beta, Eugene at WePlay reached out to me because I had casting experience. He wanted to see if I was interested in helping with their tournament, and that’s how I ended up in Kiev.

HS:

Was Kiev the first time you’d traveled out of country for an esports opportunity?

CHARM3R:

My trip was my first real trip out of the country period. I say “real” trip because I technically have been to Canada once, but I really just drove across the border to a casino that is nearby. It wasn’t exactly an international experience. In fact, the only reason I even owned a passport was because of casting the Masters Series. Many of the players came from other countries, and I heard several horror stories about their travel problems. Even though I had no need for one, I applied for a passport when I got home from Texas as a “just in case” measure. I figured it was better to apply when I didn’t need one, as opposed to dealing with the stress of really needing to rush it. The trip to the WePlay studios was absolutely wonderful though.

HS:

Wow, that’s a lot of firsts to pack into one trip!  Did you know any of the rest of the crew/talent before you went?

CHARM3R:

I didn’t know any of the other “talents” personally before the trip. I was familiar with all of them for various reasons. There was a time when I was in the Gwent beta, and I was strongly considering switching to Gwent from Legends. I was streaming it a bit and I made some YouTube videos for the game as well. I ended up just not liking the game enough to grind it the way it required, but I kept up on it from a distance. I liked Swim’s deck building guides and would watch his channel from time to time. I was familiar with Panda and Mogwai from their casting of the Gwent events. I knew SUNSfan from DOTA events as well, as I sometimes will watch esports events casually even if I don’t closely follow a game. But this trip was my first time getting to know them personally.

HS:

What was it like, then, to come together to produce the event, with everything so new?  New game, new tournament series, everyone coming together for the first time…

CHARM3R:

I was very apprehensive about the event at first. I was going to be traveling halfway around the world to work with people I’ve never met before, with a studio I’ve never worked with before, for a card game that had not really been broadcasted before. There was the preview tournament that was showcased, but that was it. I worried about how the cast would mesh with each other. I worried about a potential language barrier with the studio crew. I worried about how the game would be presented, as a common criticism is that it’s hard to follow.

I think my fears were natural and justified to an extent, but I am happy to say that they all ended up being a non-issue. The WePlay people were incredibly kind to us. They made sure that we were comfortable at all times. They made sure they had someone around full time in case there were any language issues, though most of them spoke English incredibly well. They were all very kind, and open to feedback. If we suggested something that we felt would make the broadcast better, they had it done within a day. They really worked hard on that show. The production quality was much better than I anticipated for a tournament so early in it’s lifespan.

The other casters were all awesome as well. They were very welcoming. It was easy to get along with all of them. I think we really bonded when we spent ten hours in a cold warehouse filming our promo video. We were all a little delirious by the end of that.

HS:

It was a pretty unique way, I thought, of introducing you all. What was the filming experience like?  Did the idea come fully scripted from WePlay or did they just send you all into the warehouse with some props and a deadline?

CHARM3R:

WePlay came up with all of the concepts. They designed the look of the studio. They hired someone to make our costumes. It was their film crew that found the warehouse and came up with the “script” if you will. As a side note, our handbook had the film day listed as a “media day.” I showed up for filming in a suit. Boy was I in for a surprise when they drove us to some random warehouse to film the intro. It’s also worth noting that it was a real warehouse used for shipping. People were working throughout the day while we were making our film. But in the end, I honestly had a lot of fun making it. In the moment it seemed very weird, but I think it was a blessing after reflecting on it. I got to know the others pretty well because of that day.

HS:

After they froze you for ten hours in the warehouse, they had you spending some really long hours in the studio. You must have been on set well before the stream started each day and afterwards as well. Can you give me a sense of what a typical day was?  Did you have opportunities to talk through what you wanted to do differently the next day?

CHARM3R:

We had one dry rehearsal the day before we started, just to kind of go through the motions and test the setup. For most of the broadcast days, we arrived at the studio two hours before we went live. We’d get into costume, talk about the matches lined up for the day, and coordinate the casting rotation for the guys. If things changed from the previous day, we would go over what was different as well. Then throughout the broadcast, we would give feedback if we saw things that we felt could be improved upon. WePlay would either address it right away or tell us it would be fixed by tomorrow. After the event ended, we would usually get out of costume and go over anything that we may have missed during the actual cast. The real trick was trying to coordinate important things throughout the day. If a technical issue came up in the studio, sometimes people would need to run in and fix something. I know people commented on camera angles at times, and I don’t want to ruin the magic, but sometimes the camera shots were the way they were because people were moving about. We also had to juggle eating and other breaks throughout the day as well.

HS:

The camera angles…and the gloves.

Were you satisfied with the overall production of the event?  Was there anything in hindsight that you’d like to do differently for the next event in the Triad?

CHARM3R:

Oh, the gloves. They ended up being more popular than me. For the record, they were just part of the costume. At one point Panda told me that Twitch kept mentioning them, so I started changing them up just to keep chat guessing. Sometimes I’d wear them, sometimes I would wear one, or I’d take them off completely. It kind of took on a life of its own. As for the overall production, I thought it was really great for an event this early in the lifespan of the game. I was impressed with the studio setup, and the speed at which WePlay tried to address our concerns. There are some things I’d like to see for the next time, and we talked a bit with them about some suggestions. Slightly more consistent camera angles, at least in terms of matching who is talking, would be nice. Trying to match some of the highlights with talking points would be great. This is one that they actually started to work on while we were there, and I think Panda got them to include a requested moment in one of them. Just smoothing out that process would be nice, but that’s the sort of thing that comes with more experience and repetition. I think they will get it down.

As a personal request, I’d love to be able to wear a suit jacket while casting next time. I didn’t dislike the costumes. I actually thought it was neat that they tried to go with a theme. For me personally, however, I feel more comfortable with a suit jacket. It helps get me in the mindset for casting or hosting. It’s like putting on my “uniform” in a way.

HS:

Can I ask if you’ll be back for the Agility iteration?  Your blog post implied, but there hasn’t been an official announcement so if you can’t say, I understand!

CHARM3R:

The truth is that I don’t know right now. I would love an opportunity to do it again, but they haven’t asked yet. I would also have to balance it around my regular work, which may prove to be a problem. It’s actually a source of great stress for me right now because I really like casting and want to do it.

HS:

I saw on your site that you talk about having multiple day jobs.  How do you find balance between that, your stream, your podcast, family, casting…?

CHARM3R:

Well, the truth is that I don’t balance it well. My stream schedule is sadly inconsistent, which has always limited my “growth.” I also don’t sleep as much as I should, but I’m trying to work on that. I wish I had some magic formula that made it all work out, but really I just take it day by day and try to do the best I can. Sometimes that means missing streams. Sometimes that means going to the gym later than I’d like. It’s just prioritizing things, and then reprioritizing things as the day develops. It’s hard. I’d love to make more content. I’d love to be more consistent. But for now, I’m stuck in a Catch-22 where I need more time to make content and I can’t afford to take time from my day jobs because they currently pay more than the content creation does. I could close the gap if I was more consistent, but I can’t do that without more time. For now, I just keep trying to do the things I love and trust that things will fall into place eventually.

HS:

You said you’d like to be asked back for the next WePlay tournament, safe to say that you’re interested in doing more Artifact events?  And I know you’re podcasting tomorrow, so presumably, you’re also looking forward to more Legends events in 2019?

CHARM3R:

Yeah, absolutely. I’d love to do more Artifact events and more Legends events. I love both games for different reasons, and I still play both regularly. I still plan on making content for both in the immediate future, and I’ll see how things develop over time. One of the things I like about content creation and casting is that it scratches two “itches” at the same time. I really like teaching and mentoring, and I love games & game design. Any excuse to combine the two is great for me.

HS:

Is there anything you think Valve or the Artifact community needs to do or have happen this coming year to really establish itself as a competitive scene? Especially after MtG and Hearthstone have gone hard with those increased prize pools this year.

CHARM3R:

I really think that Artifact shines the most as a competitive game, and I think that Valve has done a great job of setting a foundation for it in that regard. For example, the game launched with a tournament client which other games haven’t really had at their disposal. Is it perfect? No. But it’s a really good first step, and it shows that tournament play is important enough to Valve that they wanted it right away. Given Valve’s history with esports, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. In many ways, I think the Magic and Hearthstone announcements were impacted in part by Valve entering the space. As for what Valve needs to do to really establish itself, the answer is structure and communication. We know that Valve has a one million dollar tournament coming at some point. We don’t know anything else. We also don’t know what smaller tournaments will be like, or who will be running them. We don’t know if there will be a pro circuit, or anything similar. We don’t know if Valve will partner with content creators the way Magic is. Basically, they need to be transparent about how they plan to support the “pros” in the scene. If someone’s goal is to make a living playing the game, there needs to be a clear path for them to do so.

The usual answer for most card game “pros” is that they just stream to make money in between tournaments. This helps, sure, but it’s not really direct support from the company. I think if Valve wants to separate themselves from the others, they really need to show that this is the place for serious pros. This is the place where players come to compete.

Artifact is a great game, but it’s new. It doesn’t have players that are entrenched the way Hearthstone and Magic do. That’s the problem with being the new kid on the block. While having a potentially superior game helps to lure people away, it may not be enough on its own. That being said, I’m sure Valve has a plan. This isn’t their first foray into esports by any means. They know they are trying to break into a very contested market share. They also know that there are a number of people that are still upset with other aspects of the game (like the business model). I think they plan on just being the best competitive card game on the market. They don’t need to be the most popular to be the most successful in terms of esports. DOTA has already proved that for them.

HS:

Oh boy. I hope Valve is reading this. And that they feel a whole lot more communicative about Artifact than they have about Dota…

All right, I’d better wrap us up here. If people want to find you on the internet, where can they do that? And do you have any shout-outs you’d like to close this out with?

CHARM3R:

I can be found on Twitch and YouTube as CHARM3R, and on Twitter @thatCHARM3R. If people can’t find me, I have links to all my stuff at charm3r.com. As for shout-outs, I’d like to thank a few people. Thank you Chelsea for reaching out to interview me. Thank you CVH for helping me get my first casting gig. Thank you Justin Larson for forcing me to do a podcast and being a good friend. I’d like to thank my wife Sophie for putting up with my sleepless nights and long trips to chase a dream. And finally, I want to thank anyone that has ever tuned in to watch me. My life has been enriched by the kindness of strangers on the internet that happen to share my interests, and I can’t thank them enough.

HS:

Thank you so much!  This has been fantastic.

CHARM3R:

No problem. It’s been my pleasure.

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Chelsea Jack
Chelsea's days are full of esports, books, and raising two video game enthusiasts. She's passionate about storytelling and community.
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