Kaelaris' 2013: A year of the highest of highs, and a pretty rough low

In a guest blog, ESL StarCraft caster James 'Kaelaris' Carrol takes a look back at his 2013.

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This article was originally published on GameSpot's sister site onGamers.com, which was dedicated to esports coverage.

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Editor's Note

As the new year approaches, I sit here in my rather charming hotel room in Berlin, removing my watch and placing it upon the desk next to my laptop whilst listening to the FFIX Soundtrack on piano. Its a rather powerful album to me as it brings back memories of very carefree times.

I'm reminiscing over 2013 and thinking of what a great time it’s been, but also contemplating what exactly happened that made a difference toward WCS’s conclusion. I wasn’t initially going to write one of these despite doing one for the past two years running, but something stirred inside of me tonight as I think how far things have actually come. Two or three years ago, as some of you may recall, I was still living in Finland working so diligently towards this goal. And, on that note, it’s important for me to mention nice and early that anybody can achieve their targets in esports and break into the scene if they work hard enough, evaluate the open niches, are relatively persistent and, finally, are able to find people who can give them proper criticism.

I will add a disclaimer to this blog, article, or whatever ToD calls them, by saying the following: I was extremely lucky in 2013 to not only cover the range of SC2 that I did, but the specific events themselves which, in my eyes, presented so many unique opportunities.

I’ll mostly write about the premier events and major moments - smaller stuff is something that has become pretty routine now.

A Spectacle

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Let us start from step one. As 2013 came around, so too did our first event of the year and oh boy did it hit with a bang. Our first Intel Extreme Masters stop of the year decided to land itself right in the middle of Katowice, Poland in the UFO-like arena that is Spodek. Without knowing too much about the arena myself, I was reassured by colleagues and friends that this was going to be a special one. As we usually do, we head to the venue a day before to view the construction, our positions and perhaps do one or two sound checks for the guys backstage. However, when entering Spodek and seeing what we’d created, I realized the stages were truly awe-inspiring. Only one other time during my casting career has this level of excitement hit me like a truck when viewing the stage pre-tournament, and that was of course, WCS Europe 2012. I’ll never know fully how well IEM Katowice translated on stream during the broadcast. However, inside Spodek, during those games, hearing the crowd chant “MaNa! MaNa! MaNa!” or even the LoL crowd with their thunder sticks shouting for Fnatic, created a powerful experience that still gives me chills as I write about it. It’s a feeling i’ll never forget, to cast on such a stage even if I were to never live it again.

All I will say is, if you get the chance to go to Spodek for our IEM World finals in 2014 absolutely GO. You will not only get to feel that raw surge of energy, but also contribute to its majesty.

A New Beginning

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Hannover is always an interesting one because of the accommodation setup. There are very few hotels available during the CeBIT week, and as such a lot of people just rent out spare rooms in their houses. Previously, I just roomed with colleagues that have been at the event also, but this time, I roomed at a completely separate place with my now ex-girlfriend. After asking specifically for a double room, we entered to find two singles. This began to make a lot more sense when we sat down for breakfast the next day, and upon inquiry, our host mentions he’s an avid Catholic and church preacher. Need I say more? (Not under this roof!)

With our IEM Season coming to an end, the new expansion, Heart of the Swarm had barely even begun. Obviously plenty of people had been playing the beta for quite a while by then, but IEM had the privilege of hosting the first ever premier HotS tournament before the game had even released. I had only just recovered from the fantastic memories of Spodek, nevermind the opportunity arising to cast HotS with huge money on the line. For the brief moment in time, while the official beta had shut down, our Hall in Hannover was the only place on Earth where the players could access the game. Allowing us a glimpse into what the players had really been practicing with during the beta, we saw plenty of cool Swarm host play from Ret, impressive use of Oracles from our Protosses, but most of all Medivac boost utilized at blistering speeds by our Koreans. At the time I thought it was very overpowered, but players in general have adapted, and I think more than ever, there’s a greater emphasis on map vision. Of course it was always a big factor but now it’s a real treat to watch some peoples control of the map.

In conclusion, IEM Hannover resulted in Incredible Extreme Miracle dominance, with the top four all being from IM, as Mvp, Dream, First and finally the champion YoDa, showed everyone exactly how to adapt to the new changes. Reflecting on those results, if the same tournament had been played today, with First showing just how dominant he is versus Terran, it could have been a whole different kettle of fish regarding results.

A Uniformity

As the year progressed, so too did Blizzard's plans for the new WCS. Because of the way WCS 2012 was structured, I think i'm correct in saying I've cast more WCS than anyone else at all, and, as I enjoyed the original WCS system so much, casting national upon national with people like Grubby and HasuObs, and then finally being able to cast WCS Europe 2012 and then BWC in China, I was very excited to get things going again. As always, with ESL I found myself in the right place at the right time as we were given the rights to WCS and I was to be one of the casters. Season 1 of 2013 was an absolute treat from the very beginning, regardless of us having to rush everything. ToD and I had already cast together previously, but our bizarre chemistry seemed to translate very well on camera. I basically would boi down to both of us taking pokes at one-another, him being victorious more so than I since he's actually funny, whilst I'm usually introverted.

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Just the ability to have such structure alone as a caster, the knowledge of knowing who is playing who that far in advance, it makes the job so much more fulfilling and it's something that I had been envious of the guys over in Korea for, for a long time. Preparation has always been something I'm very active about but it made it all the easier in comparison to something like an open bracket or usual round robin group stage into bracket over a two day period.

I think WCS Europe more so than the others got really lucky when it comes to how it all panned out. Unlike WCS America, we had the right mix of Koreans in relation to homegrown talent, some amazing moments created by the personalities and games, and finally the production crew and planning required to hand a polished product to the community. We did this while rushed; imagine what we're going to be able to do when we have a good amount of time in 2014.

To be honest I could write a huge section about WCS Europe, but I should keep it short by simply saying; It was a brilliant ride throughout 2013. From working with ToD, iNcontroL, Funka, Adebisi, Grubby and especially Paul and Shaun since with them it was a day in, day out thing. Shaun has actually brought me out of my shell a little bit at events and i've been trying to be more social and out-going, which in places like New York and especially Singapore, has been a huge amount of fun. One thing that I really appreciate about WCS Europe on a personal level, was the ability to practice my hosting skills, which, whilst still not tip top, have got significantly better as the year has gone on. I feel the improvement throughout the year, but theres much to continue with in 2014 when it comes to improving, and with the next WCS 2014 seasons coming up, it's going to be a treat once again to work hard, improve and deliver.

A Triple Triad

Our 2013-14 Season of IEM began! I’ll cover all three of them in a tight little bundle of Intel Extreme Masters joy!

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I actually love and dislike Shanghai at the same time. I really enjoyed my first visit back when it was BWC in 2012, and I mostly enjoyed this visit as well. The absolute best thing about Shanghai for me was the food. Mountains upon mountains of fantastic Chinese, Korean, Japanese restaurants that are so cheap and so delicious! I love the IDEA of the event that we were attending, however I did have a few problems in the end. I'm a guy that likes being cold, and being able to regulate my own temperature. We went there at the hottest time of the year, cast in one of the most packed convention halls, and the air conditioning was non-existent. It got so bad one day that I actually had to quit mid way through a casting day. That's something I've NEVER had to do before in my years of casting. Not only was it extremely hot, but also the lights we usually cast under add to that. Usually at events we can get our tech guys to turn them off during the game, but at this event, our guys in charge of lights were not very good with English so that was a trail in itself. The only other gripe I have is that nobody respects one-another's personal space, and are very selfish. However, I understand that it’s a completely different culture, and as such people are used to different things, so I don’t blame them, it’s just not for me! I did manage to screw up completely on the way to our hotel though, it would usually cost 40 Chinese yuan (5 euros), and I ended up paying 400 yuan (50 euros) - got scammed haha. I was curious as to why he left the boot open whilst he sped away.

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On to New York now, and, I have to tell you, this one for me was very special indeed. Firstly it was staged at Comic Con, a place that i’ve been wanting to visit for an extremely long time. I’ve never really been deep into comics and super heroes but I appreciate the world, anime and games so, in the end it was right up my alley! NaNiwa’s run through this tournament and getting to cast that spectacular series he played vs HyuN was an absolute treat, and I even got myself some lovely Portal hoodies from the nice guys at one of the stands. To be honest I could have spent a vast amount of money there as there was tonnes of memorabilia, Master sword from Zelda, Attack on Titan figures, posters, everything was there, but I controlled myself.

Shanghai was a step towards more of a social experience after the event days are done, but New York was more of a leap forward for introverted little ol’ me. We spent some awesome time with Montecristo and his buddies over in Brooklyn. Then the Twitch after-party was quite entertaining as well. Shaun knows I have a thing for red-heads, so makes it part of his mission to introduce me to one over the other side of the room. Turns out, it was Monika Lee and her posse of cosplay girls, Jessica Nigri, Stella Chuu etc. Very delightful girls who all seemed to really enjoy StarCraft as well as our standard British accents. They’d already been well acquainted with Mr. Ben Baker!

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Finally we have Singapore, which for me so far has been the most phenomenal experience of a tournament throughout the whole year, and is still extremely fresh in my mind. Relative to how it was last year, it not only felt a little colder this time, but also we had a great amount of room behind the stage to relax and cast comfortably without having to think about anything other than the game. I spent a lot of time hanging around with Scarlett during the tournament, talking to her about “super secret” strategies and just the matches in general. She can be shy at times but I really have a soft spot for her, she’s very cheerful, especially when you end up sitting next to her during practice. Personally I would have loved to see her go all the way during Singapore, or during any tournament this year for that matter. I’d have to say she’s my favourite player right now by quite a margin. I recall a very long time ago, a little bit after i’d joined ESL, talking to Kaoru about her and telling him that I was a big fan, then he ended up sharing my Skype with her to add me. PANIC, set in haha.

Aside from the tournament itself though, the major reason I really enjoyed Singapore is because I got to see so much of it. The Amazing food once again and there great bars to get cocktails in. I absolutely love cocktails. There are also fantastic little hidden cafes to have a coffee in whilst doing some work. All in all very good company to show me around as well. There’s a lot of things I’ll miss about Singapore. I had such a good time that leaving was a very emotional experience for me. I truly didn’t want to leave.

A Harsh Reality

Ah BlizzCon. I want to start this delicate section off with yet another disclaimer: life sometimes doesn’t pan out how you want it to. Business and decisions outside of your control are just part of a reality we all live in that sometimes don’t seem fair at the time. But in the end, it doesn’t even come down to whether life is fair or not, it’s what you do and the actions you take when you’re confronted by adversity.

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At the time I’d received a lot of criticism from one or two parties. I spent many a restless night over this and truly began to doubt myself and my abilities as a caster for a long period of time. This is my passion, and BlizzCon was my goal at the end of the year, that I was working all throughout WCS towards. To not attend was a really tough thing to come to grips with for a long while. However, all this did in the end was make me even more determined to attend BlizzCon in 2014! In the end though there were a multitude of reasons, all of which are very valid points and one especially, on my own part, that wasn’t the smartest of decisions from me. Put it down to Procrastination. It’s actually the only thing that I’ve been ashamed of this year but, we all make mistakes and rather than dwell on them, it’s most important to move on and learn from them. Ultimately though, everyone who was there had a right to be there and a much larger following than I. I appreciated the support from people during this and I just chose to spoke because I saw no need. No grudges are held, no bad blood is there - I just can’t wait to get back on the WCS horse and ride it throughout the next year!

A Bloody Good Ending

As the year comes to an end, there’s been a few things we’ve done here or there. I visited HomeStory cup again and got to meet up with some faces I haven’t seen for a while. The HANDS DOWN most awesome thing that’s happened during the end of the year though has to be my little trip to Berlin. I’m not going to speak to much about it for now, but the little bit of work I did with ESGN in their studio was very satisfying. I won’t speak too much about the end product, as I like to have a little mystery in my life, you’ll have to see that for yourself very soon. Believe me though, it’s some pretty interesting stuff. Keep an eye out for that!

As 2014 looms I would love to cast as many large events as possible. I want to be busy and flying 24/7!

I would like to say a big thank you to everyone who has made 2013 a great year. Thank you to Blizzard, to everyone in my office, Paul, Lauren, Shaun, Eefje, Jason, Joe and all the ESL crew. Thank you to all the fans I got to meet across the globe for being totally awesome! And if YOU are ever at an event we’re at, please find a way to come say hi and don’t hesitate!

Merry Christmas all, and a happy new year! See you in 2014 SC2 fans! Do what you love.

If you’d like to support me going forwards please follow me at Twitter, Facebook, Twitch.tv, and YouTube. I’m going to try do more personal streaming in 2014 as I just got my Twitch partnership set up!

Image Credit: ESL's Flickr, Blizzard

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