There are few people as synonymous with the esports scene as Christopher "MonteCristo" Mykles. After to international fame through his English casts for the South Korean League of Legends scene, MonteCristo made a career swap to Blizzard's Overwatch in 2016. Now, with even more experience under his belt, he has set his eyes on one of the oldest esports in the world: Counter-Strike.
The project called 'Flashpoint', which revealed its details yesterday, is the creative brainchild of MonteCristo, Duncan "Thorin" Shields, and other veterans of the CS:GO scene. The team-owned league is looking to reinvent and elevate CS:GO esports offering in-depth analysis, high octane action and, of course, a lot of banter. At the reveal of Flashpoint, MonteCristo sat down with Inven Global's Tom Matthiesen about the long-desired, finally fulfilled move to CS:GO, the vision he has for Flashpoint, and what it's like to transfer to yet another esports scene.
You're officially making the move to CS:GO now. A while ago you were flirting with the idea on Twitter already, though...
Yeah, obviously I was already involved in this project at the time. Let's put it this way: if I say something, you might want to look into it a little bit more. *laughs* Usually the wheels are already turning there, right?
You left the Overwatch League partially because you didn't get as much creative input as you wanted to. At Flashpoint you do have that input—have you completely found what you were looking for?
Yes! I think what's unique about this project, is that it's basically the exact opposite of many other esports projects. A lot of the developers like to hire people from traditional sports. They then try to enforce their ideas on esports even though they have no idea what esports is, or don't have a concept of the game, the market, or the audience that they're working with.
The reason why Thorin and I, and the rest of the casters, are so enthusiastic about this project, is because [the higher-ups] just do what we tell them. *laughs* It's honestly been eerie. Literally the first meeting Thorin and I were in, which was with a bunch of the team owners, they said: "Oh we're thinking about doing this format," and we just said: "No, we're doing it this way. Here's your crazy format, and it's gonna be really exciting." The format is complicated, but when you see it play out on stage it will be very obvious and really fun for the fans.
What happens with a lot of the traditional sports people is that they don't understand it, and assume that other people can't understand it either. So they want to make it as simple as possible. They don't respect the intelligence of their audience, whereas we're convinced people will get it. It's fine. We'll get there. Instead of having something boring, let's spice it up and have something crazy.
"I've always wanted to be involved with CS:GO. I love the game. The problem was that I was living in Korea, where there was no CS:GO."
It's interesting that some sports people think esports are complicated, when you have sports that go through a whole player drafting system, have complex rules et cetera.
Traditional sports are incredibly complicated, but it just doesn't seem that way because people are used to it. But nobody has to have it explained to them. I didn't become an NFL fan because there was the 'NFL broadcast for dummies'—you just start watching and look up terms you don't understand, or you ask somebody about it. What we're really trying to do with Flashpoint is to not treat our audience like they are stupid. We want to tantalize you with more information and more depth, so you can learn and feel that you are growing as you're watching the broadcast. It's what I feel when I'm watching a traditional sport and a color commentator makes a good point. I don't need the color commentator to explain the rules of whatever game it is they're playing. It's on me to pick up the basics.
Flashpoint is intended to be for a hardcore esports audience. To be a product that delights them. We're not trying to bring in a random person from the street and make them a fan. We're trying to retain hardcore CS:GO fans, and we want to get people who are already fans of esports and get them more involved in CS:GO by offering them a bridge.
Would you have taken such an active creative role, and commit to a project like Flashpoint, for any esport? Or does the fact that it's CS:GO contribute?
I've always wanted to be involved with CS:GO. I love the game. The problem was that I was living in Korea, where there was no CS:GO. But I would go in person to the Asia Minors—especially because I literally owned Renegades, an Australian team competing in the Asia Minors at the time. So I would be there in person supporting my team when there were events in Korea. I didn't really have an opportunity though. I literally couldn't fly to all the events around the world because I was casting League of Legends for ten months of the year, and I didn't have breaks, right? So I couldn't attend events, even though I liked the game.
I promise you: if OGN had been running CS:GO, I would have done it. I really like the game, and I love the casters that are in it. Many of them are good friends of mine and I want to work with them. One of the reasons Semmler was on the Overwatch League is because I wanted to work with him, right? It worked the same way for other people, like Mr. X, who is a friend of Semmler, who came over to us for a little bit. I've always wanted to work with Moses, I want to work with HenryG. These are guys that I really like! SPUNJ used to be one of my players. So yeah I liked the scene, but I just didn't have a way to get into it. This is an opportunity now, now that I'm back in the States. I've always loved the stories, I've always loved watching the tournaments.
And now you get to work with some of the most talented people in the industry.
Yeah! I've spent years and years of building synergy with Thorin, in terms of talkshow content. Even though my normal role is to be an analyst, a color commentator, in this league my role will be much more about driving the conversation. Whether I do a bit of desk hosting, whether I do preshow or post show content: my goal here is not to be on the cast. It's to be on the supplemental content. I know the teams and I know the players, and I know all of the other casters. I'm gonna try my best to make them shine. I'll be working a lot on concepts for fun content for the format, and do behind-the-scenes stuff.
You will make some appearances on broadcasts though, and generally you're someone who provides deep analysis for whatever game you're working on. How well do you know CS:GO? How deep is your knowledge?
I've spent years watching the game, I've spent years watching these teams and I've spent years watching these players. So I'm familiar with the scene to the degree that I can easily host a desk. Am I going to be able to tell you what the best smoke placements are on Inferno? No. Not now. But I'm gonna work on that stuff and study it. Now that I have more time to really dedicate to CS:GO, maybe I'll be able to get there someday.
But there are fantastic casters with decades of experience doing this. So my job is to make them look as good as I can. My job is somewhat changing, at least for the time being, to do that. I just want to drive that conversation and I want to make this show the best storytelling product we can. We have excellent analysts, who are not me, who can do that. *laughs*
"I don't want to be in an esport for children. Overwatch League was sold to me in a very different way than what it ended up being."
Over the years you've provided this in-depth analysis for League of Legends, Overwatch, StarCraft II, Warcraft III... and now you'll be learning CS:GO. How do you go about learning a new title every time? Obviously you have established some sort of studying regiment.
What I'm gonna be doing for CS:GO is probably spend a lot of time grinding film. What my strength is, as a caster, is that I'm very good at tactics and macro strategy. I've never been a caster who's going to tell you about weird micro interactions. I'm the guy who's talking about map movement that makes sense, the draft that makes sense. For me, one of the things I want to focus on as I start my journey on CS:GO, is reviewing the demos. Looking at how teams attack the bomb sites, looking at the placement of their utility, looking at their buys compared to their economy. This is stuff that naturally resonates with me, and that I can pick up very quickly.
The thing about tactics in games, or in war, is that they're all kind of the same if you know how tactics work. There is a lot of complexity to learn, but there's also a lot of fundamentals I can take from, for example, my knowledge of rotations in League of Legends, or the way that teams flank in Overwatch. It applies to CS:GO.
When you work on a project, you commit to it. Are you making a long term investment in CS:GO now?
I hope so! Like I said, I love the game. It is the truly eternal esport. It's been around for as long as Brood War, but Brood War isn't played in many other places than Korea. I think CS:GO is so fundamentally strong as a game. It's the esport everybody loves. I love the depth of it, I love the way the game is played and I love the player stories. I want to be in this scene. I like the fans, I like the banter. This scene feels more like me than any other esports scene, in terms of style.
Can you compare them to the scenes of Overwatch and League of Legends?
Well I mean, Overwatch was on Disney XD, so there you go. It's not really my jam, right? I like to be a little bit edgier, I like to be argumentative, and I like to have the banter and the wits. I like to make a product for adults. I don't want to be in an esport for children. Overwatch League was sold to me in a very different way than what it ended up being. What happened was that Nate Nanzer, the former commissioner, brought me on board and said: "We want this to be like Inside the NBA, we want it to be more edgy, we want more banter." So I was like 'great, I can do that.' When you then sell the broadcast rights to Disney, you can't really do that anymore. The product vision was consumed by the sales team, so we had to change the product vision to something that I really didn't like as much.
In Counter-Strike there is no developer interference, there is more of an open system. The fanbase is older, so they're more mature and less... emotional.
"I've honestly been surprised by the CS:GO community's response to me being involved. It's been really, really positive."
You have banter et cetera in League of Legends though, right?
It's getting better. Especially G2 is helping a lot, right? The LEC is great for that kind of stuff right now. But it took a while. What I think is happening with League right now, is that you're seeing the fanbase get older. That's really opening up a lot of opportunities to do fun stuff. I truly admire the LEC broadcast for what they're doing. I think it's great. I also like BLAST, and what they're doing right now. Counter-Strike is even older, and I think it tends to have a community that gels with my style a little bit better.
So you've finally settled down?
*laughs* We'll see! For now I'm happy to be working here. I've honestly been surprised by the CS:GO community's response to me being involved. It's been really, really positive. I expected it to be positive, but it's been overwhelmingly positive. I've been surprised by how welcoming it has been. It's been a good surprise.
Storyteller by heart. If something is competitive, I am interested in it.