Korea is a country that many consider to be the mecca of esports. With the country’s extensive esports history, dating all the way back to the 90s, Korean culture is incredibly intertwined with the growth of esports.
It all started with a game called StarCraft in 1999. With its expansion, StarCraft: Brood War, coming out in the same year. It was the first game to be broadcasted on Korean TV, which initially started with pro players in space suits competing with one another. Many years have passed since then, and while StarCraft may have been what started the whole ‘esports boom’ in Korea, many new esports ecosystems under various game titles have been successfully created over the last 20 years, and ultimately led to the creation of a multi-billion dollar industry, with tons of more room for growth.
Reid “RAPiD” Melton is an English esports commentator who works on various game titles, based out of Korea. He shared that his life in Korea is like a dream come true, because it all started with him as a boy growing up watching those Korean pro gamers in space suits play StarCraft, while he was growing up halfway across the world on a rural farm.
We may be personal friends, so I know who you are, but can you introduce yourself to the readers that don’t know who you are?
My name is Reid Melton, I go by RAPiD, and I’m an esports commentator. I’ve been working in esports for about 10 years, and living four of those years in South Korea.
You’re a caster who casts many different titles, so is there a game that you consider to be your so-called ‘main’ game?
I think everyone wants to have that one game that they can cast and dig deep into, because ultimately, the appeal of being a commentator comes from liking a game a lot. What I like is the competitive aspect of esports, because comparatively, it’s much easier to learn about a game as to traditional sports.
If I am to choose a game however, it’d have to be StarCraft, because not only is it a fundamental esport, it’s culturally significant in Korea and it’s still a super popular game. It’s the first esport I grew up watching, so it’s really cool to relive those childhood memories that I grew up watching.
Going way back, what kind of a person were you, and how do you think it led to doing what you do today?
I’m from Texas, I grew up on a farm way out in the countryside, and the nearest gas station from my house was 15 miles away. We’d drive into town once in a while, but it’s not like there were any kids in the neighborhood that I can become friends with. So, one of the ways I’d make friends is by playing games online. My dad was a computer engineer, so despite living on a farm, we had pretty good internet at the time. It was my way of socializing, and naturally, it drew me to liking games.
My parents were very against games, so I had to convince them to let me play games. I remember telling them that Age of Empires was very historical, and funnily enough, it did teach me a lot about history. It’s a real-time strategy (RTS) game that eventually led me to StarCraft.
Among my friend group, I was always the best at games. Then, one of my friends introduced me to StarCraft and ended up demolishing me in a game. So, I went to Google and searched “How to become good at StarCraft?” and found pro players wearing space suits and competing. It blew my mind to how polar opposite things were halfway across the world, while I was playing on a HP laptop with 10 FPS on a farm. I got instantly hooked to how big it could be, so I started to make commentary videos, and eventually, I started going to events and stuff.
I’d imagine that when most kids that fall in love with a game would want to be the best at the game itself, so what drew you to the commentary aspect of esports?
In Texas, especially when it was 10-15 years ago, there wasn’t a lot of esports. However, one thing that Texas did have was QuakeCon. I convinced my dad to take me there, because there was a tech expo that was being held at the same time, and since he was a computer guy, I was able to convince him. Fatal1ty, a former pro player known for his achievements in games such as Quake and Painkiller, was competing in QuakeCon, so watching him really drew me into esports.
My struggle was that none of my IRL friends played any video games, so I was trying to figure out ways to explain my love for the games. It all started with me trying to explain why these pro players playing against one another was awesome, which is something what you’re doing when you’re casting.
What would you consider your first big opportunity as a caster to be?
Back in the day, esports was virtually non-existent, so a lot of people, especially those who’ve been in esports for a long time, started by uploading videos on Youtube. For myself, I set up small goals for myself, such as getting 100 views on a Youtube video, and my first real goal was to be flown out to an event.
My first event that I was ever flown out to was called ‘MSi Battlegrounds’, which was held at Green Forest Cafe in Ventura, California. MSI was holding a LAN tournament in StarCraft 2 and League of Legends in its infancy days.
Teamliquid.net, who was hosting the event, directly contacted me and said, “Hey, we’ve seen you commentate over videos, and we’d like to hire you for our event”. They told me that I would be reimbursed after the event, and I was just a kid with little money in my pocket, so I somehow flew from Texas to California to do the event. It was super awesome, and I met a lot of players who’d go on to play in the LCS. That event instilled my deep love of esports, and travelling to various events to cast.
▲ A vlog shot by RAPiD on the MSi tournament, in Ventura, California (Source: RAPiDCasting Youtube)
Do you have moments that you remember in your early days of casting?
A long time ago, there was an online esports news website called ‘ggChronicle’, run by MonteCristo. One of the biggest online League of Legends tournaments was held by the website, and it was called ‘ggClassic’, so he contacted me and a bunch of other people to work on that. It was the first time I worked with other commentators, so it’s an online tournament that I vividly remember.
The North American Challenger League (NACL), which was initially an online broadcast, but the production moved to a studio in San Jose, California. There were 60-70K viewers per show, and this was back in 2011-2012, so those numbers meant a lot. Intel Extreme Masters (IEM) Singapore, was amazing as well, as I was flown out to Asia to do the event. And obviously, coming to Korea to cast LCK was the biggest step I’ve taken in my career as well, and it’s been an amazing ride so far.
How did your move to Korea end up coming to fruition?
During mid 2015-16, I was working on multiple career opportunities, but at the end of the day, they all fell apart, and I didn’t have a whole lot going for myself. At the end of 2015, I got this message from a guy named Shaun Delaney (@FourCourtJester), whom I used to work with on various League of Legends tournaments 4-5 years ago, and asked me if I wanted to go to Korea.
He got me contacted with the International Esports Federation (IESF), and they were holding a 2-day esports event in December of 2015. I flew out, did the event, and SpoTV, the producers of the event, really liked what I had brought to the table. A few months later, they called me back and they wanted to work with me on the LCK, which brought me to Korea.
How would you describe the differences between Korean and English esports commentary?
Obviously, they’re two different languages with a different set of audience. Because of different audiences, they each have things that they really like. The hallmark of Korean casting is that it’s very hype and the words said are very simplistic, but very nuanced in the level of excitement.
Korean broadcast usually has three commentators, while the English broadcast usually has two. Between three people, there’s this interesting harmony that occurs during these hype moments in a match, where they’re yelling and shouting to keep the level of excitement at a high level.
Korean commentary seems very exciting to the Western audience because it’s hype to hear such excitement in a foreign language and people don’t really think about what’s actually being said, but when I tried it in English through co-commentary, I learned that most of the time, it just doesn’t work in English. That’s why there are more defined roles in English commentary, such as color casting, analysis, etc.
Seoul is a one big concrete jungle, so as someone from a farm in rural Texas, what are some of the difficulties you faced in Korea?
I’ve never lived abroad before, so it’s definitely new. The language barrier was a big thing, because not only did I not know how to speak any Korean, not too many people at my company knew how to speak English, so communication was very tough.
The Korean business structure is very different from those of America. In the U.S, it’s very individualistic, where you can negotiate your own worth at a company, but in Korea, things are much more rigid in terms of hierarchy, so it’s really hard to find someone to talk to about work. Also, I play a lot of video games, so I was more on the anti-social side, and fitting in with the English-speaking caster circle, and just the community in general was a struggle in the beginning.
Korean culture is one of the more Westernized Asian cultures, especially when you live in Seoul. I really embraced it, because StarCraft introduced me to the various sides of the Korean culture before I moved here. There’s still a lot of culture shock, but most of it is on the good side. Things like fried chicken delivery at 2am at night boggled my mind, but in a good way.
During your time as a caster for the LCK, what was the most memorable moment for you?
Casting the 2016 KeSPA Cup was an incredible emotional rollercoaster. It was held in Busan, so travelling in Korea was awesome. At the time, ROX Tigers, with its legendary line up, was at the top of their game, and just being able to cast some of the best players in the world compete, sharing the waiting room with players and seeing them act like normal human beings really stands out for me as a memory.
I remember trying to have a conversation with the Korean casters, Cpt Jack and Helios during my time in the LCK. They’re great guys, and Helios spoke a little bit of English, which he learned during his time in NA. As former pro players, seeing both of them in the process of converting to a caster position kinda reminded me of my growing pains as well.
When the broadcasting rights were split into two with OGN and SpoTV, there was backlash from the community because not only did SpoTV pale in comparison to OGN, they even had a ton of technical issues during the matches. What’s your take on the community backlash about you?
In terms of technical issues, it’s always going to exist within esports. It wasn’t news to me, because there were technical issues in my previous casts. The magnitude of it was something to get over, so I learned how to fill time really well.
It was a very volatile time, because everybody was upset that the LCK was splitting its broadcast between OGN and SpoTV. In terms of community backlash, everyone has to deal with them. My take on it is that if you’re angry about something, it’s because you actually care. However, I learned that people are sometimes just angry because they’re angry, and while I’m usually open to feedback, some of the things that the community were saying did hurt me quite a bit.
My mindset was to use what I learned from the casters that I grew up watching and learning from and emulate it while trying to bring originality. I read all the feedback, and definitely learned a lot from it. You can only just learn from what people say and move on.
Is there someone that inspired you while working as a commentator in Korea?
I co-casted LCK with Nick De Cesare (LS), and it’s usually hard to meet someone that’s not only incredibly passionate about something. I believe that it’s truly significant to either be that person, or even meet that person in life, so while I might not have realized it back then, it ultimately taught me a lot about working in esports, and it’s a real blessing to have worked with him.
So after you moved on from the LCK, you moved onto StarCraft.
Yes. There are multiple pro leagues for StarCraft, and SpoTV was running its own league, so I was super thrilled to move onto it. Pro League, with its 20+ years of history is a staple of Korean esports, and it really made me look back to think of my 13 year old self, who’s growing up watching esports for the first time, to casting the pinnacle league in Korea. It’s truly magical.
Do you have any memorable moments that you can tell us about while casting StarCraft?
StarCraft has given me some of the best moments in my life. The moment I do remember is casting the ASL Season 4 finals between Lee “Flash” Young Ho and Kim “EffOrt” Jung Woo. For those that don’t know who Flash is, he’s the best StarCraft player ever. The fact that his skill level just transcends that of other players’ skill cap is unreal, and it’s truly special.
I got a chance to cast the finals of such a legendary player, who was on the hunt for his third consecutive major tournament trophy. His effort, EffOrt, is the only player to be undefeated against Flash in a Bo5, and was pulling new strategies that was never seen before in a grand finals against the best player in the world. The match went to five games, EffOrt ended up winning, the crowd was going wild, and usually, the proximity between the fans and the casters is very close in Korean esports broadcasts, I was able to feel all their electrifying energy, so that event is an unforgettable moment.
From what I know, you also cast other titles esports, so can you just list some of the games you casted in Korea?
I believe I’ve worked on every major Korean esports league in Korea. Some of those games include, Heroes of the Storm, StarCraft 1 and 2, to League of Legends, which are the most popular games in Korean esports. I’ve also worked on games like Summoners War, and also did VR broadcasting as well.
There are so many different game titles that you cast, so how do you prepare for them all? Can you tell us what that process is like?
While the education itself I got from going to school for many years more than I should have is basically useless, the ability to research and study something helped me learn about a game. I was also home schooled, so the fact that I was basically given a textbook to learn from it helped in that regard as well.
Few of the things that I specifically look for is history regarding the players and/or the tournament. For example, a player can make a sick play, and I can say that he’s very good. However, the way the viewers are going to know how good that play is by comparing him to other players, both in the present and in the past. If nobody knows the history about teams, roles or players, then no one’s going to know how great a moment is.
To give you an example in League of Legends, the majority of the viewers won’t remember how the Season 1 LoL World Championship went, let alone other tournaments, like MLG tournaments. Back then, the game itself was a lot different back then, with wacky strategies and what not, so it’s important that I’m able to reference such history.
In your opinion, what’s the most important trait as a caster?
The simple answer is authenticity. It’s a true luxury to be able to work on a game title that you love, but the unfortunate reality is that not everyone has the luxury, and while everybody will tell you that your hard work and effort will pay off, such things are often tangential in esports.
However, I do believe that genuine passion and enthusiasm are critically underrated traits. Even if you’re not “good” at commentating, I believe commentating in its purest form comes from the love of the game. There may be a lot of analysts that may disagree with me on this, but I believe it’s a necessary characteristic.
A good example of a great commentator is Tony Romo. He’s a former quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, and when he transitioned from being a player to a commentator, his love for the game, combined with his insane ability to analyze the game and is great at articulating what he thinks to the viewers. So, as a caster, it’s also important to play the game that you’re casting.
What are your thoughts on the announcements of the emerging esports models such as Teamfight Tactics and Valorant?
Back in the day, there was no esports ecosystem, and while there were attempts to franchise various esports leagues, those attempts were way ahead of their time. Times really have changed, where if there was a tournament with a $10,000 USD prize pool, the best players from all around the world would fly over to play in it, whereas players right now wouldn’t even wake up to that kind of money.
The most important aspect of an esports surviving in the present times would lie within the stability of the esports ecosystem. Many games created by major game publishers would have people expecting that same stability. If players just played games with the sole purpose of just getting good at the game, the mindset has changed in the present day, where players now think that “Okay, I invested a bunch of time into this game, so how do I know that this game will be worth my time?”
I do think that while games published by major publishers can add layers of stability in its esports ecosystem, if you’re a player that plays the game just out of popularity, not out of entertainment, it’s the tail wagging the dog.
When the esports model for Valorant was announced, many casters on Twitter claimed that they’re going to cast the game. As a commentator that’s been in esports for many years now, can you give some advice you’d like to give to the aspiring esports casters around the world?
As I said, authenticity is the best trait to have as an esports caster. People aren’t stupid. They know when they’re listening to somebody that doesn’t actually like what they’re doing. Although there’s a certain amount of “Being at the right place at the right time” luck involved, I respect the hustle, so if you put in an X amount of hours, I do believe that you’ll be compensated for it.
Also, get good at networking. It’ll do you a lot more than your ability to commentate.
Can you share some future plans? Any exciting future projects you’ll potentially be working on?
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, esports is in a weird place right now. Esports in general is either on hold right now or switched to an online format. I might have some news about PUBG soon. I’m also going to continue casting some of the mobile game titles as well.
At the end of the day, I’m just a huge esports fan. The other day, I was watching a Vietnamese Age of Empires II tournament the other night, because it had the best players in the world, so I just watched them play. I’m keeping my eye out on some new games that are also coming out, and if I like those new games, then I hope an opportunity arises in being able to share my love for those games I love with other people.
Lastly, is there anything you’d like to leave with our readers, or give a special shoutout to someone?
The other day, I was watching some random stream and typing in chat, and someone recognized me in chat and asked, “Hey, is that RAPiD who used to cast collegiate Star league?” That league was nine years ago, and I was baffled to find someone in this random stream that recognized me.
You never know who’s going to be the person that’ll help you in life. I’ve been helped a lot by friends who I were friends with not because of what they can do for me, but rather from those that I got along with. I met a lot of people that become friends with people for potential job opportunities or whatever, and I’ve been blessed to know so many people in esports that are just genuinely nice people.
While the people who I’m referring to know who they are, I’ll mention some of the names for the sake of this interview. Korea’s a really special place to get to know different people within esports, because of how ingrained esports is in the culture. As far as Korea goes, the global casters that work in Korea, such as Wolf Schröder, Brendan Valdes, and LS, who’s the third person I talked to after I landed in Korea, and you, not only for this interview, but also for the content you produce.
For the readers reading this at home, make sure to follow me on Twitter and Instagram (laughter). If perhaps, you’re a particularly passionate individual that goes on the Internet forums to post comments that are very ‘passionate’ and ‘opinionated’, just remember that you’re talking about real people, and please take a moment to think what it’d be like to be on the other side of that comment. Other than that, keep watching and loving your favorite esports, because without the fans, esports wouldn’t be where it’s at today.
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