"It was not my intention to return to LoL": Crumbz on leaving the LCS, time in Overwatch, and the future

 

Alberto "Crumbz" Rengifo’s time in League of Legends may be ending soon. With a career spanning a decade both as a player and on-air analyst, he announced he would not be present for the 2022 LCS broadcast. Inven Global had the opportunity to speak with Crumbz, to discuss this move, his future plans, and thoughts on the esports industry.

 


Could you expound on why you won’t be part of the LCS broadcast going into 2022?

 

From my rejoining of the LCS in 2019 after Overwatch League, the relationship with LCS was a very different one for me. When I left League in Korea to do Overwatch, in my mind, I made that decision as if I was leaving League all together at that point. It was not my intention to return to League of Legends. I knew that the jump from one game to another would be a jump of no return. So that was my initial intention. 

 

And so when I did not continue with Overwatch League, I did not even go to League as where I was going to continue my career — that was just not a place that I considered, because I had made the initial move thinking that I had to go somewhere else. So when the LCS approached me, "Hey, we could use you back", I thought, "Well, I haven't really figured out what else I can do here." And then I rejoined and had a lot of fun. The reason why I initially left League in Korea is because I felt like I really understood the trajectory that I was undertaking, and that there wasn't that much variety with that growth. 

 

And so despite the first year in 2019 with the LCS being one that I was very happy with, I found myself back in the same place as I was in Korea, where I really understood the trajectory of this career. And that the only explosive growth for it would be to be a streamer or an influencer. That really seemed to be the only place where the LCS broadcast could be leveraged into a greater thing for casters like myself. And so every subsequent year, I actually had been looking for opportunities in different roles within the LCS ecosystem. And I was very close to taking some, but ultimately they didn't pan out. 

 

"The reason why I initially left League in Korea is because I felt like I really understood the trajectory that I was undertaking, and that there wasn't that much variety with that growth."

 

And so I think that ended up brewing inside me a sense of not being as committed as a person just joining the league would have been. And I think that affected the quality of my product. And so with each year that went by, I think the quality dropped more and more. And despite me still feeling like I offered something to the table, what I felt like I was really offering had less to do with the on-camera broadcast, and more to do with the production aspect of the show — whether it's the creation of skits or ideas of how the whole system could be organized, etc. And that was where I felt my passion was going towards, I really wanted to be a part of that — the creation of the sketches that the LCS has, the YouTube content, all these other things. And not so much be a part of the actual on-camera team. 

 

And so for the end of the year, I did approach Riot saying, "I understand that I think I have had one of my weaker performances in the year. But I would really like to join the production team. I'd actually like to be a part of this aspect that I think could use some help. And I think that that's where my strengths lie." That was a discussion that we initially had. And with the role changes that the LCS had made — whether it's the less days or the different change in format — the restructuring that Riot underwent, had no place for me, whether in the talent or in the production team. Because my experience in production — despite being a part of the LCS for almost a decade was not what they were looking for when compared to somebody that may have more production experience, but less direct LCS experience. And so ultimately, we couldn't find an agreement for what I would be offering to the LCS and decided to part ways. 

 

I saw it as a really positive thing because ultimately, that's just my outlook on life. But at the end of the day, I thought, "if this is not a place that can see the value of and implement a decade's worth of understanding the League of Legends audience, then so be it. And so here, pretty happy looking forward to next year.

 

 

You mentioned you were unhappy with your 2021 broadcast. Why is that?

 

I think I got in my own head with how much the online value got to be seen and affect the rest of the broadcast. Because when we work in person — with the crowd and fans — the sentiment around the talent I think is significantly different than when we work online. When we work online, the only metric that people have of their success has nothing to do with the crowd's reactions, and has everything to do with Reddit. And so I was absolutely just not approved of by that platform. And so that, I think, is used as a KPI for broadcast. 

 

Because unlike a traditional tech job where you have an actual measurement for your performance, the only thing that has really been put in place for casters is social media presence. And so mine was significantly more negative than I think anybody else. In fact, every year, I think since going to Overwatch, every single year it's been quite a misunderstanding from the fanbase to what I had to offer.And so I think that got progressively worse to the point where if someone wants to create an experience of "everything is amazing on this broadcast", if you get one of the people that is being constantly shit-talked out of the equation, then the whole presence of the broadcast becomes much better in that element. So I thought it made sense.

 

"I think in the return, a lot of the reception was that I had betrayed League of Legends, turned my back on it, and had not a lot of faith in the product."

 

Why do you think your analysis wasn't approved of by some people on social media?

 

I think for the technicalities of the job, I was not the best. My voice I think is a very different one than the rest of the people on the broadcast. And so having a slower manner of speech, a deeper voice means that it's much harder for me to convey excitement. And so if I ever make a mistake in what I say, it's a lot more pronounced, and it's a lot slower for me to move on to the next point. And so that bad taste of an error lingers in the viewer. And so that made it so that every error that I made if I wasn't perfect, would be more pronounced. And that's not where you want to be. 

 

And then on top of that, I felt like the kind of information that I would be bringing to the broadcast was one that matched my own interests in the game constantly. I always looked at the casting as what interests me. And so sometimes my interests would have little to do with the game specifics. And they would have things that just draw my attention like the synergies in skins that they've chosen, or a funny thing about the names. And so my attention goes into these things, because I like to put myself in the shoes of a somewhat casual viewer. Because from Overwatch, I had to understand that this was a new game specifically targeting a new audience because of the TV influence, and the TV audience that would be joining the team. 

 

And so knowing that with LCS, that effort was being made, "Hey, there's an interest in bringing new players into this show, someone needs to speak to them as if they were not an expert. As if they're just someone that doesn't even fully comprehend the game just yet. And just has their attention drawn to different aspects of the game that may not directly affect the performance." 

 

So I think that that caught a lot of the hardcore fans in a bit of a crossfire where they expected me as a long-time player and person in the scene to offer the absolute highest level of information, but I wasn't doing that. I was going for the newer audience. And on top of that, I was going for a more casual approach that would just emphasize the human element to the game, which is not one that I think is publicly pursued in the interest of casting. We focus a lot on the people and their stats and how they play. And not about, "Hey, this is how they're living. This is kind of what affects the mind of the player." And that didn't feel like it was something that the fans were really interested in. Because as we know, the vocal minority on the internet happens to be the ones that are the most hardcore fans and expect the absolute best of the best of the cream of the crop analysis. Yet at the same time, working in production, we know for a fact that this kind of content has very little traction compared to the generalized approach.

 

 

When I first watched your analysis in Season 4 and in the LCK, the fan reception seemed to be a lot stronger. Did you notice your public perception souring when you returned from the Overwatch League?

 

Yeah, I think in the return, a lot of the reception was that I had betrayed League of Legends, turned my back on it, and had not a lot of faith in the product. That was a big thing that I noticed. And that was just not the case. My mind was not in that at all. But the biggest difference, I think, has just been the intensity of that disparity. Because I think you had a set of fans that were very interested in what I had to say. And on the other side, you had a lot that weren't. And frankly, I credit that to even before when I was playing and being on the analyst desk where the fan sentiment was the very playful meme of "Smartzz or Dumbzz", which ended up manifesting into "You love me or you hate me" in a way. 

 

And so by starting from this meme that is so clear-cut in which side of the equation one is, then the fan has a simple choice to make. It's either hard yes or hard no to what I'm offering to the table. And so I think that's where it all originated from. I'm happy to have had that mean, frankly, I thought it was very funny. And I still do. But I actually think that not a lot of it has changed, and just the intensity in which people followed it. Because before it was just you just spam the meme and that was it. But now people don't just spam the meme, they have to write a whole paragraph as to why they're choosing the Dumbzz are the Smartzz.

 

"I would love to stay in League of Legends, because I think that is an area where I have the most knowledge of when it comes to games. But I don't think that the people in management actually see any value that I can bring to that place."

 

I was talking to Azael about a month back, and he was saying that something really notable for him was that while attending an MSI, he went around the room and asked every caster if they could see themselves doing esports casting in 30 years. Every single one of them said no. What’s your opinion on that? Is there something about casting right now that makes it unsustainable?

 

Yeah, it's a hard no for me actually, as well. [laughs] The reason being — and this is something that I've been reflecting on for a very long time actually — is that the reason why I initially got out of playing was because I felt like my growth as a person was legitimately hurt by my career in games. And the sheer time commitment that it takes to be the top-level analyst is so massive, and it forgoes so many other aspects of your life, and at the same time directly hurts them negatively, it's something that I thought there is no way for me to grow and fully realize my potential as a human if I stay in this. 

 

Just on the factual element of, "I need to be watching VODs constantly. I need to be playing the game constantly, or at least keeping up with the changes within the game. Or else, my knowledge is inadequate and quite detrimental to my career." It means that I have to devote so much more time to the game, just to keep up. And then I have to add in that extra layer to be able to perform at a professional level as a caster. And so the amount of sheer work necessary that directly goes against the growth of a person and health in general — because you're not standing the whole day doing this, you're sitting looking at a screen indoors all the time, just those two things alone are going to kill away at my whole body. 

 

So those were the things that I thought, "This is really difficult to pull off." And the only way to really get the most out of it is to be a streamer. To just get the maximum money for this, and hope that you make sort of a cash grab and move forward with it. Because it just did not seem realistic to stay up to date with the game for 30 years worth of change. And it was the same problem that Mark Cuban addressed when he chose not to invest in League of Legends. He thought that this was going to cause incredible burnout among the players. But that inherently also causes incredible burnout among the casting team as well.

 

 

What’s your opinion of the casting environment in general? Caedrel was someone that a lot of people liked, but there are disputes on whether he’s going to return to the LEC. Do you see this as a continuing trend if the environment remains the same?

 

I don't think so. I think Caedrel was a special case because of his age, and the time at which he joined the LEC. I remember when I was just starting out as a player, even before the LCS, I felt like I had a very promising streaming career ahead of me. I remember having between 5,000 to 10,000 viewers. And that was something that I chose to give up. Because I did not see myself aligned with sitting in a chair playing League of Legends all the time, because sometimes I just wanted to take a break. Sometimes I just wanted to play a different game and do something else. And so that was a big anti-streaming thing for me, that I just did not see myself doing that. 

 

And a lot of the current talent is already in the position that I think their age and their interests in life have shifted away from being able to devote that much time to streaming and making that their full-time careers. Because it does feel bad to be a streamer, that you start off having put so much time into a specific field, and then you're not immediately seeing the audience that you think you could have to sustain that. So you have to put in the grind as well. It's not like they can just turn on the stream, and then they're at a top streamer level. They have to grind for it. 

 

And so it's that grind that I think is not a feasible strategy for a lot of the people that are already casters or streamers. And so I think that Caedrel, having been just recently a player, and being much younger, I think does make it a much easier choice for him to balance streaming and casting and have a good time doing it. And I think he's an exception. Maybe if you have more fresh faces coming in from teams into the broadcast that have as much talent as he does, they will be in a similar position. But I don't see many more of the current broadcasting following in his shoes.

 

 

How close do you think we are to being able to have casters unionized? There have been attempts in the past, but it just seems to have never worked out. Why do you think that is?

 

It's a conversation that I've had scattered across the years. And I think fear is the biggest element of the whole thing. "What if I join this? Am I going to be negatively viewed by my employer from now on?" And it's another thing that has to involve everybody. You can't just have half of the team unionize, and the other half not. It has to be every single person joins the organization. And there is a lot of people that are in a very comfortable spot right now that don't see any value in stirring the pot in changing out of the current position that they're in. And so I see it almost in the same way as the player's union conversation: the trouble to go through it and the fact that so many are comfortable means that I don't think it's something that will actually ever happen.

 

Hypothetically, if all the top on-camera talent agreed to unionize, would they have enough power to make an impact, or is the talent-pool deep enough that it wouldn't matter?

 

I don't think the casting pool is very large. I don't think so. I think that the pool in general that has the experience is so limited. And the key thing is that you need the old pool to bring in the new guys. And so if you just all of a sudden get rid of all of the top guys, bringing in all of the new people into the scene is going to take a while. Whereas if you slowly introduce the new players, then they can get used to how things have been done before, and they can add their own flair to it and slowly become accepted into the team. Instead of just a brand new face for every single role. So I think it's possible to introduce new people into the scene and eventually just have every casting be a new person, if that's something that the organizations and Riot want. But ultimately, I think that you do need those veterans to bring the new guys up to speed much faster than if they would be on their own learning through their own mistakes, and then being crucified for it.

 

 

What are your future plans at this point? Ideally, what would you like to do?

 

I've been thinking a lot about this, of course. And I think when I consider the person that I've become, and my interests, I think that the best solution is, for one, to have multiple sources of income and have multiple skillsets. And so this is something where you could even consider being an on-air talent and streaming as two different sources of income. They can be connected, but they're different. And so a big thing that I've reflected upon that I want to pursue is, "How do I monetize just being myself and the value that I can offer to people that see value in any creative outlet that I can generate value in?" 

 

And so that would separate me from any organization or any ties that can negatively affect what I am doing, that have control over what I'm doing, that can say, "You cannot do this" or "You can do this." And so that kind of freedom is something that I've been really looking forward to. And I'm really seriously thinking about as a future career. It's not something that I think will be a complete work path just yet. But it's something that I think will take time. And it's something that I definitely want to do. Because over the years, I have been developing a lot of talents, like writing. I'm really into writing and reading. And I think I can offer a lot of value about that, especially when it comes to seeing youth in gaming, and how misguided they are in growing up in recognizing the necessity of taking responsibility for themselves of their health. This epidemic of perpetual youth. 

 

And so this is something that I like to contribute to. That's one path. And at the same time, I still have a strong interest in production, I really enjoy the production aspect of the internet, whether it's my own content for a broadcast or someone else. This is an aspect that I find joy in. And I had thought about joining an organization. But at this point, I actually don't think an organization even sees value in what I could offer to the team. I think that they see more value in hiring a new person, which is sad for the organizations. But if that's the way that they are playing, then that's the way things are. So I definitely in the past had applied and really considered positions of roster building, coaching, etc within an org. But I just don't think that the organizations are seeing that much value in a caster. Let alone one that had been so negatively viewed by the communities which the upper management of companies use for their decision making. So that's a bridge that I wouldn't have liked to see closed, and I'd be happy to cross it again. But I just don't think that there is interest in that.

 

Will you consider involvement in other games?

 

I would love to stay in League of Legends, because I think that is an area where I have the most knowledge of when it comes to games. But I don't think that the people in management actually see any value that I can bring to that place. And I have learned that that's just not a relationship that is worth pursuing. If it's not 100% yes from both sides, then that's not where I'd like to be. I'm not sure, but it seems to me like this is the League of Legends chapter closing. 

 

As for another game, the only game I really played seriously was League of Legends. I played RuneScape for fun. Maybe I'll just have some fun streaming RuneScape. I've just always been playing these two games for a very long time. So these are the games I've been most interested in. But when it comes to a new game to undertake as seriously as League of Legends, I don't think there ever will be one.

 

 

Would you consider a return to casting?

 

I think I would return to it. I think definitely though it would not be in a position of an analyst — something that demands extreme expertise. I have an interest in casting a casual game or something that just doesn't demand that I give so much of my time to it. Because we're paid by day rate. And when you look at the day rates, you think, "Oh my god, you cast two games and you got paid how much? That's amazing!" Sure, except now add up all the other hours that I had to watch VODs, I had to practice, that I had to think about the game, that had to keep up with the notes and all these things. And so it turns out that it's a lot of time devoted to that. So that's the one criteria that I'm trying to avoid looking forward. I'm okay with going into a new game, but one that does not expect me to join a position that invests that much time into it.

 

The LCS has a decent performance at Worlds, we'll soon have Champions Queue, and there have been plenty of blockbuster signings this year. Is NA any closer to competing well internationally?

 

If you use history as a benchmark for this, we're at the exact same place as we were before. So I think it's a more impressive lineup of talent and all sorts of people joining forces to tackle the problem that is North America. But the way I view it is actually almost the same way that I view taking care of yourself and health. It really doesn't matter how much you exercise, eat healthy, and do all the right things... if you keep living in the city. The lesson is that the pollution of the city is actually causing more harm to you than you would think. It's the one factor that is preventing you from actually realizing that state of desirable health. 

 

In the League ecosystem, that's just the greater environment. It really doesn't matter how much you change the individual actions that you take if the air around you if the pollution in your world is still the predominant trait of your environment. You're just not going to be able to get out of it. I don't want to be pessimistic about it, because there are ways to solve it. But it's not by solving the things that the teams are addressing right now. It's by a massive overhaul of the ecosystem. And that's where the problems lie. Because from every outside position, it does seem like the interest in League of Legends as a game is dwindling in North America, whereas it's flourishing in Asia.

 

Over your 10  years in the game, what are you most proud of?

 

I'm most proud of the person I became using the time that I had and the freedoms that were given to me to learn things and just evolve as a person. I think I used that time very wisely. And if it hadn't been for the opportunities that League of Legends presented me, I don't think that would have happened.

 

All  images via: Riot Games

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