Paul “InVerum” Todkill has been involved in the esports industry longer than most are aware the scene has existed. From his early days playing Gears of War to competing in two Heroes of the Dorm events to now casting the event and working as an esports marketing consultant, InVerum has worn numerous hats.
In between rounds of the Dorm event, InVerum sat down with myself to talk about how the game he loves introduced him to the woman he loves, why Heroes came out at the wrong time and why collegiate esports is only going to grow.
You’ve been working within the esports industry for a little over a decade, talk a little about the evolution you’ve seen over the years.
I remember back in the day when you brought your own TVs to events. I went to my first event in 2007 or 2008, the original MLG Toronto, and it was tagged in the back of another convention. It was one room in the back hall and there were maybe a couple hundred people. It was something else. Now you look at it and we’re filling stadiums, it’s pretty crazy.
The biggest difference is that people know what you’re talking about now when you talk about esports. I mentioned years ago, when I was traveling for work, I sat down on the plane and you talk to the person next to you. You say, “What do you do? Why are you traveling?” and I’d say, “Professional video game planning” and they used to go, “Okkaaayy,” but now they’re like, “Oh yeah, for sure. My son’s involved in that,” or “I know someone in that.”
It has come so far just in the public’s mindset, which is really cool and, of course, the infrastructure surrounding it. Business is beyond just the scope of gaming and realizing it’s a great way to advertise their products so we’ve been getting a lot more legitimacy in terms of big-time corporate.
In terms of the day-to-day though, it honestly hasn’t changed that much which I think is pretty great as people just want to be great at video games. The core of it hasn’t really changed much in 10 years.
As someone who works in the marketing industry with your work on GamerLink, do you think the way Heroes of the Storm was marketed to the general public upon inception has been a positive or negative for where we are now?
I think it had a good idea when it started but while the idea was there, I just don’t think it was the right time. When Heroes was first launched it was launched as a hero brawler and it was coined as more of a casual offering. At the time, logically, it made a lot of sense. It was competing against League of Legends, DOTA and Heroes of Newerth so there was a bit of competition at this space but because of that, people already existing in those communities didn’t take it seriously.
To be fair, when it first launched back in Beta it was still very much a rough product. However, when Heroes 2.0 came around and the relaunched happened and it became more polished, I think that was fantastic. If you look at the campaigns that Heroes actually did like Tryhard for Good, which is a fantastic example as it brought in the League community and said, “Hey, we’re not the game you necessarily tried back in Alpha. We’ve come so far,” and it has.
Now the fact that we’re admitting we’re a MOBA now is great. I think saying we’re a casual MOBA isn’t the right word. I don’t think it’s ever really been true per se if you’ve actually dove into playing at a competitive level. Shaking that stigma within the community has been a challenge.
I think it’s really cool to see now that Heroes 2.0 has launched and we’ve started to see people become disenfranchised with League or DOTA as they’ve spent four or five-plus years playing this game and are looking for something different. Heroes gives that offering for sure, it has the core mechanics you love from other games but it’s so much more visceral and fast-paced.
You’re teamfighting from minute one as you’re supposed to be and that’s what’s cool about it. At its initial launch, I don’t think it quite hit the mark but I feel like more recent attempts have stabilized it. I think the game as a whole has never been better than it is now and, obviously, the sheer amount of content that they are releasing contributes to that.
You’ve dedicated a lot of your time over the years to the amateur scene, why did you decide to focus your time there opposed to something else?
I think it’s because that’s what I was doing at the time. Back in the day, I played competitively after the first Heroes of the Dorm. I put a team together, we competed in some tournaments and it was a whole lot of fun. I always had that competitive drive and when University came back up again I was like, “Okay, I need to just focus on school,” so I started to dial it back.
At that point, I was friends with so many people in the amateur scene and I was watching what they were doing and I went, “Oh, this is super cool. There’s a dedicated community here.” So I transitioned into casting because I have a theater background so it was kind of logical. The amateur scene at the time was super vibrant and alive but also super fragmented. There was no overarching structure to it so myself and a couple other community people started working on a project which eventually became known as Heroes United. It was the idea to combine every amateur tournament in the scene.
“There’s a reason I’ve been involved with Heroes for three years and it’s because the community is the best hands down”
Because I was the person who worked on every amateur tournament, at one point I was casting four to five games a week. I was helping bring everyone together. When Heroes United launched it was an absolute blast. It was definitely one of my favorite times in Heroes because we were getting 16 to 20 teams every tournament, four to five nights a week. We were working with partners, we were working with Blizzard a little bit and it was just validation for people who just put in all this time and effort.
The pro scene at the time was an exclusive club so it was a few teams that did it and a couple casters. There’s a lot more to the scene than just the pros, the majority of players aren’t. So giving them a “platform” and being able to see yourself on stream every week and being able to get feedback from the community and fanbases was something we really helped to develop. That format ended up becoming the Open Division. They sort of took our format and adapted it to the Open Division so clearly we were doing something right.
You’ve had your hand in console shooters, MOBAs and the industry as a whole. How does the Heroes community compare to the rest for better or for worse?
100 percent better. I played Gears of War at a professional level and I was too young, to be fair, but it was the most aggressive community. It still is. It almost has FGC vibes as in the trash talk is very real but I was a child having grown men standing up across from the bank of consoles screaming at me.
From that to DOTA, which was the MOBA I played, is notoriously toxic. Going from that to Heroes, it’s a breath of fresh air. I think that, despite the fact that it has a casual reputation, the community is actually older. The average age of a player playing Heroes is between 25 and 32. I think that level of maturity goes a long way. Since the introduction of voice comms, I’ve only had positive experiences in communication. It makes the games feel better, win or lose.
There’s a reason I’ve been involved with Heroes for three years and it’s because the community is the best hands down.
I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t do a little digging to find out that you actually met your significant other through playing Heroes of the Storm. Talk a little about how the game brought you two together.
I was sitting at home on a Saturday afternoon just browsing through different Heroes’ streamers to watch. I found this girl who had like six viewers and I popped in and she was overwhelmingly positive. It didn’t matter how the game was going, it didn’t matter how stuff was, she was just super positive the whole time and she seemed like a really cool person so I started chatting in her stream. Within a month we ended up talking more than dating (she messaged me first though, for the record).
We've been dating for coming up on a year now and we play Heroes a decent amount now, which is kind of funny, but it’s never been the single thing that’s connected us.
We ended up having a ton more in common but the fact that she was given the opportunity to stream and her positivity is a part of that great community.
What can Heroes do in your opinion to help shed that stigma of the game being so casual to help build the competitive scene as a whole?
That’s the question. I think there are a few ways we can do it and I think one of those ways is to commit more to the competitive scene. Heroes is often used as a way to test awesome new features that end up, in a lot of ways, going into the Overwatch League. Heroes is sort of on the backburner right now but if we can get Heroes esports out there more and show people that this is what the top level of play can look like, there’s potential.
"This game has complexities, this game has subtleties, this game has nuance."
What makes Heroes unique among other MOBAs is the multiple battlegrounds. You’re not playing the same battleground over and over again. Some are similar but they all have variable strategies.
The single biggest thing Heroes has to do, and I love you Heroes, is you have to get aggressive.
[in a commercial-esque voice] “Are you tired of League? Have you been playing this game for five years and are sick and tired of it but are still playing it’s all you’ve known? Try Heroes of the Storm. It’s all the Blizzard characters you love.”
Discord, literally when it launched was like, “Drop Skype. We’re here to kill Skype.” I’m not saying Heroes should go that far but there are people who have been playing other MOBAs for so long and are only still playing it because they think they can’t switch.
If we can start to signal out that there are League players, this game has complexities, this game has subtleties, this game has nuance, I definitely feel like it can be a little more aggressive going after existing markets.
Where does Heroes of the Dorm, which you’ve been involved with for some time, fit into the bigger picture of Heroes going forward?
Dorm is, as it is now, one branch of the Heroes community. It’s going after a market that is not really targeted anywhere else, non-gamers. Because of the collegiate elements, because of the reason it’s “root for your school,” there’s potential there. People will root for their school in...ping pong or dart throwing. They don’t care. If there’s an opportunity to sing their school chants or wear their school colors, they will be there 100 percent of the time.
It’s a little bit different because it’s about exposing people who may not know anything about video games to that through Heroes. It shows, “Hey Mom, I’m not just sitting in my dorm room every night playing video games. I’m legitimately working towards a goal to potential pay off my schooling with scholarships,” which in the United States is a huge deal. College tuition in the United States is ridiculous, I’m sorry. Your education system is nuts.
Back when I first started, that stereotype was more or less accurate. Being a nerd back then was not cool but now everyone games. We have Drake playing Fortnite with Ninja, it’s a new day.
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