As esports matures and brands establish, certain names become tied to the brands they’ve dedicated their lives to. One such example is Jakub "Lothar" Szygulski. From streamer to manager and brand ambassador, the multi-faceted Pole has been the leading face of and driving engine behind G2’s success.
We spoke to the G2 veteran during the WePlay! Mighty Triad Artifact tournament about how being a father has impacted his gaming career; what many people don’t understand about the esports industry; and, how Artifact will find its place within the scene.
You took on a new role recently, switching from management to streamer/competitor. What has the transition been like?
So yes, I had to decide what I wanted to do with my career once my baby was born. I had a couple of roles at the same time: being a manager at G2, being a player and a streamer. That's not just one job, that's literally three full-time jobs which are extremely time-consuming. That's just not reasonable when you've just become a dad. So I needed to make a decision.
I spoke with Ocelote, the owner of G2, and he was very helpful. We had long conversations about what I wanted to do with my future in G2 and so on. Eventually we got to a point where I decided to become a pro player in Fortnite and a streamer, because that's something I've always wanted to do.
I was a full-time streamer in 2015, before I had the seizure on stream. My hiatus from streaming then was almost 2 years long and I wanted to try it again. And it's going ok! I'm very happy. It's a grind, but a different type of grind which makes me happy as well. Funnily enough, I now actually have time to play games! I never had that before, even though I work in esports.
“Whenever I read an interview with pro players, they are repetitive.
If you've read one, you have basically read all of them.”
It's kicking in an open door, but the baby really impacted your life then. That, and your personal well-being.
Yes. Health too, but the primary reason is my daughter. You know, when I didn't have like a real family and had 'just' a wife, who can take care of herself, it was understood how esports are working. She knows how much time I have to spend on it, what kind of commitments it brings.
But a baby is a commitment by itself, and I don't want to miss out on her growing up and all those 'first-ones'. And that requires some sacrifices. Of course I earn way less, but it's more important that I'll be there for my family.
In an interview with Naiman he also immediately started speaking about his recently born daughter, and that he still doesn't believe how wonderful being a father is.
Yeah it's very surreal, you know? I just don't know how to describe it, to be honest. Whenever I see the look on my baby's face, I think: "oh shit, that's actually me." Only now I have a deeper understanding of my mother, for example. She was kind of overprotective, but I can see where that came from now, when I'm hugging my own baby. When you're a kid yourself, you don't understand that relationship. Until you have a baby on your own, it's something you won't understand. It has opened my eyes.
I guess this isn't what you want the interview to be about though! [laughs] But that's how it is.
Well, I think it's important to know the people behind the business too, right? We often forget that there are very influential lives behind the faces we see.
That's true. Whenever I read an interview with pro players, they are repetitive. If you've read one, you have basically read all of them. Every single answer and question is from the same sheet, almost. I'm really happy that you asked about my family life, because it has a big impact on what I'm doing and on how I perform.
For example today, I didn't sleep well because the baby had a rough night. When start streaming and want to perform in games, that's just impossible. Sleep deprivation makes you slower, and when you're 33 years old like me, that actually matters a lot. You have to keep up with the young ones.
“Esports is an entertainment business. (...)
It's like a gladiator match in ancient Rome.”
You're saying every interview with a player feels the same. So what is something you think should be discussed more in interviews?
It depends on the context: who is being interviewed?
Let's say I'm interviewing a Fortnite player who plays for G2.
[Laughs] I think many people don't understand the way the business works. How players can struggle to be in top shape, especially when it's a hyper-competitive team-based game. You see so many star players struggle in all-star teams and fans just throw shit at them. Sometimes, the players don't want to talk about it. There's a lot happening behind the scene, things you maybe cannot talk about.
There was a recent situation with G2's League of Legends team. Our mid-laner Perx moved to the bottom lane and switched roles. I think that's one of the spiciest topics of maybe years. And then we basically got the mid-laner from Fnatic, Caps. Besides the rivalry, one guy is gonna change roles just to give another player space. That's unprecedented, I would say.
Many people don't understand why, there's a lot of anger, and on the subreddit people are hating on it. You know how reddit works. I think as a journalist or as a fan, I would love to hear more thoughts about why that happened. The problem is just that sometimes you can't disclose that. However, the more we become a professionally established scene, those storylines should be more of a spotlight.
"Many people want to be a professional gamer.
But actually, the only thing they want is to play the game and nothing.
They don't understand that in this business, it's not only playing the game."
Esports is an entertainment business. It's not only competition, it's mainly entertainment because it's for the masses. It's like a gladiator match in ancient Rome. You go there to be entertained, to see people fight to their death. Now instead of fighting to death, we have football, CS:GO, and so on. All of those games are being made to entertain people, and that's the only reason why esports is a thing.
If esports wouldn't have an entertainment value for the fans, then what's the point? A lot of people don't understand that, especially when it comes to game balance, developing a game, when it comes to [how] broadcasts work... But you can fill a book about that, I think.
Do you come across this wrong perception of the industry a lot?
There are a lot of people who are capable of exactly pinpointing what's important. I'm talking about people from broadcasts, who when a team loses they'll know what's going on.
I think many people don't realize that the player is actually a billboard. They're walking advertisement for the team and its sponsors. And they're expensive, but they only are because they're the best in the discipline. They've earned that, because they worked hard for it. Ironically, many pro players don't realize this either.
Many people want to be a professional gamer. But actually, the only thing they want is to play the game and nothing. They don't understand that in this business, it's not only playing the game. It's also being a representative, an ambassador for your team. PR, content-creation, merchandise is all so crucial. Building a brand - personal or team-wise - is crucial to player development.
Many esports players don't appreciate what they have as a player, being part of a team. There are many players who just signed a contract and then think "Ok, I'm done, I have a contract so it's fine". But it should be the opposite. When you sign a contract, that's when the work becomes even harder.
You've had many roles within an esport organization from being a player to a manager, and even being a mascot. What have all those ventures added for you, now that you're back to being a player?
This will not sound humble, but I think that because I'm a bit older than your typical player I already had a lot of my skills. I worked my ass off in normal, boring jobs like desk jobs, retail sales and so on. I learned from those areas the aspects that I need to work on to make this esports dream a reality.
In my case, going through those stages in esports didn't give me much when it comes to fundamentals. I already had those. But of course I learned more about how the industry works, which was very interesting. I got to know the teams, and many of them are still kind of similar to a start-up company. They lack the amount of people that established teams in for example football have.
Many people in esports have multiple roles. But for example me being a mascot, I loved doing that. I saw what the value was for the team's brand. It was a popular topic within League of Legends, and you saw other teams started doing something similar. It even got to some news outlets outside of esports.
Still, all the knowledge of those positions hasn't changed the way I work as a player. Back when I started working as a player, I already knew how to work with a sponsor and how to represent them. It's the reason I was employed in the first place. I have the work ethics, and I knew that I needed to work my ass off to make this a full-time job. If anything, that which I already knew got engraved in my mind even deeper. I think it's very valuable. Not many people are in my position, but I am here because I worked hard first and understood what it takes to be here.
Now let's switch to current-day competition. Fortnite sparked your interest in shooters again; has Artifact sparked interest for card games again?
I've been a competitive trading card game player since 1994, when I started playing Magic: The Gathering. That love never ceased to exist even if I had some breaks. Whenever there's a new card game I can get my hands on, I'll obviously try it out. The same when I get a chance to compete: I still have that passion in me.
I think going further into esports, you will see more players become competitors in various titles. I'm not saying they'll do that full-time -- obviously they'll be a professional player in game A. But you won't be surprised if they'll suddenly play in a tournament of game B too. People just have multiple hobbies. Playing a game competitively started as a hobby for me.
I got invited into Artifact's alpha. It had literally six or seven players in it. So I was lucky enough to be one of the first to see it outside of Valve. And I was hooked. The game was fantastic. Even though it looked like it was made in Paint! [laughs]
"I think Artifact will be a small game compared to the behemoths of Fortnite,
or Hearthstone from back in the day when it was at its height.
I don't think it'll ever have those numbers."
No, I'm exaggerating, but everything was still a work in progress, of course. The mechanics were already there though, and it just felt fresh. I'd say it's more of a board game than a card game, because like Gwent it's more about positioning than your typical card game with shuffle, draw, mulligan etc. Hearthstone is more like MTG than Artifact is, for example.
Anyway, I was hooked, and I knew I'd definitely give competing a shot when the game would come out. Unfortunately I couldn't stream the game because of the NDA, and I had little time anyways because of other responsibilities. And even now, I stream so much Fortnite that I don't have much time to do things afterwards.
The competition in Artifact is obviously just starting, but do you see G2 investing in the game's competitive scene?
I honestly don't know. That will probably be more of a natural development. I don't think you'll see a lot of hype like you saw with Fortnite, for example. That game grew so fast that people were fearing to miss out. In Artifact, I feel the moment teams will start to sign more player is when Valve announces actual plans for competitive Artifact.
It's not the best game to stream, since it's quite hard to understand for casual people and even worse for people who haven't played the game at all. That's one of the things Hearthstone did well; the game is so easy to comprehend that even if you don't know the game you'll get the gist of what's happening. The design is very friendly.
"At some point players will probably choose which their
main game will be -- like Artifact, Hearthstone or Gwent -- but I wouldn't
be surprised if players will be competing in more games."
Artifact has its own positive aspects. It has many layers, is very complex and there are many things to account for at the same time. So for people who do play the game, streams can be awesome to watch. Because you'll almost never play a perfect match, it can be a very engaging game when a professional player is explaining their thought process. You'll feel very invested as it sparks discussion.
In Counter-Strike, you just watch a player play. But in Artifact, and other turn-based strategy games, you can actually have a discussion with the streamer. I think Artifact will be a small game compared to the behemoths of Fortnite, or Hearthstone from back in the day when it was at its height. I don't think it'll ever have those numbers.
But those who will watch it will be very invested, die-hard fans. Unless suddenly hundreds of millions of dollars will be pumped in the game's competitive scene. And that would be very exciting to see.
Earlier you said that eventually you think esports players will compete in multiple games. Is that something you could see happening with Artifact?
Yes, I think that is already happening. At some point players will probably choose which their main game will be -- like Artifact, Hearthstone or Gwent -- but I wouldn't be surprised if players will be competing in more games. In Artifact as well as in Hearthstone. When you're good in one game, especially in card games, you're very capable of doing well in other games. You just need to sacrifice a small amount of time to be prepared for a certain event.
In MTG, I typically play Draft, for example. I don't play Constructed much. So when my friends tell me to go to a Grand Prix in two weeks, I'll say "sure, let me just pick up a deck and play it a bit." Then I'll be efficient with it, and that's how I can still compete. I'm sure that better players than myself are more than capable of being a good player in a game they don't play on a daily basis.
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