For years, the League of Legends analyst desk has been welcomed by the same face. James "Dash" Patterson, host to the LCS and the knockout stage of the League of Legends World Championships, is the first to greet the viewers at the start of the broadcast and the last to say goodbye when the curtain falls. But who is Dash, and how did his early years guide him to the path of esports glory?
We met up with the prolific host and talked with him about his upbringing. He spoke about the influence theater has had on his life, and gave us the three most important lessons he learned from his life on stage.
For this interview, I want to ignore all about Worlds and League of Legends. I want to talk about you, and go back to even before you went to acting school, which is something fairly known within the community. Where did you grow up, and what was it like?
I grew up in San Diego California, North County area, so not in the city itself. I have an older sister, younger brother, so I'm the middle child of three. Probably part of where my 'need to be seen' and the idea of being entertaining and out on stage came from! [Laughs] Who knows. But I was always a very outgoing kid. Screaming, yelling, all that kind of stuff. Wanting to entertain people was always just a big part of who I was.
I attribute my love, or at least my introduction to acting, to when I was six, seven years old. I saw my sister who, at the time, was in a community theater show. She was in The Sound of Music, she played Gretl. It was at the end of that, seeing that, and seeing the bow with all these people clapping, that I thought: "Wow, how cool is that? To be on stage, to put smiles on people's faces..." I turned to my parents and I was like: "I want to do the next one." They signed me up—this is the level of theater where they sign you up and you just get a 'part'—and I got a role. I got a role with ten lines! I lost my mind! It was the coolest thing ever. That just lit a spark that would never flame out. Fast forward, and I acted all the way through high school, college, got accepted into NYU and attended there for three years. In large part my childhood revolved around three things: acting, running, and video games.
And is running where your love for competition comes from?
Exactly. And video gaming as well! A lot of what video gaming was for me was the competitive nature of it. I was less of a story player, you know? I was about multiplayer games. How do I get online, and beat other people. What's my ranking on a ladder? I was definitely a very competitive and driven kid in that regard. With running as well, I ran in college et cetera.
So again, three things define my life, and they always have. I've been very lucky in that regard. I realize that so many people go through their lives and maybe are the age I am now, and still aren't certain what they want to do, or what drives them as a person. I have known since I was ten years old that acting, entertainment, was my ultimate goal, and that gaming and running were dire passions.
I was like: "Screw you! I got a hundred dollar check! You can't buy the toy you want—I'm gonna go buy Halo!"
You've played in quite a few plays, probably. What was your favorite one to ever act in?
It's called 'The Last Days of Judas Iscariot'. It is a brilliantly written play. Very funny. Not many people are aware of it, so if you like reading I would encourage you to get it, or if you ever get the chance to see it, you should. It deals with a lot of the inner turmoil of the author himself, and his relationship to religion, specifically Christianity. The whole play itself is about this trial, the trial of Judas Iscariot, in purgatory. He's sitting down in Hell, being tried for the crime of betraying Jesus. The whole thing takes perspectives of different people in the Bible.
I played Judas. The fascinating thing about Judas is that, while the show is named after him, he's only in three scenes for the whole show. The rest of the show he sits on stage, completely frozen. So one, it was a physical challenge. Between all of my scenes I had to just be frozen on stage, to give that sense of purgatory, of the idea that he has been sitting there forever, while other people decide his fate and decide what his relationship with Jesus was about. The way that the show culminates is that Judas' final scene is with Jesus himself. Jesus finally comes to him and they hash it out. It's basically the story of two best friends, who feel betrayal between each other, and they have to reconcile.
Why does that play speak to you so much?
I think it speaks to me in two ways. One: I am not religious, so it was very interesting to me to look and explore religious contexts, as well as what is considered as one of the most defining moments of Christianity. It was a very interesting microscope to put on Christianity, and look at somebody else's perception of that.
But two: as an actor, I felt that this play, and the work that we would do in it, was incredibly valuable and really challenged me. I talked about that last scene with Jesus. It's a phenomenal, gritty scene. We're yelling, we're spitting on eachother, it is just so raw and emotional. The first of the other scenes Judas has is when he's about eight years old. So I have to play an eight year old child. As a twenty-two year old, that's a very interesting thing to try and do, to capture that physically and get into the mind of a child. The scene in the middle of the show is with Satan. So I have a scene where I'm getting drunk in a bar with Satan; now I'm playing the physicality of being drunk, which again is an interesting feat to tackle. So even though there's only three scenes, it really forced me, as an actor, to go on this prolific journey, to then end in this place that has to have so much weight to the moment.
I think in the west, and perhaps even more so at the time you were doing it, acting unfortunately isn't perceived as something 'masculine', or something boys do. Were you confronted with that in any way?
Honestly, I think I'd say I'm one of the lucky ones, or on the luckier side of that. I didn't face a ton of ridicule. More of that came at my younger age. I'll tell you why I think it happened that way. When I was in elementary school, it was a weird thing. I would come into school some days still wearing some makeup or eyeliner, because it's hard to get off and we were doing a show like every day. I even did a show where I had to dye my hair red, because I had to be a redhead. So for six months in school everyone would make fun of me for my change in hair color. I was like: "You don't understand what I do."
I'm very lucky to have an incredibly supportive family. My parents were just like: "As long as you love it, you should do it." They never said that I have to do theater. I always was the one who wanted to do it, and as long as I wanted to do it, they were my biggest supporters. I did always have a safety net. But here's the thing: I got my first professional production when I was nine years old. That was the first time I got paid. I got a hundred dollars to do the whole show. At nine years old I thought: I'm rich! In my head, that was justification of the value of my work, that I was doing something cool and awesome. I was working with adults who validated me, and I have to thank all of the adults in my life who I acted alongside for creating a space that made me feel empowered.
So I could go into school the next day and they could make fun of me for my orange hair, or for the fact that I had eyeliner or makeup, but I was like: "Screw you! I got a hundred dollar check! You can't buy the toy you want—I'm gonna go buy Halo!" That was definitely empowering for me. Fast forward to high school where, yes, a lot of people did face ridicule. I think I saw that a lot within the theater community. I wasn't necessarily a target of it because I didn't do a ton of acting within high school. I was, at that point, prolific enough within the San Diego theater scene that I actually got to act at regional theaters, outside of school. I was less in the spotlight in that regard, but people also understood that I was out there doing it. So in some ways I got lucky, in others I was prepared by the right people and empowered not to care about that stuff.
You've had many lessons along the way of course, with running and acting and all that, but I'm gonna narrow it down. Give me the three most important or most memorable lessons you've learned during that journey.
The first would be that you are both your worst enemy and your greatest hero at any moment, but that a lot of what you do is going to be defined, or is going to be directly linked, to the effort and the work you put into it. I think that that was something very much instilled through the acting portions and the running portions of my life. As an athlete: did you practice today? The guys who just came to practice in high school, yeah they'd do well. But the person who then went and did some weightlifting on the side, ate well and slept well, and focused on it, thought about it, studied it, they excelled. Same thing with acting. I went to acting classes, I put in time and all that kind of stuff. But then: was I doing work on my own?
As much as you put in, you'll get out of things. Maybe that would be the better way to describe it. Instilling that mindset at a young age is what made me prolific in those three areas. Again, I also was very 'lucky' to know what I wanted to do. A lot of people don't have the ability to put time into things because they're not sure yet, you know? And I just was just like: nope, I want to run. I don't care that it's not the coolest sport, I'm good at it and I want to do it. Investing your time will reap rewards, and the more you put in, the more you get out. That's definitely one.
I'm one small part. When you understand that, you can work with all of the other parts to make this thing great.
Alright, lesson two.
That would be the value of working with others and developing that skill. Again, acting. It's ensemble work. Yes, you will go do some individual prep and all that kind of stuff, but your relationship with your director, your scene partners, your stage managers... I think that is one of the skills that has helped me the most in the current line of work. Things being live, sh*t breaks all the time. The prompter goes out: ok, I'm flying blind, I have to have perfect trust in the producer, who's in my ear, to say "Hey we're gonna push to this, hey I'm gonna cut this". I'll blindly follow their lead. We need to be willing and able to work with each other creatively.
You're a cog in the machine.
Exactly! I'm one small part. When you understand that, you can work with all of the other parts to make this thing great. The same goes for sports. Even though running is a little more of an individual thing, cross-country is a team sport. You're scored based on how the top seven runners complete their races. You're only as good as your slowest guy. A lot of that is saying that, when we're practicing, it's not just me that I'm thinking about. I'm thinking about how to get this other guy across the line faster. Teamwork was definitely a big thing I learned.
The final lesson. What is it?
It maybe isn't a lesson, but it was one of the most impactful points in my life. It came from an interaction with my father. When I was freshman/sophomore in high school, I was going to school all day, going to practice for two and a half hours of running, getting picked up to maybe go home and grab a bite of food, and then being driven to the rehearsal space to go do a show. I'm rehearsing for four hours, and then I get picked up by my dad at 11 pm or midnight every day, to go home and then start my homework. Then wake up at six in the morning and go back to school. So I wasn't getting any hours of sleep.
There was one night when my dad picked me up. It was a late night, and we were driving home, and were just talking about the day. He said: "How much homework do you have to do when we get home?" And I told him I had a math assignment, a two page essay, like a thousand of fifteen hundred words, and maybe do some history. So he said: "How long do you think that'll take you?" So I told him the math would take like an hour, the essay maybe an hour to formulate, and then half an hour to read some stuff. He was like: "So you'll be going to bed at 3 am?" I guess I am.
We pulled into the garage—he hadn't really said anything else until we pulled into the garage. I was just about to open the door into the house and he said: "James, wait. You really want to be an actor, don't you?" And I told him yes, more than anything. My dad, who had studied drama in college, had a double major, ended up becoming a lawyer, but he understood that passion. So his response to me was: "Ok, then go do it." And he meant like, if your homework assignments that you're supposed to do tonight... Let's say you didn't do them, and it wasn't gonna drop you from an A to a B, it wasn't gonna destroy your scores, I would rather you take care of yourself and foster your passion.
If it's gonna make an A or B, then do the homework, you know. Then we do it. But if it’s not gonna make that difference, and you could instead spend an hour working on your voice, or working on a new monologue for a scene, he said, go do that. That's what's gonna make you phenomenal at the thing I of which can tell you have the drive to do it. It was just the most empowering thing for a parent to tell their child. That they were fully supported and backed in this dream of theirs, at the age of fifteen. So not a lesson, but I was lucky to have that support, and it definitely set me off on my pathway to here.
Image originals via Riot Games