League of Legends

[Esports Awards] "Bootleg Casting in a Cornfield" - CaptainFlowers Looks Back at His Career

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Photo courtesy of Riot Games

 

Clayton "CaptainFlowers" Raines, a simple boy from Ohio, USA. At the Esports Awards 2019 in Arlington, Texas, we had the opportunity to talk to him about his journey from being a "Bootleg caster in a cornfield" to  becoming a vital part of the LCS broadcast team. 

 

Our conversation is available in podcast form below:

 

 

What do you think the awards mean to the industry? Who is benefitting from this?

 

I think the entire industry as a whole benefits from this. Esports is something that has grown incredibly and exponentially over the course of the past few years, and it keeps getting bigger and bigger. Naturally as that happens, people are going to compare it to other things that are already established: the sports industry, the entertainment industry, and things like these, and as you get those comparisons, it then becomes important as esports gets bigger and bigger for the mainstream public that may not already be acclimated to it to see it as something legitimate and not just a bunch of guys playing computer games in someones mom’s basement. 

The more that we are able to make connections between things that are already established, and this new thing - that is still a big question mark for a lot of people, the more we are able to say “hey, we are legitimate”, and having an awards ceremony like this, where everybody in the industry, from all these different games and different titles get to get together and celebrate the success of the people who truly are knocking it out of the park, it’s awesome.

 

What does it mean to your career to be nominated at the Esports Awards?

 

I honestly couldn’t believe when I got the nomination because I am still by most records very new to the esports scene. I started my professional commentary at the beginning of 2017 with the LCS Spring Split, before that I was doing my amateur bootleg casts back home, but before Summer of 2015 I had never commentated a game in my life. So to be nominated for that, after this third year of professional casting is pretty crazy to me, in the best kind of way. I’m very flattered that I have impressed enough people and had enough of a good impact on the scene to receive this nomination.

 

Let’s talk about Worlds 2019 now. You couldn't attend - well, you attended one or two games, I’m not so sure!

 

Two games!

 

Then you got sick…

 

Yeah! I was sick before that. I tried to fight through it...I...Failed.

 

Oh well...It happens to the best of us! So you left early. How does this impact your work and your career?

 

Also do you want to just go outside… *signals to people talking*

 

Yep, we can do that. *laughs* *airplane noises* 

 

Oh whatever!

 

All the luck tonight…

 

Okay, so back to the question…

 

It was heartbreaking to miss out on the biggest event of the year after going through everything else. Worlds is the ultimate, it is what everybody works for, not just the teams, but if you’re in the broadcast team as well, that is it! This is the ultimate showdown, this is the biggest event of the year and it’s not like it was my fault or anyone else’s fault, there’s no one to blame, it was an absolutely gut wrenching case of bad luck, and it was horrible to not be able to be a part of it and it really did a number on me mentally, but the thing that I was able to take a lot of comfort in it was the incredible amount of support that I got from fans from all over the internet. 

From everybody working with me, literally every person that I ran into said “I wish you were there”, “I hope you recover as fast as possible”, “can’t wait to see the next time you’re on” and it just kind of reassured me that this it’s not like because I missed Worlds I am now less of a commentator, or I’m now not as good as I was. Honestly,  the support from all those people was light shining in the dark from what was a horrible month.

 

Let’s go all the way back to your childhood!

 

Time Machine… *laughs*

 

What was little Clayton like in high school?

 

In high school? Oh man that was...high school is ways away, that was like eleven years ago, so...back in high school, I didn’t fit into any of the typical high school movie cliches or anything like that, I was definitely more on the nerdy side, me and my friends would hang out and have bonfires every weekend.

I lived in the middle of nowhere, for anybody who doesn’t know I grew up in a cornfield and we had nothing close by so we just would hang out at a bonfire at one friend’s house, or hang out at my other friend’s barn and watch movies, because we weren’t allowed in the house. It was a good time, it was nothing to the scale where I ever imagined I would be doing what I am doing now, being a global commentator for a global...esports thing and traveling all over the world! 

I mean, I never left Ohio until after I was 20 years old. Oh! One time where we went to the edge of Pennsylvania, but I don’t think that counts very much… So… Very different from where I ended up now. It’s been a crazy trip.

 

Which elements of growing up helped you succeed - were you into any hobbies that you think that made you more prone to being into esports or were you already into casting or anything like that?

 

So I always loved games from a very young age, always loved video games, absolutely loved them from when I was a little four, five year old kid and the first thing I ever played was RayMan in a SEGA Saturn and I was scared to death of the water levels cause I didn’t want to drown. So I had my dad play those.

From watching my dad play Rayman to then as I get older I’m not afraid of water levels no more, playing Spyro and Crash Bandicoot, and as I got even older, I got into PC games, that’s when I started playing Age of Empires, Warcraft and Diablo, and all these games, then eventually I found League of Legends and ten years later I am still loving that and now working in it, and it’s been awesome!

 

SEGA Saturn Rayman

 

As for other hobbies I always loved just being an entertainer, I guess. I always liked putting on a show and having a good time and making people laugh, and the best example I can always give to people that have nothing to do with hobbies, but was something I would do in school. People almost always hated giving presentations in class. For group projects, nobody wanted to draw the short straw and be the guy who has to present it - I did! That was the most fun part of it, getting to go up there and make some sort of… I treated it almost like a Saturday Night Live skit, I wanted to make it entertaining more than educational. I still managed to get good grades on it, but that was the whole goal, they needed to be entertaining, so I would always run a little scam with other people in my groups and say “Alright guys, I’ll take the short straw here. You do the research and… alright, I’ll be the presenter.” They would always bite into it! I always got to do my thing so it was great.

 

 

What do you think it takes to make it - Actually before we even go into that, what does it even mean to “make it” to you, personally?

 

To make it? That’s a hard question.

 

Yeah, it’s deep.

 

So, it varies from point to point I think, because back when I first started just bootlegging random games I would think “Okay, I would have made it if anybody else that’s an actual living, breathing human, watches what I am doing and doesn’t hate it” and that happened. And I was like, “Okay, so now I want to start casting something and have more people watch”, so I started doing something that a hundred people a week watched, and I was like “Wow, this feels really good, it feels insane!” and I just had to keep chasing that next feeling of finding greater success.

So I don’t know if you ever really do make it - make it. You make it, and then you set the next big thing you want to achieve, right?

 

*loud noises again* Really…

 

Thank you golf cart. Thank you.

 

I’m trying…

 

Thank you… golf cart. Okay. So… *laughs*

 

That’s gonna look great in the transcription. *laughs* I’ll just add a picture of a golf cart.

 

Yep. We’ll know exactly what it was. *laughs*

 

But, as time’s gone on, after I started casting and getting more viewers, I was like “I want to be noticed by Riot”. “After I get noticed by Riot, I want to be hired by Riot”. “After I get hired by Riot, I want to do not just the 10th and 9th place games every week” After that, okay, “Now I want to cast the playoffs”, “Now I want to cast a final”, “Now I want to cast an international playoff game”, “Now I want to an international final”.

 

"Every time you get there, you celebrate and you gotta go to the next one. There’s no stopping."

 

What do you think it takes, something that isn’t just talent and hard work, because if it was just talent and hard work, we would have 5,000 CaptainFlowers, but we don’t. We have only one.

 

You have to be smart in the way you go about things. All too often I see people say “Oh well, people say I’m good and I’m putting in the hours and I’m not getting anywhere”. Well, you’re probably putting in the hours wrong. I don’t want to sound to calloused or crass when I say that, but it is the bottom line.

You have to make sure that you’re looking to not just be doing something that’s good, but what is the best, right? Like back in the day, I’m casting for an ammateur league, and at the moment that’s what was best that I could find at the time, a consistently weekly thing that got about 100 viewers. 

 

And then one day, I am reading through a subreddit, bigfatlp, a former pro player who now does kind of small time streaming, does his own thing, he was complaining about “why there was no english coverage of the Demacia Cup happening for the LPL teams right now, what the hell? There’s a lot of Chinese teams playing why is there no English coverage?” I saw that, and the very next day I made my own bootleg stream of the Demacia Cup, done from my bedroom, in my parent’s house, chugging tea at 3 o’clock in the morning because of the Chinese timezone to cast these games all by myself. Most people aren’t doing that. Nobody else was doing that, because I was the only person who did that. 

 

“You don’t go to do an esports caster internship, and take you esports caster major in college and finish with a 4.0 and become a caster, that ain’t how it works.”

 

There are more people doing this now, and I actually tell people as the number one thing they should do “go cast the Demacia Cup if you want to be a League of Legends caster!” You have to not just look to seek out and join these opportunities that are already there, you have to be able to make your own. You have to be able to recognize what could be a great opportunity if you build it. 


A lot of people I think aren’t willing to build it themselves and that’s something that’s critical in succeeding in an industry where there is no set path, right? 
You don’t go to do an esports caster internship, and take you esports caster major in college and finish with a 4.0 and become a caster, that ain’t how it works. So you have to be able to read between the lines and find what’s worthwhile and build it yourself.

 

 

So, time to give some advice to Little CaptainFlowers when you started working on your very first goal:

 

*laughs*

 

Try not to get as worked up by every set back. When I was first starting out, that’s the thing, I wasn’t starting out with a bunch of connections or friends in the scene or anything like that. The closest thing I had to a connection was one guy in my friend’s list who was Challenger and I’d spectate his games sometimes. So I didn’t really know where I was going in the beginning, I just picked a direction and started running.

I didn’t know if it was right, hell, I was probably wrong sometimes… and there were some days that I was just so frustrated that I would have to go run down the road for a few miles to just let off some steam and have some sort of release for this “what am I doing, I don’t know if I’m doing this right… How am I ever going to get noticed as just some dude in a cornfield trying to make it into the biggest game in the world?”

That stress ate me alive so many nights. I guess that would probably be the best advice I’d give to myself. Work on having a little bit more inner peace.

 

A little advice to aspiring casters?

 

  1. Be willing to seize not just opportunities that are presented to you, but ones that you can do on your own, that is absolutely the number one thing.

  2. “CaptainFlowers, I wanna be a caster, how do I cast?” Every time you cast a game, sit on for a while, let your first impressions sink in “Ah I felt good about that one”, then the next day go back and watch the vod, watch it as a fan. Listen to it. Not on some double playback speed, start to finish, watch the whole cast and see what you think. I guarantee you, there’s gonna be a point in there where you’ll be “wait what?” and go “well, that definitely needs to change”. Playing back and listening to your own stuff is incredibly important to identifying what’s good and what’s bad about you. You’re gonna miss a lot of it in the heat of the moment, so being able to critique yourself as a viewer is incredibly important.

  3. “What am I supposed to do during downtimes of the game? What am I supposed to talk about?In a teamfight, I can keep up, I can speak quickly, and I know the names of all the abilities but then I don’t know what to do…” Think about what you’d want to hear watching this game. You’re not on the mic anymore, you’re on the couch with your buddies. What do you wish people were talking about? The players, the state of the game, what the win conditions are… there are a lot of different things. I generally found that as long as you stay true to what the fans want to hear, the fans will like it?



Lastly, any words to your fans? 

 

Just thank you for all the support of the last three years from doing bootleg casts in a cornfield to world finals and everything since, it’s just been incredible. The best is yet to come!

 

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