Interview

Travis Gafford: "I do wish that I could maybe do more for the Challenger leagues than I do"

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Travis Gafford visited our offices in Cologne in order to conduct an interview with our very own Michal "Carmac" Blicharz. We didn't hesitate to return the favor, and took the opportunity to ask him a few of questions about his career and his recent stay in Europe.

ESL: So, how has your stay in Cologne been so far?

It’s been cool. We didn’t have internet at my place, so that’s been kind of a bummer, but now we have, like, dial-up, basically, which is very, very slow, so I can kind of read Reddit. It’s been rough. I’m ready to go home soon, but I’ve been very much enjoying my visit to Europe for the past three weeks.

ESL: Understandably so! How did you prepare for the interviews here?

A big thing was to make sure I had content plans for here. Obviously four of those days are LCS days, where I had the ability to go and do content with teams, so I had myself and Slasher and a couple of other people reach out to organizations such as Millenium, SK, Fnatic, Alliance and ROCCAT and tried to make sure that I could do either house tours or interviews or something with people here, so I made sure we could do that and that’s what happened.

ESL: So did you actually get around to all that?

It was really kind of disappointing. Millenium had a team change with Araneae stepping down, so they cancelled our visit to their place, and then SK I guess just never had time for us to do something, which was also somewhat unfortunate as they were right around the corner from us. But we managed to do stuff with Fnatic, Alliance and ROCCAT, so that’s cool, and then obviously EU LCS as well. The big thing is that I'm just happy to do EU LCS for a couple of weeks, so it made a lot of sense to just spend a couple more weeks in Europe after visiting Katowice and do this stuff. 

ESL: How did you go about picking players to interview?

There’s a lot that goes into who I decide to interview. I’ll generally only interview the winning team from the match because the losers tend to not want to do an interview because they’re a little salty, which I understand. The popular teams are the ones that win, which is often why I’m interviewing the popular teams more. Additionally, other things that go into who I want to interview are, like, how well do I know this person? If it’s somebody I know well, then the interview’s going to be better because the goal for me is to make a really good interview. Is it somebody who’s good on camera? Is English a language that they can speak? Because I don’t know if I’m going to need a translator, it might make it rough, so that can affect things. 

"The goal for me is to make a really good interview"


So yeah, I tend to go for people who will just create better interviews. That’s not always going to be a super popular player. People who see my NA LCS interviews and actually go to the website and see the ones that don’t always make it onto Reddit will know that I interview a wide variety of players. I interviewed Xaxus from ROCCAT, for example, this week, and although he’s not necessarily the super famous player, he gives a good interview and I think he’s an interesting player.

ESL: Is the European scene as journalistically impregnable as it appears to be, what with all of the non-covered behind-the-scenes stuff that appears to be happening?

For me it's hard obviously since I live in LA and I hang out with NA players, so in comparison yeah, it can be pretty hard to get insight into what's going on over here because I'm not talking to people here nearly as much and I don't watch every single EU LCS game the way I do with NA LCS games and all that kind of thing. I think if you're asking why there isn't a Travis of Europe - I think there's just quite a few different factors there. One is that LA is a much bigger place - the odds of someone being able to start doing something there are much higher and there are a lot of media companies in that area so it's easier to get video producers and all that kind of stuff. Cologne is pretty well set up to do that kind of stuff but I think that LA is just a step ahead in those respects. Other reasons are that Europe obviously has a lot of different languages. Maybe there's a really awesome dude who can do this really awesome stuff but he lives in like... Serbia or something and doesn't speak English that well. I think there's just a number of environmental factors that make it easier for someone like myself to exist in LA than here in Europe. 

ESL: The interviews you're doing here right now tend to mostly revolve around the actual LCS whereas in the States you're more prone to have 'fluffy' behind-the-scenes interviews - what's the reason for this difference?

So at the NA LCS I do six to ten interviews every week, often with players I interviewed a week or two weeks before that. Sometimes I actually struggle to understand why people claim that I do too much fluffy stuff, because I don't really understand what they're looking for. Some people are like "Man, I love it that you do fluffy stuff" but it just drives me crazy that they keep using the word 'fluffy' because it implies that it's inconsequential, it's not real, it's just some entertainment thing. 

I just did a 45 minute interview with Carmac where I asked some questions like "why split up the brands between IEM and ESL One?", "why did you guys not just play all games on one steam?", "why did you put them up on different streams?", questions like that. I can certainly ask Hai any number of similarly intense and in-depth questions. 

"Sometimes I actually struggle to understand why people claim that I do too much fluffy stuff"


The problem is, if you do these interviews every two weeks, what is there to ask? Let's say Sneaky starts struggling on their team, I could ask: "Well, Sneaky seems to be struggling lately, do you think that's a weak link on your team?" That's a good question in my opinion. He can answer that. What am I supposed to ask the next time? What people do is they compare the interviews I do with the kind of stuff Thorin does. He will do a 45 minute interview and people will be like "oh man, this is the real shit, this isn't fluffy at all! He asks the real questions." Thing is, this is going to be the only interview he will do with them in perhaps a year, and he has 45 minutes of time and a lot of opportunity to explore all different kinds of stuff. 

I think that if my interviews here in Europe ever seem to have less 'fluffiness', it's because I only interview these guys once every now and then at international events so I have a lot more that I can ask them about. So yeah, I think that my interviews over here have more questions orientated on the team, what they think about the strength of the team over the entirety of the LCS, why Alliance struggled in the beginning but seems to be doing well now. I don't think I could ask these questions in one interview if I had been interviewing them every single week for the entire split. 

ESL: You've mentioned in a couple of AMAs that you wanted to do longer interviews and more in-depth material. How has this been working out?

What you're probably referencing is that I said that I wanted to return to those long form interview because I did a lot of them a while back but then I stopped because I started doing LCS coverage, so I was transitioning my content production to so many interviews per week. Around the same time, Thorin started doing Grilled interviews which, again, created the image of "Thorin creates the real stuff and Travis just does these fun lil' goofy five minute things". So I did want to do the longer interviews again, and I think that I've started again - I did a long one with HotshotGG about his career and CLG and I did a long one with Jatt about his transition to becoming a caster.

"Thorin creates the real stuff and Travis just does these fun lil' goofy five minute things"


While I've been in Europe, I've done several long format interviews - I did a 30 minute one with sOAZ, a long one with xPeke, one with Vander one with Carmac and yesterday even an hour-long one with Deman. I do think I want to return to this stuff and a lot of this has to do with fitting it in with the other work I do - I do actually work quite a lot these days. 

ESL: The way you came up as a top dog League of Legends journalist was mostly through State of the League. You worked your way up as a personality, which opened up a journalistic career. You just kind of stepped in and created content. How would someone have to do it today? 

This is a really interesting question. I get this a lot, where people ask me "hey, what should I do to do what you do?". Fact of the matter is, and I think this is the case for a lot of industries, that there is not just like: step 1, start doing this, step 2, start doing this, step three, do this and BOOM, you're an eSports journalist. If you boil down what happened to me, it was this: I liked eSports and I liked this stuff, I created content because I thought it would be fun. During that time, there were several doors that situationally stood right in front of me - I made sure to step through the right door in every one of those situations and eventually that brought me here. As much of a weird cop-out it may appear to be, I feel it's the only kind of advice I can give to people as well. Try to find and seek out doors to get in, make sure you step through the right ones and you'll make it. The problem is that every person's situation is going to be so different. 

I can't just give general advice. I could say something like "don't piss off people". One of the best pieces of advice I ever got to hear on how to get into the industry was Day[9] saying: "You should just go out there and do something." That's really a good way to put it because some people are just like "What should I do? What am I supposed to do? How do I just get into the industry?", and I think that the answer of "just find something and do it" is a great way to start. It's not necessarily going to get you something full time but in any case it's better than going around asking "What should I do?". 

 "Don't piss off people"


Apply for jobs, try to be a volunteer for an event, try to start creating your own content. Just start doing something, because that will at least put you in the position to start opening doors and walking through them. I don't know if anyone would ever be able to do it the way I did it because that was my path, but I really think people just need to start creating content. If you want to be a journalist: start writing, you know, start a show, whatever. You just gotta figure it out on your own.

ESL: We've seen the Coke Zero League come up now. What do you think of the coverage that's being done?

The coverage of something is almost always going to be dictated by the interest there is in it. Although I think that people enjoy seeing Challenger teams play, more than anyone has expected, I don't know if people are as interested in the Challenger teams themselves. Certainly, in some situations, like Bischu, people are fans of the players because maybe they stream, maybe they were in other teams, ocelote's team, for example, would be pretty interesting. However, if someone were to create a podcast right now, like "State of the League Junior" only with Challenger players, I don't expect that would get a ton of viewership. 

I think that, yeah, I'd like to see more coverage of that. Obviously there is an opportunity to just make a website dedicated to the Challenger league, the kind of site you go to when you want to learn something about it, like when you're watching the Coke Zero League and figure "well, I'm watching this right now but I don't actually know anything about these two teams going head to head - what's their record been recently?" I think it'd be really cool to have a website like that, lcschallengerleague.com or whatever, but I'm not surprised to see the lack of coverage of it. For me specifically, when someone asks me "why don't you cover it more?", I think I cover it maybe as much as I can while still having to spend my time on LCS and all that. 

ESL: We've seen you do interviews with a couple of Challenger players. Then again, most of these players already have a certain established fanbase, like pr0lly and Bischu. Do you feel like it's part of your job to also try and give these upcoming players a helping hand in establishing a fanbase? 

Sure. This is one of the reasons I decided to start State of the League in the first place, in order to shine the spotlight on these guys and help people to become fans of the players. I firmly believe that, to some extent, part of my role in this ecosystem is to create the ability for fans to exist for certain teams or players. That's always been a bit of a mission for me. I do wish that I could maybe do more for the Challenger leagues than I do. I do, for example, stick around for the Challenger series after LCS, on the days that they come in for their live tournaments. 

"I do wish that I could maybe do more for the Challenger leagues than I do"


I started my career around the same time when, for example, Doublelift and other pro players started their careers. Now we've moved up and we're doing stuff in LCS and we've sorta got this new generation of teams and players and that kind of thing in the Challenger league and the collegiate leagues. I think it'd be super cool to see, for example, another Travis hop in and cover this kind of stuff as well, then they can grow as that grows as well, and then you can see the whole ecosystem slowly lifting up. So yeah, I think that would be cool and I think that, to some extent, it is my role to help provide coverage for these guys. I'm not willing to sacrifice the LCS and covering what I do right now to step down and kind of cover the Challenger/amateur teams or whatever. 

ESL: Thanks for your time, and the best of luck during the rest of your stay in Europe!