Overwatch League caster, Robert “hexagrams” Kirkbride was one of the casters that remained in the OWL talent pool for its third season. Hexagrams, or as he is more commonly called, Hex, has been in and around the Overwatch scene since its closed beta back in 2015. Since then, he has cast all over the world and now continues his career at the highest level, the Overwatch League.
While this interview was done back on February 11 of 2019, there are still elements of it that ring true for the 2020 season. So, taking this interview into its proper context, take some time to enjoy getting to know one of OWL’s most tenured casters.
First of all, thank you so much for sitting down with me just a few short weeks before the season starts. Have you been keeping up with Contenders much over the offseason or have you been taking a break from the game?
I try to strike a balance between watching as much Contenders as possible and avoiding burnout. I generally watch at least the finals of each region, but it is nearly impossible to watch all of the Contenders matches for each region while still gaining something from the viewing experience. I don’t want to just have it on the second monitor; I want to actively learn something while watching.
Speaking of Contenders, we have so many new players in the league this year, coming up from different Contenders regions. Are there any new players that you think we really need to be watching out for this year?
There are way too many players who I think are going to have an impact this upcoming season, so forgive me if I forget your favorite. I tried to make a ‘shortlist’ and it ended up at nearly 20. I think two strong Rookie of the Year candidates could be GodsB (Spark) and Happy (Charge).
Before we get too far into Overwatch League season 2, I thought we could reflect back a bit on your career. You’ve been casting Overwatch since the closed beta in 2015. What has this journey been like for you making it all the way to the OWL?
“What a long strange trip it has been.” As you mentioned, it began all the way back in 2015. I was writing about Heroes of the Storm for GosuGamers, but the intention was always to get into Overwatch. When they started doing tournaments, I auditioned to cast, and my GGWeekly career began with ZP. For a while, we did every tournament we could find, no matter the time of day, no matter the region. It was difficult for a bit because I was still trying to hold down a part-time job so I could pay my rent. I started making a little bit of money from casting from BEAT and Monthly Melee tournaments, but I was still working, casting wasn’t enough to live on. There were times when it was really difficult, there were gigs that I wanted and didn’t get, but part of achieving any goal is to accept disappointment, moving on, and keeping on the grind. I didn’t get my first live gig until a year after I started, at DreamHack 2016. I remember the organizer, who I will forever be grateful to, saying, “I can’t believe we’re the first people to hire you.”
After that, it seemed like I had a bit of validation, and it really helped me through some times of doubt. I’d think, “Someone just paid you to fly to Sweden to cast Overwatch, you can definitely do this.” For a few months after that, I continued to do some smaller online tournaments, until Carbon Studios offered me a 6-week casting gig for Carbon Series. This was the point where I had to decide to quit my job to pursue casting or not. And while my job wasn’t my dream job or anything, it was stable and enough to keep a roof over my head. So, it was a little bit scary, to really commit to the unknown world of esports; but I did, and spent six weeks in Denver casting.
We (ZP and I) knew it was a really important opportunity to take, because it’s insane to get that much air time, and that much time to improve. We took it very seriously, and the people at Carbon were so great; I feel like that might have been my ‘big break’, or at least the point where I decided to truly dedicate myself and go all-in. Contenders Season Zero was then produced by Carbon, and I was offered that opportunity. That is where I worked with so many other great talented people, Gilfrost, Jamerson, Jason Kaplan and of course, Monte and Doa. I learned a lot from each one of them, and I continue to learn from all my colleagues.
Overwatch World Cup was next, I did a qualifier, and then I got to check off the dream of doing Blizzcon, which was insane. There was a small setback during the qualifier, as I found out I would not be involved in Contenders Season One, but Blizzard was great and gave me a chance to cast OWPS during that time. Funnily enough, we were all staying at the same hotel as both productions were still out of Carbon’s new studio, though I was casting from 1 am to 7 am, so I didn’t see all the guys as much as I wanted. Around then, the talk began about OWL, but I just waited patiently, knowing that talk and actual contract offers are two different things in this industry. I got an offer early December, flew out to do preseason, then moved to LA during Christmas. Since then, I’ve been doing my dream job with people I love working with. A long strange trip, indeed.
What would your advice be to other young casters trying to climb their way up the same path?
It is all very simple, but it is not very easy. There is no magic formula on how to get into casting, you just have to do it. Do it until you’re tired of it and your eyes are bleeding, and then do it some more. If you find that you can’t grind it out, and dedicate yourself wholly to it, then it might not be for you, or you might want to be a caster for the wrong reasons. The ladder on the way up is really tedious, and it’s still hard work once you’re there, if you don’t really love it you won’t make it. On a more practical note, I always respond to DMs with the same advice; find a place to practice, cast over VODs, cast a scrim, at any level, review your work, go at it again. There is really no barrier of entry in things like this or other creative fields, you just have to do it, and then do it more.
Give us some of your biggest highlights from season 1. What did you enjoy most about the experience as a whole, both as broadcast talent and as a fan of the game?
I think the Grand Finals for me was a surreal experience. Standing in the sold-out Barclays in Brooklyn, seeing all the fans. I really tried to take a moment and reflect, all the way back to those 2015 online tournaments. To the times I woke up at 3 am to cast EU tournaments, every bit of prep and work I ever put into Overwatch, and think that in some small way I was part of it all. Then, just being with all the talent all year, and after the finals thinking to ourselves, “We did it. We had a good year. Look at this, no one can take this away from us.”
Was there a certain match from season 1 that you felt like you and Semmler cast especially well, or simply one that you will never forget?
There were so many casts that it’s hard to pick out just one. We had a cast between Florida and Shanghai that oddly enough, the other talent mentioned they thought was, “One of our best casts.” I think we started to hit a stride somewhere, and that match was so strange because it was very low stakes, yet high stakes at the same time. As the year went on I think we started to find our ‘style,’ which happened to be, for lack of a better word, “fun.” You can see us really start to cut loose during the OWWC Los Angeles stop, and I think we made it a very fun broadcast. We started taking ourselves less seriously, be more laid back, and just try to make people enjoy the game.
The thing is, not everyone is going to like every caster’s style. It’s very difficult to balance what everyone wants. Should I cater to the hardcore viewers and analyze a shatter timing, or should I cater to the casual audience and just explain what’s going on? And then there are people who just want to be entertained and laugh along with a couple of friends talking about a game they love. It’s impossible to make everyone happy, so I just have to feel it out on a match by match basis. There will always be people who prefer one style over another, but I’ve said it before, that’s what makes the OWL talent pool so great; if you don’t like one style, you are bound to like another, and I think it gives the overall broadcast a good tone; we aren’t all doing the exact same thing.
Prepping for the season while learning all of the new players and teams must require a great deal of work. What have you been doing to prepare?
When we were pretty far out from the start of the league, I wrote a few roster analysis pieces for OverwatchLeague.com and, in doing so, I researched individual players, prior teams, and most recent footage. With the meta what it was during the latest season of Contenders, there often wasn’t a great deal to be gleaned about, say, what heroes DPS players shined on. Often I’d go back even further, or look up previous articles about the players. I’d also convene with other talent, some of us were familiar with certain players but not others, so we’d pool knowledge.
Lately, I’ve been meeting with teams to fill in some of the gaps. I’m still going to work on doing a bit more prep, but to be honest, the real prep comes from watching what players do once they’re actually in the league. The first few weeks will be a bit of a wildcard, but I will be watching every game at least twice, and often from the overhead map view as well. That will prepare me more than anything for the upcoming season, and it matters a lot more than what players did in Contenders. With the enormous influx of new players, it can be easy to get bogged down and try to write a complete history of those players coming in, but the players will write their own new chapters, and that is what I am most concerned about.
Last thing, you’ve been fairly quiet this offseason as far as power rankings go. I won’t ask for your full list, but which teams do you think are going to surprise us the most this year, both positively and negatively?
I don’t put a lot of stock in Power Rankings, especially preseason power rankings. We won’t have a real idea of who is good and bad, and why, until at least 2 weeks in. That said, I’m launching a new micro-podcast on Twitter, and I’ll likely do top-10 or top-5 power rankings. It makes no sense to me to do power rankings about the bottom half of the league because, in reality, is being #17 really that different than being #20?
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Featured Image Courtesy of OverwatchLeague.com
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