League of Legends is a scene that constantly welcomes new casters and in the spring of 2017, one such was Clayton "CaptainFlowers" Raines. At MSI, we caught up with the up-and-coming man behind the mic to talk about his rise to recognition despite his disbelief in his own skills.
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Let's start by talking about what got you into the amateur scenes, considering you've just finished your university studies.
My studies didn't have anything to do with esports whatsoever and I actually like saying that because that's something I got a lot of questions about from fans, saying, "Did you have to get a certain degree or anything for this?"
My degree was Political Science and Criminal Justice with an emphasis on pre-law. I was going to go to law school if I didn't get burnt out on the idea of academia and not want to go any further with school after I was done. After that, I was trying to figure out exactly what I wanted to do. [...] My family and friends knew I was really passionate about both video games and entertainment, and they were like, "Why don't you try streaming or professional gaming?"
As a Skarner one-trick, you don't really have an option to be a professional player, but there are other opportunities to get involved in the scene and that's what started me along the path of recording my own casts and VODs.
It's being lost without a map in the darkness for months and months, and months, and you finally realise you've been walking along the road.
Skarner one-trick? You were ahead of your time.
That was always the thing that I got to surprise people with, even during my interviews. Once I got the attention of Riot — your first interviews are on Skype — and as I was going through those processes some of the questions were not just about you as a caster, but you as a player. Like "What games have you played? What inspired you to get into gaming?"
Part of those also detailed my experience in League of Legends and when they ask me what I played, I was like, "Well, I'm not so much a roleplayer as I'm just a one-trick, I just play Skarner. I prefer jungle but I'll also play in top lane if I have to. I've played in support before and was really not OK with that."
When they asked me what I was and I told them I was actually pretty high-ranked, a lot of them didn't believe me. I had to link OP.GG and be like "No, I was actually not a bad Skarner one trick, there are a couple good ones out there!"
Well, that's quite a revelation! Your family and friends encouraged you to just get started, that's crazy. Usually, when you get into esports, it's either nobody knows that you're getting into it or people are against it until they see that it's working out.
It was a situation that I'm honestly very fortunate for and I'm very happy about that overall. I was the person who didn't believe that I was good enough, I was the person who told my family and friends, once I had finally agreed to give it a shot: "OK I'm going to give this a shot, it'll probably go south really quickly, I'll get boo'ed off whatever stage or video that I'm doing and we're going to be done with it."
It was mostly an "I'm going to do this so you guys can have your answer and we can move on from this" type of thing. When I started it up, I actually really enjoyed it and was having fun with what I was doing, I was enjoying going back and watching over my own clips and getting better and improving at it. I figured why the hell not, let's just see how far we can go with it. I never imagined I would actually get as far as I did.
It was never a grind, really. It was more like you wanted to do this for the sake of it, but also you were driven because you started in the amateur scene. Some of those community [players], you get to cast them, and some of them actually just give you more support.
People always ask me how to find something to cast, how to find opportunities to get your name out there. The long and short of it is: amateur esports and making a name for yourself is a trench. It is not easy. Even if you enjoy it, there is still a "grind" aspect to it — you have to be willing to do the work.
The first thing I ever cast for any audience other than myself was an online tournament that I found on the general discussion boards 20 minutes before it started that had eight viewers, five of which were the guys putting it on. That's the first thing I ever cast.
The people who were watching it liked it. That made me say, "OK, let's go back and try a couple more of these." I kept scrounging around the forums, it's all I knew how to do. I didn't have any connections, I never knew one person in the esports industry when I started this.
I wasn't near any sort of place where this was a big thing, I was just flying by the seat of my pants figuring it out as I went.
I lived in Cornfieldberg, Ohio, I wasn't near any sort of place where this was a big thing, I was just flying by the seat of my pants figuring it out as I went. So I messed around on the forums and found a couple of small tournaments, but the issue with those is there's no consistency, there's no way to say, "OK, every Saturday I can do this," which is what got me into looking to larger communities. I looked around Reddit, I found one that I cast with for a long time that unfortunately now doesn't exist any longer.
That's what got me going. I got a consistent thing I could work with and from there I got a clip that got popular, Riot noticed that and from there I made even more content on my own.
How did feedback work back then — if there was any, outside of your own?
A lot of it was my own at that point. So, the big breaking point was the clip that initially got popular on Reddit. Most people that have seen it know it as "Syndicate gets annihilated" because that's the big call that makes it. A team called Syndicate gets wiped and that's the defining moment of this entire game.
So "Syndicate gets annihilated" was the breaking point because the morning after that went kaboom on Reddit was the morning that I got initially contacted by Riot. So that's where I went from aimlessly grinding not knowing if I was doing the right thing or not, to finally having proof of "You were heading in the right direction."
It's being lost without a map in the darkness for months and months, and months, and you finally realise you've been walking along the road. So from there, I realized I've been doing the right thing and what I've been doing is what I need to continue doing. So just the fact alone that Riot contacted me was a form of feedback in itself. There's only so much you can learn in the amateur community because the other people you're surrounded by are also in the amateur community.
At the time there were people — I know Zirene did it for a while — who have open DMs on Twitter where they would take requests from amateur casters. Me, being somebody who thought I would never actually make it in here, thought that that was for amateur casters who had already been a part of this for a while. I never thought I had the right to approach someone like that because I had never proven myself, so once I got that acknowledgment and recognition from Riot, that's when I started to pursue other things and ask people for help.
I initially sent Zirene a message on Twitter after I had been contacted with Riot and I asked him for a little bit of advice. After that, I continued to get feedback from Riot during my interview process. Two of those were practice casts with Kobe and Jatt that Riot specifically gave me feedback on.