The face and voice of CIS casting — Vitalii "v1lat" Volochai — left the RuHub studio on the Apr. 1, and nine days later publicly answered questions about his new job, the changes this departure made to his life, and the future of his career. The long and thorough interview was conducted live on Twitch by Ivan “Faker” Demkin on Apr. 10
On leaving RuHub
You left RuHub a week and a half ago. How did your life change during this time?
Habits tend to change, you know? Today, I logged into Discord and realized that I’m still “v1lat.RuHub” there — “Man, I gotta rename myself.” Plus, I have more free time now. My head used to be filled with information about what is happening on which stream and [worrying] if the guys made the overlays or not. I came back from DAC 2018, woke up, took a walk with my kid. Everything is calm in my head for now. I didn’t feel much difference, but I already feel less pressure from above. It’s a good thing.
Is there any feeling of emptiness or having too much free time?
I haven’t thought about it. Maybe in the last few months working at RuHub: December, November... I’ve had so many casts… We had 22 out of 30 broadcasting days in October, 4-5 matches a day. There was little time for home affairs — I’m currently doing home renovation — and little time for family. Right now, there is enough time for this, and I’m trying to spend all of the free time somewhere.
There is no feeling of emptiness, but there is a feeling of something unfinished. Though that’s a different topic entirely.
There is no feeling of emptiness, but there is a feeling of something unfinished.
You just worked at the Dota 2 Asia Championships 2018 as a hired talent. Did it change how you felt towards your former colleagues?
Maybe I did feel different. Do you know what the qualifiers and all the work we did at RuHub was like for me? I know that China starts at 5 am, so I set the alarm for it even if the actual casting starts at 11 am. “Okay, we start the broadcast now. I hope they won’t forget to remove the overlay. Oh, the captions are working, all good, nobody's messing up, everyone is here for the cast. Great, the heat is on.”
On the other hand, at DAC I was like a guest talent. So when I knew that the cast starts at 10 am, I woke up at 8 am, not at 4 am as I would have before. I came in and did my matches. After that, nobody came to me asking to shoot the day's recap, so I didn’t have to stay. Before this, there wasn’t a chance to finish your cast and just go home, there was always something else to do. This time though, I finished my job, got up and went home. It felt so nice. You just do your job and leave, thinking, “Hell, there is so much time left… What is there even to do in the evening?” It is a weird feeling, but it frees up the brain. You can focus on your job and nothing else, [but] it’s the most important thing.
We’ve worked with the guys before a lot, and there were a lot of guests. We are all long-time friends and keep in contact. I didn’t notice any “tension” yet.
I started to realize that if we want to be doing something, then first of all we must unite with the talents, who were being scattered across different studios.
On RuHub's start
Let’s go back to the roots. Was it your idea to create RuHub?
It was our common idea that we had at the time we worked at StarLadder. Me, x3m4eg, CaspeRRR, GodHunt, you [Faker], someone else too, I don’t remember anymore… The rest were coming as guests and weren’t working for StarLadder full-time. At the end of the season in 2014/2015, we had difficulties there. The organization was focusing on their own events, but there were rumors about Valve’s Major system and that things would change.
Due to focusing on their own events, the ability to cast events of other organizers was being lost, since they were direct competitors. For example, I couldn’t commentate an ESL event. We were losing a lot of content and opportunities. I started to realize that if we want to be doing something, then first of all we must unite with the talents who were being scattered across different studios.
In parallel to this, Beyond the Summit were evolving. They showed how cool it was to combine casters and content creators. This idea got into my head, [and] I spent a lot of time discussing it with the StarLadder management, [but] unfortunately we couldn’t find common ground. The TI qualifiers were divided into two parts: one team in Stockholm and another in Los Angeles. There was the NAHub and EUHub there, with James and his cats. Based on their popularity, we had an idea to reach an agreement with Valve about [doing] big qualifiers together: “It’ll be cool, you’ll see that the only reason we aren’t working together is the disagreements between our bosses." We ran those TI5 qualifier casts in Kiev, it was cool and it was fun.
I had a studio where we used to meet with friends, play and stream, we even officially covered BlizzCon from there. We bought PCs, remotes, lights etc. out of our pocket.
Us, together with x3m4eg, NS and Alexey Smagluk (head producer of StarLadder at the time), moved to RuHub in a year. You could say that those four people were at the first ever meeting about founding the RuHub company.
Were you discussing what kind of base would you build it on?
There was no base. We already decided that we wouldn’t be working with StarLadder, plus they weren’t interested anyway. There was one thing though: I had a studio where we used to meet with friends, play and stream, we even officially covered BlizzCon from there. We bought PCs, remotes, lights, etc. out of our pocket. We believed that we could cover our expenses, and partially we did. When we realised that we couldn’t get much more out of it, we had the idea about RuHub.
Vladimir Dubravin (our translator) and I decided to build something with the equipment we had. Since Alexey Smagluk stayed in StarLadder, the two of us were the first employees of RuHub. He was the technician, producer and everything else. We worked in a three-room apartment, tried to host the first streams there.
Why RuHub and not CISHub?
We thought about it a lot, but CIShub just didn’t have the same ring to it. It was named based on the language of the casts: NAHub couldn’t be called ENHub, because they also had some European colleagues. On top of that, the name was taken already. So we decided, “Okay, let’s name ourselves RuHub and let’s go.”
Valve don’t care where you upload your content. The important thing is for it to be somewhere where you’ll get the most views.
Few would remember that during The International 2015, RuHub was simply called “a group who came to cover the event”. Valve were the ones who provided the Twitch channel with this name. Content from StarLadder, Storm Studio and others was going there. Did you have any conflicts with Valve or channel owners?
No. Valve don’t care where you upload your content. The important thing is for it to be somewhere where you’ll get the most views. So at TI4, we suggested the StarLadder channel with 200,000 viewers.
Before TI5, we messaged Valve that we had tried to combine all talent together in a new channel. It was an empty channel, registered during the qualifiers. They said, ”Do what you think is best.” In the end, everything went to RuHub2, which has only VODs now.
At TI5, we had that meeting I mentioned above. We realized that the idea was alive, people like this and watch this, and it’s not very difficult. We thought that this could be history that can grow into something, and it did. Valve were simply saying, “You can upload it even on V1lat’s personal channel, if it will get the views.”
What was the main idea of RuHub?
The goal was super simple: to consolidate all the content and gather the best of esports in Russian. For people to know that they need to go to this channel to watch Dota. For commentators of an important match to be on the RuHub channel. For organizers to know who to talk to about a high quality broadcast.
The goal was super simple: to consolidate all the content and gather the best of esports in Russian.
It’s hard to know for a German who StarLadder, Storm Studio and Game Show are. So we wanted to create a big channel like BTS, which would consolidate the content and be a home for talent. For them to know that if they come and work full-time, then they will be seen and we will be protecting their rights and helping them, while they help us too. That was the goal. Skipping ahead, I can say that it didn’t work out that way.
On RuHub's growth and competition
In the first year of RuHub, the company had no reputation, but had well-known people. Was it difficult to get the broadcasting rights from foreign organizers?
It was difficult. That’s why I always worked and will always work with x3m4eg, he has good connections with all organizers and a magic aura of persuasion, convincing them that we will do a better cast than anyone else. Thanks to him, having no money and sitting in that same three-room apartment, we made an agreement with BTS Series, and they liked it. After that, it was much easier, with different Chinese tournaments and so on. It kept on rolling from there.
We never had problems getting rights at RuHub. We had problems getting money for the commentators at the start. I had to work with no salary myself, working for [RuHub's future] potential and trying to cover as many tournaments as possible. Thanks to x3m4eg, we managed it and from there that potential came, and more.
I always worked and will always work with x3m4eg, he has good connections with all organizers and a magic aura of persuasion, convincing them that we will do a better cast than anyone else.
At the time there was Na`Vi with LighTofHeaveN and Maelstrom in the Storm Studio, the Game Show with 4ce, and more. Did you consider them as competition during The Frankfurt Major 2015 qualifiers?
There was a major milestone. After the first month, we realized that the audience liked this, but we needed money. The ad revenue wasn’t enough to pay salaries to 4-5 people. We wanted to expand, and considering the new Major system, we needed some kind of investment. That’s when NS contacted us; he wasn’t working with any studio, was co-casting with me and was a guest at StarLadder. He said that there was an interested investor: Antong “sneg” Cherepennikov. “He likes what you are doing, so try to make an agreement in Moscow”.
We met, he shared his plans, and we shared our vision. We got our first promises: “Yes, you will get money for this and this. I realize that you have little time.” We made an agreement with sneg, and got the money for The Frankfurt Major 2015 qualifiers, under the promise that we will do this together and won’t run away anywhere.
We got the opportunity to hire people. Most importantly, the reason we were successful [was that] we understood that we will be competing with other studios. So we decided to make a seamless, 24-hour stream. It was my “fix idea” for quite a while. To execute it, we needed four commentators, six analysts, and two hosts. You remember how difficult it was. One room had casters, another had the host wejustzik telling stories on a couch…
That decision to run a 24/7 stream showed that if our competition will not be constantly coming up with and implementing new ideas on the same scale as we do (there wasn’t much of a scale to be fair, it was cheap, just a lot of work), then they will have no chance. I realized after the very first qualifiers, where we had something around a 70-30 viewer split, that things will go well.
I realised after the very first qualifiers, where we had something around a 70/30% viewer split, that things will go well.
In October 2015, there was information that Alisher Usmanov was going to invest $100 million in Virtus.pro. Rumors about RuHub being a part of the VP holding popped up right away. Why did you only announce it in February 2016? Did you have any reasons to hide it?
I don’t remember why we were hiding it — I mean, why there was no announcement before. Storm Studio were also closing down at the time, we united with them and VP’s video production studio. That ESforce holding announcement came up around that time. I think the announcement delay had to do with all the documents needed to be prepared, and so on for such big investments and a big holding. Naturally, officially registering the Russian and Ukrainian parts of RuHub with all the documents takes a long time. The end of 2015 was dedicated to getting that sorted. We always strived to work officially, honestly. We didn’t have any secret [that we] thought to hide from people, the community knew that we made an agreement with sneg and that we were to be a part of the future holding.
In February, you said that tournament organizers were disregarding Russian coverage, and so on. We were getting hired at many tournaments but were only physically brought to Majors, TI and DAC. Not to a single ESL. Counter-Strike didn’t get anywhere either, except the home EPICENTER. Does it mean that your goal wasn’t met?
Yes, you are right, our main goal failed. I was talking about it in interviews very often back then. We were traveling a lot when a bunch of tournaments were starting: Summit, Nanyang in Singapore, Major All-Stars, DAC (where even English coverage almost wasn’t invited). We wanted to have commentators or at least the filming crew to be at every event. To do so, you have to sell it. People think that sending people to Shanghai is cheap, but it’s not. Even a video editor, director, and sound engineer costs about $6,000 a week. It’s gigantic money that you have to earn.
Season 2015/2016 helped us a bit, with its three Majors. Everyone landed, everyone worked for Valve’s money. It felt like other events weren’t as important. But when Majors dropped to only two and there were other important events, it was clear that earning that money and selling RuHub services was difficult. We started to travel less and less. The same thing was [happening] with CS.
People think that sending people to Shanghai is cheap, but it’s not. Even a video editor, director and sound engineer is about $6,000 for a week.
We had rights to many events, but to get there organizers were saying something like, “We will give you a table, but you have to bring four casters, a sound engineer, a cameraman and an editor.” Roughly speaking it was about $12,000, it’s impossible to get that money back. When this continues to happen for half a year, you think that it’s fine. But after The Boston Major 2016, you only get to travel to EPICENTER and TI… You can’t get an agreement with organizers, you don’t travel anywhere, the world doesn’t get any cheaper and you lose motivation.
Nobody in RuHub was saying, “No, we won’t be doing this.” Our plans didn’t change. It’s just that I and our management couldn’t achieve this perfect dream, to have commentators, analysts or at least a filming crew on every Major or Minor. As you can see, it all failed, it’s one of the reasons we lost motivation in RuHub.
Let’s remember StarLadder in Minsk. Roman Romancov, the company owner, invited RuHub to cover the event. How easy it was for him to decide to invite his former employees to his tournament? Did his approach to you change a lot?
I can’t say how difficult it was for him. It was the first big event for StarLadder. There was one before, in Bucharest, but that’s not the same, [it was] too far from CIS. This one was the first very big one, at Minsk Arena, a wonderful event with Dota 2 as the headline and also CS. High tier teams, everything was great. Before it, in December, almost all casters had left StarLadder. Adekvat and CaspeRRR had already joined us, and there were practically no commentators left. Roman Romancov had no choice.
I cast the first day of group stage had to lay down. I managed to get back my senses only by the finals. Even medics were called, which has happened only two-three times in my life. I don’t know how Roman felt about this. I think that the decision to invite the guys who left StarLadder wasn’t easy. But he had no choice. It’s worth noting that both parties were acting professionally. We worked at our best, I was helping to shoot some videos. Those were good professional relationships.
I cast the first day of group stage had to lay down. I managed to get back my senses only by the finals. Even medics were called...
Let’s remember RuHub vs. StarLadder. Apr. 1, 2016, CaspeRRR left for SLTV. Everyone thought that this was all a joke. How did it happen and what led to this?
Getting CaspeRRR to switch to RuHub was very difficult. We were good friends, our families were too, we went on vacation to Hawaii with our wives together. That’s where I was trying to pitch him this idea. We managed to do it. We worked really well. I only learned later that he was being called back to Minsk.
We had conflicts arise from his new commentary style, but it was purely work-related. We made fun, joking subtitles for some interview at the Shanghai Major, resulting in a conflict inside our working channel. He was pushing for serious translations, plus he started pushing his idea of not using English-based words in our commentary and using less slang. We had a serious fight about captions. I said to him, “Roma, if you don’t like captions, wake up two hours earlier and do them yourself.”
I felt like he got upset by this. I remember him asking me about a salary increase, but we had no budget, [but] those are the small things. I think we got to the point where we had different points of view on what we were doing. He had a constant flow of offers from StarLadder, so he left. The only thing about it: on March 30 I was casting with GodHunt, on Apr. 1 I was supposed to be casting with CaspeRRR, but he asked to be replaced, and GodHunt agreed to help; 20 seconds later, CaspeRRR wrote to GodHunt that he left for StarLadder. He never messaged this to me.
I drunkenly said to him: “Damn man, couldn't you have at least messaged me that you had a better offer and you want to work there?”
I wasn’t feeling great about it, I didn’t know how to react. GodHunt and he conversed freely, but he never messaged me. The next time we met was... I don’t even know how long after. It was a little uneasy. I couldn’t figure out what happened the next day. CaspeRRR never explained why he left, even after two years.
How were your relationships going forward? In the open, it felt like, “There was a man, and now there is none.” You started ignoring questions about him on social media, never mentioning him anywhere. Was that a defensive decision?
You'd have to ask a psychologist about this. I was hurt, that’s a fact. Yes, a grown up, 30-year-old man was hurt. It felt like we were creating something big and massive… At some point, a long time ago, I drunkenly said to him, “Damn man, couldn't you have at least messaged me that you had a better offer and you want to work there?”
I tried ignoring this, going through a few stages: hurt, anger, calmness. [I said to myself that] if you’ll be working for our competition, we will continue doing our thing, and I will prove that we can do this better. His departure possibly even added to the desire to do more, and do better.
We are not enemies: we went to concerts together, went to birthdays and so on. It’s not that we don’t talk to each other, but we’re not friends.
This interview was first transcribed on Cybersport.ru. Part 2 will be published on Cybersport.com on Monday, Apr. 16.