ELEAGUE: Richard Lewis on brand evolution and leading from the desk

Veteran esports journalist Richard Lewis is the host of ELEAGUE and a key part of its brand. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Turner Sports
Veteran esports journalist Richard Lewis is the host of ELEAGUE and a key part of its brand. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Turner Sports /

Richard Lewis is the anchor of ELEAGUE, and he spoke to FanSided about the brand’s evolution, the CSGO Premier and continuing to push forward in esports.

Turner and IMG’s ELEAGUE wouldn’t be where it is today without Richard Lewis. His official title is ELEAGUE host and Contributing Editor for Turner Sports, but Lewis is the anchor that’s helped build one of the top brands in esports and one of the smartest men in the game.

FanSided spoke with Richard during the current ELEAGUE CSGO Premier to discuss how the brand has evolved over the last year and a half, the new talent combinations at the desk, and his ongoing commitment to doing better in the esports world.

Check out what he had to tell us below, and watch Group D action from ELEAGUE live tonight at 10 p.m. ET on TBS, ELEAGUE Game Command, Twitch and YouTube.

FanSided: ELEAGUE has grown pretty quickly; the Premier is its fourth Counter-Strike event in under two years. You’ve been here for all of them; how do you think the brand has evolved?

Richard Lewis (RL): You can see the clear progress each season. The first season we were still kind of refining the format. We tried to fit a lot in in a very short time period. It was a big commitment. So we revised it and we moved forward and we eventually got to this point, where I think things are happening nice and quick, sharp.

The way we do things in the groups, a team can go through in two [or] go out in two. We’ve got a nice best of one on TBS, which is a big difference to best of three. Very good for time constraints, good for the viewing and there’s less chance of us running over time.

What’s good about TBS is they’ve never turned the game off, because they treat it like real sports. They don’t just go well, you have to find out who won online or whatever. There’s definitely been some times like in season 1, where we’ve been there at 2 a.m. and we were like this is ridiculous, this game’s never going to end. It’s tough on the crew, it’s tough on the talent, fans are obviously keeping the energy up, but it’s very hard when you go into five overtimes. That’s just one of the issues with the game in general.

I think the system we’ve got is loads better for TV, and we’ve really distilled what ELEAGUE is all about, so it’s definitely gotten better each tournament for me. It’s just a lot of fun to keep working on it and be involved in that.

FanSided: You began with a very clear desk of yourself, Jason “Moses” O’Toole and Duncan “Thorin” Shields. The Premier is the first time that desk has rotated and talent has changed. How has that affected you as the host?

RL: It’s good. I’ve said this a lot — I feel like the commentators don’t often get a chance to put their opinions in about the game. A lot of them have very valid thoughts about the game and can analyze a game, but because they don’t get a opportunity to do it, the community doesn’t think they can. Everyone’s brought their own little take on things, and Moses is there sort of to carry over right back from season 1. Duncan isn’t involved this season; he’s been doing some other events in Europe and that sort of thing.

It’s worked out pretty well. It’s always good to get the thoughts of different people and try new things and try new talent. It’s possible, although we haven’t confirmed anything, down the road especially around playoff time, we might get some ex-pros involved on the desk. That’s probably the one thing we don’t have naturally among the commentators.

Moses is an ex-pro but then Anders [Blume], Semmler [Auguste Massonnat] and James [Bardolph] never played at a pro level. DDK [Daniel Kapadia] didn’t play Counter-Strike at a pro level; he played Quake at a pro level.

I think as the games become more high stakes, it’d be nice to get an ex-pro in there who can probably give us a bit more in-depth and specific analysis. But other than that I think it’s worked really well this season, and it’s a nice change for people that have been watching the broadcast.

FanSided: Do you miss not always having Moses sitting beside you, though?

RL: Sure, because me and Jason have that rapport now. We’ve been working together for years and it’s a shame when there’s a bit [and] he’s not on the desk to do it. [But] it’s good in the sense that you get to have different personality archetypes.

James is very dry with his humor and comes up with some absurd statements from time to time. Anders is more about his theorycrafting. Semmler’s started drawing his predictions; I don’t know where he got that from. Different personality types lead to different experiences on the broadcast.

FanSided: You came to ELEAGUE as a journalist first and foremost. You didn’t see yourself as a TV personality. Now that it’s been almost two years, how has the ELEAGUE experience been as far as the life and career of Richard Lewis?

RL: I still don’t think of myself as a TV guy. It’s kind of hard to describe. The weight of working for a company like Turner and being on a cable channel is not lost on me or anything, but when you’ve spent so many years in this one particular industry, it’s kind of hard to start thinking about yourself in different terms.  I’ve been in esports so long, it’s hard for me to carry myself to the standard that I’m sure TV’s all about.

I’m always going to be an esports guy. I certainly hope that’s what they meant when they said they wanted to keep the broadcast authentic. Obviously if they wanted a TV host who’s a bit more traditional, they could have got one. It’s Turner, I’m sure there’s plenty of options. I still don’t think of myself as a TV guy. I think it keeps the ego away from the door as well, but I think I’ve managed to negotiate the balance of not being too outrageous for TV, but remaining true to what the esports audience expects of me as well, so it’s a balancing act.

FanSided: That’s an important point to make. Richard Lewis the ELEAGUE host has not replaced Richard Lewis the journalist. You still do a lot of quality work in that space. How have you been able to maintain your commitment to journalism as well as ELEAGUE?

RL: There are some considerations. For example, I was known as a beat journalist. I would get all the roster news before anyone else. All of a sudden it’s not appropriate to do that if you’re working for a company that gets to see rosters handed to you weeks in advance. So there were some changes and alterations I made.

But the key thing is in all of this is that there’s not a lot of watchdogs in our industry. There’s not a lot of people looking out for young people coming into the industry or people from different backgrounds coming into esports. People who maybe never signed a contract before, never had a job before, and all of a sudden they’re put into this situation where some guy in a suit is telling them to sign this piece of paper and I’ll make all your dreams come true — which is incredibly dangerous. It’s not regulated, there’s no one to go complain to.

I’ve seen it for 15 years. I’ve seen kids getting rolled. Going out to team houses and then it turns out their name’s on a lease and they can’t afford the rent. Just genuine horror stories. Because despite all this money that’s coming into the industry, despite the evolution, despite things like ELEAGUE becoming more mainstream, that fundamental core [of] bulls**t artist that makes up the industry, no one’s out there attacking it and chipping away at it. No one’s really addressing it.

That was the one thing I couldn’t give up to do this job. I think I have a moral obligation as one of the elder statemen in this industry right now to make sure that people aren’t getting exploited or abused. Even multi-millionaires who want to spend their money on [are] getting lied to by failed consultants and all this other stuff. This is all detrimental to the industry and I want the industry to succeed.

So I consider my work to be important in that sense. I don’t think I can authoritively sit in the ELEAGUE chair wth the credibility that I have, if I don’t do the stuff that I do outside of ELEAGUE.

FanSided: You’re turning out remarkable content with The Richard Lewis Show on Twitch and YouTube, and you just launched Return of By The Numbers with Thorin. So how’s the world of Richard Lewis outside ELEAGUE?

RL: In terms of me on an individual level, I got nominated for Journalist of the Year [at the Esports Industry Awards]. I’ll say watch this space. Obviously people can follow what I’m doing on Twitter, YouTube, I write a column that I rarely get in on time for the ELEAGUE website which people can read as well. One of the great things about working here is nobody rests on their laurels. It never stays still. And that’s also one of the challenges, because you’ve got to keep up.

FanSided: But you’ve never lost sight of the fans in all of this. Another thing that’s important to you is the reception to ELEAGUE within the esports community.

RL: We’ve been working really hard to make the product something that we know the community like. With Street Fighter there were some concessions we had to make, we had to make some changes, but I think overall 95 percent of what we did was well received despite some initial doubts, and we thank the community for giving us that feedback and staying with us. Same with the Counter-Strike community, our bread and butter.

I’m sure if we do decide to do different games in the future, we’re always going to have that community focus. We know we’re a big entity in the space, we know we’re a big entity in general, but we’re not looking to be authoritative and do things our way. We want to bring our expertise but we want to do things the community likes. As long as we keep the team that’s worked on ELEAGUE from the start, I don’t think that’s going to change.

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For more with Richard Lewis, be sure that you check out his website RLewisReports.com and find him every Friday at 10 p.m. ET as the host of ELEAGUE on TBS. For more gaming news, follow the Gaming category at FanSided here.