James Bardolph: “The reason [Sliggy] is the best is that he is very good at showing the buildup of a round rather than just the frags”

We sat down with James Bardolph to discuss balancing Counter-Strike with his various hobbies, his chemistry with ddk and his sources of inspiration.

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Photo credit: ELEAGUE

Late 2014 would be the first time we would see James Bardolph and duo partner ddk commentating offline events, becoming much more prominent throughout 2015 as FACEIT’s presence in the scene increased the pairing quickly carved out their niche in the Counter-Strike landscape. Shortly before the Major quarterfinals, we sat down with James to talk balancing Counter-Strike with his various hobbies, his chemistry with ddk and his sources of inspiration.

Outside casting you are involved in plenty of other ventures inside and out of Counter-Strike, do you find it difficult striking a balance?

I don’t know if it is because of Counter-Strike or the person that I am but I’m always picking up new hobbies and learning random things: it is like being a jack of all trades where you don’t have the time to master any of them, but variety is the spice of life and I try to be the definition of that. 

I’ve gotten pretty far with scuba diving, I want to learn to drive a JCB digger and things like that, I also wanted to be a tree surgeon but I found out that took two years. I would say it is not a hindrance because without Counter-Strike I would not have the opportunity to do all these things in the first place, it has given me access to say scuba diving around the world among other things, driving boats, planes. It is definitely a gift.

Do you think the chemistry between yourself and ddk is an integral part to the style and success of your casting?

I think it has to be for the style of commentary we do; he gives me loads of space to constantly interrupt him. There was one match where it was Fnatic versus FaZe when they kept forcing against each other constantly, the match went back and forth and when that sort of thing happens the kind of commentary we do is something you’ll only hear from us.

Those kinds of scenarios are the best examples of where I might be saying some wild stuff and it is important that he doesn’t react to it himself, he needs to just carry on as normal; he is used to it now because it makes it come across better to the audience. The relationship we have is integral to the commentary we do, sometimes there has been seasons of ELEAGUE where they have mixed up all of the commentators, I’ve commentated with Anders and we can still deliver a good commentary but I think the special stuff comes from casting together for a long time.

Which map is your favourite to cast?

I like Mirage because it is a good map to communicate the audience things that teams are trying to do and Sliggy our observer helps a lot with that. The reason he is the best is that he is very good at showing the buildup of a round rather than just the frags: how people are using utility to manoeuvre on the map or deny information and so on.

Do you think smooya and dephh reaching the Major playoffs is a big stride forward for UK Counter-Strike or do you think there is still a long way to go?

I think it is great on paper but is it going to inspire a new set of players; as good as they have been to get to this point there will be 10,000 people in this arena watching and screaming for them [smooya and dephh]. That is where you inspire people and I think they will have more eyes on them, this is where they need to deliver if they want to lead a lasting memory on UK Counter-Strike.

What are your thoughts on having a seasonal map pool and do you think it would be a positive or negative change for the spectators?

I know some people want to have two seasons a year and rotating a map every season, I think every season in that setup is too much. If we had a new map every six months I don’t know if it would turn gimmicky, I think maybe one map a year is okay, people have a short attention span in this internet age so I would not be terribly angry if it was one map every six months.

As a company FACEIT started running their own events in late 2014 and then on a larger scale going into 2015. Is there anything you miss from back then when everything was much smaller than it is now?

We [FACEIT] have grown a lot since then. We used to have our office in Milan and it was always nice to go to that office. We did a lot of crazy things back then: I remember in that Milan tournament [FACEIT League Season 2] we did a broadcast in London, then moved the studio to Milan where we did another broadcast, then started setting up for the Milan tournament which was completely separate and it was all completely ridiculous. I would say I have fond memories of things we used to do, at one point we had an overflow when we were hiring people really fast and we did not have enough office space and because I used to work in commercial real estate, I found some temporary offices for extra staff, that kind of thing is fun but you grow out of that when you become a bigger company.

Are there any teams or players you particularly enjoy casting or you think make for a great viewing experience?

There are plenty, as time continues to move on I have little things for certain players like ropz, we have the “man like ropz” callout and for EliGE we have the starcraft name, I am still waiting for the tweet from someone saying “that makes no sense” but surprisingly, it has not come yet. There are plenty of players with character that we can build into the broadcast and I think it is like wrestling in that way: where although a lot of the commentary is done in the ring you also have to build upon the people and I try to do things like that.

We have always been fond of Liquid games but I don’t really have any favourites, for the most part all top teams play great Counter-Strike and I enjoy the journey of discovery with newer teams, people you don’t know as well. If I’m casting Astralis I say to watch Xyp9x because you have people like s1mple who most cannot necessarily aim to emulate themselves, whereas Xyp9x is maybe one of the most if not the most important player on his team in terms of the positions he has to play, with the information he has to communicate and that he has to play from information rather than taking an engagement to the death for the sake of it. I would say that I enjoy the Astralis games the most purely because I can try and educate the masses whilst watching Xyp9x.

Are there any commentators from esports or traditional sports you have used as inspiration?

Tastosis were always an inspiration because they bring their personalities to the broadcast, they are also a duo and they bounce off each other well. They have always been a big inspiration for me; they inject so much personality. I like the heel commentators in wrestling for example, the guys who say the most outrageous stuff which is clearly false to give the other commentators something to argue against. Examples are Corey Graves in wrestling, ‘The King’ used to do it as well, so I get a lot of inspiration from those guys.

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