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North American Star League Exclusive Interview with Geoff "iNcontroL" Robinson

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Posted February 21, 2011 - By Leah Jackson


North American Star League Exclusive Interview with Geoff

The finale of the Greg “EG.IdrA” Fields vs. Jonathan “Liquid`Jinro” Walsh StarCraft 2 show match is over, and the Gorilla Terran Jinro has won $1500. But the real winner is you. After the jump, you'll find our exclusive interview with the new face of the North American Star League, Geoff “EG.iNcontroL” Robinson. Be aware that the views in this interview are those of Geoff, and not official word from NASL.

Bottom line:
What: North American Star League
Who: 50 Best StarCraft 2 players in 10 divisions
When: April 5th for thirteen weeks, five nights a week at 5pm PST
Playing for: $400,000 over three seasons ($100k for season one, $100k for season two, $200k for season three)
Website: nasl.tv


Alright, so what's the big announcement?

It is the North American Star League. $400,000 in prizes over the course of three seasons. 16 man finals. Fifty of the best players in the world playing in five different divisions. Daily matches, commentated live from a full studio by myself and rotating commentators. With people like JP,  hopefully djWHEAT,  perhaps Day9. These people haven't been contracted but that's the idea. And there will be regular commentators like Gretorp, Diggity, and maybe some virtual commentating as well. Just the ultimate production, biggest cash prize outside of Korea. I think it is bigger than GSL now. And then the offline finals are going to have a $500 travel stipend. Big prize payouts, all that kind of stuff.

When is the NASL starting?

April 5th will be the first broadcast.

Not April 1st?

That was a day we were looking at and was like, “No...can't do that.” Especially with the way we've marketed this thing.

Is this league marketed towards people who are already fans of StarCraft 2 or are you going to try to broaden it so that people who aren't really in to StarCraft can get in to it?

We want to grow the fan base. Part of the reason why a guy like Husky or HD or TotalBiscuit is successful isn't because of their top of the line commentary and their deep knowledge of the game. It's because they're animated, they're excited, they're fun to listen to, they're fun to watch, and they make the game interesting to people that don't know anything about it.

That's not lost on us and that's why, personally speaking, I'm trying to create for myself that hybrid commentator in that sense that I'm going to throw some jokes in there, I'm going to have voice deflection. But at the same time, I'm going to feed professional grade commentary in the sense that I understand the game at its deepest levels. So I want to make it attractive to people that are both really really entranced in finding out information they didn't know before but also people that are just there to see me make it exciting, make it fun to watch.

North American Star League Exclusive Interview with Geoff

What's the purpose of the league? What's your goal?

The purpose of the league is to be player driven. Definitely going to bring competition and production to the highest levels to showcase the players. Every player is going to turn in a profile including a picture, but also answer some questions. Basically we're going to have back story. It's headed by a person like myself who already knows a lot of their stories. But day in and day out participants and also people that are following the league are going to be able to follow their favorite players, follow their stories as they develop, kind of watch as they move up and down in their divisions because there is a qualification process throughout the division going into the 16-man offline final.

And it's going to have a higher accountability of professionalism, such as people showing up on time and representing their teams and their sponsors and competing for the biggest prize on the entire planet. So the idea is, for too long we've been the outsiders looking in on the GSL in South Korea. It's a very expensive place to travel to, it's a tournament that's very prestigious and very difficult to qualify for, as it should be. But out here in the West we feel that we have players of that caliber, or at least people that can generate some exciting, fun content and competition. And we want them to be a part of the magic right here in the United States and in Western gaming as a whole. So we're also going to connect South America, Europe, all kinds of stuff. And we're basically laying down the tracks and creating the infrastructure for that level of excitement here in the West and bringing it to everybody.  Koreans are welcomed in our league. To play you have to be able to come to our finals.

Can you talk more about the qualification process?

Yeah absolutely. Russ, from GosuCoaching, is the mastermind behind this whole thing and has this whole thing mapped out to a T. There is no teams, but every team is going to be maxed out at five players. There's not going to be like nine Evil Geniuses guys or eight Liquid guys. It will be five of the best from every team at most. Most likely it will be three or four of the players from each team. And then every player is supposed to be backed by a $250 refundable fee. Essentially what it is, is every time they're rude or they're late or any kind of unforeseeable problems occur they'll be penalized $25 or $50 and that comes out of the refundable fee of course. But most people, hopefully all, will be completely and immaculately fine and will get that $250 back. But the idea is to make them accountable.

Each team player will be put in a different division, so no one will hit a member of their team in their division so there will be no HuK vs. Ret in divisional play. And then it will take over the course of   nine  weeks in their division and the top two advance. And then with that top two there's another qualification process as well. Ten players per division will play, it takes nine weeks to play everyone in their division. There is also a playoff week where we decide the other 5 seats into the finals (10 seeds form divisional play, 5 from playoffs and one from open).

We're also going to have an open tournament so even the people that aren't qualifiers from this they're also going to be able to enter a 1,000 man open tournament and then the number one player from that is in the final sixteen. So it's kind of cool. Definitely team generated in the sense that if you're on a top professional team, if you're one of the top fifty non-Koreans in this tournament, but even if you're not, you can prove your worth through the open. And the second and third and fourth place people will also get rewards from the open. The second one gets flown to the offline final in LA and they're the first replacement. So if someone can't make it for Visa issues, they  get sick, or they just don't show, which would be ludicrous, that person is the first one in line. And then third and fourth get auto birthed into season two.

So is the length ten weeks per tournament?

Well the open tournament has its own week, and then there is going to be a week break, and then there's the finals. So it's more like thirteen weeks per tournament. But it's nine weeks straight of divisional play.

Every day?

Three hours a night. Five nights a week. One night for each division.

Who's behind everything? Is it GosuCoaching?

The owner of Coaching, Russ, he is the mastermind. This is his baby. He partnered with a USC law school graduate named Duncan who's kind of an eSports newbie, he saw a nice business venture and he's excited and learning more about eSports and they backed it and created it. Like I said, this is laying down the infrastructure and the tracks for eSports growing in the West. So even with this and the tight lips we've been kind of doing...I can't say we've been completely quiet about it as we've been teasing everybody, but there's been a lot of interest generated from business individuals that want to get inside on this because a lot of people have been waiting to do it and try to step forward and work it out so right now it's solely their enterprise but it's definitely growing as we speak.

Why did they decide to fund you guys?

Well they didn't fund us, they did it themselves, and then they brought me on board to be the figurehead basically. And they brought in a few other people because they have good eSports minds. They couldn't do it without us and I couldn't do it without them.

For the funding that you've received how many seasons is that money going to go towards?

We're already sold on three seasons. The money has been budgeted and secured. There's no like, “well gosh, if season one does really well then season two will be fine.” It's completely secure for three seasons. It's all insured and backed by Blizzard, that kind of stuff. And the idea again is that we laid down the infrastructure, it grows, gets easier as we go, and then if it's a profitable venture we can continue on for four, five, six seasons and beyond.

Are the competitors going to be pulled from all over the world?

Well the idea is to have the fifty best players. Now obviously, especially with Battle.net2.0, there are going to be physical limitations and restrictions for that. It will be played on the North American server. It is online until the 16-man offline finals. So we're considering having Koreans in the league as well, but probably capping them off at five or something like that. But if they were to play, unless they physically flew to a place that had a better latency for a North American server, they would have to deal with problems of time zone restrictions but also latency, and the same is true for Europeans and South Americans alike, obviously to varying degrees.

So that's just kind of a shame, obviously the dream would be to say “well we're just going to fly out the fifty best players to this remote location where they're going to be taken care of by bikini babes,” but we're not there just quite yet. But, we're going to do the best with what we have, and the idea is to crown a world champion. To find the best player in the whole world, and to the best of our abilities we're going to do that.

North American Star League Exclusive Interview with Geoff

Are you going to broadcasting out of SoCal?

Yeah, our studio is in the windy and beautiful Rancho Cucamonga, California. We're going to have the 16-man, or woman, offline final in the LA area as well. And like I said, they'll get a travel stipend. But yeah, we have a full studio, all kinds of flashy, cool equipment. For those who don't spend all day playing StarCraft 2 they're really excited about the equipment. I don't know, I guess it makes videos nice.

Can you tell us more about the studio? Who's producing? Is it Sir Scoots? :)

It's a collaborative effort. Russ' background is in construction, his family owns a construction company so that's what he's always done, managed construction sites. And then Duncan in the Hollywood movie producing, side so it's kind of a melding of the two. And then we've had other people offer help. Sir Scoots from EG has definitely said that he'd love to help, MLG has been very gracious with the whole thing and love to offer advice. But it's definitely a grass roots effort in the sense that we're not hiring out, we're not getting crews to come in here. We're definitely getting trained by professionals but I mean it's gonna be run by Andre (Gretorp) and myself, Russ, Duncan, and the varying people surrounding GosuCoaching and our friends that kind of came together and helped put this together.

The studio is pretty awesome. It's very much so going to look like an ESPN sports desk kind of studio, with a 42'' big screen where I'm going to look on for cues, there's a very nice studio quality camera that's going to be recording us and then streaming it live. We have graphics designers on hand. It's pretty cool.

Is there a place in the studio for spectators?

You know, that's one of the shames of it. There is, but not a lot of people so Russ is joking that I will also double as the security for the door. One of the ideas too, is that we're creating a studio and we know that California has a tremendously flourishing eSports community and we want to make it available to people. Of course we're not going to cancel casts for the night because people want to come in and use the studio, but the idea is that it's kind of a central focal point where people can come together and say “hey, how can we help?” or “do you mind if we do this video?” or “can we watch Machine play against Inka?” or something like that, and, absolutely. We definitely want to foster that so the studio will be made on a certain level available to other people. It will seat the people that work there, but other than the staff I'd say it could seat about nine or ten people comfortably, but there will definitely be some shoulder bumping. So it's not like it's a huge office, in a huge space, but that's why our offline finals are going to be held at a different location.

Tell us about the stream quality.

Sure, that's something we're very proud of. Obviously when you do something like this that's broadcast online, we're selling high octane competition with the best players, but that doesn't mean anything if it doesn't reach the viewers. So we're taking every precaution necessary. We've definitely put together the most comprehensive machines to render and record and stream the activity. But we're also using fiber optics internet and then we're actually partnered with Justin.tv and they are working with us side by side. So there's a lot on the line for Justin.tv. But you know what? They're getting more involved with eSports as well and they're excited for the opportunity to show, as far as they're concerned and as far as we're concerned the best streaming organization there is.

Are you going to be offering a premium stream?

Yes. There's going to be a free low quality stream that will be made available to everybody, so you won't have to pay a dime to have access to that and you'll get to watch it. And when we say low quality, you're not going to be watching crayon drawings of the match, it's just that it's not high definition. And then there will be a premium channel which is going to be behind a pay wall but made very very cheap. A whole season we're looking at maybe $20 to $25. For about fourteen weeks of pure content from this league we think that's remarkably accessible. And again, all that money is going to go right back to the league.

 We'd  love to say that we're going to make tons of money with this and then we could make more seasons, but that's the idea. And then there's talks of doing something above that and then people that are almost in a V.I.P. Premium area get entered into a raffle some pretty cool giveaways that were tossed around. But I don't want to say too much about that because if we don't end up doing that then I'm a huge jerk.

What other things are the premium members going to get? Is it going to be like GOM where they get VODs?

Yeah pretty much exactly like that. You'll  get a season pass and then access to the high quality VODs. We're talking about creating additional content as well like giving them access to replays but then we thought that was kind of silly because it only takes one person to get a replay and then the whole internet has the replay. But we are definitely thinking about ways to make it more of  lucrative package for them but at the same time, $20 for content in high quality for three months is pretty cheap.

Is your plan for broadcasting to be online only or are you going to try for television?

We want the sky to be the limit but we're definitely not shooting for TV and then falling back on stream. The safe bet is streaming, that's what we know we can do so that's what we're doing now but on a daily basis Russ, myself and Duncan are talking to very excited business minded individuals that want to get involved and we're kind of having to fend off adventurous ideas from pretty big people right now because we think we're working on a monster right now.

We definitely think we're blowing up something that's going to have huge potential. But if someone comes along and is like, “hey, we definitely could put this on tv and here's how we want to do it,” that would be a really exciting venture for us I think.

You mentioned Day9 before. Have you talked to other high profile casters? What are their thoughts on NASL?

Yeah. I mean I'm a pretty big community person. I've talked to Artosis, he's super excited but unfortunately for us, fortunately for him and everyone that loves him (which should be everyone) he's pretty rooted in the GSL. He personally did the interviews for Jinro and Idra in our show match but he's super excited and wants to help out and he's going to help out.

Then there's people like JP from MLG who is super excited and will definitely take a seat next to me for a few weeks, hopefully more. I've talked to djWHEAT. If you were to cut that guy open eSports would just pour out of him so he is just so excited but that's an unremarkable statement because, well he's super excited about everything eSports related.

And then Day9 was approached early on in the process but take it from his perspective. The guy has every hour of his life booked solid. So when this fledgling league comes in and says “hey, trying to do something super awesome, do you want to be a part of it?” and he's like “Uh, do I want to commit three months to something that's just starting, when I have my entire life sold out?” So understandably, he was like “Sure, talk to me when you get to the finals.” But hopefully as it grows, and it's pretty evident that it is a big stage, we'll get Day9 involved because he is the big commentator. There's just no question about it. I'd love to say I am the guy that is Day9 but I'm not, it's Day9.

North American Star League Exclusive Interview with Geoff

So then what's your role in all of this?

I'm going to be the head commentator. I'm going to be the guy in front of the camera all the time. When I'm  playing in the league I won't commentate my own matches myself. It would be an incredibly biased cast I'd imagine. So there will definitely be other people involved, but when we go to an event people are going to talk to me. I'm sort of the face of the organization. This is Russ' baby, this is his project, but he did bring me in to be the commentator.

What's Gretorp's role in NASL then? Who else is really strongly involved with the league?

Gretorp is going to be kind of the regular co-caster, but the idea again is to kind of tie the whole community together so there will be weeks where, well, he'll probably have the second most face time in this league but he will be rotated out with some of our other guests. And then another thing is he's another community guy. He's been around for a long time, he's attached to Fnatic, he's a part of the poker organization that you've heard about and he's just a really hardworking good guy. There's not going to be a dirty sex tape uncovered of Gretorp. We're pretty confident that he's a great guy to have at the helm as well.

And then it's kind of the same faces for those that follow this stuff. Xeris is his handle, Duran Parsi, he's the Fnatic team manager. He's the guy that heads up the Coaching league and if you ask anyone StarCraft related he is the premiere organizer for events. So it's no big shock that when it came too putting together the biggest league outside of South Korea, and perhaps even within South Korea, that he was one of the first guy's locked down. So he's huge. He's putting together the rules, he's contacting the teams, he's going to be the chairman if you will for the referees for the season so most of the decisions will go through him. And there's really nobody better than him for that position.

EG is tremendously excited about 2011, we can't say that they're primarily or only moved Greg (Idra) back because of this league but I will tell you that there's no question about it that they did move him back to focus on this league amongst other things.

Hopefully Sir Scoots will get involved. He's been producing for 25 years, he does it for Coca-Cola, Alex [Garfield] with his business mind, just those kinds of people.

Do you think that, as players, creating a league is a conflict of interest?

A lot of people that are weak in the knees or the faint of heart would look at that and find reason to call the questionable stuff like that. Like, “you have no place making decisions on other players fates,” or, I'm part of Evil Geniuses, so is it going to be EG biased? We're all from Gosucoaching.com, is there going to be cross labeling? All those kinds of concerns certainly are things to be watched for, and the nice thing I can say from our perspective is that we're all aware of it so when I am commentating if I commentate someone I don't particularly get along with, as crazy as that sounds, and unlikely, then it would be to the credit of my professionalism to commentate above that and be unbiased. So my challenge would be for anyone who has the feeling that that makes me uncomfortable, I would ask them to give this season a chance and look at it and say, “okay, I can say he succeeded despite my insecurities with that,” or “he failed and he can't do that.

Because personally, I can tell you that there is no problem with that. I've been doing this for over a decade and those kind of conflicts have been written throughout. I've never just been a player, I've always been a tournament organizer, an admin, a leader of a team, or something. I've always had my hand in different jars I guess. And I feel like I've done fairly well. There would be people in their moms basements that would mumble otherwise perhaps, but that would be my take on it.

Do you think that it's a conflict of interest that this is being run by members of GosuCoaching and members of two premiere SC2 teams Evil Geniuses and Fnatic?

On the one hand, people could look at it and say, “yeah it's ran by the same core group of teams and GosuCoaching staff, what's the difference?” But I would say that the success and integrity of this league relies on the fact that we don't have those bias carried over. I would also say it's kind of a common symptom with StarCraft that people who are a part of a team also do other things. There's no tournament right now if you go to TeamLiquid that you can look up that's run by non-partisan people. They're not like “Hey, I actually run a Target in my regular life and now I'm running this awesome league for everyone.” That doesn't happen.

The leagues that get run by people and then the players take the quick walk over in round one, those are the leagues you hear about where it's like what's going on with that? And our aim is to not be that league, it's to be the league where everything is fair, everyone's held to the same standard regardless of if you're ROOT, Fnatic, EG or whatever.

So this league is completely distinctive from EG and fnatic?

Yes.

So your and Gretorp’s teams fully back this and they're supportive?

They're super excited. It's close to home. It gives us the opportunity to play on a GSL-esque stage without having to send someone to a place across the world, and just speaking personally, EG is really supportive because one of their players and one of the guys they've been working with for a long time is at the helm. So of course I'm not going to be selling into a product on the desk, but I will be representing my team and I will do the best to do that as well as I can.

How is this going to interact with MLG? Are you going to schedule around MLG? Competing with MLG? How's that going to work?

It's not quite the mission statement but certainly one of the core sentiments of the league is to be player driven and that would not be a true sentiment if we were in direct conflict with an already established organization like MLG. If we wind up all of our events right smack dab on top of MLG and said choose us or you're an idiot or something like that, then that would be terrible.

I've actually been in contact with MLG for months now trying to figure out when they're holding events and how we can not steps on toes that way and they've been very cooperative. Actually we just had a phone call two days ago where, much to my appreciation, they've going to release kind of their full schedule as far as they see it so that we can allow players to participate in everything. And that's important to me because as an EG player I'm still a competitive guy and I want to go to these things. So starting April 1-3 which is the first MLG in Dallas I will be there. And then on the 4-5 I will be recording.

How are you going to show a player's personality? Are you going to be all American Idol and do behind-the-scenes? What are you going to do besides have a picture and a bio on the website about the player?

Well we're going to do as much studio work as we possibly can. We're definitely going to run extra content between or before or after shows highlighting these players during the cast. We're going to have background information that we extract from them made available, there's going to be documentation. Because this league doesn't happen overnight, it happens over the course of a long stretch of time which in and of itself separates it from other tournaments whereas MLG takes place over three days. Not to dog on them, but it's really hard to get a story in three days.

We're going to have more time to work on that stuff and that's one of the luxuries we need to hone in on. So when qxc from ROOT-Gaming starts off 0-4 and everyone is super surprised but then oh my god he finishes 6-4 and actually makes the playoffs with a huge exciting win at the end that story is going to be supercharged and talked about all tournament long. And that's kind of how we're going to go about it.

Why did you decide now was the time to start this?

It's the best time ever. For anyone that's got a pulse in StarCraft they can feel it. It's weird, there's people coming in from places you never saw and they're saying let's do this really exciting project and it's like, that's interesting, why am I seeing you now? And then tomorrow there's a phone call where someone is like hey, I noticed you're doing this let's talk about growing it into this. It's definitely the growing time, this is the upswing. StarCraft 2 has kind of changed the face of gaming. It's professionalized it, made it attractive, made it accessible to people that don't follow something as complex as RTS games, especially of StarCraft's caliber.

That was one of the alienating factors of Brood War was that it was not an attractive game to watch and it was so complex that people looked at it and their eyes glassed over, and then they looked over at the guy holding a machine gun and that was easy to understand. Point, shoot, he dies, cool. In StarCraft it doesn't work that way, so making it a prettier game and making it more accessible and marketing it here in the West with the new release of StarCraft 2, it's making a lot of people really excited. So now is the time to create a league of this caliber because there's more people now interested and excited and willing to help out and back something like this than ever before.

When you said that this is the biggest announcement in Western eSports history, do you stand by that?

I do, yeah. Which is awesome because it's a completely arbitrary and subjective statement. But I can with confidence say that from my perspective this is the biggest announcement in Western eSports.

Anything else that you want to add about NASL?

It's going to be kind of a longer process, and it is player driven but at the same time it's also completely audience oriented. We're not putting this together to stream in our closet and enjoy it by ourselves, we're doing it so that everyone can enjoy it on a larger whole. So one of the things we want to establish going forward is if this is the kind of thing that you can get behind and support then please do. We're not going to do it successfully if people don't turn out, if people aren't excited for it.

So on the one hand just give us a shot, check it out, and prepare yourselves for one of the most exciting tournaments the world has to offer, and if there is constructive criticism to be had I personally am all open ears. We're not going to come out with the perfect effort, it's not going to be like, oh my god they did it perfect on their first try. It's going to have bumps and holes and we all need to make sure that those get ironed out so that in the future these kinds of things can grow and increase upon each other.

Geoff is quite the talker, but we were more than happy to hear his side of NASL and think it's a big step in pushing eSports in the right direction. Tell us how you feel about the big announcement in the comments section, and let us know if you'd like us to cover NASL more extensively.

Have something to share? You can find me on Twitter!

North American Star League Exclusive Interview with Geoff "iNcontroL" Robinson
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