“I guess it’s been… holy shit, 10 years?” James ‘Kaelaris’ Carrol hadn’t really thought about it much, but this summer marks an entire decade since his entrance into esports on a professional basis. He remembers putting in fully a year and-a-half of wrench time just to get a consistent gig, and even that being relatively nominal. “I feel like I got in quite quickly,” he says, “…but that’s probably a ‘back in the day’ comparison.” Comparatively, he says, modern pro players who can commentate well burst on to the scene almost immediately.
His path to PUBG Esports was a long and winding one, but it started with that same pipe dream – playing professionally. “At the very beginning, I originally wanted to be a pro player – but it was just a daunting task,” he explains. “I wasn’t able to keep up.” His conviction was to be involved in esports somehow, and grinding out the necessary experience was his only path forward. “I realized that if I kept pushing myself, I could make this my full-time job. I don’t think I have delusions of grandeur, but I feel like I’m pretty confident.”
Smaller tournaments gave way to larger tournaments, and bit by bit Kaelaris established himself as a member of the top tier of on-air esports talent. The real challenge in chasing a career and not just a job, though, was becoming comfortable moving between game titles.
“It’s a lot harder than people give it credit for,” Kaelaris argues. There are a lot of moving parts to getting involved in a new esport, and motivations abound. Diversifying his portfolio was, originally, purely a matter of wanting to grow. “I wanted more,” he says of his objective – at the time, namely, to be on the desk for something like the finals of a global championship. On a more passionate note, though, he also just loves a wide variety of games. “I’m an all-around gamer – I like playing a lot of games! I like playing all games, all genres, and that’s where part of my skill in transferring between games comes from.”
In reality, though, even the games Kaelaris plays are something he approaches with an eye to his career. “You still have to grind, play hundreds of hours,” he says. “People need to know you’re authentic.” In his eyes, a lot of talented commentators, analysts, and players try to add new titles to their repertoire but underestimate just how much work that requires. “Getting paid a decent rate for an event is great,” he muses, “…but you work for weeks, or even months, just to learn the game first.”
Today, Kaelaris can include over half a dozen different games across multiple genres on his esports resume, but he’s still selective about which titles he’s involved with. “I would much rather fully enjoy the games I work on,” he says. He credits moving across multiple genres – especially having started on real-time strategy, where understanding macro-level mechanics and concepts like map awareness is key – for how he’s been successful over time. Applying those crucial learnings as he moved into new genres helped him to work with new producers, nail the timing of the hype moments, and become an anchor for broadcasts and a mentor to emerging talent.
Coming to PUBG, one of the highlights for him was being introduced to an entirely new community. As someone whose singular focus is being broadcast talent, he’s not personally streaming or otherwise building his own ‘brand’ outside of his on-camera opportunities, so tackling a new title means starting fresh with a unique audience.
“When I lived in England, one of my favorite films was Battle Royale,” Kaelaris says, adding that the sequel was… not good. “For years, I thought to myself, ‘Why doesn’t someone make a game like that? This is the most ‘video game’ film I’ve ever seen!” When PUBG was first announced – a standalone battle royale title – he thought, “This is the game!”
“I gave it a go, and I was like, ‘This is kinda cool! They did it right.’ My experience was really positive.”
Maintaining a variety of games and genres in his career is one of the things that makes Kaelaris happy, and when he started looking around for a place to take his time and talent, PUBG’s growing esports scene was an obvious choice.
Asked what he sees as the PUBG scene’s strength, Kaelaris says it’s all about the level of structure for him. “The pro scene is extremely well organized,” he says. “It’s more organized than any other esport I’ve ever worked on. The people in PUBG are so mature, to the point where they organize their own leagues and scrims (which takes 16 teams!).” He says the maturity that the players and the pros have about their approach to esports also has the added benefit of making the highest level of play extremely good.
Given the circumstances, Kaelaris also has to commend everyone on how strong the scene has been in spite of 2020’s challenges. “PUBG has reacted extremely well to the situation in the world,” he contends. “For the talent, players, and community, the amount of opportunity that has been provided to us – even in just a fully online capacity – is fantastic. There’s so much about to go on. We just did DreamHack, we just did the PCS Charity Showdown. I’m excited that these tournaments are happening. Esports has prevailed, and PUBG has prevailed.”