He also said while CS:GO has better broadcast tools, Riot's involvement in the scene can't be understated
For Dust2.us' final interview of Fragadelphia 15, Jeffrey "Mnmzzz" Moore sat down with Gustavo "Upmind" Franco Domingues to discuss his return to CS:GO, what being a VALORANT caster is like compared to CS:GO, if casting in North America is sustainable, and NA casters moving to Europe among other topics.
How does it feel to come back to casting CS:GO after focusing on VALORANT for the past nine months?
Coming back to Counter-Strike is almost second nature to me. VALORANT is very much a similar game by proxy, it's a tactical FPS but it's more my experience with CS:GO, spending three years in the scene before moving to VALORANT and I'm still casting in CS:GO and all that. I think the hardest thing is although it feels good to be back, so many things are changing about NA and it doesn't feel like we have the same core of players and it feels like a different scene sometimes. When I came back to Frag, some of those feeling were gone, seeing everyone is sick.
When you made the transition to VALORANT, did it feel weird at all that you're in a new game but a fair number of the players you used to cast in CS:GO are now in this new game?
When I went to VALORANT I was still very much a tier three caster because I had just gotten in Premier at this time and I still have the "young person" stigma but the easiest part of going to VALORANT was that I had the players go with me. I had players like thief and other people that I personally knew that I could ask about VALORANT. I was able to learn the game with them as it was a learning experience for almost everyone. It made me feel human because sometimes the pro players especially at my previous level in CS:GO they were almost Hollywood to me but in VALORANT everyone was at the same level.
As someone who has experience in both games, what are the key differences in the games from a broadcaster experience? How do the tools Riot give you, the observers, and the analysts compare to the ones available in CS:GO?
With the broadcast of CS:GO a lot of the statistics are a lot more accurate and important to a broadcast in comparison to those in VALORANT. The reason why is because I feel statistics aren't ironed out enough still in VALORANT. There are so many factors to a statistic and so many factors to a battle that in VALORANT you can't feasibly calculate that yet; we don't have the parameters. With CS:GO sometimes you can pick and choose whatever player you want, you insert an ADR, and honestly sometimes ADR is the only number that matters.
With CS:GO it's sometimes so back-to-basics that every team molds with each other and I can't really decipher who has a unique playstyle. In VALORANT though I think every team has their own pace, their own tempo, and it's just as big as a jump if I were to cast Overwatch. It's the same genre but it's just there is way too much to deal with, way too much utility. That was probably the hardest thing for me to deal with, learning all the names of the utility and how they work. For broadcast we don't have custom HUDs outside of what Riot provides. At this point, it's very much at a basic level, we don't have the same tools as we do in Counter-Strike.
How has it been building your brand and reputation in VALORANT and do you think you've been fast-tracked in any sense compared to the progression of your career in CS:GO?
Absolutely, I can say that straight up with no shame about it because I feel as if I was already in a very saturated spot when I was in CS:GO. I'm not exactly the most professional, I'm not the best caster out of the lineup currently in NA and I'm not even going to say I will be the best within the next 3-5 years. I know my place and I know how long I've been here. With CS:GO, I worked for the amount I need to work to make it to Premier but when it came to VALORANT everyone started at the same exact point so honestly it came down to work ethic. I was already working tournaments from day two of VALORANT and not a lot of casters can say that. I have been in the game every single week grinding and doing every single cast that I could.
At that time too I was trying to be ethical and get the same rates that I had in CS:GO. They were not exactly the rate that I wanted and not the rate that I have now, but it was still very much a learning process at the beginning. I eventually made it through just working more than everyone else.
Talking about how much you're working in VALORANT now, if we were to compare to CS:GO prior to VALORANT's launch how many more broadcast are you on now, and is there overall more opportunity for NA casters?
I always looked at the top-tier of CS:GO to be super daunting and an absolute hell of a schedule, where you're gone from home for 200-300 days out of the year. I looked at CS:GO as an opportunity 3-5 years down the line and I knew it was going to take a long time for me to get into it purely because of how much work it actually takes to be part of the top-tier circuit. For VALORANT at the beginning I was casting tier two, but the key difference is we have an actual developer that cares about having an intricate competitive community. They communicate with us and are transparent about their circuit.
We straight up do not have that in CS:GO, Majors would happen twice a year and it's not consistent work. Riot is giving me at the moment an opportunity to stay stable. I was struggling to pay rent on my apartment until September of last year and then Riot started to do VCT, the weekly tournaments, and NSG started to pick up. So it's a good workload, but you need to be in the right spot, and I feel like I've made it to that tier one space and it's not as daunting. We realistically only work at max three times a month but if you're not part of the Masters where you're working like ten days in a row you might not have any work at all.
With that, do you think there is any degree of sustainability for North American casters and broadcasters at your level that elect to stay in CS:GO?
No, not at the moment. I would love to come back to CS:GO and be around the scene. Counter-Strike is the community that gave me all the opportunities that I could have possibly wanted at the start of my career and I honestly have so much love for the game, the community, and everything revolving around it. But when it comes to the broadcast setup at the moment, what rates are being paid, how many events are around, it's not enough. Right now, the current casters in Premier they're struggling to get work outside of Premier because all that's above Premier is Pro League and all the casters in Pro League are doing everything. They are doing Cologne, they're doing Katowice, they're doing everything. The same group of casters doing the same exact work so at this moment we don't have enough opportunities that I can say you're going to be paying your rent even after a really good month. You're not going to make more than that.
Despite the lack of events and the overall hardship we've had a number of new faces recently come into the CS:GO broadcast space. What would you tell these new casters whether that be stay on course or get the hell out?
I've tried to tell them to get the hell out honestly. But it's just the love they have for the game and I was in the same spot, but I was blessed by getting the opportunity to go to VALORANT. These guys are not in the same space, they don't have that same luxury so the only thing I can tell them is to keep working hard because they have the right work ethic, and they are in the right spot but the TOs need to change. There needs to be more consistency with events and there needs to be more events under tier one for any caster to have any sort of future. It sucks because I can name drop people like Phy and xner who have put in some work over this past year online, but I can't guarantee they're self-sustainable by any means. It is so tough because they put in so much time that it's their full-time job at this point. It's so disappointing to see that amount of work to get thrown to the wayside and not get rewarded. When me, JRT, and Darf didn't see them on the list for Frag at first we all wanted Phy and xner alongside people like Jacob Halfman to get on the mic because they deserve that opportunity. They were the ones working in COVID, not us. So again they deserve the platform, and the right people will give them that platform it's just we don't know when that will come.
Some casters and analysts like voo and DAVEY have made the move to Europe to pursue more broadcasting opportunities. What do you think of the idea in general and was that something you ever considered?
I thought about it for Counter-Strike for sure. Maybe not so much VALORANT because NA is actually really good right now at the tier one level. However, VALORANT has some of the same issues we have right now in CS:GO where there isn't the right frequency of events. There aren't enough TOs that have tier two and tier three tournaments and there aren't enough gigs to go around. In Europe, it's astronomically worse in VALORANT but for Counter-Strike though it ends up coming down to self-sustainability. If a place is cheaper and has more work you might as well go if you're fully committed to the job.
As an aside, some people may not know that you are of Brazilian descent and are fairly fluent in Portuguese. Have you ever thought about doing work in the Portuguese esports world?
Great question. I've tried and I think my Portuguese is a decent level but it's not what I would want for a broadcast. If I listen to myself speaking Portuguese I'm not going to want that on a broadcast, but I could have a decent conversation and I could be detailed. I'm fluent but overall with the Brazilian scene I've wanted to get involved with everything that goes on in their esports scene so much but I'm "stuck" in NA. I like where I am, but the Brazilian scene is so passionate dude and whenever any Brazilian esports org comes to NA I want to see them, and I have that pride in my country and because I know how hard it is for a team to make it out of Brazil. Brazilian teams deserve a lot of love. Teams like FURIA, MIBR, and really any of the Brazilian players it's not easy for them to get out so I have a lot of respect for how grassroots the Brazilian scene is and if I were to brush up on my Portuguese I'd really want to give Brazilian content a try.
As someone who interacts with many different groups of people in the VALORANT space, do people care about the ESIC investigation and what impact it may have on NA VALORANT's growth?
Yeah I've heard a lot of stuff about the investigation and a lot of people should not be playing at the moment. I don't have a ton of comments on that I was proud of NA for a long time for staying clean but that's me apparently not paying too much attention. When I saw 25+ people that are going to be exposed by ESIC that's when I knew that if NA wasn't in a shit spot before it is now.
Looking toward the future of your involvement in the VALORANT scene, it has been speculated that Riot may eventually move to a franchise model similar to the LCS. Does this concern you as someone who is still finding their way into the tier one and do you think this could limit opportunities in the space?
I would love a way more open scene; I want a more open platform and I want more people to have more opportunities. Either this is selfish of me seeing the same guys in CS:GO every week but when TheEternalJay and Dweg came up for example that's such a good moment seeing the new guys getting their opportunities and killing it. Who doesn't like that type of stuff? Of course I like professionalism and I like the consistent names in the LCS but it's not fair to everyone else. People on these broadcasts earned those jobs but what's to say we can't have more amateur tournaments and more opportunities to give people more experience and opportunities.
If I had started my career during COVID I wouldn't have had the same come up as I did before because I came up through grassroots LANs and sneaking out of my house and going to events behind my parents' backs purely because I like to cast. I have that passion and I know other people have that passion so for VALORANT to eventually go to a closed studio environment doesn't feel right even if I myself get that opportunity. I don't want that for the scene.
To close what's up next for Upmind? Where can we see you next whether it's in CS:GO or VALORANT?
I'm happy to announce because VALORANT is on an off-season I'm going to be coming back to Counter-Strike and other games I've previously worked in like Rocket League and Super Smash Bros. I'm mainly just trying to get more experience and right now I'm free to take any gig that comes in front of me so for anyone who wants to see the red fro follow me on Twitter and Twitch.
While it is yet to be announced, Upmind confirmed to Dust2.us that he will be casting a North American CS:GO event in the near future featuring a number of top domestic lineups.