Within esports, there are so many different people that make up the industry, and the LGBTQ+ community is a huge part of that. We recently spoke to caster James ‘Stress’ O’Leary about his experiences in esports in the last ten years.
James has done a variety of projects within the industry over the course of his career, but is probably most well-known for his time as a League of Legends caster for the LCS. Now, he works as a Wild Rift commentator and is continuing to develop his skills within the esports scene.
But, where did it all begin?
James explained: “It was kind of by accident really. So I’ve always been a big strategy game fan, and I played StarCraft a lot growing up. I wasn’t thinking about a career, but then after playing StarCraft 2, I was like ‘oh okay, there’s these players who play against each other at tournaments, that’s really cool’.
I think once I got to that point of thinking that I’ll just watch the tournaments, it’s really hard not to get bitten by the esports bug.”
From casual fan to becoming fully invested in the industry, James has come a long way and watched esports develop over the years.
His first major step was closer to home, with James taking his first shot at being the president for the, then newly-established, Swansea University video game society in 2011.
Esports and gaming was not even something that James considered as a career option initially, with him being at university to study Engineering.
“Back then, nobody took us seriously at all. People thought ‘oh they’re just video games, who cares about that?’ And now, look how many people care about it, which I’m really happy to see,” James adds.
Discovering his newfound passion, James was able to take steps into a variety of areas involved in esports in order to get a feel for various roles.
Making contacts and getting opportunities:
Whilst James’ introductions into esports were formed at the collegiate level, his time networking in the industry allowed him to be offered opportunities that changed his life for the better.
“I was at Insomnia in the UK in 2012, and they didn’t have a commentator for their League of Legends finals. Odee, Michael Odell who at the time was the Managing Director of Team Dignitas back in the day, was there, and he came and asked me if I wanted to do the commentary that they were looking for.
I was like ‘okay, yeah I’ll give it a go’ and I did my first commentary to like 400 people. It was awful, whenever I watch it back now I feel like I was quite bad, but yeah that’s pretty much how I got involved in commentary and from there I never looked back,” James explained.
From doing events like DreamHack, casting the EU League of Legends Championship Series for three years, and even covering a World Championship, James has been able to flourish in every opportunity that was thrown at him, and become a very prominent figure in the esports community.
Even though he is most well-known for his work as a caster, James has been able to dabble in things like hosting, marketing, content production and PR to further expand his skill set within esports.
He said: “Working in a role is all about identifying those transitional skills where you can be like, ‘hey this is what I can do and let me prove that I can do this for you’. One of the most valuable things you can do as someone looking for a career in an emerging market is utilising your skills to what they lend themselves to.”
Whilst the esports industry has taken many steps over the years to promote inclusivity and diversity, there are still things that can be changed.
James, an openly gay man, is incredibly passionate about representation in the industry, and uses his platform to promote a diverse range of communities in esports.
He explains: “So we as an industry are not doing a good enough job of being diverse. Most big orgs will have performative things that happen when Pride Month rolls around, but that is generally it.
As a cis-gender gay man, I don’t represent the trans community, I don’t represent a background that isn’t white British, I don’t represent the nonbinary community, I don’t represent women, and I think when diversity stops at somebody that looks or is only like me, that’s a problem.”
Showcasing a variety of people in a wide range of communities is really important, and esports is gradually getting onto a level where this is happening regularly.
James adds: “On all levels, the fundamentals of esports is a screen name and in-game performance, so it shouldn’t matter who you are or what background you have.”
“I’m happy to hear that there are lots of different organisations and people doing content for every sector of our community, and I think those are such great stories, but I want to see the next step. So let’s keep talking about those tools, let’s keep showing people those tools, let’s make new tools and let’s do everything we can to make change.”
Even though there is still change needed, the esports industry is incredibly progressive, and people like James are able to use their platforms to put the spotlight on these individuals.
Having been in the industry for a decade, James has had many memorable experiences. However, there’s always one that sticks out to him, and will always stick with him throughout the rest of his life.
He said: “My standout moment is certainly for League of Legends fans that remember the Paris finals in 2017. There was an interview with Rekkles before the 3rd place match, and I did that interview on stage in the middle of Paris with maybe 8000 people in the arena shouting his name.
I got goosebumps going up on stage. I could tell it was already going to be a very intense interview, for context, he wasn’t in the finals but he had won MVP of the split.”
“We get up on the stage and I’ve already talked him through the questions and I have to abandon half of the questions halfway through because, as I ask him how he would summarise the split and not being qualified for Worlds yet, he goes quiet and I can tell he’s tearing up.
The arena erupts for him and everyone was chanting his name. I have to take a moment, I tell him to take a moment because you feel for the person sat next to you. Only esports can really bring out some emotion like that where it means so much to someone, and it’s devastating in the moment – but there’s happiness cause there’s always a crowd celebrating people,” James says.
This experience is something that will remain with James forever, and will always be something he can look back on to remember how far he has come in esports over the years.
For the latest updates about what James is up to in the world of Wild Rift, you can check out his Twitter.
Is there someone you would like us to feature? Let us know on the British Esports social media and we may include them in our next piece!