Uber - planning a life after Overwatch League

Uber - planning a life after Overwatch League
Images via Toronto Defiant/Stephen Kazumi & Jeff Dumasal | Brawl Stars/Helena K.

Last updated 

26th Nov 2023 16:44

Mitch “Uber” Leslie is once again nominated for an Esports award as a play-by-play caster, this time for his work in a league that no longer exists. Things are changing in esports, and natives like Uber are holding on to the wild ride.

Since the Overwatch League’s inception, Uber has been the premier casting talent for the scene, raking up awards, though never at the Esports awards. “Don’t make me lose to CaptainFlowers again,” he pleas between sets on a recent workout stream. Weighing his odds, he reasons that his opponent missed out on the prestigious League of Legends Worlds Grand Finals this year.

However, as he admits, there is more competition now, listing the names of other deserving broadcast talent in the esports industry. Now once more a free agent, he will have to compete against many of them in the future, expressing an interest in getting involved in various scenes.

As so often, the shortage of available capital in esports in the early 10s was followed by a glut in which the esports industry bit off more than it could chew — a reality its stakeholders are now feeling the impact of. With stakes higher than when he first started the journey some decade and a half ago and an industry in a state of view certainties, an esports man has to find a way.

A manifold path

Uber at Overwatch League Grand Finals casting with Matt "Mr.X" Morello
Click to enlarge
Image via Toronto Defiant

My eldest is like two years, nine months. My youngest is like eight months old,” Uber shares in an interview at Dreamhack Jonköping, Sweden. He’s attending as broadcast talent for Supercell’s mobile game Brawl Stars, a title he has been involved in the breaks outside his Overwatch League casting duties.

I really wanted to get involved in the mobile gaming market. Supercell are really unique as a developer. [...] They're really committed to develop not only the esports offering but also the talent. They're really into talent development and they really look after their creators,” he shared about his reasons to dip into the mobile title, also explaining that the fresh perspective of the title helped him improve as a play-by-play.

Crucially, Brawl Stars also is different enough as a game and esport to not have been covered by the exclusivity clauses in his Overwatch League contract.

Two years ago, shortly before the start of the North American Last Chance Qualifier for VALORANT Champions, Uber was announced as part of the broadcast talent only to have to step away from it due to his contract with OWL, an oversight his him and his agent. “Egg on my face, and in fairness, my contract did indicate that,” he summarised the situation.

Shortly after the conclusion of the Overwatch League final, Uber started casting the qualifiers of the VALORANT OFF//SEASON event “For Those Who Dare”, signalling his willingness to reconnect, explaining:

“I've been on a podcast for about a year prior to that on VALORANTing and I have like obviously a lot of mates on that broadcast as well like [Brennon Hook] and [Josh “Sideshow” Wilkinson]. It's also based in LA so I'd be very interested in doing that.”

With the folding of the Overwatch League, and the struggles of the LCS and CDL, there are few stable gigs left in town, of which VALORANT appears to be one for now.

“These franchise league structures are starting to go away, much like the Overwatch League. Being in a league that has a straight calendar and that often comes with a salary for a commentator. We're probably going to see a departure from that.”

The more things change…

The alternative is the route through third-party tournament organisers, a life Uber has lived before, working for the Electronic Sports League (ESL) early in his career, casting a wide range of games from World of Tanks to Counter-Strike to Overwatch. 

Despite having stepped away from that part of the esports industry for the six years of OWL’s life cycle, he’s recognised as part of that tribe, with many familiar faces approaching him at Dreamhack. 

No f#!king way. What are you doing here,” a former co-worker of Uber says before embracing him in a hug, explaining that they’ve worked with each other at ESL years ago. Esports has a curious way of bringing its core together in times like these.

In 2015, Uber was the host for IEM Cologne, a tournament series that became a staple of the circuit and recently sent off the Counter-Strike title Global Offensive to make room for Counter-Strike 2.

 I'm always interested. A new title coming out always causes a surge of interest and I definitely like an increase in competition for of a lot of roles in CS right now,“ Uber said about potential opportunities presented by a new title. He’s also aware that in his many years of absence, new faces have risen and established themselves.

“It's just tough to break into. From what I've observed, they don't appear to have a lot of leverage because all the CS stuff is basically run by one company,” Uber says, hinting at the changes also in the third-party tournament landscape. Over the years, all former independent tournament organisers like Dreamhack and FACEIT were brought under one company with ESL.

Uber casting Brawl Stars on stage
Click to enlarge
Image via Brawl Stars/Helena K.

Not having to fight for the best talent with competing organisers is hard, "Right now I'm getting a lot of first and final offers."

If you're at the top, it was a very gruelling year of travel all year round, but potentially very lucrative opportunity to sort of really make a good living,” he described of the old state of affairs.

Even then, this structure was a young man’s game, for those able to uproot their life without few other responsibilities. “That's a tough one for a parent as evidenced by even [Anders Blume] having to take a step back,” the father of two describes, citing anecdotes from his colleagues within the Counter-Strike scene who also started families working this job.

I've been fortunate enough to use my casting profession to start a family over the last three years. If I was looking to start a family next year, the year after, I would not be able to do it in my current position,” he says soberly. Tournament organisers are also looking to cut costs during the esports winter and caster wages are likely to make way before other production costs or prize pools are touched.

For Uber, who has said he’s made an effort to help the new generation of talent develop, these realities have shaped the advice he gives: “I think I always recommend to newcomers that it should always be a hobby on the side. Until you can guarantee something solid and then it, you should allow for it to go back to being a hobby on the side if need be… which was easier said than done, as I can definitely attest to.” 

Uber himself holds a degree in aerospace engineering, which he finished while getting his feet into casting some 13 years ago. It’s clear options are being weighed and decisions do not come as easily as they did then.

Making it fit

As the premier casting talent in Overwatch, there should be space in the new model that is currently being cooked up by Blizzard Entertainment and reportedly third-party tournament organisers such as ESL FaceIt Group. However, the scope of it has not yet officially been revealed.

Puzzling a calendar together, other considerations weigh into the decision, also having to factor in that casting too many titles will impact the quality a caster will be able to bring to the broadcast. “I think, the ideal approach for probably any caster is to have a main game and then to supplement that,” Uber described his rule of thumb.

Despite the first Christmas decoration hitting the windows and front lawns all over the world, marking the end of the year, Uber says he has not locked in all gigs for 2024 yet.

I definitely have to figure out what my 2024 looks like. [...] Normally, I'd be going back to the Overwatch League and lock that in. So we're in a bit of a dangle at the moment. But personally, I'm not too worried.

Sascha "Yiska" Heinisch is a Senior Esports Journalist at GGRecon. He's been creating content in esports for over 10 years, starting with Warcraft 3.

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