From Home to the Studio - Mzo

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We spoke to Devin "mzo" Becker, the Pro League caster, to discuss his career so far.

Mzo is an American R6 caster who primarily works as one of the four main English language Pro League casters alongside KiXSTAr, Interrobang and MiloshtheMedic. As well as Pro League Mzo has also casted in a number of other smaller tournaments such as the two most recent DreamHacks in Austin and Valencia as well and the regional leagues of the Cyber-athletic Championship Series (CCS) Season 2 and the T3H eSports Premier League Season 1.

Mzo alonside his fellow casters at the 2018 Six Invitational

We spoke with mzo to discuss his career so far as well as to get his views on the most recent season of Pro league:

To start, tell us a bit about yourself.

Outside of casting, I’m primarily a game designer/developer for web, mobile, VR, etc as well as doing some studying in Cybersecurity fields. I have usually fill my time during off-seasons with contract work and doing a lot of freelance teaching/training working with Intel as well as some cryptocurrency smart contract development. So yeah, I’m a bit all over the tech landscape normally.

How did you originally get into Siege as a player and then caster?

Prior to Siege’s release, I had been looking for a fun team-oriented game and the previous Tom Clancy game I’d been pretty into (Ghost Recon Phantoms) was basically dead. I saw the video they had released demonstrating the match on House and figured it could be interesting. I managed to get into the beta and was instantly hooked. After the beta, I was randomly selected for a sort of online focus group and the amount of attention they gave to getting quality feedback convinced me that the game had some long-term potential so I kept an eye on it. I watched the demo tournament in August that showed off the spectator view and decided to pre-order the game.

Once the game was released I was super hooked and even built a website for it to share information and strategy ( I ended up interacting with a lot of the community that ended up being Pros including Necrox and Canadian through Mystikal’s twitch channel and eventually ran into BloodBath’s tournaments. I had been hanging out in the discord for the tournaments and one day Blood’s co-caster was unable to make it with just 2 hours notice so I half-jokingly offered to join him as an analyst since I felt like I knew the game pretty well. Surprisingly the community actually enjoyed my casting so I kept doing it. Around that time there was an open call for community casters to cast the off-stream Pro League matches as back then it was bo2 and only half the matches were being casted by Panky and Punji. The biggest surprise of all was getting a reply to my application asking if I’d move to Poland and cast at the desk! Of course, I accepted and have casted PL since Y1S2 with the exception of Y2 S1/2.

This season debuted a huge number of changes in how the competitive scene was played with the addition of the ban phase and the change in role rotations. How, as a caster, have you dealt with these changes and what impact do you think they’ve had to the game overall?

The changes definitely caused mixed feelings of excitement and nervousness at the number of extra variables to analyze. While SiegeGG provides a wealth of stats, I felt the need to track quite a bit myself, especially during the matches to remain intimate with all this new information. I now track every operator ban, bomb site and try and catch all the 6th picks as well, all while casting. It’s a LOT of information to try and retain while tracking the play and stay on top of everything. Overall it’s a good problem to have as it means much more to analyze and discuss. 

As far as impact on the game, I think the operator bans have made it significantly harder for Pro teams to be prepared for their matches. You see teams like Evil Geniuses trying to remain as flexible as possible on operator usage just to try and stay on top of bans with mixed success. Overall it's been a very positive impact as it has allowed the players to do exactly what Ubi wanted, “put the meta in their hands”. The downside is that if there are certain operators that are seen as broken and “auto bans” then that ends up replacing the strategic use of bans. A good example of this is Glaz where he got a fire rate buff prior to the season start that's resulted in him being banned between 40-50% of the time. Now with the damage nerf and recoil changes in the mid-season reinforcements patch he’s suddenly less powerful and no longer warrants a ban. Hopefully, as time goes on more tweaks will mean the bans stay dynamic.

There are some other interesting rule related changes that I think are worth highlighting as well outside of the more obvious ones like 5 rounds on each side, but rather the new map pool rules and bomb site rotations. Both of these have had their intended effect of really increasing the variety of gameplay we see every playday while removing some of the more unbalanced maps. This has resulted in a much more creative use of off meta bomb sites being played, often before even a forced 3rd site. All in all, I’m very happy with how these rule changes have benefitted PL.

As well as changes in the format these last two months have seen a number of “superweeks” in which multiple play-days are played for a single region in a week; how have you and your fellow Pro League casters handled these constant back-to back playdays?

In one word, exhaustion. It’s an unfortunate situation where the delays at the beginning of the season were amplified by Dreamhack Valencia, US Nationals and Interrobang being unavailable for 2 weeks. We work amongst ourselves to try and do the best rotations we can to try and maintain stamina. I think a lot of people who might be critical of how few hours we work a week (compared to a normal 9 to 5) also don’t realize the amount of energy it takes to try and put on a broadcast where you have to be constantly trying to keep it at that level for 4-5 hours straight with 5 minute breaks. We also have to balance doing research and prep work during our off-cast time as well as resting. Hopefully, the audience isn’t getting burnt out on all this Siege! It’s definitely unfortunate that it also leaves us less time to pay attention to other tournaments going on like OGA Pit and the APAC region.

We have seen a number of surprise results during Season 8 so far, especially in the Latin America League, which teams have you been the most surprised with so far?
The Latin-American Pro League leaderboard after 6 playdays via Liquipedia

I was definitely surprised by how well Black Dragons (formerly Red Devils) have played so far. On the flipside of that, been a little disappointed with NiP’s performance in PL as their performance outside it has been very good (Paris quals, DH Valencia). I’ve been pretty impressed (but not surprised) by how well Noble have been doing so far. It’s a huge leap for a CL team who wasn’t even the favourite to come in swinging so hard in PL with few former PL players. Their counterparts on Cloud9 have definitely not shown the same level of success, but hopefully, with the roster change to MarktheShark things will be looking up.

I was definitely surprised by many of Rogue and EG’s early matches, but they seemed to have finally found their groove and I expect them to stay high in the standings throughout the second half of the season. SK, on the other hand, have really seemed to find their place this season with Nyx and that’s been great to see. Liquid also seems to be doing fantastic coming off their win last season finals and I hope they can maintain it.

As well as Pro League, last Friday you casted the US Nationals qualifier finals; as a caster how does this differ to Pro League to cover?

It’s been very interesting and different to cover as another, but region specific, format. The actual format itself is very very different from PL (including being Bo3’s) and is a pretty cool take on things. Obviously, as you can see from watching, the desk is also pretty different as well! There are definitely some difficulties in doing both on a single day during super weeks and trying to keep everything straight in your heads, as I’m sure was obvious from some of my mistakes during the broadcast in relation to the East vs West system. The hardest thing coming into it as an analyst though is that each week has its own qualifier bracket to decide which teams will be playing so it can be very difficult to prep for the teams, especially when they aren’t current PL/CL teams. Thankfully the first broadcast was mostly known players and it was fun to interview 2 players I interviewed many times while doing Challenger League (Yeti and Remorce).

Due to Interrobang being unavailable, over the last few playdays you have been casting alongside KiXSTAr, a rarely seen duo, and while at DreamHack Valencia you casted alongside Demo, a community caster; how do you adapt to casting alongside someone different such as this?

I’ve been very lucky in getting to cast with a huge variety of other casters both in PL as well as alternative leagues like CCS and the recent Italian Championships. As has been noted before I casted Interro’s first CCS match with him prior to him getting picked up for PL! I pride myself on being pretty flexible to work with other casters and make it comfortable and find synergy quickly so that it’s fun for everyone. For example, the very first time I casted with Milosh was a LAN Finals and despite being nervous, we both had a respect for the others job and found a natural synergy very quickly that made co-casting fun. 

I was definitely nervous about having to cast a lot of matches with KiXSTAr while Interro is gone because we are both analysts and have very different styles. Thankfully KiXSTAr has spent a lot of time improving his play by play and being comfortable transitioning between that and analysis and I think we’ve already had some really good casting experiences together. Working with Demo was also pretty smooth because he had casting experience as well as LAN experience and without that, it can be pretty stressful to try and cast with someone new. He did a great job and I enjoyed working with him. I definitely am thankful that when I first started, Panky was a great mentor and I’ve used what he taught me to work well with others going forward!

As well as the Pro League studio in Poland in recent weeks you have also casted in the US and Spain at the DreamHack events; how have you been finding each of these countries?

One perk of this job is definitely getting to travel, a lot. Unfortunately, it usually doesn’t offer a lot of off time to see much of the destination, but I usually manage to squeeze in enough to get the flavour. The Dreamhack events have both offered some awesome locations with some unfortunately very warm weather! It was great to see Spain as it’s somewhere I might not have normally gone, and thankfully my fiance speaks fluent Spanish or I definitely would have had trouble getting around! Being from California it was actually great to do 2 US LANs in locations I’d never been (Austin and Atlantic City), so I even got to see more of my home country! Since joining the PL team I’ve only missed a single LAN, which was Brazil so thankfully I’ll still get a second chance at Brazil at this upcoming LAN finals in November, although I imagine that will also be warm weather!

Mzo and Milosh outside the DreamHack Valencia venue in Spain
With the Paris Major upcoming what are your predictions for this event and are there any teams which you think could surprise?

There’s a pretty awesome variety of teams coming to the Paris Major and it’s definitely hard to gauge LAN performance in the current PL climate. I think it's pretty obvious to expect teams with long histories like Penta, EG, Rogue, and Liquid to do pretty well. IDK definitely showed their power in Valencia and I think will likely show up pretty well in Paris. I can imagine the French teams like Vitality, Millenium, and Mock-it will really have a lot at stake in their home territory, but that didn’t guarantee a home win for LATAM in Sao Paolo. I hope some of the strong teams that have a lot of potentials like Faze and Fnatic do better this time, as last time I felt like Fnatic beat themselves. Nora Rengo should be interesting to see after how well they performed in Atlantic City, surprising everyone. Unfortunately, it will probably be rough for teams like Obey, Orgless, Immortals, and Element Mystic to make it through the group stages into the final days, but you never know!

The teams that will be playing at the Paris Major
You recently wrote an article for SiegeGG in which you reacted to the newest patch and the subsequent developer AMA; are there any unreferenced changes you’d consider making to improve the competitive side of the game?

There are absolutely some changes that I think would benefit the game, although obviously, Ubi has a lot more data to back things up than I do. For example, I would like to see Black Mirrors’ canisters be destructible by explosives to make them more of a risk to use as there often isn’t a huge downside to using them outside of a shock drone popping them. I’d also like to see either a buff to Jager’s ADS’ (3 charges instead of 2 each) or at least a reduction in throwables (2 stuns instead of 3) as right now they are pretty overpowered. I’d like to see a better balance on the machine pistol/smg’s as I think they tend to dominate the game despite being secondaries. I’d be interested in more ability for mute to jam hatches to keep hard breachers on their toes. I wish Glaz was unable to see through Smoke’s gas. It’d be interesting if Rook’s armour was a bit more powerful, but also provided a slight speed slow down so that putting on the armour was an actual choice to be made, especially by roamers. There’s definitely some other ideas, but those are the ones that are off the top of my head and don’t involve introducing new operators or extreme reworks.

What would you say is the highlight of your casting career so far?

I’d say every invitational is my highlight as each one is even bigger and better than the last. While the last invitational was a pretty insane marathon of casting, it’s such an incredible experience to be a part of. The ongoing highlight for me is really just getting to meet everyone at events from players to Ubi staff. Just being part of the community is thrilling and I wouldn’t trade it for the world!

And, finally, what tips would you give anyone wanting to become an R6 caster?

Find any opportunity you can to get experience and get a lot of feedback. There’s many leagues and tournaments out there besides Pro League and you can always do like Bloodbath and just start your own! Pay attention to a lot of other casters out there and imitate what you think is good, but also try and find your own voice and style. That definitely isn’t limited to esports, as traditional sports casting has a LONG history! Interro also had a fantastic post on the Pro League subreddit a while ago with a ton of tips that I highly recommend. Once you get some experience, make sure to apply to be an ESL community caster so you’ll have a ton of opportunities to do things like weekly Go4’s, community cups and various qualifiers. There’s more than enough out there to cast so you really have no excuse!

Mzo will next be casting next alongside Milosh tonight when the European Pro League continues, beginning with the crucial matchup of i don’t know vs Millenium tonight at 7PM CEST. Tune in to watch it on the rainbow6 Twitch channel when it begins.