Jamesbot in-depth interview: 'It was the right decision for me to become a caster' - Upcomer
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James “Jamesbot” Villar has been in the professional Rocket League scene since the beginning. Starting off as a player and later “retiring” to cast instead, James has been the face of the RLCS from season one. He also hosts the weekly podcast “Rush Hour” and organizes the similarly-named Gold Rush tournaments, usually held in his own apartment. The tournaments have a very laid-back style, more like a LAN party than a big stage production. Most recently, he cast DreamHack Leipzig and will, of course, be back in action for RLCS Season 7. But that’s what Jamesbot does for Rocket League. Who else is he? Who is the person we see and hear on a weekly basis? We reached out to James for an interview, and he was keen to answer our questions.

How are you doing, James? DreamHack was pretty intense. Have you recovered from it at all?

I am just starting to recover from all of the jet lag that I had [from] going there. ‘Cause we went there on Thursday and the show started on Friday. So of course, the first thing that I did when we landed was get schnitzel and that helped a little bit. It was really good. I messed up, though, because I didn’t get mashed potatoes, which… you know, no one told me, right? How am I supposed to know? You don’t know what you don’t know. But, yeah, I’m doing a lot better now, but those DreamHack days certainly can be very long.

I can imagine. What would you say was your favorite moment of DreamHack?

Honestly? I felt like it was Team Echo Zulu. I loved seeing Tainted Minds do well; that was really cool. I wish we could’ve seen that match where they 3-0’d Splyce on stream, but definitely seeing Team Echo Zulu make it all the way to day three was probably the most awesome thing that happened. I mean, they’re Rank A players — from Europe — and if that gives anyone hope… They were like the embodiment of the story of the DreamHack majors where anyone has a chance to come in and succeed. It’s all these teams that get their shot at the pro teams and they certainly made the most of it, and it was epic.

I felt like it was the right decision for me to become a caster, ‘cause I think if I became a player, I don’t know how much success I would have experienced.

How did you get into casting, because you were a high level at one point as well. Did you prefer casting over playing?

Well, I do like casting. I had started out doing just YouTube videos that no one ever watched, so nothing’s really changed in that department. But I got started in Evolve, because my roommate at the time was a professional Evolve player and I just did it because they needed a caster. It wasn’t anything big but I did it for fun. And then when Rocket League came out, I just got involved in the scene because I just am passionate about esports, and did it for fun for RLC (Rocket League Central), but I was competing at the time.

We did get a contract offer from Orbit; me, Espeon, and Digital were teammates at the time. We were a top-10 team in North America. We got an offer to be a professional team right before the first RLCS season. But Goldenboy reached out to me if I wanted to be a caster. So, at the time, I was like 26 — most players were a lot younger — and I felt like it was the right decision for me to become a caster, ‘cause I think if I became a player, I don’t know how much success I would have experienced.

There were a lot of people who were better than me at the time. I was just a very solid all-round-type player, very much like a Chrome. But I wasn’t necessarily the most flashy player. So I’m happy that I went casting over playing because I look at all these players that are no longer in the scene like Turtle, Espeon, Gambit, and Paschy, and it just makes you realize that you have to be pretty dang good to stick around. It can be over very fast. I always love playing, I love competing, but I’m also a realist. So that’s why I stuck to casting.

When you’re a bit older, you get to “foresee” your own future a little bit. Did you see yourself doing something like this when you were younger? What kind of future did you see for yourself as a teenager?

When I was a teenager I was kind of expecting myself to go into graphic design. When I was in high school, I taught myself how to make websites by reading a book, which is weird now. I never would read a book, really, for many things to try to learn how to do something. But I self-taught myself things like Photoshop, Illustrator, and Dreamweaver, and HTML, CSS, Javascript, all that kind of stuff. And I thought I was gonna go into some kind of graphic design or web design career. But when I talked to school counselors, they told me, “Listen, if you can do art and that kind of stuff, you don’t need a degree for it. If you can do it, you can just do it for money. I would recommend you go into business because that’s a more flexible degree.” And that was probably the best advice I ever got and I took it. So I got a business degree and worked in IT throughout my college career and ended up getting hired at a company called Steelcase, [which] make office furniture. Like, real chairs, not the crappy gaming chairs you see marketed to gamers.

I was just in the right place at the right time.

I bought one of those and returned it the next day.

Yeah, the chairs you wanna get are a Steelcase Amia, or anything, really. Steelcase makes great chairs. But yeah, I didn’t really see this [coming]. I always had esports and video games as a hobby, and I was in product development at the time for Steelcase on their technology team, and I wasn’t even looking to make a career in esports then. I was just doing stuff for fun on the weekends, ‘cause I loved it. I was just in the right place at the right time.

What do your friends and family think of your job? Are they into esports too, or does it go straight over their heads?

My dad originally got super mad at me over World of Warcraft because one time I woke him up at 3 a.m. after we killed Nefarian for the first time, and I got the Judgment Breastplate. It was pretty dope. But eventually my dad started playing WoW with me and my two brothers. So my dad kind of gets video gaming. He was into Dungeons and Dragons back in the day. He really liked WoW ‘cause it was like actual real DnD. My dad gets it and he loves it, and my mom, you know, because Rocket League is such a normal sports broadcast, she gets it, too. It’s super accessible, super understandable. My brother’s birthday is on November 9, which overlapped with the last Rocket League tournament in Vegas. My family came out to that, everyone except my little brother. So my sister, my mom and dad, and my other brother all came out and experienced the world championship in Vegas. So that was really cool. They’ve all been supportive and they’re very proud that I was able to find a niche job like this. It’s been an amazing experience and I’m grateful for it.

So when you don’t spend time on Rocket League or esports, what do you do? What’s your favorite pastime activity?

I love playing Rocket League every day. I’m already Grand Champ after the reset. I was playing with Rapid and Chrome. I’ve also been playing Apex Legends, I play MLB: The Show, and me and my girlfriend played through the Red Dead Redemption 2 story together, so that’s a lot of fun. I play a lot of games. But outside of gaming I longboard and I like to skateboard, and also play golf. Golfing is a lot of fun. And sometimes we’ll go hiking since we have some really good places out here.

You live in LA, right?

I live near San Francisco. I live in the Bay Area. ‘Cause I work for Twitch and Twitch is located in San Francisco, but the RLCS studio is located in Los Angeles so I fly down every weekend. But it’s only like a 45-minute flight. And then I also do Gold Rush stuff, and that’s kind of a pastime as well ‘cause there’s a lot of planning and stuff that goes outside of that. And even the streams are usually an hour and a half to two hours; it takes setup time and planning time, so that takes up a good amount of time as well.

Is there anything non-Rocket League-related happening this year that you’re excited about?

Gosh, I’m so out of the loop when it comes to new upcoming games and everything, and I’m trying to think of anything. Honestly, one of the things I do love [to do] that’s non-Rocket League usually on the weekends when I go to the RLCS studio [is] bring my golf clubs. Because LA has some really awesome courses, and I used to golf with Axeltoss every weekend. So if he’s still there — ‘cause he’s gonna have to find a different gig — I’ll love playing golf with him if he’s still up for it. That was something I always looked forward to, just chilling, playing golf with Axeltoss. He’s better than me at golf, too. He’s pretty good.

I love what I’m doing at Twitch and I love what I’m doing with casting. It is a lot on my plate, so it can be difficult, but I don’t want anything to change.

What do you see in your future? Do you want to stay in esports for as long as possible, or do you want to try out new things?

I still have a lot of things I’d like to accomplish in esports. Like with Gold Rush, I love being able to create things from scratch. That’s one of the things I loved about being a graphic designer and a web designer. Making something from nothing. And that’s what Gold Rush is, making those events from thin air, making them happen, converting an idea into a reality. I love what I’m doing at Twitch and I love what I’m doing with casting. It is a lot on my plate, so it can be difficult, but I don’t want anything to change. But if things do change, I would still see myself going into esports as just a hobby. Whether or not I have an RLCS casting contract or whether or not I’m employed at Twitch, I will always be doing esports stuff. I love it. It’s just fun for me.

Okay, so let’s do a quick lightning round. Basic questions, basic answers. Ready? Favorite food?

Thai food. Yellow curry or drunken noodles.

Favorite movie?

Shaun of the Dead.

Favorite band/artist?

I really like Immortal Technique.

Favorite game ever besides Rocket League?

Halo. For sure. Halo 3.

Favorite holiday destination?

Home, at my computer.

Favorite book, if any?

Probably the Kingkiller Chronicle.

Ohh, I like you now.

Still waiting on book three, though! If you haven’t read the Mistborn series–

Oh, dude, Mistborn is my favorite series in the world.

I’m going through it now; I just finished The Stormlight Archive.

Did you know this is all set in the same universe called the Cosmere?

Yeah, Brandon Sanderson is dope. He’s such a god. Sick. Alright, back to the lightning round. [laughs]

Cats or dogs?

Dogs for sure, one hundred percent. Small dogs that don’t shed. Hypoallergenic dogs, because I’m allergic. My girlfriend has a bichon that’s pretty adorable.

Ah, I’m a cat person myself, but I’ll let that one slide because you made up for it with Brandon Sanderson. Okay, so back to Rocket League, because this off-season roster shuffle is even more insane than last season. Which one surprised you the most?

The one that surprised me the most is mousesports picking up Al0t. They did it so, so early. You heard what Gibbs said on the desk at DreamHack. There’s a lot of question marks around that squad. If I was Mouz, I would’ve taken a lot more time. I’m not saying they didn’t make the right decision, because obviously Flipsid3 has made crazy picks in the past with Yukeo and we saw how that turned out, and PSG with Fruity and that’s turned out really well… But with Fruity and Yukeo, those were players that not a lot of players had seen, whereas I feel like we’ve seen a lot of Al0t.

Do you think they’ll survive next season?

I think it’s gonna be really hard. ‘Cause you’ve got Savage coming in and we’ve already seen how good they can be. And also Triple Trouble. If anything, it’s gonna be harder than last season to stay in. So I am worried for them.

I think it’s great — we’re gonna see a power struggle in Europe yet again.

What new lineup is most promising now?

G2 is obviously looking pretty good, but Dignitas just got back on top with Yukeo. I think it’s great — we’re gonna see a power struggle in Europe yet again. I’m excited to watch this hopefully budding rivalry with Renault Vitality and Dignitas. I think that could be so entertaining to watch.

Did you see Dignitas coming back on top so quickly with Yukeo?

You know, I’m not really surprised. If you look what they’ve done in the past, it was absolutely unbelievable. The fact that they were so dominant for so long is something I don’t think we’ll ever see in Rocket League ever again. So even though they weren’t able to live up to the insane precedent they set, I still think they are an incredible team. Rocket League’s best team ever. So I think they will continue to do great things with Yukeo, and it’s cool that they already got a major. I mean, that’s pretty good. Second major ever with a new roster, and then you also can’t count out Flipsid3, but they looked pretty shaky at DreamHack, so still waiting for them. Dignitas, though, they looked very good.

Which team do you think made a mistake?

It’s tough. I think there’s two teams that I’d keep my eye on. Mouz is the one team that we already talked about, with Al0t. There are so many phenomenal players–and I’m not saying Al0t is not a phenomenal player, but he did not have the greatest season last season. And his team was relegated. I think there were a lot of options and that they made a decision very quickly. And then also Evil Geniuses took a huge gamble bringing over an OCE talent with Drippay. That’s another one where I’m very keen to watch that team perform and see how Drippay in particular, in a new region, is going to hold up once league play starts.

Speaking of roster shuffles, it’s going to be different for you as well with Axeltoss leaving as host and FindableCarpet leaving as caster. So I won’t ask for secret inside information, but who, in your opinion, would be the best replacement?

I need to be very clear that although I am a part of the talent squad, when it comes to talent selection, we don’t play a part. We as talent are independent contractors that work for Psyonix for these events. And the guys at Psyonix are the ones making the calls. So these opinions that I express are solely my opinion. It doesn’t have any bearing on whether or not they’re selected. But I, personally, would love to see Corelli get his shot in the RLCS. The reason for that is that I personally like having Grand Champ players, especially in the analysis and color role. Also people who are former elite competitors. Corelli, people don’t realize, is an ESL champion, right? That’s what he brags about all the time. I say that a little bit tongue-in-cheek, but he was a competitor, he played at a high level, he still plays at a high level. He can look at the game and see the nuances and point out the little things that the pros are doing. When he says something on a broadcast, I want to listen because I want to see if he noticed something that I missed.

2019 is looking like the big year for Rocket League esports. What do you think Psyonix’s main priority to grow the esport should be right now?

Psyonix does a good job on a lot of stuff, but I would love to see… When there’s tournaments going on, the viewership is fantastic. But outside of tournaments, for how successful Rocket League esports is, I’d love to see it more successful on just off-days. What I think could help that would be things like reworking the [in-game] tournament system to have in-game item rewards and those tournaments happen on a daily or weekly basis, or whatever. Because being able to stream tournaments is a great way to have competitive that I can play with lower-ranked friends that doesn’t really destroy my rank. I’d love to play tournaments with my real-life friends because it’s a great competitive atmosphere, and as a viewer it gives you a lot of incentive to watch because the narrative is there. It’s like, ‘Oh, I’m gonna see how far these guys make it in the tournament,’ whereas just watching somebody play ranked over and over is not fun for the streamer, and it’s not really a great experience for the viewer.

Or seeing a Rocket League arena system, kind of like Hearthstone [where] you either get 12 wins, or three losses, and depending on how far you make it determined the item you get. I would love to see something like that, a mode that is competitive that doesn’t really have a rank requirement, that you can stream, that has a narrative, because I’d love to see more content creators on Twitch. Like if Lethamyr is streaming and he’s doing ranked, he probably doesn’t want to play with me because of how the matchmaking system works; he’ll be punished heavily when we lose and won’t get much when we win. But if there was a tournament system where it doesn’t affect your rank, then he’ll certainly play with me because I provide excellent content and it’ll still be competitive. So you get that competitive Rocket League viewership boost that you see from tournaments.

My last question ties into this: If you could change one thing about the upcoming RLCS season, what would you change?

I would probably change the format slightly. I want to see a different regional championship format; I don’t really enjoy seeing the sixth seed have the exact same opportunity as the third seed after league play. I would like to see the curling system implemented, where three/four play each other and the winner of that is in, and then the loser play the winner of five/six to get in. And then I would also like to see 10 teams in both RLRS and RLCS. Those would be the only two things that I would change. And then with time I would love league play to become a LAN.

Like Overwatch League?

Yeah, I’d love it. And at that point you’d maybe have a European studio and a North American studio. It would do a lot for RLCS production, because if you look at the last league play, you didn’t really see any player faces. It would be cool to start having that. But that costs a ton of money, so I understand! But hey, they’re signing TV deals with TBS and ELEAGUE, so maybe that’ll happen.

Michael Kloos is a Dutch esports journalist and enthusiast with a particular like of Rocket League and VALORANT. He is also an avid fantasy/sci-fi reader and writer. He spends most of his time trying not to be in the real world.