Khroen Interview – the struggle of balancing life & transitioning into casting

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Khroen Interview - the struggle of balancing life & transitioning into casting
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Khroen is a content creator signed by Cloud9. In January, Khroen made the decision to pursue casting full-time.

In this Interview, you will learn about Khroen talking about his struggles to balance life, favorite Heroes of the Storm moments, transitioning into being a full-time caster, his thoughts on competitive Teamfight Tactics, and much more.

Tell us a bit about yourself

Khroen: Yeah, sure. General info about me. Well, my name is Khroen, I’ve been playing games for literally as long as I can remember. My dad was playing a lot of video games growing up, so I kind of picked it up from there, had aspirations of wanting to play a bit more competitively around when I started to get into League of Legends from season two. I kept playing League until this nifty tournament called Heroes of the Dorm came around. I got a couple of college friends to play into that. It went pretty well, and from there, I got really interested in it and continuing on the path to wanting to be professional from there, of course, Blizzard, in 2018 pulled the ax on that one and that was done.

I really still wanted to be competitive so I switched over to Teamfight Tactics (TFT), competed in that for probably a year and a half or so until now where I’ve made the transition very recently to want to be a caster/commentator. So I’ve been doing that. Besides just gaming and stuff, other hobbies and interests I’m really Dungeons and Dragons. That’s a big, big hobby of mine. As well as writing, I like to write poetry from time to time less so nowadays, but still try to find some time.

So you said you were playing games since you were a kid. What were some of your favorite games?

Favorite game growing up? I mean, I grew up a big fan of a lot of blizzard games. I played Diablo one, Diablo two was a big one. Even like one of the earliest games that we’re playing, was Warcraft 2, oh man, what else? Probably a bunch of random games. There were like random MMOs that I would play obviously Runescape, and spent my fair share of time there. There’s even like some FPS games which I’m pretty bad at. We had like a FPS game called Soldier Front that was very niche that not a lot of people probably heard of. Got into World of Warcraft eventually and spent a lot of my life mainly in the Wrath of the Lich King era. So the 2008-2010 range there played a lot of World of Warcraft, but yeah, it was just a lot of different games.

So what’s your favorite moment as a pro player? Whether it be at HOTS or TFT

I guess there’s three that come to mind. I’ll go through these in chronological order:

2016 I first qualified for my first LAN tournament. It was qualifying for DreamHack Austin and in 2016, I’m just first being able to get on a good team, and it was finally bridging that gap of what I had aspired to do for so long, but it finally became tangible, it was actual, meaningful progress of achieving my goals, my dreams, etc. Literally after I qualified after the last game I just sat back in my chair and just cried and it meant a lot to me. Cause that’s I had been working towards for a long time.

The second moment being when I won my first LAN tournament, it was I think 2017. No actually, it was still in 2016 at that point. It was an NA regional tournament in Burbank. I ended up winning and with winning: qualified for the international mid-season tournament in Sweden. So there’s a lot of implications there. I’ll never forget being able to just after winning, walk on the stage hoisting up the trophy was also a very meaningful moment. There’s a difference winning tournaments online and stuff  vs. being able to physically be there, having the crowd cheering you on. It’s a lot of emotions and hype is very infectious you’re hyped winning, the crowds are hyped and they just build off of each other.

Then being able to not only qualify for BlizzCon, but stepping out and being at the BlizzCon stage to compete, it’s like sure that NA regional tournament that I won had a crowd of 50 to a 100 or something. BlizzCon stage crowd though, that’s a whole other beast entirely. Being able to compete at the literal world championship, the best teams in the world that’s what everyone strives towards as a competitive player. That’s the competition so being able to walk out on the stage and see everyone there to support everyone, fans watching you and wanting to just see some good games. That’s, that’s what all comes down to [as a competitive player] that’s hard to top.

What’s been your favorite moment as a caster so far?

Khroen casts every Thursdays each week

I think a moment that will stick out to me is actually before I had made the transition to really want to do it [casting] full-time, so I’d been doing fight nights as a for fun thing. I tried to do well, but I wasn’t taking it super, super seriously. I wasn’t trying super hard to improve. Cause I was still a pro player, but I also casted events. I’m not sure exactly what event it was, but some tournament that I got to cast alongside DoA and honestly him being a legend in Esports casting and has casted every single genre under the sun besides fighters. He actually reached out to me after that tournament that we cast together and he was like, “Hey dude, like, I think you’re a natural, casting with you was super easy.” I was like, Oh sh*t DOA.

That’s like if it’s a whole other perspective on it, yeah, this thing I was doing for fun, I’m apparently pretty good at it naturally. Imagine if I’d actually taken the time to, you know, improve, and study up and try to be like the best caster that I can be, where can I go from there? Yeah. So that moment I think has definitely been my favorite and was a big factor in me wanting to actually pursue it full time.

What tournament was it specifically? Do you remember?

I don’t remember specifically what tournament it was. It was about a year ago at this point, yeah I think it was April last year.

Do you think that casting made you a better TFT pro seeing all these different perspectives because you were kind of known as a tournament player more so than like a ladder player?

Hm, that’s an interesting question. I think a little bit, I’m not sure how much I was actively trying to look for it as improvements, but I think passively definitely once you see a bunch of players and their play styles and perspectives, you get a better grasp of just TFT in general. TFT is a game where you can take so many different playstyles and change them up ever so slightly, but it makes a big difference. So seeing all those slight nuances, I think week and week out I think it probably had a bit of an impact on me.

When did you start like streaming/creating content? What was your peak of streaming?

It was in the early HOTS days. I started streaming for fun and enjoyed it a lot. It was before I started playing professionally that I started streaming, but it was around that same timeframe, I remember getting partnered was a big thing initially, it was in 2016. Often times, at least, especially nowadays, I’m inconsistent with my streaming so I guess my peak of streaming was probably the late Heroes of the Storm days. I guess I equate it to my highest sub count; it was around 400 or something in the late HOTS days.

It’s interesting cause in TFT, a lot of times your TFT career is to just stream solo queue. It was just streaming ladder games and it was weird for me because I’ve never really been a full ladder grinder as you noted, of course I’m a very tournament focused player. I take ladder and just use it as practice for tournaments. I think that mindset is why I was pretty consistent in tournaments, even if I didn’t win that many, but I still got in the finals of almost every single thing one that I competed in. I guess it was a weird transition to transition from a team game and where I just like played the solo queue and stream purely to practice as opposed to like it being my main, main thing. Actually thinking back on it, it was a lot of pressure streaming feeling like it was sort of like the only thing that I was doing.

Yeah. Especially a lot of times when ladder play in TFT is so important to a lot of times even qualify for some of these tournaments, and it feels like you add streaming on top of that can just be just a whole lot of stress. 

How are you able to balance your casting, when you do stream, and when you were being a pro player with your normal life?

I’ve been bad at balancing I think for a lot of my life, but I’ve been going to therapy for about like a year now and something I did want to work on a lot is that balance because I recognized back when I competed in Heroes of the Storm. There was a point where I was in college, a full-time student, while streaming, while competing, having a relationship at the time and just trying to exist as a person, eat food, take care of myself. It was rough. I think it definitely took a toll on me. It got easier after graduating school. I had to tell myself that I didn’t balance those things well.

how are you able to find that balance?

I’ve been very almost one track mind, almost tunnel vision when it comes to competing in gaming, and that takes precedence as opposed to everything else. I just want to compete, I just want to win. I just want to get better at whatever I’m doing. So I think that’s kind of just my way of going about things, but I recognize it does take away from life and from balancing things.

So steps that I’ve made to try to balance that is something I’ve learned in therapy is to constantly check in with myself saying things like, are there things I’m putting off, other things that I should be doing? How am I feeling today? Am I burnt out? I need to just spend time constantly checking in with yourself and asking, how am I doing and balancing things, if you recognize that you’re not, what small steps can you make to try to improve that?

I know something that I do a lot is I write in my journal and that’s something just to be able to see it physically on paper, writing down “okay, this is how I am right now”. Then I’m able to then reset myself, and that helps me a lot.

Definitely, I think writing as you mentioned is a good thing that I personally do to some extent and coming in and going to the balancing things. I’ve been writing a to-do list as simple as it sounds, but it’s really helped me. Cause I never used to do that before. It’s having things tangibly being there, being able to like organize it, I guess in that way, but even just writing stuff down in general, just to better like understand, being able to see it in a different light is very helpful to people.

I remember, someone told me that what they did, they did a to-do list and basically they had stuff that the very attainable things that they can do, like make their bed shower, stuff like that. Then they went okay if they’re having a good day, this is a little bit more, then they had an even better day, like this is what they can do, and then they had like little layered tiers.

Definitely. Cause it’s some days it’s a success even just get up and make food. Recently I’ve been liking to start very small. When I start small I go make food or I shower or something. It gets me more in the mood, I guess more motivated to actually accomplish slightly bigger. Actually starting on something that starts that process.

Yeah, you’re one of the few streamers and pro players I would watch that was very open about their mental health. I think like one of the biggest steps is just acknowledging it and seeing that okay, there are things I can improve upon within myself and that can help them just be a lot better and everything.

I think that’s really important because some people can passively, just get by, by not really paying too much mind to it just because they happen to be doing things that work for them. Oftentimes people fall into situations where, yeah, it’s pretty bad and taking a toll and then choosing to ignore it on top of that. It just makes it even worse where it gets to a lot of bad situations. So people you know experienced burnout or a lot of just like negative mental health related, just being depressed, etc. There’s so many things.

I know you said you’ve been pretty irregular with streaming. Is that something that you would like to be more consistent with or are you just trying to be more so on that caster side?

Yeah. I think optimally, I would be more consistent in that regard. I noticed that I had made a goal for myself a bit ago. That’s “okay, I’ll stream like a couple of times or like a few times a week,” but I don’t know I don’t really feel the need to at this point. So I guess I’m kind of just recharging until I feel I really want to go pursue streaming more, a lot of the time now just focusing on doing the casting thing and I’m not only casting TFT, of course I’m still dabbling into other games as well.

I’ve been casting Heroes of the Storm and I’m actually gonna be casting one of the Heroes of the Storm only competitive thing they have really right now, or one of the only things is the CCL. I’ve been doing their pre season exhibition tournament’s casting that as well as casting a lot of people recently have been getting into Eternal Return: Black Survival, a MOBA Battle Royal game, and I’ve been casting that as well. So it’s been trying to just balance all of that and get to a point where I’m comfortable with being a caster.

I suppose when I do go back and be like, okay, I can dedicate more time to streaming now and I’ve been thinking of how I can incorporate the casting into streaming. So if I want to do co-streams of something or kind of experimenting with those thoughts, wanting to, you know, I want to create the best content. It’s hard, I think for me as well, because if I think about what my success has been being a streamer it’s because I’ve been a pro player, it’s because a lot of the draw, at least what I think a lot of the draws people watching me is because I’m a good player, obviously still some people like just like my personality and my community and stuff, but I get almost worried or uncomfortable with me just streaming some random game that I’m not like good at. It feels weird to do so.

One thing I’ve noticed at least with your streams is a lot of people will watch you for you. It doesn’t necessarily seem to be for the game. I notice a lot of familiar people and all of them just seem very much more community-based, which is great.

Yeah, definitely. There is that loyal bunch of people who have followed me for awhile and follow me with whatever I go to and I’m very thankful of that and getting to TFT and, you know, there’s new people I saw on live streams, everyday when I started to stream TFT, and some of them have come in to be that sort of “family/community as well”. It’s I suppose hard for me to, I guess, I want to say value that appropriately. I do logically understand that like there are people who will watch me just for me, but I have these expectations of myself and what content that I want to provide.

I want to be, you know, obviously someone that people enjoy watching and identify with, you know, personally, I feel just like, you know, a chill background stream, which I am for some people, for sure. I do want to be giving good content in terms of gameplay wise as well. Yeah. It’s kind of like a mental block for me a little bit. Definitely moving away from that.

Jumping back to Eternal Return: Black Survival (ERBS), do you think that can catch on in NA enough to fall into that niche Esport slot similar to how TFT and HOTS are now.

Yeah, I mean, HOTS definitely had something way more, cause it was blizzard sponsored nowadays, there’s no blizzard involvement so it’s more in that niche zone. If Eternal Return would have anything, it would be a kind of a more niche thing, I guess I’ll think of it as a comparison to Battlerite? When Battlerite actually had stuff going on. I actually, as disappointing as it might be because I love the game. I think it will be hard for Eternal Return to really catch on, the NA audience for it just isn’t there. It’s pretty big in Korea. ERBS really hasn’t caught on in NA to the point where it would need to be. Scarra is someone who’s, you know, been a fan of a whole bunch of games and obviously Scarra had a big involvement in TFT, definitely has been streaming a lot of ERBS recently. And I think kind of saving the NA scene of the game.

Switching back to Teamfight Tactics,  what do you think TFT needs to improve on from a competitive standpoint?

Having more meaningful tournaments? This past series of the four NA qualifiers and the big NA regional qualifier I think it was great. It was a huge step, but those qualifiers didn’t matter for a lot of players’ cause, they were just gonna qualify from ladder regardless. So yeah, if you’re gonna have a tournament, make it matter for everybody, I would say. I think it’s definitely a big step in the right direction from what we’ve seen in the past. Of course obviously the whole EU scene you had maybe one or two weeks of stuff that actually mattered. So being more transparent about what the game plan is moving forward, I think is huge.

A lot of players as well, making it actually a viable thing for people to want to pursue can be huge because obviously it’s how you get a better scene people wanting to get all their time for it. As opposed to just doing it for like a side thing, if you compete in TFT and if you’re not winning stuff, then you’re not really making any money if you’re not sponsored. Yeah. That’s hard to have a sustainable Esport that way.

I know one thing that I thought would at least be really cool that could come to TFT pop-up tournaments similar to how Fortnite would do theirs tournaments. Players who are above some certain ranking can enter and then have a weekend worth of games. Then if they do well, then they can either move on to an actual official tournament or maybe they can even get a smaller payout depending on where they place.

Oh yeah. Definitely. I think, I think that’s a great idea actually. I think that TFT would do well to have things. I think that’s really exciting for the scene, even just thinking about the last call qualifier, heading into the NA regional that just happened. A couple of players who made it pretty far. Jirachy, they did, Otterbear as well, made it decently far, I believe, Jirachy almost qualified for the final day, but they were really close. Yeah. Definitely. It’s huge when it comes to the implications of, hey, you can, you know, have your chance of going through, not through the traditional ladder or regional qualifiers, but to just make a really good run. That’s like a very exciting storyline. 

It’s always great to root for the underdog, especially when you’re so used to seeing the DQA’s, the Socks and etc. Who do you have winning worlds? Is Socks just your go-to or do you have someone a little bit different?

Ooh, winning worlds. I would have to actually look, I haven’t yet looked at everyone who’s competing in worlds. So I’ll have to sit down and look at that list. I know the EU players are really, really good. If KC Double had made it, I would have them probably, but they didn’t make it unfortunately. I think out of NA, of course, Socks is, I would say the favorite, he just plays TFT on another level than other players. Most of the time, if he has a really lowroll day, sure he can get punished for it, but he’s one of the players, like it’s very unlikely that Socks will have a full day of lowrolling cause you just associate Socks as flexible, right? He doesn’t just crutch on one style. He’s able to play a whole bunch of different things, and he’s very good at that. So he’ll be able to usually outplay other players who try to play that style.

What’s been your favorite Set so far that can either be the one you just enjoyed from an enjoyment standpoint or competitive balance.

I know my least favorite Set, definitely Set 2. So I guess my favorite one, I like Set 1 a lot for the nostalgia factor of it. Definitely wasn’t an amazing set objectively, so I’d have to say Set 3. I think Set [4] far was nice at the beginning, but the chosen mechanic I think is kind of meh from a competitive standpoint. A lot of pro players at this point are definitely very over it. Very much a Set 5 waiting room for a lot of people.

I think it’s Set 3, because I really liked the galaxy mechanic. I think going into a game and shifting how you play it just from the start is, I think really, really nice. It promotes not only having just one specific style of play that you crutch on. For example, you have the four cost galaxy and while it had its problems, but the concept of it is really nice because it completely changes how you approach the game fundamentally. I think it’s part of the reason while I don’t like Set 4 as much right now. Cause chosen mechanic, I love lucky lanterns. I think that adds such an interesting element, and I hope they come back with something similar in the future, but yeah, I really liked the galaxy mechanical of Set 3 and think the units and the synergies used were pretty solid as well, overall.

What are some things you would like to improve upon when you’re casting, whether it be at TFT or HOTS, what’s something that you think you need to work on?

I think I need to work on a lot of stuff actually. I think I’ve gotten a lot better in the past. I don’t know about three, six months or so, but after casting with people I reached out to DoA for example and asked for a lot of advice. I think generally my tone is kind of monotone, it doesn’t really match what I say and doesn’t really match the emotion I’m trying to convey. So if I say oh, like I’m really excited for this thing. It doesn’t sound really excited for it. So just trying to be more aware of my tone and how things come out as well as.

I mean, there’s so many things, being able to drive a narrative that’s exciting, cause say in TFT, like in fight nights sometimes optimally like you’d want the first, who’s gonna win to be the main narrative, the main to want to hype up. Sometimes, you know who’s going to win after the third game. It’s already won, but it’s to find and create a narrative that’s exciting and compelling to people. I’ve been working on it a lot.

I think I have some crutch phrases that I hang onto such as transitional things. If I’m on their board, I’m saying okay on board with, you know, X, Y, Z person here. Instead, I can do transitional phrases better. There’re so many small nuances, what are some others? straining or trying to go away from using I, I think it’s actually a good thing. In casting, especially from being a pro player, I can approach and say someone in TFT made a big board transition at 4-1, instead of saying, oh, I would have done it like this, this and this here. The point isn’t really about me. I’m trying to enhance what the viewers are seeing on board with this person trying to connect them to the player. So I could say instead, oh, other players may have done like X, Y or Z. What another option could have been is to do this, but to stray away from using the, “I”, cause it’s interjecting myself in a place where I don’t really think is needed or like really, really belongs sure, I guess I could get away with doing that because I have a reputation of being a good player, but it feels like kind of tacky to me. So I’m trying to be more aware about that. 

I recently saw a tweet from Gangly who’s been around the TFT scene and even more so lately with a lot of his content. He talks about the marketability of competitive TFT, and how do you think TFT players should be marketing themselves better? Do you think that’s something that’s actually hurting TFT as a game and maybe their own brand as content creator/pro player

Definitely. I think in almost any Esport there’s room for improvement when it comes to the players’ branding and marketing themselves actively, but it’s also kind of hard because as a pro player, at least in my experience it’s, you’re not really thinking about that stuff. You’re thinking about okay, I want to play the game the best that I can and I want to improve. It does kind of hurt your chances in the future. I think there’s a good balance to find as a competitive player of how do I grow my socials? I, you know, tweet at least like once every day or try to interact with whatever else, try to direct people to like your Twitter more like there’s definitely a lot of there that can help more people reach your content and help more people reach TFT, which will in turn help the scene will in turn help your chances of like transitioning to another game.

I think one of the main reasons that I was able to transition from Heroes of the Storm to Teamfight Tactics and get signed by Cloud9 is because I had a brand, I streamed, I had a decent Twitter following. I was like one of the more recognizable players from the HOTS scene. Obviously all of TFT is just streaming. So sort of like a good basis there because not a lot of HOTS players actually streamed. So having that was a huge advantage, but even in TFT, there’s definitely room for improvement in terms of other social media reach, like Twitter, Instagram, etc. All of that really does matter. I think, especially nowadays when organizations look at a player, not only in how good they are, but in how much they can help their own brand.

I know you transitioned relatively smoothly over to TFT because you already had a set brand. I noticed that a lot of pro players when they retire, they try to switch over to streaming and it just doesn’t work out for them because they can’t make that transition comfortably.

You should always as a competitive player be thinking about what you’re going to be doing after you stop being a pro player. Here’s something that happened when I was in HOTS. So I think I was at a tournament in Poland. I was at a Twitch party and I was talking to someone, I think they worked at ESL at the time, but it was someone older, they worked in the Esports industry and that’s a bit of advice they gave me that really stuck with me. It was like, what’s my transition going to be? I’m like, you know, I’ve passively thought about it, but I wasn’t making any active steps to really prepare for that.

After that, I’m like, oh, okay. I reached out to Blizzard and I was okay, after, you know, I’m not thinking of retiring anytime soon, but once I do, could there be a future for me here. I’m an English major, so like in communications or, PR anything like that and they were pretty receptive to that. They obviously knew I was a good pro player and, I guess a likable person, I suppose, and I had a decent brand. So they were definitely super interested in and willing to work with me in the future for that in just that initial reaching out phase.

Yeah. Stuff like that I think a lot of pro players kind of need a little bit better because they’re so they’re doing so well during their time as a pro, but they’re not always thinking about what’s after. And then after okay, what do I do now?

It could be, yeah, it could be gone to the blink of an eye. So thinking back to Heroes [of the Storm], like everyone was, yeah, we’re going to compete in heroes some more and then Blizzard was like, Nope, no more heroes. So everyone’s just , what do we do now? And the people who weren’t prepared, definitely got hit the hardest.

What is the one thing that you wish you did differently? Or one thing you wish you would’ve known when you had started it? Like either as a pro or as just like content creation and everything?

One thing I wish I had done differently, I wish I would have taken steps to try to be more scheduled/consistent. Cause say even the times I streamed back in the day, it was just kinda okay, I’m done with scrims, guess I’ll stream. I dunno. I just, I think value now I’m wanting to try to make steps to like, be a more like balanced person, I guess it really just comes down to balance. I wish I had tried to tackle the balance in my life a bit better as to combat burning out. Cause there was a time where I got burnt out pretty severely at one point.

Is there anything that has made your like streaming or pro play easier? Like we talked about the balance. So has there anything that you balance that you struggle with? Is there anything that has made it easier for you just to focus on pro play or streaming?

Hmm. Any like outside force that’s made it easier for me? Let me think about that. That’s interesting. I started competing and I started doing well, receiving a bunch of community support and stuff.

How do you track your Twitch analytics? Do you just use what Twitch has and do you wish there was something more in depth with the analytics?

I do a bad job at checking my stuff. I’ve only used what Twitch has and it’s useful. It’s useful for the things that I have looked at before, but I’m definitely not the best person to ask for what they could have more because I just don’t really do it a lot, but if you want to go into content, it is nice to recognize to be able to track things seeing what was your average like viewership minutes watched some days where you did something else, a lot of trends you can find there, which can help you, just improve your content and what kind of content that works the best. So I don’t personally do it that much.

If anyone wants to follow Khroen then check out his Twitch or Twitter to see some of his content.

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