Midway – Syndicate Interview Series

BY Andrew Miesner / February 20, 2010

For our next installment of the Syndicate Interview Series, we’re thrilled to sit down with one of the founding fathers of eSports journalism: Trevor “Midway” Schmidt.

Over the years Trevor has been a player, team manager, journalist, broadcaster, and most notably, one of the founders of Gotfrag.com.  His contributions to eSports have been significant and his current inactivity is pointed to by many as one of the reasons North American eSports journalism has been in decline.

Thanks very much for sitting down with us.  Let’s start with some foundational questions.  What first attracted you to eSports?  Why did you decide to stop playing professionally and move into the journalism side of gaming?  What were the early days at Domain of Games like?  How did Gotfrag originally develop in 2002 and who was involved?

Wow that’s a lot of questions in one.  Well I first grew a passion for eSports in College where I played baseball.  I’ve always enjoyed sports and been an avid fan of almost every sport you can name (I’ve gotten a kick out of learning and watching rare sports like Curling during the Winter Olympics).  One of my younger brother’s friends turned me onto Counter-Strike during its initial release.  I realized the game was different and saw its potential.  I got lucky early on to be exposed to some of the players of the best West Coast team at the time, Weekend Warriors (WEW).  I rose to leadership in that team and was asked to help out with RiTD, (Rumble in The Desert – the premier CS league at that time). 

A battle was brewing between RiTD and Domain of Games which was joining forces with CPL.  Eventually RiTD lost due to its focus on wanting to remain a 7v7 league.  How I ended up working for “the other side” was more of a fluke.  Frank Nuccio, commissioner of CPL/CAL/DoG and basically the man pushing CS at the time offered me the chance to take over the coverage of Domain of Games.   I had a history in Journalism in high school; I had been awarded for writing the Best Sports Article in the state of Oregon my senior year.  It sounded like a great merger of my two loves, CS/eSports and Journalism.

Later I ran into a lot of trouble with Frank because he wanted the entire focus of eSports on CPL/CAL, I felt like the entire space deserved to be covered, and that no one company should control everything.  Those feelings guided me throughout my time with GotFrag as well.  That difference of opinion forced me out onto my own.  I started working with some East Coast friends of mine, team RDW, and together we build GotFrag.

Over the years Gotfrag became a pillar of eSports journalism and coverage.  When you first founded the site, did you ever imagine how large it would become?  What was your favorite year with Gotfrag and why?

When I first started GotFrag I knew we were capable of building something special.  There was a lot of buzz and interest on IRC and around eSports.  Still it’s hard to believe and even understand how little eSports was when GotFrag first opened.  eSports was nothing more then a few online leagues and blog sites.  It felt to me that without someone to put the spotlight onto the players they wouldn’t receive the recognition they deserved. As much as players, teams and often fans hated some of the things I wrote, every feeling they had help to build this sport.  Every love or hate a fan had was a brick put in place to establish the building that is eSports.  The more GotFrag could create those emotions the more we helped eSports grow. 

My favorite year in GotFrag’s grow would probably be 2003.  We started to really see traction and could feel eSports pulling itself up to its potential future. 

If you had to point at one accomplishment at Gotfrag, which one are you most proud of and why?  (ie- Gamesense, GotfragTV, event coverage, etc)

Our Journalistic integrity.  People could be mad about what we wrote or just not agree with what we said.  But I don’t feel anyone ever called us a liar or said we made something up.  We exposed some pretty tough stories from Gary Sanchez stealing from his players, the tough MiBR vs 3D matches at WCG and the various rule change articles we exposed.  I felt no one can argue that GotFrag was a positive influence on this community and that makes me proud. 

In 2007 Gotfrag was sold to Major League Gaming (“MLG”) for millions of dollars.  In retrospect are you glad the property was sold or do you wish it had remained independent?  What are your thoughts about the status of the current Gotfrag?  Do you feel MLG has let down the Counter-Strike user base?

It’s pretty clear that GotFrag doesn’t have the resources it once did.  That’s a shame and it’s because of the leadership of its current staff that it still remains a part of this community.  But part of me wonders if GotFrag’s current shape is really MLG’s fault or just a reflection of our current community.  Two major games have come along since Counter-Strike first became the leading eSports game.  Halo and WoW have both taken huge pieces of what was a CS pie.  Just remember CS took that pie from Quake before it. 

What have you been doing to keep busy since your departure from eSports?   Rumor has it that there may be a Mrs. Midway in the picture?

I’ve been focused on my personal life.  Julie Armbruster accepted my proposal in October and we are planning a wedding in April.  It’s been a very happy time for me.  I think anyone who has had a serious relationship would understand that choices are made when it comes to eSports and gaming.  It’s hard to make another person the priority in your life when you are spending so much time in front of a computer playing games.  Leaving GotFrag has left me the time and energy to focus on her and balancing my life for the future.

Do you see yourself returning to eSports or do have you moved on?   Have you considered starting a new gaming site?

I haven’t moved on but I have also realized how valuable my time is when it comes to spending it with my future wife or working on a project for eSports.  I don’t want to be involved with ten different things and not see any of them succeed.  I’ve had chances to build a new team or be a part of different leagues.  Still nothing has felt exactly right or been what I wanted.  When the situation presents itself I’ll be back and fully focused on whatever I choose with my full attention. 

What is your opinion about the current state of professional gaming?  What things are working and what things aren’t? 

Well what isn’t working is a model based on sponsorship dollars.  Look how fast that dried up.  CGS, WSVG and CPL were all focused on one thing, selling Intel or another sponsor on giving them as much money as they could.   If we want eSports to grow we are going to have to do it.  That means the players are going to have to build an infrastructure were the fans will support it.  Look at the groups that have done well in this economy.  ESL and ESEA are both based in large part of their connection to the fans.  Both charge subscriptions and create a connection to their audience.  Without the fans paying, or at least financially supporting eSports, it won’t grow.

The free ride on the backs of Intel and other sponsors is over.  It’s time to earn your living from the fans by providing them something they want.    

What is your opinion about Counter-Strike ProMod (“CSP”)?  Do you think it will be able to revitalize the game?

The key is development.  CSP isn’t going to fix Counter-Strike tomorrow.  Anyone who expected CSP to come out and change/revitalize this game or eSports in a day is just not being realistic or fails to understand the history of gaming.  It took the original makers of Counter-Strike years to make the game we love.  CSP is an ambitious project but the hard part is ahead, not behind it.  Putting out a product isn’t hard, creating a product everyone loves is.  That process takes a step by step approach.  The real question is will the community allow that process to happen?  I’m concerned the weight of all these expectations could not allow this project to actually develop and succeed.   

In your opinion, who is the single best Counter-Strike player to ever play the game?  Who is/was the most overrated player?

Single best player would have to come down to four names; Heaton, Ksharp, Rambo and Potti.  They are the four cornerstones of Counter-Strike in North America and Europe.  Who is the best among those four? Well when they met in best match in CS history (X3 vs NiP) the one who had the biggest game was Ksharp.  His performance against NiP was one of legend; still he has to be happy he played a position next to Porter.  Heaton is an amazing player but he reminds me of a home run hitter in baseball who creams crappy pitchers and is just mediocre against the best pitchers.  Potti never really had much success without Heaton and while he was an amazing player he just never jumped off the page to me.  That leaves Rambo.  His contribution to CS is just staggering.  He’s been around since the beginning (I mean the VERY beginning) and he never got the recognition.  He had Lasik eye surgery to improve his eye sight.  Was a major force on three game changing teams; coL, 3D and X3.  He proved he was more then a skilled player with his strategy and leadership abilities later in his career.  If I had to pick one player and I know this might be a bit of a shock to a lot of people I’d have to say Rambo is the best player to play CS.  His entire body of work is staggering and his longevity is unmatched by the other three players I mentioned.

Over the years several organizations have been accused of “shady business” like not paying out prize money.  Now that you’re “independent” and outside the game, what thoughts, information and opinions can you share about that?

I would never have said this while working for GotFrag because it might have really hurt the sport but I would never want to be a player.  The amount of crap you had to deal with just to get your check when a tournament ended was insane.  I’d think most fans would be shocked to know how little of the “promised” payouts tournaments offered actually get sent out.  Almost every big name event at one point or another didn’t pay its prize money.  It’s sad how rampant it was.  I know groups like G7 (G8 now) were formed just because of this terrible behavior.  The reality like I talk about above though is that all of these events live on a very fine line.  They are a house of cards, if a sponsor refused to pay there was no money to pay the players.  Without a source of income that’s outside of sponsorship, there’s really no way to “guarantee” prize money.  That’s why most players seek out teams with salary; it’s the only way to know you’ll have a pay check.  Tournament money is great but honestly it’s often as phony as the big media check they give you when the event ends.     

Looking to the future, do you think PC gaming will remain a strong platform or are consoles taking over?

Because of the development costs associated with building a good first person shooter the reality is that PC gaming is not viable in its current format.  Why do you think MMORPG is so popular?  All the developers dump their money into that genre because they can not only charge for the game but also get monthly subscriptions.  It’s hard to justify spending all that money developing a PC game when all you get is the upfront purchase.  Why do you think Valve no longer really makes games?  It’s more profitable to build a platform like Steam and sell them.  Gamers aren’t paying them to improve CS:Source or CS 1.6.  So why should they?  Every one of the 12 million people subscribed to WoW is paying Blizzard a month fee though so there’s HUGE incentive for them to keep updating WoW. 

Consoles are winning the battle for good competitive games because it’s easier to build games for consoles.  You know what hardware is in the gamer’s computer.  Think about it; every console (either XBOX or PS3) has the same hardware.  The same PC, video card, RAM etc.  So you can optimize how you use that system as a software developer to get them most out of the product.   That’s nearly impossible on a PC.  In order to get wide scale appeal the game has to be playable on 5 year old system but also excel and push the newer systems.  Most new ground breaking PC titles are built more now to establish an engine to run the games of the next generation. 

If you could give any advice to an aspiring eSports journalist, what would it be?

Find your passion.  What do you love about eSports?  Why do you love it?  It’s hard to write quality content without a place for it to come from.  I always felt like if you loved something you could write about it better then anyone else. 

Thanks again for the interview.  Any final comments or shoutouts?

Thanks to Complexity for continuing to hang in there.  I know CGS took us all for a ride and it’s sad we, not them, were left to pick up the pieces.  Let’s hope we can find the right answers to make the future better. 

Shoutouts to all friends from GotFrag; Lee Chen, Jason Coene, Joe Hoffend, Scott Smith, Jason Baker, Mark Cheben, Marc Turner, Jason Roman and Nick Bee.  And of course coL’s only Jason Bass.