It was October, 2012. Only two years had passed since I began my journey into the world of esports, but I was spending most of my time playing Dota 2. Playing isn’t exactly the right word. Don’t get me wrong- the gameplay was fun, but I wasn’t just playing for entertainment. I was playing to learn and, eventually, become a Dota commentator- if I could get good enough.
At the time I was still contracting with Garena, a popular gaming platform in Southeast Asia, as their lead commentator for Heroes of Newerth. They knew my plan was to move on from Heroes of Newerth as soon as I could find more opportunities casting Dota 2, but it helped pay the bills while I made my transition. I was also running short on time to start generating more income before my parents vowed to kick me out of the house.
But playing Dota was actually fun. I woke up every day excited to try a new hero and uncover more nuanced details about the game. The deadline to prove my endeavors worthy and generate more income was stressful, but something felt right about the path I was finally on.
All of that changed on Saturday, October 13th, 2012. Just three days before my 23rd birthday.
My friend Josh and I were livestreaming our weekly show called News Report in which we played different video games and talked about financial news. The show failed to cultivate an audience, as most gamers aren’t interested in investment advice from other gamers. That didn’t stop it from being a fun little side project. This Saturday was no different than those past; we finished recording our 11th episode and decided to stream for a few additional hours after the show.
Once Josh and I were finished broadcasting, I turned off the livestream like usual and started preparing for the rest of my day.
Somehow, I made a big mistake when shutting down the streaming software. To this day, I don’t know if I clicked the wrong button, the software malfunctioned, or I simply forgot to turn it off as intended.
But the stream kept running.
And I had absolutely no idea.
After I got up from my PC, I started undressing to take a shower. I had plans to go on a date later that afternoon and was already running behind schedule. Rather than going out, my date and I planned on coming back to my place to watch a movie.
I was moving quickly and wasn’t thinking about the world in front of me. I got halfway through undressing and remembered there were a few messages on Skype I’d intended to respond to. Wearing nothing but a t-shirt, I walked back in view of the camera, hunched over the keyboard, and started typing away.
Because of the way I was hunched over the keyboard, my waistline was cut off from the camera’s view. It was obvious there weren’t any clothes there, but for the most part everything below my belt was out of the shot. The problem was that while I was reading and thinking about how to reply, I started habitually scratching my sweaty crotch and then sniffing my fingers.
This lasted for a solid two minutes before I was satisfied with my messages and got up to finally hop in the shower. Once I stood up, I was completely exposed to the camera and took my time scratching and sniffing on the way out. Before walking off camera, I moved some things around on the other side of my desk and then wiped my ass with a paper towel left over from earlier in the day. It wasn’t my proudest moment, and unfortunately, it was all being broadcast for anyone to see.
The stream had been idle, broadcasting just an empty desk chair for at least 15 minutes before I came back into the shot without bottoms. Even before that, we had peaked around only 20 concurrent viewers during the actual broadcast. It’s crazy to think that there might have literally been one person watching who was ultimately responsible for spreading the video around. Back then there wasn’t a Twitch Clips function to make highlights from a livestream. You had to wait until a broadcast went offline before you could go back and watch the video on demand (VOD).
I managed to finish showering and get dressed without walking back in view of the camera. Then, I picked up my date as planned. Unbeknownst to us, the stream was still live the entire time she was there. Fortunately, my camera was angled towards one corner of my bedroom. It was blocked off by an L-shaped desk, so we were never spotted by the camera. The microphone, however, was still activated and picked up most of our conversation. Our voices were quiet and hard to hear over the sound of the tv, but if you listened closely you could mostly make out what we were saying.
We were none the wiser and, after a few hours, I drove her back home. It wasn’t exactly a love connection: a small stroke of good fortune our date didn’t lead to anything more than conversation and light kissing.
When I got back home, I sat down at my computer and noticed the broadcasting software was still running. It appeared to be locked up, so I thought that it probably had crashed when I finished the broadcast earlier. The software was known to be buggy and would usually crash at least once a day. I didn’t even really think twice about the possibility of the software staying online that whole time.
It didn’t take long before my worst nightmare came true.
About an hour after I finally closed the software, I got a message from someone on Skype whom I hadn’t spoken to in ages. He sent me a link to a VOD from my Twitch channel and just said, “You should really take a look at this.” At first, I thought it might be a virus link or phishing scam, but the link checked out.
I opened it.
It was the full seven-hour VOD from earlier, confirming that my livestream was running the entire day. His link was timestamped to somewhere in the middle, which was the beginning of my three-minute performance. A performance that would become forever known as sniff sniff.
Without even watching the full clip, I scrolled to the options and permanently deleted the video. I had no specific memory of what I had done, but just seeing that I was captured without clothing was enough for me to remove the VOD immediately.
I thanked the person who brought it to my attention, but I should have been more concerned that someone I barely spoke with knew exactly where to go in such a long video. It was surely a sign that the clip had already been spread around and was gaining momentum by the second. But I believed what I wanted to believe and walked away from my computer naively thinking the ordeal was over and done with.
Over the next 30 minutes there was a strange tension in the air. My parents were out of town for the weekend, so it was just me alone in the house. I tried to check out from the internet and watch tv to stop my mind from wandering, but my efforts failed.
For whatever reason, I had this alarming feeling that something was wrong. Something just didn’t feel right.
I turned on my monitor and discovered that messages were pouring in. It felt like my entire contact list was messaging me at once. Some were sorry and apologetic, but most were laughing and reaching out to ridicule. I was added into several group chats filled with different players and streamers who were erupting with comments and laughing about the video. It was like everyone in my network was talking about my most embarrassing moment and sharing it as quickly as they could.
I opened Twitch and found that every streamer who was live under the Heroes of Newerth section was talking about my VOD. A lot of them were even watching the video live on air, pausing to recover from laughter and entertain their viewers with endless mockery. The chat rooms associated with each stream were moving at an equally impressive pace with the phrase “sniff sniff” spammed in between every line. The video had spread like wildfire.
I’m not sure if there is a single word that accurately encapsulates the flurry of emotions I was experiencing. It was scary knowing a video like that was out there in general, let alone that it was being talked about like it was breaking news. Everyone knew immediately that this video was going to cripple me, and that it would likely be the end of my career. It was so unlike any other viral clip people had seen before that they couldn’t help but pass it around to their friends.
Even though I deleted the original video, I found out there was a service that automatically backed up every video recorded on Twitch. It was an independent third-party service, and though they did eventually take the video down, it took nearly 24 hours. The backup became the primary source that was shared around, recaptured, and uploaded all over the internet.
Once that was taken down, another version was immediately uploaded to YouTube and marked as unlisted. The link floated back up to the top of subreddits, and the video racked up the views. It had over 75,000 views by the 24-hour mark and over 130,000 when it was finally removed. I felt like I was slowly dying inside as I watched the acceleration, knowing that it would become the only thing people would know about ZyoriTV.
My adrenaline was pumping like crazy, but eventually the gravity of the situation set in. I decided to fight fire with fire. I knew I couldn’t have it erased from the internet, but I didn’t want it to be easy for people to find. I made it my mission to find every public link of the video I could and file a legal request through the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which requires websites to remove stolen content. Ironically, the most effective way for me to get the video removed was to claim it was my original work and it was stolen and uploaded without my permission. Platforms were much more responsive to intellectual property infringement than they were claims of harassment and bullying.
It was a fool’s errand, and deep down I knew it, but I couldn’t think of a better alternative. I knew it would only be so effective, and some sites might not honor my request, but at least it made me feel some semblance of power. In a moment where I could look anywhere and see thousands of strangers all laughing at my expense, a little bit of power went a long way.
Once I finally accepted I had no control, the feeling of being completely powerless was overwhelming. It was hard to see a light at the end of the tunnel.
In the end, I was able to get most of the original video mirrors taken down, though there were a few small file hosting websites based in other countries that refused to honor my DMCA requests. I got the most pushback from a small Swedish site I won’t do the favor of naming. They seemed to take some strange pride in keeping their mirror of the video alive, as well as knowing that I had no means to force their hand. Their services have since been shut down.
My true enemies were the handful of people who were fighting as hard as I was but to keep the video searchable on the internet. Within a matter of minutes after taking a copy down, I would find new versions uploaded under different names with pseudonyms and intentional misspellings to trip search functions. I was fighting a hydra; as I cut off one head, three more grew in its place.
It was hard for me to imagine there were people out there so intent on promoting my most embarrassing moment. I couldn’t fathom what I had done to deserve such pointed anger and hatred.
Surely, they knew how damaging their actions were to my psyche.
Another wretched source I spent all too much time fighting was a website called Dotallyrad. At the time, it was a semi-popular blog site run by a few Dota enthusiasts who encouraged players to be toxic to one another. This must have been one of their greatest news stories of all time, given the amount of effort they put into maintaining a front-page blog post that was basically a list of different sources to watch the video. In some ways, they made it easier for me with their curated list of links to DMCA. As I kept refreshing the post, I would find new edits highlighting links that had just been discovered. However, at a certain point, their effort started to feel personal. I didn’t understand why they were so eager to spread my shame.
I stayed up well into the night searching for new mirrors and reading comments as they came in. As it grew later into the night, I eventually became satisfied enough with my progress to believe that I had stopped the spread. I knew damage had been done and there was no way to take it back, but I thought it would be hard enough to find that most people who hadn’t heard of me already were unlikely to find it.
My biggest concern was preventing the video from getting in the hands of people who had never heard of me before. That’s when you become known as “that guy” forever— and that was quite possibly my worst fear. I was confident enough in my efforts that I was able to fall asleep thinking the worst of it was once again over, when really the opposite was true.
When I woke up the next day, it was clear my hope of quelling the damage was purely delusional. I had only slept for six hours and in that time, the video had been re-uploaded to every platform I could think of. It was even broken down into animated .gif files for easy sharing. Every single one of my public-facing profiles was exploding with messages. More than half of the messages either said “sniff sniff” or something along the lines of “Zyori sniff my balls.”
All of it was humiliating.
My inbox had over 50 new emails, all from complete strangers who heard about what happened. Many of them were insulting or mean and rubbing it in a little more; however, a surprising majority of the messages were positive. At least 30 people took the time to reach out and acknowledge they felt bad and wanted to wish me well.
Those messages were huge. Sending an anonymous message to someone like that isn’t something I would have ever done if the roles were reserved. It was powerful to know there are people better than me out there, though at the same time, that realization drove me to feel a degree of guilt in the weeks to come. I felt unworthy of their sympathy.
At least a quarter of the messages were truly vile outbursts that were shockingly successful in making me feel worthless. It really made me wonder why there were people so motivated to kick me when I was down, especially with such vitriol and aggression. I could understand if I were caught doing something that harmed someone else, but I didn’t do anything like that. I was just caught doing something embarrassing when I thought I was alone. I could understand laughing at it and passing the link along to your friends, but I didn’t understand the group who seemed personally offended by my actions.
I didn’t merit any of the negative emails with a reply, but I did end up deleting a lot of the comments on my private social media accounts. I didn’t even bother to scrub my public profiles. The entire ordeal was completely demoralizing. It felt like no matter what I did, I was just a passenger along for the ride.
I spent the rest of that Sunday stuck in a disconnected haze. My entire existence was crumbling before my eyes, and I think my brain ran out of power to process it. Normally I’m pretty good at assessing situations and thinking through all the different ways it could play out. In this case, there were too many variables. And no matter how I looked at it, I was certain my career was over. There was no way I would ever be able to live this down, even if I continued to improve as a commentator.
It was so bad that I was getting text messages from my college friends who barely even played games. They saw threads about it creep up on unrelated subreddits they followed, which prompted them to dig deeper and find the source footage. That was the moment I knew I had reached another level of viral; even people who didn’t follow esports were privy to sniff sniff.
My entire life had become a meme. And there was nothing I could do but sit back and watch the fire burn.
The hardest part of it all was telling my parents. They were due to arrive back home on Sunday evening, and I spent the latter part of the day consumed with how and what to tell them. Even just explaining the technical aspect of what happened was going to be challenging. My plan was to present a tough front and downplay how wildly out of control the viral fire was burning, but I just didn’t have it in me.
When my parents arrived home, my mom came upstairs to say hello, and I got out about three words before breaking down into tears. I was completely ashamed. She didn’t yet know why, but she knew how rare it was for me to be that upset about something.
The part that devastated me the most was that all the effort I spent during the last two years grinding in esports had gone to waste due to one simple mistake. Being caught nude on camera was embarrassing, sure, but that seemed like nothing compared to giving up every opportunity to work in the industry that fueled my passion for life. Until I found esports and started building a brand around myself, I was drifting aimlessly without taking anything too seriously. Being able to watch incredible players compete and tell those stories to a live audience was by far the most fulfilling thing I’d ever experienced. I was addicted to the adrenaline of pushing myself at live events and the thought of losing that completely left me wondering where my place was in this world.
Esports meant everything to me because it was the vehicle in which I came out of my shell and found a healthy way to interface with the world. As a kid, I was introverted and awkward. Most of my time was spent daydreaming and observing, while other kids did regular kid things. I was a watcher, always taking in information but poor at communicating it back to others.
Video games were always an escape from the constant fear of unknown parts of the world. That started to change when I started creating content and casting tournaments, and my outlet transformed into a hobby. That hobby was finally starting to pay off and show signs of a career path beyond my wildest dreams. I was being forced out of my comfort zone and was excited about it, a rare combination, as conquering the challenges of esports became my new source of energy.
Losing all of that crushed me. I felt like I had lost my entire identity and, even worse, my coping mechanism for dealing with the world. It sounds melodramatic looking back, but in those moments, my world was darkened and there was no light from my seat in the back row.
That night I was finally able to explain what happened to my parents. They reacted a lot better than I thought they would. They were amazingly rational and basically told me not to overreact publicly and to continue methodically removing new links to the video. They seemed confident I could salvage some of my working relationships, especially after some time.
The next day was when things really got dark. Most of the initial hysteria had died down, though it was still fresh on everyone’s minds. Streamers weren’t talking about it anymore, but any mention of the name Zyori would result in the immediate flood of sniff sniff remarks in chat.
All that remained were the handful of people who seemed to have a vendetta-like hatred for me as a person. Someone on 4chan released links to my personal Facebook page and posted a list of my relatives’ contact information with instructions to “make sure they never forget.” The video was emailed to many of my close relatives.
They also found out about the part-time job I had as a marketing assistant and sent the video there. Luckily, most of my co-workers and family deleted the messages sight unseen. It was too peculiar for them to believe, and ironically, it came off as a low-effort phishing scam.
Someone out there had identified that I was vulnerable and made a specific effort to rub salt in the wound. What I did was gross, and it’s not abnormal to have a visceral reaction, but interfering with my personal life and sources of income takes a special type of person. I don’t know if they were people I had done wrong in the past or just strangers looking for an outlet themselves, but I could only interpret their actions as vicious.
The more I thought about it, the more upset I became that there was so much hatred focused on me. Before all this, I would have labeled myself a good person, but after digesting so much negativity, I really wasn’t sure anymore. There was no reason to push this onto people in my personal life, aside from seeing me suffer. That really fucked with my self-worth.
Before going to sleep that night, I had a long conversation with Mischa from Garena about what happened. She knew about the video and how it was spreading but didn’t seem overly concerned. Apparently, it wasn’t really getting much traction in the SEA community. She vowed not to bring it up to her boss unless he heard about it from another source. She did warn, however, that her power to protect me was limited and she wouldn’t be able to do much if her boss wanted me gone. A lot of my other co-workers at Garena reached out to tell me they heard about it but didn’t watch the video out of respect. Looking back, Garena really had some great people on their esports crew; it’s a shame I didn’t get to work with them in a more involved capacity.
Monday morning came around, and I woke up to bad news from Mischa. Her boss hadn’t seen the video or even heard about it for that matter; however, while I was asleep Garena got a message from their point of contact at the S2 Games headquarters. His message was short and direct:
“Due to negative press surrounding broadcasting talent Zyori, we are requesting that you terminate any existing contracts with him. Thanks.”
For what it’s worth, I don’t think Garena really cared about the incident all that much. I just happened to be in the position of least leverage. I could see why S2 thought it was a smart PR move to get me away from their game. At the same time, I couldn’t help but feel like it was partially motivated by vengeance given I had become an overall critic of the game and was publicly endorsing Dota 2 as a better alternative. It’s hard to know if there was malicious intent or if I was just experiencing emotional paranoia, but either way it was another blow to what little I had left.
Monday night was when I lost any remaining positive energy. It was the eve of my 23rd birthday, and I was left broken, the laughingstock of the internet. All my contracts were gone. I didn’t have school to distract me or any other project to channel my energy into. I gave in to the temptation to let it all go and slid into a dark depression that lasted for weeks.
I spent my birthday completely alone, intoxicated from my waking moment until I was drunk enough to find sleep for a few hours. This cycle repeated for days on end. I couldn’t even look at my computer without fear of seeing another negative comment and wondering if that could be the one to push me over the edge.
Over the next two weeks I did literally nothing but lay in bed and watch cable television. I couldn’t bring myself to shower or communicate with anyone besides basic text messages that I was still alive. I was eating about a meal and a half per day, though it was mostly junk food and candy. I just laid there day after day, wasting away in my own stench as I dwelled upon my sorrows.
I felt like a complete failure. I was only four months into my effort as a full-time esports commentator and I had less than nothing to show for it. The cherry on top was the woman I was seeing, who had inadvertently been an auditory part of the video, seemingly had no ability to understand the gravity of the situation. I sat down with her and watched part of the video, but her only response was: why would people be upset about that?
Her lack of empathy was astonishing, and I had no choice but to break it off with her.
DreamHack Winter 2012
By the first week of November, I was starting to snap out of it. Depression becomes tiresome after a while, and though I wasn’t physically productive, I was processing the event in my own way. I was finally able to release most of my emotions surrounding what happened. By the middle of November, I was able to start focusing again. Now that initial shock was over, I could start taking steps to rebuild myself as person.
I reconnected with a few friends from high school and remembered that there was more to me than my online identity. I woke up to the dangers of putting my entire self-worth into a public persona. Though I never crossed the line of seriously wanting to take my own life, I could see how this type of event could drive others to do so. For the first time, I realized the importance of understanding that Andrew and Zyori didn’t have to be the exact same person.
In mid-November, I decided it was time to finally address what happened and record a public statement. I recorded it as a video blog and uploaded it straight to YouTube. The hysteria was over, and I thought most people had forgotten about what happened. I was still recovering, but other internet memes had come along and refocused everyone’s attention.
Recording the video was harder than I thought it would be. It was one of those moments where I dreamed of all the things I would say as I confronted my worst enemies, but the reality wasn’t as good as it sounded in my head. The video turned out to be over 20 minutes long. I went into detail explaining how traumatizing the whole ordeal was and how damaging it was to my career. I left the video open-ended but essentially implied I probably wouldn’t be doing much else in esports. Really, it could be seen as a verbose goodbye video.
Every few months after that I would go back and watch the video again, each time growing to hate it more and more. After 18 months and 50,000 views, I decided that video didn’t really represent my feelings about the incident anymore and deleted it from my YouTube channel. As will be explained in chapters to come, sniff sniff wasn’t the end of me.
In truth, it was only the beginning.
After posting my reaction video, I still had to decide if I wanted to attend DreamHack Winter 2012. Before the incident, I had booked airfare and accommodations for a 10-day trip to Sweden that included four days in Jönköping. For the rest of the trip, I had arranged to stay with one of my online friends I met playing Heroes of Newerth named David and his family. They lived near Stockholm. Overall, I was excited about taking the trip as a much-needed holiday from my home environment, but I was afraid to make an appearance.
As much as I wanted another international adventure, I was terrified of how people would react to my presence. The conundrum was that my tickets were nonrefundable. I was equally afraid of how I would feel after throwing away nearly a thousand dollars on tickets I couldn’t alter. Cash was tight back then, and it would have been painful not to realize any value for the cost of a trip like that.
In the end, I decided to go. In the last few days leading up to my departure, I had a bad feeling that attending was a mistake. I tried to come up with every reason possible not to go, but I forced myself to push through it and face my fears. Even in the worst-case scenario, I couldn’t think of a better way to confront my fears. I figured since I likely didn’t have a future in esports anyways, I had nothing to lose by going. A small part of me was cautiously optimistic that facing my fans and colleagues could be the antidote for my depression.
Once I arrived in Stockholm, I met up with David, and we enjoyed a night in Stockholm before preparing our journey. We drove down to Jönköping with two other Heroes of Newerth fans who we had met on some Swedish forum. David was even able to arrange free lodging for us with one of the HoN players he knew who lived on the edge of Vättern, the massive lake that borders the north side of Jönköping. The entirety of the trip ended up being cheap, and we had a lot more fun than if we had stayed in a hostel or cheap hotel. It was a nomadic experience, but we had freedom to do whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted. It turned out to be a proper holiday after all. Traveling for leisure without an itinerary was fun and more therapeutic than I ever imagined.
The actual HoN tournament was much better than the summer event that Breaky and I suffered through just six months prior. S2 was there in full force, once again doing an iteration of DreamHoN that concluded as a live event at DreamHack. Breaky was casting with an analyst named Tralf who Honcast contracted in my stead. Matt (KillerOrange) was playing a larger role in the production and, from what I could tell, that decision was paying dividends.
When I arrived at the Heroes of Newerth booth, I wasn’t sure what to do. I wasn’t really friends with any of the players or staff aside from Matt and Breaky, though we weren’t exactly close. Not knowing what else to do, I wandered around the area and awkwardly made eye contact with a few people. Just as I was considering walking away, Matt saw me and called me over by name. He made a small effort to announce my presence, which was embarrassing, though looking back, I appreciate what he was trying to do. He had a great way of instantly making things less awkward.
We made some small talk and, after a few minutes, Breaky came over. He introduced me to Tralf, and the four of us chatted about the game and how the event was going. It was great to laugh about some memories from summer and how much things had changed in only five months.
Tralf and Breaky had to get back to casting, so then I chatted alone with Matt once again. He mentioned he had seen my statement video and thought it was cool I still turned up to the event. I asked him what it was like in the S2 offices when the incident happened, and he said that literally everyone in the marketing department watched it. He said they’d all laughed hysterically and that everyone knew about it.
It was a harsh but sobering thing to hear. The fear of not knowing who knew was so much worse than just dealing with the fact that everyone knew. It was liberating to know that I truly had nothing to hide and nothing to lose. That conversation changed my whole demeanor and motivated me to face it, rather than run from it while I was there.
After that, I was happily surprised that most people in the Heroes of Newerth area treated me like everyone else. Most of us were subpar at socializing, so really, I wasn’t much more awkward than anyone else around me. At the end of the day, we were all there to watch competitive HoN, and most of the time our eyes were locked to the screen. Some people made a few jokes about sniff sniff, but overall, they were playful and harmless. Someone from the S2 staff hooked me up with a VIP badge, so I had great seats and spent most of my DreamHack watching the tournament.
Once word spread that I was out in public and occupying space in the HoN section, more people started pushing my limits. One of the players on Team Complexity named Moonmeander joined the crowd to show off a sign that read Zyori sniff my balls. At the time, he was one of the most popular streamers in Heroes of Newerth. I could see why he needed to be the first guy to go there for the sake of entertaining his audience, but it really stung. Because he was so much more popular than me, I didn’t know how to handle it. I tried to laugh it off and ignore him, but that didn’t stop his actions from really bothering me.
After that, more people started coming up to me and saying crude things about sniff sniff. It became tiresome, so I retreated to the press area to write a few articles about match results for my website. I didn’t intend on becoming any sort of esports journalist, but it was something tangible I could produce and use to distract me from the rest of the event.
Once I finished up, I walked around the rest of the venue to see what else DreamHack had to offer that winter. I bumped into a surprising amount of people who recognized me because of my hair. Most of them were friendly and apologetic about my circumstances; however, there were plenty who would walk up and laugh in my face. A lot of people insulted me in Swedish, and though David refused to translate, he assured me it wasn’t pleasant.
Dealing with real-life hecklers wore me down, but it almost became fun after a while. Eventually I started responding to people with remarks like “and the award for this year’s least original joke goes to…ding, ding, ding; congratulations, you’ve won!” It was goofy and stupid, but surprisingly effective in disarming people. I think they couldn’t tell if I was offended or crazy, so they were left with no option but to walk away. Inciting that kind of confusion in someone insulting me turned out to be rather satisfying.
After the HoN grand finals were over, I discovered the finals of the Dota 2 tournament were coming up next in the arena. David and I had third-row seats in the theater and lucked into watching one of the most memorable finals in Dota history. It came down to one final best-of-three between North American powerhouse Evil Geniuses (EG) and the home court heroes, Team No Tidehunter (NTH). No Tidehunter was a mostly Swedish squad, though they had a captain from Canada named EternaLEnVy who had everything to prove.
EG took the first game in convincing fashion, and then were only one win away from taking the series. At the beginning of game two, NTH suicided one of their heroes into the big neutral creep in the middle of the map called Roshan. This tricked EG into thinking they were doing a specific strategy where you kill Roshan immediately as the game starts.
EG overreacted and charged towards Roshan’s Pit, leaving them vulnerable to a backstab from NTH. NTH maintained control for the rest of the match and took the finals to a third game.
The crowd went absolutely wild!
The whole arena was packed, and no one had ever seen a strategy like that work so effectively with so much on the line. Game three was a 50-minute slugfest, with No Tidehunter finding victory in the end. It was after midnight in the arena, but the crowd was full of that esports energy I loved so much.
For me, it was further evidence that Dota 2 was already outpacing Heroes of Newerth as the more competitive MOBA. The energy reminded me why I had started working in esports to begin with. I was disappointed I couldn’t fathom a comeback for my career.
But I told myself if I did somehow find my way into the spotlight again, the game would definitely be Dota.
Enter the Real World
As DreamHack came to an end, I was glad I had pushed myself outside of my comfort zone. Being able to confront trolls in person allowed me to take my first steps in rebuilding my confidence. For the first time since the incident had occurred, I felt full of vigor and ready again to tackle new challenges. I wasn’t yet completely healed, but I could feel myself making progress towards normal.
I still had the better part of a week left in Sweden, and we had nothing planned but to relax and play video games. Stockholm had its first snow of the winter while I was there- a gorgeous site indeed.
The day before my return flight, I got an email about a potential job opportunity in the public sector doing tech support. It wasn’t a glamorous position, mostly dealing with printers and user errors, but the pay was fantastic. The starting rate was $33 per hour, which works out to over $65,000 in annual salary. It wasn’t a job I particularly wanted, but the pay was too good for me not to apply. Two days later, I had a response in my inbox requesting to schedule a sit-down interview.
The interview was straight-forward, and for whatever reason, they chose me for the position. I started promptly the following Monday. It was a contractor position at first, so I didn’t have any benefits or paid time-off; however, the hourly rate more than made up for it. I took the job mostly because I didn’t have any other irons in the fire, and I knew it would make my parents happy. I figured that, worst case, I could make some money in the short term, even if I decided to quit down the road. I was lucky to have something new to focus on as soon as I got home from Sweden.
The first couple of months felt great. The work was mundane as expected, but it was exciting to learn a new process and assimilate into a new group of people. It was stress-relieving to be making enough money that money was no longer something worry about. For the first time, I had enough surplus to buy new gear and still have some leftover for savings. I also had a newfound peace of mind every day knowing what I had to do and for exactly how many hours. I didn’t have to stress about performance or burning the midnight oil to find an edge over my competitors.
After four months, the charm started to wear away. I found myself underutilized with no incentives to take on more responsibility. My days were often spent sitting at my desk, dreaming about content I could create related to gaming. The support team worked through a ticket system and, if there weren’t any open tickets, there wasn’t all that much to do. I spent my free time reading articles on my phone and looking at job postings to fuel my influx of wild ideas.
I was banking money faster than ever before, so I decided to hire one of my artistic friends to redesign my website. I figured that while I couldn’t actively work on esports projects in the office, I could still fund and manage one from afar. To announce the redesign, I came up with an eight-page white paper that explained my intentions to grow the brand and hire several people to help me do so. My plan was to be the guy with the bank roll who pulled strings from behind the scenes while my underlings ran most of the show. It was a grandiose plan, and though my heart was in the right place, my goals and metrics for success were completely unknown.
I had this lofty vision of hiring photographers, writers, streamers, and any other content creator I could find to create a hub for unique content. I wanted it to be related to both League of Legends and Dota 2, as both games were still rapidly growing in popularity. League was continuing to pick up new users around the world, and Dota had recently executed their second multimillion-dollar tournament, The International 2. My plan was to hire staffers to cover both games and then develop two different content portals that were connected under the ZyoriTV umbrella. I knew I couldn’t be the face of it, but after dwelling on it day after day, I was sure there were others out there who could be.
The white paper I posted was received well on a few different subreddits, which led to a lot of people reaching out. In just a matter of days, I had over 100 applications. Most of them had no experience and were hoping to volunteer, but it gave me hope that I could still create something in the gaming space. I had been publicly silent for nearly six months, which I hoped would be enough time for most of the dialogue about sniff sniff to disappear.
As I was building out my team, I started becoming interested in photography. One of the managers I hired was also a League of Legends cosplayer and opened my eyes to a new community of unbelievably talented fashion artists. This prompted me to start traveling to conventions to do photo shoots and video interviews with cosplayers all over the country. I noticed that even though most them were incredible fashion designers, many didn’t know the first thing about marketing themselves. I saw a huge opportunity to create amazing visual content that was also focused around promoting an under-appreciated community.
We managed to create some decent content, but it didn’t take long for this iteration of ZyoriTV to feel reminiscent of my last failed esports project. Our team was full of enthusiasm and eager to put in the hours, but without a clear vision to tie it all together, we were just treading water. We chased any lead or content creator who came our way, but they seldom materialized into anything substantive. Without a rubric for what kind of content we wanted, what our brand was supposed to be, or where the money would come from, it was near impossible to make any progress. I was so eager to publish anything that appeared on my desk that I picked up a blogger from France who wrote articles exclusively in French about the philosophy of gaming. Her content was completely unrelated to everything else on our website and drove almost no traffic, but I was convinced we needed to pursue every opportunity to own niche content.
It was like I learned nothing from past mistakes. I was stuck in this cycle of rinse and repeat, doing the same old thing and hoping for different results.
I decided to jump back in the saddle and start producing original content again. This led me to create a video podcast series about cosplay called The Cosplay Room, in which I was the host joined by three co-hosts that were into cosplay. The show appealed to a small niche audience, but after 15 episodes we ran out of ideas for new content and decided to pull the plug. Two of my co-hosts were purely hobbyist content creators, but the third was a girl named Danielle Beaulieu who went on to become a successful influencer. Although I generally consider The Cosplay Room to be a failed experiment, it’s been interesting to watch her build her brand from nothing and find success over the last half decade.
This was also around the time I started hosting my own show called The Zyori Podcast. The first episode aired on May 5th, 2013. It was audio only at first, and honestly didn’t serve any purpose other than giving me a platform to rant about whatever I needed to get off my chest. It was also easy to produce and didn’t take much effort to setup; if I had my laptop and a decent microphone, I could record from anywhere. I knew 60 minutes of rambling about video games wouldn’t appeal to a mass audience, but I had a lot to say and I was hungry to get it out there. It was probably a good thing that I didn’t have many listeners at the beginning; it took a lot of practice to develop my ramblings into engaging audio content.
I continued at my tech support job for the next few months, but it eventually became unbearable. By June, my workload had completely stagnated. I spent most of my time in the office sitting at my desk, waiting for something to break. It would have been a great job if I could have brought my laptop and worked on outside projects during the downtime, but accessibility was limited to my phone.
I can tolerate a lot of things, but boredom isn’t one of them. As I put more effort into traveling to conventions and collecting content for my podcast, I realized working a traditional nine-to-five wasn’t going to lead me down a path to happiness. I had a greater appreciation for the opportunity to focus on esports full-time.
Before July was over, I put in my two weeks’ notice and looked towards my next adventure. Even after a few spending sprees while I was employed, I walked away with over $15,000 in savings. It wasn’t a lot of money, but enough to give me some buffer until I figured out my next move. Thanks to fallout from sniff sniff, I had bought myself an extra year of living with my parents rent-free. However, now that I was officially unemployed again, the pressure was on to find something equally sustainable.
But before anything else, I scheduled another vacation—this time to Florida. My plan was to visit an old girlfriend, clear my head, and figure out a plan for the future.
About halfway through the trip I came up with the idea for Dota Radio, which became my focus for the remainder of the year. Dota Radio proved to be a short-lived project, but effective in allowing me to break into Dota. Just months after it was created, Dota Radio caught the attention of Beyond the Summit.
They made me a full-time job offer at the end of the year, and I was well on my way to rebuilding my career in esports broadcasting.
The writing above is a modified excerpt from Surviving Esports: The Zyori Story, originally published on September 17th, 2019.