Michael “hypoc” Robins on becoming a caster, PUBG esports’ future

It can be tough for professional players to decide on their next move when the time comes for them to retire. Do they have the in-game intelligence and necessary personal attributes to become a coach or analyst? Should they move into the game development side of the industry? Another popular path of progression once playing is done is to become a caster, commentating on the game they used to compete in.

The latter is, mostly, true for Michael “hypoc” Robins. Staying on as a content creator for the once-titanic OpTic Gaming, he’s found himself balancing being a personality with commentating over the top tier of PUBG. To get more insight into the switch from professional player to casting, and what PUBG esports’ future looks like, Esports Insider sat down with hypoc.

hypoc Casting
Photo credit: OGN

Esports Insider: What was the decision process behind becoming a caster following your long career as a player across multiple titles?

I received a job offer from OpTic Gaming when they pulled out of PUBG, after I had received a warm reception from the fans by appearing in some content on YouTube. That heavily swayed my decision and the direction I wanted to go with esports. Being offered to stay on with OpTic Gaming as a content creator was a massive privilege and it also made me reassess my long-term goals; weighing up how sustainable a career would have been competing in PUBG as opposed to standing aside and still being present within the battle royale space.

I had offers to work events as a caster whilst I was still a player and, at that time, it just wasn’t really something I ever really considered. People with English as their first language are heavily sought after if they can handle themselves on a camera when it comes to production.

It was the OpTic Gaming job offer that made me really consider stopping competing, though.

ESI: How did the conversations come about with PUBG Corp. and OGN to be involved with the National PUBG League and PUBG Nations Cup?

Initially, the conversation started with OGN from competing in Phase 1 of the NPL. Having been involved with some of the shoulder content and some of the producers behind the scenes, there were a couple of people at OGN that I really enjoyed working with. I’ll be honest, I’d kind of floated the idea before I officially publicly stepped down and had a very positive response to even asking the question.

It was a bit of a gamble cause they said “We’d consider bringing you in on a smaller broadcast to see if you suit the role and how you got on.” The first step was NPL Contenders. From there it was kind of a weird ride really. I got the Contenders gig and then four weeks later I was asked to work the GLL Grand Slam: PUBG Classic in Sweden.

It was a massive privilege. I had really good feedback from all the players, whether or not we can call that biased feedback. I’d say it was GLL Grand Slam, when I worked with Leigh “Deman” Smith, that put me on the radar within PUBG casting.

ESI: How have you found the career change now that you’ve almost been going for a year?

I don’t regret the decision but I definitely miss competing, if that makes sense. Stepping away from playing, you see the bigger picture as opposed to being absorbed in scrimming for six day hours a day, and playing public matches for another four or five hours a day, and you don’t really have an end goal. You just work from event to event. The pro league structure was great, it provided a lot of stability for players and whatnot, but as we know, it didn’t provide a lot of stability for organisations and we saw what happened from there. Coming back to your question, I don’t regret it at all. It’s been working well!

ESI: Are more games on the horizon for you?

Yeah. Something I’ve always said is being able to diversify in esports is where you find your sustainability. If you want to make it a viable career path, being diverse and not just having like one niche is important.

For example, I’d love to cover other battle royale games. Modern Warfare’s battle royale is coming up, there’s Apex Legends. I’d love to move across games and whatnot. I’ve always been into first-person shooters and arena FPS titles. I’m a gamer so all I do in my spare time is play games and I’ve never been one of those people to turn away trying a new game to see how it feels. Riot Games’ Project A is a big one on my radar.

I’m 30 years old now so I’ve played Counter-Strike for years and years. CS:GO, for example, I played for probably as many as I did in PUBG. That, coupled with having competed for a short stint as an Overwatch player, Project A seems to be the best of both worlds for me. Obviously there are big question marks over it, but Project A is one that I’m trying to build my experience and become more proficient on-camera for.

“There were a lot of other things that didn’t happen to make PUBG’s pro leagues as successful as they could have been.”

ESI: How do you think the first official year of PUBG Corp.’s esports efforts went?

It’s fair to answer this from both sides, right? I’m an avid esports follower, but have also been a professional PUBG player, so I have conflicting opinions. As a player, the structure  provided by the pro league format was absolutely fantastic. You know what you’re doing as you have a season, then an off-season, and in between there are huge third-party tournaments. As a player, that was fantastic.

We’ve seen other leagues, like the Overwatch League, basically kill the game’s tier-two scene. I think with PUBG having not really had much of a tier-two scene anyway, I think that system worked really well, but it didn’t give a lot of stability to players or to organisations.

The one thing I feel didn’t go so well was keeping the organisations in PUBG and keeping them invested in its future. We’ve got other examples of esports titles that have done very, very well with such a structure – look at Rainbow Six Siege. I absolutely loved the idea of having the pro league structure and having regional leagues because I think it made it easier for North American casual players, for example, to follow their national league.

There were a lot of other things that didn’t happen to make PUBG’s pro leagues as successful as they could have been, and I don’t think particularly that it was anybody’s fault. Perhaps it came a bit too soon. If we allowed the open format from 2018 to carry on for another year or two maybe, there could have been a higher demand for what we ended up with. It coming when it did, when things were still very delicate and viewership was very up-and-down across events, made it the wrong time, potentially.

hypoc NPL Contenders
Screenshot via: OGN

ESI: Do you think the changes that came at the beginning of 2020 were needed?

Absolutely, I think they’ve made the right decision to rectify what happened last year. Again, from a player’s perspective, 2018 was absolutely lit. It was awesome. It goes back to that old school vibe for like esports where you grind online, you qualify for a tournament, it then goes to regional qualifiers, which lead into LAN finals. You had that for multiple events across the year. Then you have your one-off invitationals where seeding is taken from online leagues and whatnot.

It’s much easier to build hype over those kinds of events, which are just three best-of-sixteens as opposed to a pro league, which was 96 games – a ludicrous number. It’s actually surprising that PUBG Europe League came down to such exciting finishes time and time again because, if you would look at it on paper, you’d think “How many watch hours have we got to watch to see the same result where FaZe Clan or Team Liquid is just going to come out on top?”

“I would love to get back to a spot where we have FACEIT, ESL, DreamHack, and GLL hosting third-party events again.”

ESI: How do you think this year will go and which tournament organisers are you looking at the most to host the best events?

I would love to get back to a spot where we have FACEIT, ESL, DreamHack, and GLL hosting third-party events again. That would be the best case scenario coming out of what’s happened in the last 12 months. The probability of that happening or do you think you’d see, so it’s like too late for these big tos to come in now and start [inaudible]

Whether or not that happens, I believe depends on the performance of the first few events in 2020. If a product is produced again where FACEIT, for example, would look at it and go “We’re still interested in this game, we still want it to be successful.” But, if in the first quarter of this year, there are a couple of events that don’t have that ‘wow factor’ that esports needs, then I think we’re probably going to be in trouble.

NPL OGN Studios
Photo credit: OGN

ESI: Do you think PUBG esports still has a bright future or has it been mishandled too much?

While yes, the peak opportunity has been passed by, I do still think it’s salvageable. There’s definitely a healthy future for PUBG esports and, again, I’d come back to how the first few events of this year go. I don’t think it’s beyond repair. If you look at 18 months ago when we hit 3,000,000 million concurrent users on Steam, I think that was the part the game was going viral. Everybody was interested in it all. There were a couple of big creators that blew up on Twitch just because they were playing PUBG. I think that buzz about the game was the opportunity to captivate all of that hype and that opportunity was let slip. That being said, I do think with what we’ve got left there is still the opportunity for a healthy future.

ESI: Will you be looking to continue to cast PUBG this year?

Yes, with the announcement going forward about PUBG esports, I am looking to still work with any of the third-party tournament organisers that want to get involved with PUBG and am heavily interested in working with PUBG Corp. for the major circuit as well.

Subscribe to ESI on YouTube