We had the absolute privilege of sitting down with the fantastic Eefje “Sjokz” Depoortere, one of the most recognizable names in esports. Sjokz has already built an incredible career as a host, reporter and commentator in the League of Legends and CSGO scenes. We spoke to her about life, personal interests, football, teaching, Riot Games, and the paths she took to becoming a caster. We also discussed how she felt about people comparing her to fellow League of Legends reporter, Ovilee May, and which teams she thinks are going to win the Spring Split in Europe and NA. Finally, she gave us her thoughts on whether a Western team can finally take the World Championships this year!
Eefje is currently working with Riot Games on their European League of Legends Championship Series (LEC) broadcast and just hosted a BLAST Pro Series Event for CSGO in Brazil. She goes by the nickname “Sjokz” (pronounced Shocks), a name she developed back when she was competing in Unreal Tournament.
Eefje “Sjokz” Depoortere: It’s a bit vague. The first thing I remember, we had this hand-me-down Sega, and there was a game… it was kind of like a knock-off Mario game. But since I was so young, I never remembered what it was called (laughs). I remember I spent hours and hours and hours trying to beat it, which I didn’t. After I started playing games, you could just Google everything when you were stuck, but that wasn’t the case in the beginning.
I think the first thing that I very much remember is Tomb Raider 3. I really fell in love with Lara Croft and with that game. I bought a physical walkthrough book and I would just be in the book whenever I was stuck on a level (laughs).
Me, neither! I wonder if I still have it.
That was Unreal Tournament 1999, which is now… 20 years ago. Oh my god (laughter). Yeah, that’s really the first game. Tomb Raider was against the computer and everything else I played was against the computer. That was the first game I played on the internet against living people!
I was just playing pugs constantly, on public servers constantly. I just kinda rolled in and I was like, yeah! I’m f***ing good at this game! Let’s go! (laughter)
Mostly they were two separate eras. I was playing Unreal Tournament from when I was 14 until I went to college when I was 18. So about four years. When I went to college or university, I didn’t play at all anymore because there wasn’t decent internet in the student homes and I didn’t have a PC. I just had a PlayStation 2, so I played some Tomb Raider games. I don’t think it was ever really a conscious choice to go from playing to commentating because there were a good six years in between.
I actually wanted to be a sports writer because I love football and tennis and all that. After university, I started playing League of Legends. I discovered that people were writing articles about it and there was a competitive scene. So at that moment I thought, I just want to write articles about League.
I feel like it’s kind of similar to poker. There was this time when I was in university where poker was just insane. It was everywhere all of a sudden. We would always play, and all my friends would play all of a sudden, and they’d watch Daniel Negreanu and all that. I feel that with League it was kind of similar because when League was in its third year it just exploded and all of a sudden everyone was playing it, but it still wasn’t mainstream, you know what I mean? I figured it’s easier to write about this than it is to write about traditional sports, because how the hell am I going to break into that world? So that’s what I started doing.
Of course, there were esports journalists, but I think it really intensified around that time. I was one of the people who took a chance and I got lucky, I feel.
Uhh… Yes? (laughs)
I think it’s one of those things where, when you love your team, you always think, “Oh no, they’re gonna fail!” But statistically, there’s no way in hell we can lose that game, right? But then, in the World Cup most recently, we also almost lost to Japan. Which is also not a team we should be losing to. So, football is really volatile, I feel like.
No matter how sure you are of your work or of yourself, I think freelance is always an extremely risky thing because you basically depend on yourself now. You no longer have that security and it’s all up to you. So in that sense of the word, yes it was risky.
But I’d also been working for companies for seven years. I worked for ESL for a couple of years and then I worked with Riot for four years. I feel like it was the right time to go freelance. With Riot’s calendar being so full, really all I did was these events. I could never plan anything for those seven years.
We start on the tenth of January and the season goes until the middle of May. Then you have one week off and then it’s MSI, so you’re in another country for six weeks. Then you have one week off and then you start planning for the summer split (laughs). And then you have one week off and then Worlds starts, and it’s like seven weeks! When you come back you think you have downtime, but you’re back in the office because we’re prepping for next year already. Then we go to All-Stars and then it’s Christmas!
As you can imagine, seven years of that is a lot. I was lucky enough that I got to do everything; Riot sent me everywhere. It’s very competitive within Riot and I was lucky that I got to go everywhere all the time. I’m super thankful for that. But I also felt, like you said, that I was at a point where my reputation, my social following, and my pedigree in the industry was at a level where it would be a calculated risk to go freelance.
I built up a lot of social following and within Riot there are not that many opportunities to monetize any of that because you’re just working on League all the time. I just wanted to be a bit more in control of what I wanted to work for, if I wanted to have a personal brand, if I wanted to take more days off — which, spoiler, hasn’t been the case (laughter).
From the get-go, though, I spoke about my plans with Riot at length. The European office just really worked with me and said “Hey, we want to work with you,” and I said, “Well, I want to work with you guys!” So that made it all very easy because I knew I would still have my place in the League broadcast.
I naturally always watched CS because I think it’s just a really, really good esport. I really felt like that was a game, because I watched so much, that I had some knowledge in, that I would love to try and host something. So I’m super happy that BLAST gave me the opportunity to do so. Because that was a really big goal I set for myself.
I didn’t really make a plan. My only real goal was to break into another esport and be well-received by the community to the point where I’d get invited more. Half of that is over. I got one and I did relatively well, so now I just want to do a couple more, to see.
People always ask me, what after? I used to think maybe I do want to go back to football or whatever, but I don’t anymore. Esports is so big, and so cool, and so awesome. I’m really happy where I am, to be honest.
I also want to do some things I know nothing about. Like hosting conferences about topics that I have no clue about, so I can study up and learn. I think my world view has been a bit limited inside Riot. It’s like it’s always the same and everything’s perfect and you don’t really see other productions or meet other people. I was missing that.
Sometimes people ask me, “Oh, don’t you have to play all the time to be good?” I think as a host it’s kinda different. I know there are color commentators, like Montecristo, who have said, “Oh I don’t play that much at all.” You don’t really need to, right? Because you watch so much and you keep into it.
I still think it’s important to play whenever you can, but when I was working full-time and I was watching League constantly, sometimes I would get home after an event and I was like “The last thing I want to do is play League of Legends,” (laughs). So I would just play open-world adventure games like Far Cry or Tomb Raider, something that I also didn’t have to interact with anyone with.
But now I’ve been playing a lot of Apex Legends, actually.
Yeah, I loved Unreal Tournament, so I’ve always been looking for a game that I liked in that regard. And CS I’m really bad at, even though I do have to play a bit more. Fortnite, I played really intensely for a while but it didn’t keep my interest. Overwatch, same deal. But this game (Apex) is so much fun and I’m not tired of it yet, so that’s mostly what I’m playing nowadays.
No. (laughter) I’m actually so bad. I don’t know how I ever got good in Unreal. I think it was just being younger and you have so much time to practice or to play. That must have been it, because I’m definitely not a natural-born aim goddess or anything.
I actually didn’t watch all of them. I watched the ones with Angelina Jolie and I thought they were really cool because she moved the way she did in the game, which wasn’t very smooth actually. I really liked that. There’s a new one with Alicia Vikander, but I didn’t see that one.
I’m really heavily into TV shows more because I don’t have the patience to sit still for a movie most of the time. You know how it is with phones and stuff? I have to force myself to not be on my phone. I have to put it away somewhere because otherwise, I will miss half of the movie.
The top three is cemented, but what is number one changes by the time I watch it again. For now, it’s The Wire #1, Mad Men #2, and Sopranos #3. I haven’t watched The Sopranos in like four years, so if I watch it again I will probably put it back at number one. I really rewatch stuff very, very often.
I also started watching Bojack Horseman two months ago and I rinsed it. It’s so funny. I usually don’t watch cartoons, and that’s like a sin in the video game world, because everyone watches anime, but I don’t (laughs). I mean, I’ve watched some of it, but there’s just so much good stuff out there.
It’s a bit unfair, because it’s like, “Oh it’s the other girl, so the paths are similar!,” when I have similar roots to a lot of hosts in esports and in League. But I always get compared to Ovilee, or rather Ovilee always gets compared to me. Which I actually think is a bit unfair.
But I can definitely see it. I don’t know, it’s weird because when I started, they needed people to do everything. I was interviewing and sometimes I was hosting and then I was back. But now there are so many people. It might actually be better because then she can specialize in something she wants. I kind of had to do a lot of things out of necessity because there just weren’t enough people.
But now I think she’s doing really, really good at interviews and I talk to her very often. I think it’s tricky there because they have Dash who’s such a good host as well, but she’s expressed an interest in wanting to learn all those things. I really think she can do anything she wants. I think she’s great. And we get along really well, as well. We spent a lot of time in Korea and I kind of take her under my wing. you know? I’m getting old so she can be my little sister (laughs).
Yeah, I hated when Ovilee started out and people were like “Oh, it’s NA Sjokz, it’s NA Sjokz!” She doesn’t care, but I was like, guys, no, it’s Ovilee! She doesn’t have to be a copy of me. She’s completely different and awesome in her own way. Now people get that; it didn’t take long because she is awesome.
And I think people try and make women more catty against each other than we are most of the time. I wouldn’t say I wasn’t threatened, because you’re always threatened if someone comes in and does a similar job to you. But in the same vein, I was like, whoever’s the best will get the positions or the jobs, so I might as well help her out. And she helped me out.
But people from the outside are always like, “OH MY GOD! Are you scared?!” We’re professionals. You just suck it up and you work hard (laughs).
We reached out to Ovilee on her thoughts about the comparisons to Sjokz:
Ovilee May: I’ve looked up to her and viewed her as a role model since high school, when I first started watching League. I actually used to say that I wanted to be the NA version of Sjokz, which is why I wasn’t offended at all when people started calling me NA Sjokz. I just felt undeserving of that nickname because I was still so new.
It’s kind of crazy. In traditional sports, it doesn’t happen. Commentators are one-game commentators. An NFL commentator is not going to go do hockey. I think that’s what’s different about esports, but also kind of cool.
I thought so. I thought that would be the case. Turns out, I’m a pretty sensible person to start with. When you work for Riot it’s like when you work for or represent any company. There are limits. We also receive media training because it’s just better for anyone who works for a company.
But I don’t think I would have ever crossed the line regardless. They don’t really care if I call out a fan if they’re being dicks to me. That’s not really an issue. But I think my ideas of what to do on social media are pretty much the same as Riot’s. There are certain things I’m not going to talk about on a public forum. There’s a certain way that I present myself. There are things that are in my private sphere. I don’t think the difference is that big.
But I think before I would think twice before saying something about different games. That is, of course, completely gone. Before I wouldn’t tweet about watching a CS stream whilst a Riot broadcast is on because I just thought that was bad-mannered. Now that’s different. But that’s maybe the only thing. I never thought there were things I wanted to say that I couldn’t just because I was part of Riot.
“I need to travel. I need to do esports. I don’t want to settle down.”
I don’t think so. The year that I wasn’t fully employed when I was just writing articles and doing interviews, I had to go to the government office every two weeks to explain why I didn’t get a real job.
They were like, “You have two university degrees, why are you writing about this esports thing?”
And I was like, “Because I want to do it, and I believe in it, and it’s growing, and I’m going to succeed!”
“We don’t care. You have to take a normal job. A recognized job, ASAP.”
The same with my parents. They said sure you can do this thing for a little bit, but then put your feet back on Earth and get yourself a real job. It was definitely not easy.
I think it’s easier now because of Fortnite. Fortnite exploded so heavily and was on TV everywhere that you have such an easy reference point now. I’m really thankful to Fortnite and Ninja for that because they made it so much easier. Everyone now knows Fortnite, so you can just say “Have you heard of this? Well, it’s similar.”
I usually make the analogy that it’s like any sports league. There are regional leagues, they have point systems for wins, they play all their opponents. Whoever is number one or two, they play for a trophy and the best representatives of each region go to the World Championship. Then I usually say, “They can win up to like $3 million dollars,” and they’re like “Oh, yeah, okay that’s great.” (laughs)
I have a Master’s in History and a Master’s in Journalism and a Teacher’s degree.
It’s for never (laughter). I did it because I did not know what to do with my life. After journalism it was like, I have to go out and get a job as a reporter. Well, that’s scary, what else can I do? Oh, okay, a teaching degree. Which was actually really good. I mean, everything I studied was really useful, but it doesn’t mean that it leads to a job per se.
I remember doing these internships to get the teaching degree and I was like, I do not want to step into this classroom and have that be my life until I’m 70. And all due respect for people that can do that; I’ve met some wonderful teachers and they’ve changed many lives. But I just thought this isn’t for me. I need to travel. I need to do esports. I don’t want to settle down.
God, it’s so hard. I think my heart says it’s Fnatic or Origen, but my mind says G2 Esports (laughs). I feel like it would actually be a really nice story if G2 won. Fnatic had their back-to-back titles last year, so they’re good for a while. G2 also has a lot of titles, but it would be nice if they came back. Splyce is like a complete underdog. I think it would be very tough for them but that would be an insane underdog story. And Origen is part of EU history. I think we got really lucky with the playoffs. Whoever wins, it’s going to be insane.
“I think Team Liquid is going to smash again.”
Yeah, they did. Caps, who was their mid-laner, is widely regarded as the best player to have ever played and to ever play in Europe. They lost him! So yeah, naturally there’s going to be an adjustment period.
Imagine if before, you were playing at your best but you only had to do 60% because he would carry the other 40%. Now it’s different. Now I think they all have to carry [20%]. And that took a while.
I think Team Liquid is just going to smash again. They’re a fantastic team.
Well, if you’d ask me last year I’d have said probably not. Then Fnatic played the final. If we go on previous years, logically, it should be closer than ever.
And I’m not trying to BM or whatever, but Europe has just done more when it comes to Worlds than North America, historically. I always think that’s weird. Teams like Team Liquid always look so incredibly good and then they bomb out and we don’t know why and Cloud9 all of a sudden plays the semifinal.
It’s really weird because you never know how a team is going to evolve and stand up to everything around them during that tournament, which is so intense. There’s enormous stress. You’re in a different country most likely, different diet, different everything, hotel rooms, constant practice for a whole year at that point, and I think it’s who withstands all that the best, which is why it’s so hard to predict.
We’d like to express our most heartfelt gratitude to Sjokz for taking the time to sit with us and discuss so many interesting topics. She was an absolute pleasure to work with and gave incredibly thoughtful answers!
Make sure to check out all of her social channels and tune in to her work on the League of Legends and CSGO broadcasts.