It’s round three of our caster interviews and we had the absolute pleasure to sit down with Joey “Jorby” Ahrens to talk about Rocket League, RLCS, RLRS, and life in general. Currently a caster for Rocket League‘s second division, the Rival Series, Jorby has recently taken part in major events like ELEAGUE, DreamHack Leipzig, and Collegiate Rocket League. We’ve embedded an audio version of the interview below for those who prefer to listen!
What a day. Leipzig was such an awesome weekend. Great games & amazing people. 2019 will be exciting for sure! #DHProCircuit
— Joey Ahrens (@JorbyPls) February 17, 2019
Daily Esports: Thanks for taking the time to talk with me, Jorby. You were one of the lucky few to cast DreamHack. How have you been doing since then? Because that was pretty intense.
Joey “Jorby” Ahrens: Yeah, DreamHack was really intense. It was actually my first time I was ever in Germany, so that was a fun experience. But since then it hasn’t really slowed down for me. I had Collegiate Rocket League, which we just wrapped up yesterday. Now gearing up for this season for RLCS and Rival Series. So I’m excited, I’m busy, and that’s nice.
How did it feel when you were invited as a caster for DreamHack, and how did that process go?
It’s crazy. When the DreamHack Pro Circuit was announced I had never done a DreamHack, and that was still on my list of events that I really wanted to do. And I’d never been to Germany; I really haven’t spent a lot of time outside of the US, so it was definitely an event I really wanted to get. When I got news that they wanted me on the show and there were only four casters, it was pretty mind-blowing, considering where I came from before then. To be able to get that event with the caliber of talent, it was an honor to be on that talent team.
We’ll get to some more Rocket League esports talk in a bit, let’s shift the focus to you. How did you get into casting and what has your journey looked like so far?
Rocket League came out and me and my buddy Chris didn’t play anything else. Every single time I got home, it was boot up Rocket League, play Rocket League for about six hours, go to bed, go to work, think about Rocket League all day, and then go back and play.
I got an email from smash.gg saying there’s a Rocket League tournament on and if I’d want to sign up. I signed up with Chris. It was for a community organization previously known as Ghostboosters, now known as Boost Legacy. And on their Discord they had an announcement page that said they were looking for shoutcasters. At this time, RLCPL [Rocket League Central Pro League] was already a thing and I’d been watching that as well. I remember listening to the casts and thinking like, ‘Man, I would really love to do something like that.’
It’s not the first time that I thought I wanted to be a commentator. Hockey is my favorite sport and I grew up listening to radio hockey commentators. I always thought it’d be the coolest thing in the world to do that. So when I actually had this opportunity, my friend Chris goes, ‘Dude, just reach out and ask. Why not?’
I didn’t imagine it would blow up into what it is now.
That leads into my next question. You said you liked hockey and being a commentator, so did you see something like this coming at all when you were younger?
It’s funny. I grew up my whole life playing video games and had my parents tell me that video games are never going to get me anywhere in life, and that I need to pay attention more in school. And now I have the last laugh on my parents. [laughs]
When I was a kid there were a lot of different routes I wanted to take with my life, and commentating just seemed like one of those jobs that cool people got and the only way you got them was if your dad was a commentator or something like that. Like, how do you even get started in something like that?
What did you study? You said you were working in IT?
I was studying computer science and I went to college for a little bit for computer programming, but while I was in college I also had a full-time job working in IT. Eventually I became a junior networking engineer back in 2015/2016. It was going in a good direction, I’m really passionate about computers… but I’m more passionate about video games.
Would you not consider to even apply at Psyonix?
It never really occurred to me to apply at Psyonix. I had hopes of being a game developer and it’s a big reason why I studied so much programming. And I made a couple of little games as well, and back when I lived in Raleigh I spent a lot of time going to a lot of the developer meetups that Epic Games would put together. They had a really good community base for local developers, and it was a really great place to network and get to know some devs. But it never really occurred to me to just apply to Psyonix for one of my favorite games.
It was certainly a route I was going down, but it didn’t pan out in the end and I learned that game development probably wasn’t something for me.
How has being a caster changed your day-to-day life?
Well, I don’t have a day job anymore. That’s recent for me. My day-to-day changed in a very significant way. I’m still trying to find my way through the freelancing world. It’s much different to [the nine-to-five world I’m used to]. Right now a lot of my time is — I wake up, I play Rocket League. [Laughs] You can ask my girlfriend. I wake up, she gets up after me, and I’m in here grinding Rocket League. I’m always keeping close tabs on the esports scene and whether there’s roster moves, if I’m close to an event; I’ll be watching any replays that are available to get an idea of how teams are playing. So my day-to-day is just a lot of free time and I’ve been spending some of that to hone my casting skills.
And one thing I’ve been taking more of a dive in, and I haven’t taken an official class in yet, is speech. I’ve been [trying to enhance] my vocabulary, how I speak, and how I deliver things.
So this is free time, but it’s kind of like your job, too. So what do you do when you have some time for yourself?
When I want to relax I’m playing games. It’s funny because you think if you play enough, you’ll eventually get sick of it and you want to find a new hobby. It’s just not the case for me. I’m always looking for a new fix. Right now, it’s Satisfactory that just came out. I’m a huge Factorio fan, so Satisfactory just came out and I’ve been playing that nonstop. I love builder games and games that require organizations and building things up. Colony simulators are my alley too. Those specifically are extremely relaxing when I don’t want a competitive atmosphere.
Do you have anything exciting coming up this year that’s non-Rocket League or esports-related? Like a holiday, or a concert, or a cool event? Something you as a person are excited about?
Right now I don’t think there’s much in non-esports-related things. One thing I definitely want to do more of this year is I need to go to more metal shows. I’m a huge metalhead and it’s been years since I’ve been to a metal show. It’s been over two years; I think the last band I saw live was August Burns Red. That was back when I lived on the east coast. There’s a lot of metal bands out here in southern California and I need to start going to those. [Music is] my other big passion and metal is closest to my heart.
Alright, lightning round time. You know how this goes, right? Basic questions, basic answers. Favorite food?
Favorite game of all time? (Rocket League doesn’t count.)
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.
Favorite holiday destination?
Oh, that’s on my list, I really want to go there. Favorite book, if any?
You’re killing me with these. I’m gonna go with recency bias. Stormlight Archive.
Oh my, now it’s both you and James who said that and I like you.
It’s so good!
I love Brandon Sanderson. Don’t get me started because if I start talking I don’t stop, so let’s move on. [both laugh] As of this interview you’re a caster for the RLRS, but there’s a vacancy for RLCS league play. Would that be your ultimate goal right now?
My ultimate goal since I got my first paid gig ever at PAX East 2017 has been to make it to the RLCS. That’s the endgame for me. I’ll continue to grind until I realize that dream. And I’ll continue to grind after that too. It doesn’t end with the RLCS, but the RLCS is the big show. The RLCS is the peak of everything that I’ve worked on for two years. So if I get there it’s a huge accomplishment, but at the same time there’s still so much work to do past the RLCS for me as a commentator. It’s not the true endgame, but it’s the culmination of what I’ve worked for in the last two years.
Who do you think are the favorites for making LAN in each region as it stands?
You gotta go with the bigwigs [Cloud9] and NRG in North America. If Vitality can continue to look the way they did after [DreamHack] Leipzig, I believe in this Vitality team. I think they’re gonna make waves and they’ll be a strong team in season seven. So my two teams per region are NRG and C9, and then Dignitas and Vitality. Yukeo is finally getting into his own and you’re never gonna one-to-one replace Kaydop, but Yukeo brings a different dynamic to Dignitas that will still keep them on top.
Oceania? You gotta go with [Team Icon]. I’ll admit I’m less versed in OCE, especially in the pre-season, but [Team Icon] and the Chiefs. I know there are some up-and-coming teams in Oceania that people have been talking about, but you really have to see them perform well and get to RLCS LAN for me to really pick anyone other than those two.
RLRS qualifications are still ongoing, but are there any teams that you already think will make top 2 or are good enough to challenge for an RLCS spot?
That’s tough. If you look at the teams that already promoted, I think Bread [and Savage] are probably the only ones that will prove they will belong in the RLCS. I would’ve said the same about Triple Trouble before they lost Speed. I think Speed’s loss is definitely seen for Triple Trouble. But I think it remains to be seen for that team.
As far as the Rival Series… Right now North America is hard to say because there’s too many spots open, and I think that bodes well for that region. And looking at a lot of the teams, it’s really anyone’s game. It depends on how the play-ins go. Afterthought is obviously a big name that’s on everybody’s radar. They haven’t necessarily been that consistent, but you can say that for almost every single team that has a legitimate shot of making it into the Rival Series.
In Europe, you definitely gotta look at CompLexity. With Flakes, that team is too good to not get a top two spot. But if previous seasons are any indicator, it’s that we don’t know what’s gonna happen in that region. Everyone is gonna beat the snot out of each other. And whoever is left to pick up the pieces will be limping to the promotion tournament and then somehow take on the 7th/8th teams [of RLCS]. Europe is just one big battle royale arena where it feels like it’s random sometimes.
There’s been debate on that RLRS is more demotivating for RLCS players than a safety net. What are your thoughts on that matter?
You have to put yourself into an RLCS veteran’s shoes, where you’re fighting for a $1M dollar prize pool. With an organization that’s backing you. And then you end up flailing out. I think the issue is less with the players than it is with the orgs. The organizations in Rocket League see the Rival Series as much higher risk.[In the] Rival Series there are four spots that you’re guaranteed to come back and the bottom four are out. In a seven-match season, that’s extremely high-risk for an organization to back players on. And when you’re feeling that pressure, that definitely affects your mindset. It’s part of the reasons why you see players take sub-spots.
The safety net isn’t the Rival Series, [but] it’s the organizations that pay the players. And if the organizations aren’t willing to stick it out with the players, then players aren’t gonna want to stick it out in the Rival Series. So to fall out of that you can understand why pros scramble for a sub spot or try to replace a team trying to retool in the RLCS.
What could be changed in the RLCS and RLRS format to solve some of these issues?
My solution, and I’ve been touting this for a while, is you expand the Rival Series to 10 teams. You then secure six spots in the Rival Series. You can then give two more teams security to the next season. With those last four spots that’s where, in my perfect world, and where it seems Psyonix might be heading — and I hope that they’re heading — is using the Renegade Cups as our play-in system to get into the Rival Series.
So you have the Renegade Cup Finals, and if they continue with the format that they have, the top four teams that make it to the final and get to those semi-final matches — those are your Rival Series teams.
I think we can definitely expand the Rival Series to 10 teams and use the Renegade Cup as our feeder system. The Renegade Cup can be what the Rival Series currently is where you have all of your teams; they flood into the Renegade Cup system. This gives you a clear stepping stone path to pro. And it gives you security in the Rival Series to loop it back, which will increase organizations’ confidence in sticking with a team after they relegate, because the risk of dropping out of the Rival Series is lessened with six spots instead of four.
What do you think Psyonix’s main priority should be in order to grow the esport?
Having a healthy ecosystem is the most important step forward. We kind of already see it develop. The DreamHack Pro Circuit is a great example of that, announcing all four at the beginning of the year. I again go back to linking the Renegade Cup with the Rival Series. If you generate a true path-to-pro system, if the fundamentals of your property are rock solid and you have a place at the bottom where you’re developing new talent, then you will consistently make everything else above it better.
If your ecosystem is solid from the Renegade Cup to the Rival Series to the RLCS to a plethora of third party events in the off-seasons, I think that is the most important thing for Psyonix to focus on. And I think they are doing that.
If you could change one thing about the RLCS, what would that be?
One step forward that would be really cool… I’d like to see regional championships move to LAN. Off the top of my head if I had to change one thing. Really beefing up the meaning of the regional championship and really giving it that extra oomph that it needs, heading into Worlds.