22nd Nov 2018 by Cam Brierley

Updated 25th Apr 2019

Esports Career Interviews - Writing with Chris Marsh

Chris Marsh is one of the directors of the coverage and content website Dexerto.com, and spoke to us about writing in esports. We talked about his journey into his current position, what skills a writer needs and tips he had for anyone looking to work in the sector.

In the next installment of our interview series where we speak to prominent professionals around the different sectors of esports, we delve into the intricacies of writing with a director from one of esports’ largest content outlets: Dexerto.com.

Chris Marsh is one of the co-founders and directors of Dexerto, a news outlet that covers esports news and lifestyle content.

His day-to-day is quite varied and sees him working with administrative duties, legal work, producing graphics and contributing his writing to Dexerto’s output. Another duty of his that makes him great to talk to about writing is that he conducts interviews for Dexerto at esports events, which we’re sure is every writers dream!

The following interview was originally recorded as an audio interview.

Chris’ journey from young gamer to co-founding Dexerto

Already a common trend in this interview series, Chris was gaming from a young age. Through a slogan competition they entered, Chris’ parents won a Sega Megadrive (also called the Sega Genesis) which served as his introduction to gaming.

At around age 14 Chris had his first gaming experience that could be somewhat likened to esports today through Rainbow Six 3, a title belonging to the same series of Rainbow Six Siege. Whilst playing with his friends, somebody joined the same server as Chris and his group and floated the idea of playing against their team.

“He asked us to sign up to this website, Team Compete. We did, got absolutely piped, but slowly over time we improved as a team and stuck at it.”

When we asked about how Chris juggled playing Rainbow Six and keeping up with school, he admitted that his studies had sometimes sat second to gaming. “To be honest, throughout my education I would quite often put gaming above school which was obviously detrimental to my studies, but probably inevitably led me to where I am today.”

“I’d play late at night quite often. At college I remember there was a parents evening where the teacher said there were days where I was walking around like a zombie, just because I’d have gone to bed so late.”

“And then into University I’d started running a gaming team, started doing other stuff in the scene, and I sort of knew what I wanted to do beyond my degree. And so - I didn’t put my degree on the back-burner - but I didn’t give it as much attention as it deserved, and didn’t really get the classification of my degree that I really wanted.”

“But retrospectively that probably did me a favor because had I performed better in my accounting and finance degree, I might have had an easier route straight into accountancy. Whereas instead I kind of had to work around it which led me to where I am now, rather than being an accountant.”

When he was just 15 Chris set up his own team, named Team Win, which he jokingly remembers was ironically named at first.

This wasn’t the only team Chris would start, either. “I established my own organization with a couple of others called Imperial, which is still going now - they reformed as Imperial Esports.

“So I kind of originally founded that, back in the day, so I’d always have something on the side that I was doing alongside my studies, if not putting more priority on.”

Whilst we definitely can’t condone putting things ahead of your education, it definitely is smart to try and build up your experience and make connections through projects - or fully fledged esports teams in Chris’ case - in your spare time. Just make sure that it is spare time, and not eating into school work!

How gaming and esports has built up Chris’ skills

We wanted to find out whether the skills that he picked up while he was leading teams and running his own projects during school are still used by Chris today.

“You know what, this is going to sound weird, but I would attribute my level of English to gaming. At school I was decent at maths, science - but my English was always quite weak comparatively. And I don’t know why, it’s almost like I lagged behind. But then getting into doing forums —the early days of the forums were toxic at best. People don’t know toxicity if they weren’t around then because it was ugly - you didn’t dare make an English mistake because people would notice and you’d be hounded until the ends of the earth for missing out a semicolon.”

“As a result, it forced me to improve. And since then I’ve gone on to write for several publications. Before I got into Dexerto I’d written for the likes of Red Bull, the Metro (a British newspaper) and JD Sports and as a result of that my English has continued to improve. Certainly all of that I attribute to gaming.”

“There’s a lot of skills that the esports space has forced me to learn. I’m good with Photoshop, Premiere - they’re entirely down to gaming. A lot of the legal stuff that I know or that I’ve looked into I’ve learned as a result of needing to know it for my job. Even after sort of - not blowing my degree; I did come out of university as good an accountant as I should have been - but as time went on it was quickly apparent that I needed to be able to do those things that I should have learned at university.”

“Again, esports sort of forced me to do that, so I’d attribute almost all of my skills to gaming in some way.”

“When we first started Dexerto we looked at how we could trim money from our initial budgets and one of the ways was saving money on a graphic designer if one of us could do them in the short term. This resulted in me spending my evenings or sometime in the weekends learning how to use Photoshop. Only this week have we actually hired a dedicated graphics person, years down the line”

“I think developing your skills is something that everyone should do and I think it’s an underrated focus for too many people. Just try out new things. There’s no harm in being competent with the Adobe Suite, there’s no harm in being able to use Microsoft Office - these are things that are going to serve you well in life in general. And certainly I’d say to anyone to spend a bit of your free time - maybe watch less TV - and spend a bit more time dabbling with these kinds of things.”

Advice for people to improve in writing

We’d heard how using online forums had honed his English, and we wanted to know if there were any other resources Chris used to help drive his way into writing.

“If I was to advise people who are wanting to get into writing, I’d say read as much as possible, but in something that’s relative to you. Reading the works of Shakespeare might extend your vocabulary, but it’s not going to be applicable to what you’re doing. Whereas reading esports content websites will give you a flavor of how to deliver a narrative - whether it’s in short-form or longer prose. It’s improving your craft over time, seeing what other people are doing, figuring out how you can improve yourself. If there’s certain phrases you’re repeating try to cut that out.”

“One thing people do when they check their own work is they have a tendency to skim read it. I think because of my lesser English skills when I was younger, I’m not particularly good with quick reading which means I have a tendency when I’m reading something to almost read it aloud, but in my head. This means I’m a slow reader if I was to be given a book, but it means that I’ve got quite good attention to detail.”

“And so for anyone reading this who wants to improve and spot errors easier, it’s easier if you read something aloud, because if I was given something to read aloud and I read it word for word, if there was a word missing I would instantly notice it. Whereas if I was flicking through just quickly skimming it, you just overlook it. Your brain fills in the gaps for you.”

“And I think a lot of it is experience, you know. If you’re wanting to become somebody who creates written content and creates esports narratives, get out there and try it. Do it. Build up the experience. You don’t necessarily have to publish it on a website. Use it as something you can test yourself on - and certainly there’s a lot of websites that are willing to take a punt on people, us included.”

Advice to people applying for jobs in writing

Seeing as Chris partakes in the hiring of writers in Dexerto, we thought something super useful to hear would be what boosts a candidate’s application to the next level in his eyes as a hirer.

“Good English skills. This sounds quite brutal, but the standard of English is actually quite low in esports. There’s even people who’ve applied to us and have excellent experience, and I’ll read their work and I’ll think that it’s not good for somebody who’s doing this professionally. You know, it’s just sloppiness - maybe it’s missed words in sentences, maybe it’s the longest sentences you’ve ever read in your life.”

“As I said, the whole thing of reading it aloud I think is actually really useful. Say I’m discussing a writer with a colleague - when I’m reading it aloud and getting near the end of a sentence and you’re almost out of breath, you just think how they haven’t spotted that there isn’t a single punctuation mark in that. There’s not a comma, there’s not a semicolon, any of that - it’s just all one big wall of text and it should be obvious. If you’re doing this professionally you should know how, at the very least, to use basic grammar.”

“Keep it punchy. Make sure it’s correct, both factually and grammatically. From our perspective if we’re hiring someone and we’re looking over your work and have to correct it every time, it’s almost not worth having you. It’s quicker for me to write a piece of news from scratch than it is to edit somebody else’s, even if it’s 95% correct, because all of a sudden you’re switching and adding words and it no longer flows properly. So then you have to end up rewriting whole paragraphs and then it doesn’t necessarily sit with all the rest of the content and whatnot and, as a result, it ends up being too time-consuming for us. We want people who are, even if they’re not the finished product, they’re not a long way off, and so we don’t have to have too much involvement. They can take advice, they can learn, they can improve, and that’s essentially it really.”

“So punchy, correct, and flows well - they’re the key things. If you can learn to tell a story well in a short space of time then you’re the perfect candidate really.”

What a degree does for a writer’s application to Chris

Having the perspective of someone who plays a part in the hiring of writers, an area that so many people want to get into in esports, we wanted to hear what a degree does for an applicant in the eyes of Chris.

“Honestly, almost zero. I mean, going back to what I said earlier about my degree to give context, and this isn’t a point of pride it’s shame if anything, but at the time it just wasn’t my biggest priority. My final year I attended lectures twice in the first week, and then basically taught myself the whole syllabus in the last week running up to the exams. I came away with, you know, not the degree I wanted, but still a degree.”

“So really, it doesn’t mean much. Unless you’re going for a specialist area. You know, if somebody comes to us with a degree in history, we’re still going to ask for sample pieces of writing. If they can’t write then that degree just doesn’t count for anything. It’s what they submit to us and how they come over in the interview that’s ultimately going to be the decision maker and the degree really doesn’t count for a lot, at least from a content creation perspective. Some other roles that we look to fill and we are looking increasingly to fill new roles, some of them a university degree might be more handy.”

Thoughts on volunteer work

As it’s such a controversial topic, we wanted to hear Chris’ thoughts on volunteer work in the industry. To some it’s a good way to gain experience, but to others it’s a thankless task you should stay away from. Here’s what Chris said on the topic.

“So I’ve seen a few tweets about this, especially from people who are photographers, videographers and that kind of thing. A number of them that are already quite established have made pretty strong comments that you should not do voluntary work because your time is money.”

“And while I can see why they would say that, because from their perspective if you’re doing free work then an employer might pick you over them because it’s going to cost them nothing. From my perspective, I don’t think I would be where I am without doing some voluntary work, without grafting for not a lot to begin with. And volunteering helped me develop skills.”

“So you’ve got to decide what the trade-off is. If you’re a photographer who’s not really had much opportunity to shoot in low light, for example, it’s unlikely that you’re going to get paid work straight away. You’re going to have to go out there and get experience and the easiest way to do that is through voluntary work.”

“But there are companies out there that will take advantage of that. We’ve used people before as volunteers, but we always do it with the view that if they do well we’ll take them forward, help them where we can, begin to pay and that has been the case as the company has got bigger - we don’t take volunteers on anymore. We have used them at events and began to pay them, if they’ve been looking to move on to something more permanent with a different company we’ve helped them with that - put in a good word, spoken to our contacts in the industry, that kind of thing.”

“My opinion is, quite simply, yeah I think volunteer work is something that people should consider and as I’ve said we don’t take volunteers on anymore but a lot of people in the industry do. Be shrewd with who you’re volunteering with, make sure that you’ve actually got an action plan, and end goal. Is this voluntary work with this company going to lead me anywhere? And if it is, then why not take a punt if it’s going to help you develop skills and improve your resume?”

Great pointers on the controversial topic of volunteering in esports from Chris there that we agree with. There are companies who want volunteers whom they can take advantage of free labor from, but at the same time, as Chris points out, it can be positive.

Hopeful this interview has helped arm you to succeed in the field of writing in esports!

Follow Chris:

Twitter - https://twitter.com/DexertoChris

Follow Dexerto:

Twitter - https://twitter.com/Dexerto

Website - https://www.dexerto.com/

Image credits: Esports Awards