Spragels Interview: How The Pokemon Unite Youtuber Speedran His Way To Casting The World Championships
A year ago, comedian Jake “Spragels” Sprague had just started experimenting with his gaming YouTube channel. Today, not only has he become one of the biggest Pokemon Unite content creators, but he also casted the $500k Unite tournament at this past weekend’s Pokemon World Championships. I sat down with Spragels at the conclusion of the Unite Grand Finals to find out how he managed to achieve so much so quickly, and what it was like to provide commentary for this historic Pokemon Unite tournament.
TheGamer: I'd like to start by tracing your journey here by starting back before the game came out. Your channel was relatively new, and you were kind of experimenting with different kinds of content, playing different games, and doing sketches. Were you looking for a game to just pour all your energy into?
Spragels: No, I had no idea how content creation in this sense would exactly work. I didn't know what would be popular on YouTube or anything like that. I was just like many people, at home. I had done live comedy for years, so I performed around Los Angeles, and that was all shut down, everything was shut down. I've loved games forever, so I just started putting some energy into games, having fun with it and seeing where it went.
I was making content for a few different games and I was so excited about Pokemon Unite, which is the game that I basically cover exclusively now. I've always loved Pokemon and I'm a huge MOBA player. So I've played all of the other big MOBAs, big into League of Legends, big into Smite, Heroes of the Storm, all that. I thought [Unite] would just be so cool. The game came out and I just started making a ton of videos on it. I got very fortunate because there weren't a lot of people in that space. And then all of a sudden, I'm one of the people who makes a lot of videos for Unite.
TG: I remember when they announced that the Championship Series was gonna be here at Worlds and right away you were like “I going to be casting,” like you manifested it.
Spragels: I did a little bit. I'll be honest, it was more of a joke than anything. It wasn't really like I sat down in the mirror and I said, “I'm going to London. This is how it is happening.” It's more like I want to do this, this would be really fun. I don't know if it had anything to do with it, but I made a very silly video…
TG: I was gonna ask about that, do you think The Pokemon Company saw it?
Spragels: I have no idea. Probably hope they didn't [laughing]. I made a really silly video. My car broke down one day, and I was walking from my house to this office that I was going to. And on my way, I was pretending to cast the things that I saw.
So I would cast a street sign and traffic cone and a bird or something like that. And it was dumb and fortunately, people liked it and shared it around and maybe that had something to do with it, and, boy, if it did, that is a really weird way to choose who would cast a tournament.
TG: I don’t think anybody else has ever gotten into casting that way.
Spragels: No, I don't think so. I think a lot of people would have said, “I don't know if this makes sense.”
TG: Were you interested in casting before?
Spragels: Absolutely. When the game first came out, I remember there was a tournament. I didn't know what the tournament scene was gonna look like, or what the professional scene was gonna look like, and I heard about this team, at the time, I believe they might have been called Love Dees, and then they were later called TTV. And then later became a very big team in North America called Gaming Gladiators. And I just heard about this tournament, everyone was talking like, “Oh this team is so good, this team is so good.”
I watched a match from the tournament and I was just kind of explaining to my audience on YouTube what was happening. Through that I was kind of casting a little bit and giving play-by-play on the match, but at the same time breaking down what was happening.
A lot of my content is geared towards helping newer players, and even all the way to people who are really good at the game, understand what's going on, why great players do what they do, and how to play better, stuff like that. So I did that for one of their tournaments really early on, and that video happened to kind of blow up a little bit, too. You never know what's gonna get big on YouTube. It was just me talking over a single match of Pokemon Unite and it did pretty well. After that for a little while I would just record a match from a top player every couple days and put one out. So I was doing a lot of spectating real top players and casting through that.
TG: And were you reaching out to get into official casting or did The Pokemon Company come to you?
Spragels: I really wish that I was the one that reached out. I really wish that I had a better plan and I made a lot of things happen. But no, when the championship series started, they reached out to me to see if I'd be interested in possibly casting their first championship thing in February. I said, "Yeah, I'd love to," and I got on that first broadcast.
TG: In terms of official tournaments, you’ve casted what? Less than a dozen?
Spragels: Yeah, we did February, March, April, Aeos is what they called it. Then May, so like what? Five or six and then Worlds?
TG: How did you develop your casting voice and your stage presence so quickly?
Spragels: I don't think things are that hard. I think people overcomplicate a lot of stuff, they worry about a lot of things. I really enjoy talking. I especially enjoy talking about this game. I've seen some broadcasts from other games. I've watched eSports and things like that and I thought "Yeah, we can do that. We can talk about Pokemon Unite." You're there with another person. You're watching exciting plays, you're telling the audience what's going on with it. All that felt pretty easy. I've been a performer for a long time, improv comedy specifically. So it's not unusual for me to just roll with whatever is going on.
And I've cast with people, like Jeff Hoagland, who kind of fall into more of the color commentary role, breaking it down, analyzing. I've cast with Doobsnax, he falls into the play-by-play section. I feel like a bit of a chameleon, I'll do whatever you need me to do. I'm happy to talk about the game right now. I love talking about the story of what's happening.
We have these 10 minute matches and if there's no story behind it, if there's no reason for people to be excited, it's just Greninja running into Trevenant and KO’ing them. What does it all mean? So right now I think a lot about, "What is the story of this? What does this mean for this team? What does this mean for this region? What does this mean for this player? What are they used to? Is this the best Snorlax player in the world?" That's what I'm thinking about all the time when I'm casting right now. What I've learned as I've been going is I really love telling the story of what's happening inside these matches.
TG: You and Doobsnax have such a great dynamic. Was that really natural between you guys?
Spragels: Yeah, he is just an absolute beast with play-by-plays. He's so good and he’s got all these phrases. It's just incredible. He's like, “Greninja coming out and getting the KO, Surf's up!” I just feel like I get to tell a story of what's happening inside these matches. When there's big moments, I get to feed off that energy, I get to put things in context and we have a little bit of a flow.
I feel like it's a song. This is how I think about it in my head. You're starting a verse. And then we have these big moments, where it's like, this is our chorus, I feed it to Doobsnax for a big play-by-play and then come back, land it down again for a verse, feed it in for another big chorus. Pokemon Unite is set up in such a way that there's always an exciting finish, this big fight at Zapdos, and that feels like our big crescendo moment. We have the teams gathering, we're setting the stakes, all the sudden, everyone's waiting, Boom! A big move comes in. You throw to Doobsnax. He's going through the play-by-play. Here we go. Here's the big fight, and then all the sudden BOOM, the big thing happens in the fight. There it is! BLVKHVND takes the Zapdos! It feels like we have a little bit of a song there. You go chorus, verse, chorus, verse, and a big moment right at the end and then we bring it all home.
TG: People at home may have caught a little moment where you and Doobsnax were standing up when they cut to you, but you guys were casting the whole day standing. Is that just about the energy?
Spragels: I think so. Yeah. As soon as we got the monitors, Kirk (Doobsnax) and I, we looked at each other and we were going, “We're standing, We're standing for this whole thing.” The energy is just great. You'll notice it, too, in other casters from other regions. Japan was next to us and then a little ways [past] that was Korea. And they also love to get animated, they're not standing the whole time but when big moments were happening from Japan, you would see him jumping around with excitement, too.
I feel like there's an energy to that and unlike maybe something like TCG, which is more deliberate with big moments. Pokemon Unite is a lot of action So it feels like it's good to be up in that action. Yeah, there's an energy to it. I love standing while casting.
TG: What are you most looking forward to for the future of Unite?
Spragels: There are so many great things . I just think continuing to bring more and more things that people in the Pokemon world are excited for, so more people get to check this game out. This is gonna be a lot of people's first Team Battler, and I think bringing more people's favorite Pokemon into it is gonna get more people excited, getting more regions into the game is gonna get more and more excitement around it. And then continuing to do things like big tournaments. I just think it's gonna be really amazing.
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