This is the first in a series of long-form interviews focused on platforming and celebrating the achievements of the women working in the Dota scene. Let us know who you'd like to see interviewed next on our Twitter!
Ruby: Hi Sheever! Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me today. To jump right into the questions, I think it's fair to say that your style of hosting is based on the incredible amount of research you do, and often you are praised for doing the most prep-work out of any DOTA talent for the events that you attend. Was this always the style that you wanted to have?
The first couple of times I hosted I didn’t do any prep-work. If you’re given the opportunity to do something new you always want to say yes, because if you say no you’re probably never going to get asked again. So you do it. At that point I was still a caster, and as a colour commentator I was already always in the habit of asking everything to my co-caster about the game. That first defined my style of hosting. As time went on, I had a lot of experience to draw on in terms of events I had been to, events I had watched, or players that I had talked to in the past — all of these informed my hosting, but at some point not everything fits in my brain anymore and I need to write things down. For example, for TI9 I had a full bookwork filled with where all the players had been in every point of their career, players they had played with that were at the same event so that I could pick on those storylines. That’s kind of the end goal. If I’m watching a show, what do I want to hear from the panel? I want stories to be told and I want to be able to tell those stories.
When it comes to TI, a majority of the viewers will have only followed one region before the event, and won’t know the backstory or history for all the players/organizations, leaving it up to you to fill the blanks — it must be difficult to prepare for something on that scale.
For TI it’s a bit different, because there’s normally a lull between qualifiers and the event itself. So that’s a long time to prepare. In some of the earlier TIs and majors, my weakest research point was the China region, so I made it a habit to ask people that knew a lot more than I did about the players, the teams, how the community thought about them, and what kind of stories there are in the teams themselves. For TI I try to do that consistently, making sure that I can tell at least two or three stories about every team.
'If I’m watching a show, what do I want to hear from the panel? I want stories to be told, and I want to be able to tell those stories.'
There are often times you can’t really assume that every viewer watches 24/7 DOTA. I can’t assume that someone heard what I said on the panel two days ago and continue with that same story or have a fresh different story. It’s definitely not something I nail every time because often it’s pretty hectic and if the games are super good, you don’t have time to talk about the storylines. You only have time to talk about the games themselves.
It is a huge responsibility to take on - you have to assume that nobody has tuned in before. Especially the grand finals of TI, there are going to be a lot of people watching that have not watched the rest of the event, or even DOTA before. So you really have to lay it on thick on the people stories.
I remember an interview of you talking about what it was like being a talent early on in the DOTA scene, that there was no guarantee of future employment, so everyone was competing. Do you think that your style of letting others shine helped to mitigate that and (inadvertently) made you the star of the show?
I want to say yes, but at the same time, I also was selfish. Selfish in terms of: you want to make sure you don’t look bad and you don’t really care that much about the rest. Before TI6 actually, Valve did something cool – they invited all talent for an improv class. We learnt that the show itself was the product we cared about and the show itself is a sum of its parts, and if every part just does its own thing, it’s not really good.
There are a lot of transferable skills from performance that are useful as both caster and panelist in Dota - improving in acting, radio, dance and stand-up can all have a big impact on the overall product that you provide on broadcast.
At the time it was a really good realisation for me that we all want to put on the best show, and to do that we have to reinforce each other’s points. Obviously everybody that’s sitting on that panel is sitting there because they have an opinion that is valued, and whether you disagree with that opinion or not, you still have to respect it.
Towards TI6 was definitely the switching point. Having all my priorities changed when I got diagnosed with cancer definitely also helped make me a better host, because at the time I cared too much about the work I did. And at the moment I care a little bit less. Not in a bad way per se, more like in a way where I can be happy with what I am doing now while still wanting to improve upon that.
Learn more about Sheever's journey and her battle with cancer here
I was very self-critical around TI6 — I wanted to improve, but wasn't happy with what I was already doing. That created a kind of nagging feeling where you constantly need to do better and you’re never satisfied and that’s not a good way to do it. After that I got wiser. I now focus on making other people look great. Even though I did that already beforehand, I now do it even more without any doubts or regard for myself.
I do think hosting is a job where you do need to have a bit of the grind. I was lucky enough to get asked for all the small tournaments and the little things, and I hosted everything under the sun. I said yes to everything. I got better at the job just by doing it.
I think all panellists are now realising that we’re trying to tell stories here and engage viewers. Everyone got better at that as a whole, so it wasn't just on the host, and that’s been a really good change. R: Yeah, even some sacrifices in the panel's MMR can be made if the overall product ends up getting better right? You don’t have to be 10K MMR - if you’re 7K MMR but able to be personable and more engaging on the panel, that’s way more important these days. Yeah! and there will be a small vocal community that says “No! We want everyone to be 10K MMR”. But the reality of it is that the majority enjoys storytelling much more than a dry and statistical approach to DOTA.
Do you have any concerns about what the future of DOTA might look like in two/three years? Is there anything you would like to see changed or improved?
I think I speak on behalf of everyone when I say that I want the DPC-season to be a season that everyone is somewhat happy with, but we can’t please everyone. So far since the DPC was introduced, we haven’t had a year that’s been the same. There were ten majors, 20 minors, and then suddenly two majors, three majors, five majors…
This was the first year and I hope that this year - despite a few hiccups - is going to be the start of something that can create a lot more stability in the scene itself. If we can find a way to get stability that supports a tier two scene and also supports new blood and organisations wanting to come in that would be great. That’s the future I want to see.
'I was lucky enough to get asked for all the small tournaments and the little things, and I hosted everything under the sun. I said yes to everything.'
I do think that the new blood of the scene is still not enough for the long-term, so I don’t know what that future holds for us. I’m just going to enjoy it while it lasts. There’s something in the game that’s making those ten years of Dota experience valuable. I don’t know if there is a way to remove that, I don’t even know if you’d want to remove that. It’s kind of cool that it’s valuable for performance to know so much history of the game.
I am very excited to see Virtus Pro do well though because that’s one of the few young captains - Collapse being nineteen or eighteen or something like that. I hope that we get more young squads doing well. And South America is doing better recently, very excited for that as well. Even though their scene has been around for a long time, there’s a lot of young blood there.
Virtus Pro have had a very strong performance at TI10 so far, already making it to the top 6!
Going back now to when you were a young gamer — what were some of your favourite games before you started playing DOTA?
I was addicted to World of Warcraft for a while. Before that I played loads of other games, but never as intensely as World of Warcraft. I played DOTA 1, Frozen Throne, Warcraft 3, GTA 3. That’s the first game I ever bought. I quit World of Warcraft cold turkey in October 2011. At that point I didn’t know that DOTA 2 had been released. I found out a little bit before that but I didn’t watch TI1 for example. Then I played Skyrim full-time for two weeks because after you have played World of Warcraft in a high-rating guild — it was like six days a week and that was next to my full-time job so that was basically my only pastime — I had to do something else that was taking up the same amount of time. So I played Skyrim for two weeks straight, six nights a week five hours a night. That was also the first game that I streamed. But after those two weeks I got my DOTA 2 beta key. Since then it’s always been DOTA 2.
What was it about DOTA 1 that caught your attention? Was it just something your friends were playing or..?
No. We had one computer with a household of my parents and four kids. And we all got one hour. Once we were done with the campaign, we really liked the game and one thing you can do is do the campaign again, but that’s not as exciting. So there was this button that said “fun games” or something like that. We clicked there and that’s where all the custom games were. We played a lot of the custom games and eventually, we started playing DOTA 1, and it took about an hour for a game, so it was a perfect fit.
Did you get your nickname “Sheever” from DOTA or Warcraft?
It’s from World of Warcraft. My first World of Warcraft character was “Pluuske” and it was on my dad’s account. My dad had an account before me, I don’t know how. But I had to come up with a name for my own account eventually. I was reading a book by Robin Hobb, and in one of the living ship books I believe there was a sea serpent called "Shreever". I was really desperate for a name! I removed the extra “R” in the middle because I did not like that one. It was like “Ah whatever I’ll just go with this.” And I’ve been stuck with it ever since.
So how did you go from here to being one of the most important figures in the DOTA scene? You got your DOTA 2 beta key, you missed TI1, and you started streaming Skyrim?
Yeah, I started streaming Skyrim because some of my WoW friends wanted to see it, and I was the first person in our group to get it. I also streamed DOTA 2, switching between Own3d and Twitch at times. My full-time job at that point was a sales job — it was not really my cup of tea, and I had done it for two years, so I wanted to see what else I could do.
I knew that I was good at organising from my time in the WoW guild, so I started by approaching event organisers. But then I figured “Right, I need experience for this” because having only a sales experience and background, you aren’t going to get anywhere. I decided to help organise an amateur DOTA 2 tournament on JoinDota (Back when they were still nice — they did not stay nice, at least not to me). I ended up in an admin duo for a small tournament, and we were like “Ok we need more people to notice that we’re doing these tournaments, so let’s stream it. I already have a channel, EZ”. We showed the game on-stream, but we were totally silent and it was pretty awkward.
Then casting just kind of became a thing that we ended up doing. At some point there was another amateur tournament, and we both casted that whole day. There happened to be someone from GosuGamers staff in my chat that said “Hey, you should apply for a position as a caster for GosuGamers”.
When I applied to GosuGamers I had an intake conversation with GodZ. He decided to give me a co-caster, a Polish guy, and we casted a little bit together, but he did not want to put in as much time. But I never stopped casting.
At some point I was let go from my job, which gave me more time to dedicate, and I decided to see just how long I could hold on. Luckily I had some savings from the sales job to support myself while trying. That’s basically how I started — casting everything I could get my hands on.
What was it about casting that really drew you in? You said you did it out of necessity, but there has to have been a “Wow this is really what I want to do” moment for you to have taken every opportunity in order to turn it into a career. That’s quite the commitment to make.
It wasn’t necessarily a commitment made like “Oh, I’m going to make big bucks doing this”. It was more because I really really loved it and still love it. Casting is... It’s really crazy. I did a lot of solo casting, so it’s a little bit different there. And I did listen to Tobi cast at that point as well, it was Dreamhack Winter 2011, and I was like “Oh, that’s cool! But I could never do that”. I mean, even now I couldn’t cast that well, but it never stopped me from trying. I sing in the shower too and I’m not good at that either. I casted mostly games that other people weren’t covering. For me, the experience of casting was almost like being there for a movie. It’s like all the action is right there and I was right in the middle of it. It’s an adrenaline rush. The whole thing is for an hour and it starts slowly and builds up and it peaks and the game’s over. Obviously not every game is as good, but when you get the good games, it was amazing. That adrenaline peak, I loved it. I still love it. Casting is something really special, translating that road of adrenaline to the viewer. I don’t know if I was able to do that ever, even until the end, but that was the goal and that was also why I loved it.
Did you get positive feedback from your viewers?
Yes! My viewers were nice. I think the community that I built up while streaming... it was invaluable. That’s the reason why at some point I was able to continue because my community was super friendly to me and no hate was tolerated in my chat. Sadly that was not the case for some of the forums... But my community was absolutely amazing and very supportive, even with constructive criticism. It wasn’t just like “Oh you’re amazing you’re the best”! I would ask very regularly “Hey is there anything I could do better? Anything you heard”? And I got help and it helped me improve in a positive way.
The issues faced by female talent today haven't changed much - the importance of surrounding yourself with a supportive and honest community remains very much the same, if not more so.
So the forums were less...welcoming?
Yeah. If you search the Reddit DOTA 2 you still find some threads about me casting that are not loving at all. I remember there was a big game - SK versus Quantic - that Tobi and Purge couldn’t cast, so guess who got to cast it? It was me! I was definitely not ready for that, but if I wasn’t going to cast it nobody would have.
If I got official games for anything, big names, there would be threads. There was a thread on the JoinDota forums that the mods refused to take down for the longest time - even though other casters’ threads were taken down - under the guise of “constructive feedback”, even though there was nothing constructive about it. There were not that many threads on GosuGamers luckily, so that was nice. The Reddit forums also. But those were the only forums that I really saw. I didn’t go out and look for more communities that had stuff about me and were less than welcoming.
Considering how necessary the forums are for your work, how did you prepare yourself mentally for the negative comments that came with them?
For a while I just didn’t look at it. At some point I asked my sister if she could check and relay the messages that were actually constructive. I definitely had my cries of course. It’s a brutal thing, but I really loved casting so I wasn’t going to stop. Better yet, at some point I was able to turn all that sadness into dislike for the people that posted stuff like that. I let that fuel me. Now it’s like “Well if I don’t stop casting, they’ll have a miserable day. Let’s do it!”.
We’ve got new talent coming in right now, and a lot of the problems that they’ll face are problems that you’ve dealt with early on in these forums.Do you have any advice you would give to them to prepare them for it
Always trust the feedback from your peers over any other feedback. Ask other people what they think about your job. Use yourself as your harshest critic. I know a lot of people don’t look back at their panel segment after they’ve done it. You should. You learn a lot from that. Body language is obviously a big thing and it will help a lot. If you’re a new person you’ve got to focus on the grind first as well. You’re not going to be perfect at the start.
If you don’t already have a network of peers to ask for feedback, it’s never too late to start reaching out, don’t hold yourself back because you’re anxious to ask for help!
Are there any steps that anyone who’s trying to break into the scene right now should absolutely be taking to get noticed?
Listen to yourself and get on that grind. “Oh I’ve been casting this month and I think I’m really good.” No. Take the two newest casters in the DOTA 2 scene that have made it - Moxxi and ODPixel. When they finally got their push to get big, both had been casting for a long time. They had casted everything.
'Keep grinding, and make sure you enjoy the grind. If you don’t enjoy the grind, you’re not even going to get to a point where you have the chance to make it.'
It seems like a lot of casters that are up and coming feel like they’re too good to go to the tournaments without getting paid. But all the casters that have come up, not just Moxxi and Owen but also myself, Cap, GodZ, LD, everybody that you see at the top, started doing it the same way. Everybody did the grind.
Just another casual day's work...
Obviously, you’ve got some ex pros that can just jump on because they’re ex pros, but most of the people that are not ex pros, you’ve got to get that grind in. If you are looking at the DOTA 2 talent, it’s stacked. I might be slightly biased but, we’ve got some of the best in the business. So if you’re looking to make it as a caster then it’s going to be tough, because we have got a lot of talented casters. As an analyst, I think it’s even harder — because more and more pros decide “Hey I won’t be a pro anymore, instead I want to talk about it”. Like AUI just decided he wants to be talent - good luck competing with a TI champion. Even if you’re 8K. You’re going to say you should have the job over AUI? Yea... I don’t think so. Keep grinding, and make sure you enjoy the grind. If you don’t enjoy the grind, you’re not even going to get to a point where you have a chance to make it. I think another factor that a lot of people forget about: You do have to get lucky with your break. You have to have connections to get opportunities. Those opportunities don't just come because you work hard (though it would be nice if that was the case.)
Look out for more Dota Valkyries interviews in the future!