Isaac 'Azael' Cummings-Bentley is a veteran World of Warcraft tournament player and one of the very few that maintained a sponsorship. We talked, among other topics, about him becoming the Day9 of WoW, his tournament history and tough decision making.
Hildegard: Welcome to the "Forscherliga Interview" Azael. As always the first question is the same: What did you eat today?
Azael: I woke up and had some cereal as well as a banana and then just ate some rice with onions carrots and other various veggies as well as some fried sausage mixed in! Gonna have a BBQ for dinner :D
Hildegard: Sounds great. You have been casting two tournaments today, I imagine you are quite hungry.
Azael: Haha, yeah I'm definitely pretty hungry. I hit the gym in between the two tournaments so that helped to work up some more hunger!
Hildegard: What was your favorite match of the day?
Azael: My favorite match of the day was probably Khuna's RMP vs Talb / Cdew / Snutz's Shadowplay - the level of play was incredibly high, and although my teammates didn't come out on top they played really well in the loss.
Hildegard: Do you think the latency affected the outcome a lot?
Azael: Well considering they're all East coast players I don't think it's that big of a deal. People love to complain about latency and make excuses but in my opinion unless you're playing West coast NA -> EU or NZ -> EU like Mes the DK on Sodah / Vanguards it shouldn't really cost you too many games once you're used to it.
Hildegard: You watched and commentated, while Snutz played your part. Did you see situations, where you knew "if I would play instead of Snutz, we would have done it better“?
Azael: Snutz is an amazing Warlock and I think he played awesome in the tournament to be honest, but I have played loads and loads of games with Talbadar and Cdew so I feel like we have better synergy and in my opinion my play style may fit the comp a bit better than his. The thing is though Snutz also does some things better than I do so you never know how things will go, and we might have had the same result or an even worse one, haha.
Hildegard: Snutz and you go back quite some time. What was the first tournament you faced off against each other?
Azael: I think the first tournament we faced off at was the first MLG that Snutz attended as Shadowcleave with Massivez.
Hildegard: Was that before he played with Sodah, Venruki and Reckful?
Azael: Yeah it was, I think he joined up with them one or two tournaments later.
Hildegard: How did the games turn out?
Azael: That tournament we had a ringer since our main third wasn't available and I believe we lost 3-2 haha, I think it was Cdew's first tournament as well as our replacement rogue Smatin so that's my excuse!
Hildegard: The Warlock that challenged you the most was Inflames, calling himself the best Warlock of all times. Did he ever win a series against you?
Azael: Nope, he lost every single series against me that he ever played at a tournament! Excluding one where I was playing Warrior as a ringer for Fnatic, but in Warlock vs Warlock I'm like 8-0 or something :P
Hildegard: Did you ever talk to him directly, after all the trash talk from his side?
Azael: I had chatted with him a few times, and we were actually pretty friendly and then he randomly started trash talking which I always just kinda chalked up to class envy or something. He was a pretty strange guy though so who knows!
Hildegard: When looking back you always chose very consistent players for your team.
Azael: I think that having consistent teammates is extremely important to me because my biggest pet peeve is losing games in which we haven't used all our cooldowns. I also really look for players who have similar personalities to me, and all the players I've had success with have also become very good friends which is extremely important because if you're gonna get good you have to spend a lot of time together!
I also always emphasize playing a style of game play in which we always give ourselves a shot to win, and I think the best way to do that is generally having a nice mix of offensive and defensive play. The longer the game goes the more chances you have to outplay your opponents and make your skill / practice pay off for you and your team.
Hildegard: Do you think you have your ideal team mates with Talbadar and Cdew?
Azael: Yep, without a question. I'll gladly state that I think I have not only some amazing friends, but also the best Shadowpriest and the best Resto Shaman in the world on my team. I simply couldn't ask for anything more!
Hildegard: Warlocks have traditionally been a very good class in arena. Would you agree, that from looking back Warlock is the best choice over all the seasons up until now for anyone, that wants to be successful?
Azael: There have been times when Warlocks weren't very strong, but overall I think it has been a super consistent class and the top locks have always found success so in that regard it's an awesome choice. I also feel lucky that I have picked it because it has allowed me to always compete at the top level in basically every tournament, and I feel like although WoW isn't always balanced you can spot the best players by seeing who can overcome and play near the top in all patches.
Cdew Azael and Woundman after winning IEM Global Championships
Hildegard: You are known for doing everything it takes to win. In some situations this causes issues, like when you gave your games away against Khuna/Xandyn/Zunniyaki in the NAO2. Did you feel bad for it afterward?
Azael: Haha, well although some people might not have enjoyed that it wasn't against the rules and I feel like we didn't really do anything wrong. We had already secured our place in the top 2 of our group and felt that it was likely we could play them in the finals of the tournament. We had a lot of success against them on ladder so we didn't want to show them any of our strategies and allow them a chance to adapt to our play style. That in combination with the fact that we preferred playing vs VIP Pet Cleaves pushed us to make that decision and it's not one that I regret.
Khuna Xandyn and Zunnyaki also were extremely confident vs RLS, so they didn't really seem to care at the time and had told us they were sure to beat Snutz team so we assumed we'd meet in the finals and decide who was the better team there!
Hildegard: How did you learn to make hard decisions in order to ensure success?
Azael: I think it just comes with experience, the easy decision isn't always the correct one and when you're competing in tournaments with the goal of winning, you have to do whatever helps you have the best shot. It's not easy choosing who to play with for tournaments, or making calls you know might not always be popular but at the same time, if you're not going to look out for you and your teammates then who will?
Hildegard: Did you read books by Machiavelli?
Azael: I've read The Prince, but am not super familiar with all of his books or anything.
Hildegard: Interesting. You are one of the very few sponsored WoW players at the moment and have a manager. That is pretty impressive. Why did Team EG keep around a World of Warcraft team, while nearly every other sponsor dropped theirs?
Azael: It's because EG is a team that is about more than just tournaments and simple results, it's a team that believes in the mutual promotion of both players and the brand. EG will promote their popular players and help build them up, and in exchange the players are expected to help promote and build the brand. I've been with Team EG for going on 5 years now, and am the longest standing player in the organization so I have done a lot for the team with both promotional things such as sponsor work, ads etc as well as tournament results. They know that I've been worth the investment and because of that are sticking by me even when WoW isn't giving as much return of investment as it has in the past and I respect them greatly for it!
Hildegard: Boosting is something that seemingly scares away sponsors from tournaments. Do you think that holds back WoW's success as an E-Sport?
Azael: Nah, I don't think so. I think the thing that scares away sponsors the most is the instability of the game. It has always had the viewer base but I feel like it has always lacked the high level casting you see in many other games and that unfortunately makes it way less entertaining. I also feel like when a sponsor or team isn't sure if the players they pick up will still be successful in the next patch they're scared to support them fully.
Hildegard: The casting picked up dramatically since you became WoW's Day9.
Azael: Haha, well I've always had great feedback from commentating but the great debate that rages on inside me is simply that I still love to compete and still feel that I can win these tournaments. I love both casting and competing so it's a tough decision each and every time I'm asked, but thankfully there are loads of tournaments going on at the moment and because I'm so busy casting SC2 as well it seemed like a good time to get some serious casting in!
Hildegard: Do you think that WoW has a chance to get back in the esports circus with the now rising popularity?
Azael: Yeah, I definitely think so. As long as the numbers are there as far as viewership goes there's no reason that tournaments wouldn't pick it back up!
Hildegard: So, any hints for top teams looking for sponsors?
Azael: Qualify for the Blizzard tournament and do well at the Regional events and you may find some interest!
Hildegard: Do you think that working with media, like streaming, a Facebook page etc. are necessary to get picked up or is simply the play the deciding factor?
Azael: I think that play is the main factor for sure, but the rest is a definite bonus. I have never paid much attention to social media stuff like Facebook / Twitter etc, but now am realizing the value of being into it. Fans love interaction with the players and that's a great place to do it. I just got my Twitter account a month or so ago since coming down to Arizona and have been enjoying using it / interacting with people on there! I can put in my fanpage too if you want but I never really promote it.
Hildegard: Do it, I think it is a good example. So, looking to MoP, do you think WoW will continue to be popular for PVP tournaments or do you think that GW2 will take away a large part of the scene?
Azael: Honestly I just think that WoW's game play is just too smooth compared to every other MMO so I don't think they can really keep up even if they're balanced better etc.
Hildegard: We are coming to the end of the interview and as tradition is, it always ends with a best of five list. You can choose between your five favorite jokes by Conrad or the five favorite teams to enter the BlizzCon finals in Korea.
Azael of course chooses Conrad's jokes.
1. Comeback Train
2. Conradical 1 PvP video (you'll understand why it's a joke when you watch it :DDDD)
3. Conrads blind fish joke
4. "gettin it poppin"
5. "we'll have to see"
Azael: That's what comes to mind off the top of my head!
Hildegard: Thank you for the interview Azael and enjoy your BBQ. Any shoutouts?
Azael: I will! Brace yourself cause I have a number of shoutouts :P
First off Team EG and my teammates Cdew and Talbadar, all our sponsors - Intel, Steelseries, Monster Energy, Sapphire, 6pool Gaming, In Win, Gunnar, Slappa and Split Reason. Also a big shout out to NAO, Yaspresents, and Curse / AJ for getting the WoW tournaments running once again! Last but not least, a shoutout to all my friends, family, and fans who always support me through thick and thin and most importantly my Mom - Happy Mothers Day! :D
Hildegard: Thank you for your time.
Azael: Have a good night / day / whatever.
Hildegard: It is 5:16am in Europe and I got up at 3:50am in order to do the interview.
Big thanks to Hildegard for talking to Azael, I hope all of you enjoyed reading as much as I did!