essays and pithy thoughts

A quick retrospective on Smeagol's ouster from TsN

in glhf

Ahead of his first (of what I hope will be several) guest post here on my humble blog, I was asked by Jeff Dickinson, otherwise known as ‘Smeagol,’ to repost this interview that Complexity ran just after he parted ways with the Team Sportscast Network, for future reference. (Jeff’s absence from the staff list on TsN’s wikipedia page is rather…conspicuous.)

Jeff has been around competitive gaming longer than I have by a fair amount, and was a fixture in the world of Counter-strike commentary. This is relevant to the storyline he’s planning to pick up regarding Hunter Luisi, who is now assisting with administration of the CPL’s revival push, was a prominent figure within TsN’s management for the duration of its existence. After TsN had been shuttered, Luisi launched Gamefire, which had been running live coverage more or less continuously until this summer, when the website was brought down with only the message: ‘under redesign check back soon.’

What follows is the Complexity interview with Jeff in its entirety, from Aug 16, 2005:

Smeagol Speaks Out –

COL: Jeff, you contacted us about doing this interview today and we’re curious why you feel it’s important to go public with the details of your situation with TsN.

JD: Well, I really want to ‘set the record straight’ so to speak for both me and for TsN. I don’t feel that I was given adequate means to convey myself and my opinion to those in TsN, maybe they will read this and understand better. Additionally I feel that I was unfairly treated by TsN, and I want the community to know and understand that fact. I feel it is my duty to make known these things so that other people do not fall into the same trap. Additionally I have received a lot of messages about what ‘really’ happened and answering that here will make life a bit easier on me. I also want all the kids who have flamed me on GotFrag to know that I do not think I was the ‘best shoutcaster ever’, I just think that at the time that I was at TsN, I was a valuable asset to them at a time when they needed someone who would consistently broadcast matches, and could have continued to have been an asset to them.

I also want to say before we go on that I’m going to put myself out on the line in this interview and explain to you guys some very personal and private feelings, and information. I was recently diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. Some of you may have heard of this, others may not, over the last few months I had been having difficulty over-sleeping and being irritable so I went to see a doctor and discovered that I have this disorder. For those of you who do not know what it is, I’ll explain: Bipolar disorder causes mood shifts in a person which are more intense and frequent than those of a normal person. It is a brain disorder that cause unusual shifts in energy and ability to function. This disorder has certainly affected my relationships in the home and with my friends and I feel that it had an impact in a negative way on my relationships with people at TsN. They nor I knew about this until recently, just after my return from Korea. While I was suspended I thought it might be of use to explain this to one of the members of the TsN corporate division, but it seems to have had no impact on their decision whether or not to fire me. Bipolar can greatly affect the way a person interacts with other people, they can seem ‘irritable’ or ‘on edge’, even though I only have a mild form of the disorder, I still think this helps to explain my frustration and irritability while on TsN staff, and it’s unfortunate that I did not get a chance to discuss this with the people who in the end made the decision to fire me. I am now on a steady medicine regime, and all symptoms of the disease have disapeared.

COL: When did you first start to feel that you were on uneasy ground with TsN?

JD: I think this all first started at Winter CPL 2004. It was my first big tournament to be at or cover. Even once I met the TsN guys I felt out of place. Most of them were at least five years older than me, at the time I was still 17. While on-air at Winter CPL 2004 I made a comment along the lines of “we all know Hunter doesn’t do anything”. Hunter responded by saying “don’t ever say that again” . For those of you that don’t know, Hunter ‘Juno’ Luisi is one of the heads of TsN who does a lot of work behind the scenes. At TsN we all know that he works his butt off so it was meant in a very sarcastic way. I ended up saying something along the same lines yet again after receiving the first warning, mistakenly. I was clearly in the wrong here, and I told them that and acknowledged it. If a sponsor had been listening and not understood the joke, they could have thought badly of TsN, I apologized and promised it would never happen again, yet it was always held against me. I think that TsN thought because I was young I was ‘immature’ and that’s why I did it, to me it just slipped my mind. I didn’t mean to do it, but when you are talking so fast it’s hard to censor every single word you say.

COL: So what really happened that caused you to be fired? Everyone is curious what the truth is.

JD: Well I was selected by TsN to go to Korea to attend the World e-Sports Games 2005 Season 2. But they did not let me go without telling me some things. First it was made clear to me that they didn’t really want to send me because they didn’t trust that I could ‘behave’ myself, but that they were sending me because I had been casting my butt off and really deserved to go. Also they said I was one of their only options for people who had 3 weeks of time free, but in any event, it was really damaging to me and upsetting to hear that they didn’t want to send me but had to anyways. It’s a pretty insulting thing to say. Once I got there however, I worked my ass off to prove them wrong. Charlie (Caemdare) and Alex (Vansilli) had been sent as well. We had some technical problems, and trying to work them out was very difficult because of a tricky language barrier in Korea. I was discussing these problems with one of the three members of TsN’s corporate division when he said to me “if you can’t get it worked out I’ll find someone who can.” This really upset me even further because it was this person in particular who I had been trying to impress by working so hard trying to get things done and show that I was an asset to TsN, as they clearly did not think so before.

In some days of distress I complained to my friends who were there about how I was being treated, mostly venting my frustration. However one of them happened to be a member of WEG Staff. The member of WEG staff reported, in turn, what she had heard back to TsN’s corporate division. When TsN got word that I had been ‘badmouthing the organization to a sponsor’ they were very upset. A thread was started on the management forums about whether I should be fired or not. There were few defending me and many against me. One of the members of TsN’s corporate division showed me some of the posts on there, but showed them anonymously. They ranged from people saying ‘he’s an asset, he made a mistake but he’s a hard worker’ to those making completely unfounded accusations about things that I have said or done. They decided not to fire me at the time due to the pleas of some management members. When I got back from Korea, as many of you many know I hosted the show for the announcement of the Exodus pickup. While on-air doing that show I said something along the lines of ‘We’re not going to bullshit around anymore, after this break we WILL announce the pickup’. Hearing this, SirScoots, of GotFrag, jokingly made a comment to a TsN staff member that ‘his wife had heard the word ‘bullshit’ and left the room upon hearing it’ the staff member then turned around and reported this comment as fact, not as a joke, to TsN management. The next day, I found that I had been suspended from TsN by Boomerman.

COL: So what went on between the suspension and the firing?

JD: Well I was suspended for about a month, as some of you may know, and in that time I spoke with Hunter, and Dodd, both members of the TsN corporate office, but after a while they stopped answering my calls. I was concerned, but I felt that at least Hunter understood where I was coming from, and that I was really not a bad guy, just had had some bad incidents with TsN. A few weeks went by as I waited for a decision and they were not answering my calls. A few days ago I contacted Brian ‘Coldshot’ Kennedy, he told me that the decision had basically been made by TsN management to fire me, but that he had put his foot down and stopped it because there wasn’t evidence for some of the things they were alleging. He and I decided it would be best to setup a moderated discussion between me and management to settle our differences. I was really looking forward to a chance to explain to these guys what I wanted and just to come clean with them in general about what had happened in Korea, and to resolve the past issues that me and Glenn and Bill had had. But that was not to be the case, I got a private message from Glenn two days ago, telling me to check my e-mail and the e-mail said that I had been terminated. I told him that I wanted a chance to ‘speak my peace’ with them and that it was unfair that I hadn’t gotten that opportunity, but he said that hearing my opinion would only ‘complicate things’. That’s a phrase that I’ll definitely remember for the rest of my life unfortunately.

COL: From your perspective, what was the most unfair aspect of your release?

JD: Well I think that the fact that I was able to discuss what was going on with the corporate division, yet in the end the ones who made the decision were people who I was not allowed to speak with, about my disorder or otherwise. The fact that these people were people who I did not get along with in the first place, were still allowed to make the decision whether or not to fire me is the thing that grieves me the most.

COL: So where does the future lie for you Jeff?

JD: Some would like to think coLcast, the idea is something I’ve entertained but I don’t think joining coLcast is right for me at this time, but I have a hunch it won’t be long before I’m back on the mic again!

COL: Any final thoughts?

JD: Yes, I also want to add that the person named ‘Smeagol’ on ESReality is NOT me, he lives in Canada, and I live in Washington, DC. His name is George K. and mine is Jeff D. Some people seem to think that that was me… I’d also like to thank all my friends who have stood by my side and supported me through this rough time, all my supporters in #Smeagol and #Vibrance, as well as all my friends in the Northern Virginia/Maryland/DC area.