Joe O’Brien: In memory of a great esports writer

The Dexerto family are saddened to announce that our writer Joe O’Brien has died at the tender age of 25 following a brave battle with cancer. A kind and humble young man, Joe wasn’t outspoken and would never shout about the massive role that he played in the growth of Dexerto, but he was a great esports writer – one of the very best, in fact. Whether it was Call of Duty, League of Legends, CSGO or Overwatch, he had an unrivaled knowledge of a wide range of esports, and whether he was keeping the fans updated with the latest news or, in his later career, writing and editing scripts, he knew how to tell a great story. He was always available to help other writers with their work, and his unbelievable generosity of spirit stayed with him even as he was suffering, making sure his friends and colleagues felt as ease as he delivered the devastating news that he wouldn’t be around for much longer.

But even though he has gone, he leaves a huge legacy, and one that we intend to honor by being humble and working as hard as we can to improve – just like Joe did every day.

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As the first ever Dexerto employee, Joe has been with us all the way as Dexerto has grown from a fledgling esports startup into what it is today. As the person who originally hired Joe, I wanted share my experiences of working with him.

Joe O’Brien – A tribute

Joe has been a part of the fabric for Dexerto for so long that I had to go back to 2015 to find our first conversation on Twitter. He delivered his message in typical self-deprecating fashion, saying: “Hey, probably not qualified enough but I figured I’d offer, if you don’t have anyone to cover Gfinity I’d be happy to help.” Little did he know, I needed his help. At the time, Dexerto consisted of myself, plus founders Chris, Josh and Nico. I’d produce the majority of the video and written content from events such as Gfinity and beyond, putting ungodly hours into getting our website off the ground. A popular phrase online is “shoot your shot” and in 2015, Joe did exactly that. As for his claim that he wasn’t qualified, little did he know that he was messaging someone who had only just learned the difference between there and their! He would immediately raise the standard of writing at Dexerto.

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What struck me about Joe when I first met him at the Gfinity Arena was his maturity for someone so young. The thing I remember vividly about our first conversation was what he had to say about his fiance, Laurel. Getting to know each other, we started talking about our personal lives and he mentioned that he was engaged.  Perhaps it was my facial expression that gave it away, but I must have given him a look that said something like: Who gets engaged at 19 or 20? Picking up on this, he reassured me with a huge smile and said that it was just right. Little did I know at the time that this was Joe’s way – he always wanted to make people around him feel at ease. He was so sincere and I totally believed him – five years later he would marry the love of his life. Sometimes you just know.

Of course we had a job to do – we were at the Gfinity Arena to cover a Call of Duty esports event, and there was no one more able to do that than Joe. He had an infectious passion for Call of Duty, esports, and gaming, but he was also a great writer. I would have liked to snap him up immediately to work for us, but as a startup with limited financial resources, we just couldn’t afford to bring him on as a full-time writer. Yet Joe was so determined to follow his passion that he still wanted to contribute. He had enjoyed his first experience as an esports journalist and months later he contacted me again and began doing regular work as a volunteer. In 2016, he started working part-time, before becoming Dexerto’s first ever full-time employee. 

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Joe was brilliant, but there is no such thing as the perfect employee and I’ll admit that Joe and I had some ups and downs, but one thing I always loved about Joe was his honesty and resilience. He never made excuses – If you told him something was wrong or questioned why he hadn’t done something, he never blamed anyone else and would just fix it. It was a quality that I cherished and wish everyone could be like that.

Joe was often the yin to my yang when it came to content, especially back when the editorial team consisted of just the two of us. I’d write up the far less serious content, while he’d balance it out with a 2,000 word dissertation on why Jurd was Splyce’s best player, or why Search and Destroy statistically doesn’t actually win championships (which at the time he was right about, despite what those who hadn’t looked at the numbers claimed).

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As the website grew and we expanded the team, I relied on Joe to help train the new writers and share what he’d learned over the years with the new recruits. A lot of these writers still work for us, and thanks to Joe’s initial help, have gone on to achieve great things. He just understood Dexerto and was generous enough to help others on the road to reaching their goals. As such, he was instrumental to the growth of the company, and that was something that he was rightly proud of.

Despite his often timid nature, Joe was never afraid of a challenge and he displayed an unbelievable dedication to his role. For example, he agreed to turn his life upside-down to cover the first season of the Overwatch League, becoming a night owl as he covered games that would start at 9pm his time and finish at 4am. It was perhaps something I took for granted as he was never one to make demands, his slightly reserved character perhaps holding him back from requesting promotions – he just got on with his job, being a great writer.

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In fact, it was only in January of this year, four years after he joined, that he finally came to me to discuss his future with the company. He loved writing, but he wanted to offer more. With his ability to craft longer written content, he became our video script editor, working on esports documentaries. This change in role came at a time when the global pandemic had put a halt to our regular coverage from tournaments, putting extra pressure on Joe to write, commission and edit scripts every day for our YouTube channel – and what an incredible job he did. Only Joe, with his knowledge, talent and meticulous attention to detail was able to do this job, and through crafting compelling stories about the journeys of the biggest esports players, he helped shape another area of Dexerto. Sadly, that is where his journey with Dexerto came to an end. In September, Joe learned that he had an aggressive form of liver cancer and he took time off in order to get treatment. However, just a month later his condition deteriorated, and he was given the option of having intense chemotherapy that could potentially kill him, but at best keep him alive for six months to a year, or he could go home to spend his final weeks with his wife and family. He made the incredibly brave decision to go home. On Friday November 27, Joe passed away in his sleep at home with his family by his side.

Joe leaves a legacy that will never be forgotten – he put everything into Dexerto over the years, and I know that we’ll never stop crediting him for helping us get to where we are.  However, the last conversation I had with him on the phone says more about the incredible young man that he was. He acknowledged that his colleagues and friends found it difficult to find the right words to say in these situations, and not only did he put me at ease, but he thanked me for allowing him to do his dream job. He said he’d had a great life and had absolutely no regrets. It takes a special type of person to be that humble and thankful given the circumstances, and that’s a person I’ll proudly always call my friend and colleague. Thank you, Joe, for everything.

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