We've seen countless players attempt to cross the pond from the UK and make it big in the US, but the person who's been the most successful is actually a commentator and host.
Ben 'Benson' Bowe started out his casting career commentating over Youtube videos, but through sheer determination, he was spotted and picked up to help at some European events during the Modern Warfare 3 era.
Loud, excited and full of knowledge, he was recruited by Major League Gaming, flown over to the US and proceeded to become one of the biggest names in Call of Duty.
Everyone has their ups and downs however and through no fault of his own, Benson found himself out of the Call of Duty loop. During Black Ops III MLG steered clear of the CoD World League, with Activision putting ESL in charge, rendering the British talent on the sidelines. Whilst he attended and casted some CoD events, he branched off into other titles including Gears of War and Halo, perfecting his skills across the board.
The launch of Infinite Warfare saw MLG firmly back in control and with it, Benson returned properly to the Call of Duty scene. One major difference however, was he was moved into a hosting role. He featured across the year at the major events, including the Call of Duty World Championships to round out the year.
We caught up with Benson ahead of the launch of Call of Duty WWII to ask him about everything from who's the greatest Call of Duty team of all time, getting through depression, and of course, that American accent.
You finally had a full year back with the Call of Duty community for IW. What was it like not casting and instead focusing on hosting?
To be “properly” back in CoD esports full time was awesome. I've been around since the MW3 days so as an esport CoD is very close to my heart as it was the title that got me into casting and esports as a whole. Not being involved in BO3, for lack of a better word, sucked. Sitting on the sidelines watching friends and colleagues have tons of success was what made it a little more bearable, but obviously, at that time it was out of my control.
As for the role change from caster to host, it was a very simple transition if I’m honest. Having so many years of historical knowledge under my belt made it very easy to drop small one liners and pieces of information into the show which I think makes for better segments. I will say however, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do if it wasn’t for the awesome analysts I’m lucky enough to get to work with every event. To say they make my job easy sounds very cliche, but they are honestly so good at their job that it means I very rarely have to stress about show direction.
Are you itching to get back behind the commentary mic for WWII or do you see yourself continuing in the hosting direction?
Great question and one I've been asked very frequently by fans. It isn’t an easy answer, however!
My casting has always been the equivalent to marmite. Fans either love it or hate it. Very rarely there is middle ground and that's something I fully understand. I will say casting other titles such as Halo and Gears allowed me to grow significantly as a caster and opened up my eyes to a lot of the flaws I actually had when on the mic, which I’m still working on improving currently.
If I’m being completely honest and open up a little I can say the passing of my dad had a massive effect on my job and I noticed my “performance” go down significantly. I've never really opened up about what happened, but I can say I got hit with pretty bad depression and still often get down about it. Not having the opportunity to say goodbye to my role model as I had just moved to the US really took its toll on me. Essentially making me question whether me being in the US was the right thing and whether my decisions, had I done something different, changed anything. Having that on your mind simply isn’t healthy and off topic urge anyone going through depression to find someone to talk to.
Life is all about learning from your experiences and growing based of your reactions to said experiences so that you can improve your reaction to future similar experiences and help aid others you meet throughout your time alive who go through similar experiences.
Would I love to cast WW2? Of course. But I realize the responsibility and importance of my current role which may not be as “flashy” as casting but at the end of the day I want what is best for the show and esport as a whole.
If I get asked to cast, I can safely say WW2 would be my greatest game as a caster, even better than BO2. Partly due to me wanting to prove something to myself and partly due to the fact I feel I owe it the awesome community that has supported me through my ups and downs over the years.
Game issues aside, what did you make of the IW competitive year?
IW turned out to be a pretty good year huh! As an esport we saw great growth with a new structure of the CWL which made for an awesome viewing experience. Obviously, I'm biased being an MLG employee and I mean no disrespect to any of our competitors, but MLG events are just special. Its hard to explain to anyone who has never been, but the work Adam Ap and his fantastic team put in make them something special and I truly believe having those masterminds help aid the CWL can only benefit CoD sports as a whole.
Which team performance surprised you the most?
As for a surprise, it has to be nV. They went from he organizations worst ever placement in CoD sports history to back to back final appearances at S2 and Champs. I don’t know what they did or how they did it, but it made for a magical storyline at champs. The only team in history to have had a chance to go back to back and defend their title. Then to get to the final, lets just say I had goosebumps.
Obviously, I have to mention a few of the OG guys as well. Formal a world champ now, and he is the best ever console player. As I see it, it's him v Ogre2. Scump finally gets his ring which was special for me to see as I've been watching him compete since I began casting at EGL’s. Let's not forget Karma, now a 3-time world champ. Its incredible and I’m very happy for him. Don’t forget Crim either, his 2nd ring.
You might sound more American every day, but you’ve supported Europe throughout the years regardless. What did you make of the European teams during IW? How can they keep improving for WWII and does anything need to fundamentally change still?
I DO NOT SOUND AMERICAN! Sadly I know my accent is going and against popular belief, I have no control over it! Trust me, I watch BBC as much as I can to try and get it back. From old school Top Gear to MOTD.
But to your question, I watched Europe win at EGL8 where TCM beat OG in the final but the feat had never been done on US soil. They came close in Anaheim with a 3rd place finish during Ghosts then obviously a 2nd place finish at Champs during BO3, so the improvement was clearly shown. But to see Splice win on NA soil was very emotional for me. To see how much it meant to the players and the EU fans was so special. It gave Europe a little more faith and hope.
As for anything that needs to fundamentally change, I believe so. Sadly, however, it's not something which can be done overnight. Having lived (obviously) in the UK for so long and the US for almost 4 years now, the issue England specifically has is the perception of esports. I meet someone in a bar in the US and they ask what do you do, when I answer they are surprised and have so many questions. They get excited.
In Britain, it's still very different. I don’t want to say it's frowned upon but I still feel it isn’t fully socially accepted and I feel like that puts stress on players and the community as a whole. It still isn’t seen as a full time job for many (when compared to the US) which I think would make the world of difference. You still have players juggling jobs and school which are obviously important, but it's like comparing Premier League football to League 2. You have Aguero bagging goals for fun as opposed to Bob the part-time plumber player-manager.
As I said it isn’t something which can change overnight but it needs to happen soon. England and certain other countries have to catch up. When they do I think you’ll see the “gap” close significantly.
What did you make of OpTic Gaming winning Champs? Was that the expected outcome for you or did you see another team winning? Can they be considered the greatest team of all time now over coL?
I touched on OG earlier, but as I said, I'm super happy for them. All great guys who deserve the success. Was I worried for them? Absolutely. I can't imagine the stress and pressure they have on their shoulders, but they did it and that's what matters most.
As to comparing to coL this is something that I myself have argued extensively about since Champs this past year. Is OG the greatest team in Call of Duty History? Yes. You can't argue against it. Clayster and Teep both legends of the game and players from the coL dynasty say it themselves so in reality, you cant argue against them. Formal arguably the best console player ever, Karma 3 time world champ, Crimsix 2 time world champ and Scump one of the greatest to ever touch CoD.
However, where this debate gets interesting is if you ask are OG the most dominant? This is where I have to upset and probably trigger a few OG fans and say no. Allow me to explain. coL strung together events back to back to back and dominated an entire era of CoD across 2 different game and won champs when the pressure was on first time around.
OG didn’t do that. Let's start during the jetpack era. AW CBUS open where it began, 2nd place to FaZe to then winning in Orlando the next event. They then won regionals making them favorites for champs where they went on to placing 8th. They followed that with 3 other major titles back to back in Gfinity ESWC and another UMG. Then faze responded to close out the year up until MLG Worlds. So OG by no means dominated the year, they had spells throughout the year, but also underperformed massively at the biggest event of that year.
On to BO3. It started similar to AW with a 2nd place at Totinos (take that with a pinch of salt) then
T8 placement at South Carolina, again can be taken lightly considering the issues that occurred at that event. Then you get another flurry of wins, Stage 1, Crown Melbourne I believe was in there, ESWC and MLG Anaheim. Then the spree is broken with another T8 finish at Stage 2 followed by first at MLG Orlando and then again, going into Champs favorites for the 2nd year in a row, finished 8th.
No as for last year, similar start, 6th at Vegas, 2nd at Atlanta then a few wins again back to back in Paris and Dallas then 4th at Stage 1, 8th at Anaheim and of course 2 more wins in Stage 2 and Champs to close the year out.
In no way can you use the word dominant to describe any of those 3 years or the era as a whole. You take a look at the complexity achievements over the time and it looks very different. Yes, it was a different time with different competition but in my opinion, as of right now, coL is still the most dominant team to ever compete in Call of Duty and Optic Gaming, the best team.
After Champs we’ve seen everyone (except 4 teams) make roster changes. Did you expect such a massive shuffle? From the confirmed and rumored rosters, who do you see challenging OpTic for titles next year?
You always expect to see changes occur in the downtime when you consider the shift in the game itself back to BOTG CoD it was only a matter of time before an explosion like this. Old players returning, jet packers getting “exposed” all makes for a rather exciting time around roster drama. Will anyone compete with OG? We will have to wait and see what happens and how WWII actually plays competitively too! Rather than list out teams to watch out for I’ll give you a few players, who all happen to play for the new EG.
Apathy, the real OG killer. He’s a key man to keep your eye out for.
Aches, he just has to be on this list. I expect a solid first event performance.
Enable, after underperforming last year and seeing former Halo rival Formal win i think an extra fire has been lit.
Where can you see the competitive Call of Duty scene going and your role in it? Could it be the next LoL or CS:GO?
I love the CoD community and will stay with it to the end. Whether that's on camera or behind the scenes, I want nothing but the best for the players and fans. It's what this amazing community deserves.
Do I ever see us getting to the LoL levels? Yeah, one day. A few changes have to made fundamentally which I won't go into now, but if they are I see our esport continuing to grow. At the end of the day that is the one thing that matters the most consistent growth. It doesn’t have to be massive but it needs to be there. I would love to see the community really rally together next year and make for an incredible year.
Finally, any advice for someone who wants to become a commentator for WWII?
Do it! I've seen people for years say they want to start casting and just don’t jump in and do it. You have to actually cast to be a caster! Whether that's casting AM tournaments or your own gameplay it doesn’t matter what or how, we all have very humble beginnings and are here to help.
I feel the issue currently with upcoming casters is the distinct lack of them. I don’t want to group all up and comers together but I have noticed a few who cast for a month or so and then expect a call-up to the CWL or an MLG event. I'm sorry but that's just not how it works. You have to truly grind and prove yourself. It's tough as there isn’t a set path you can take (yet) but I can promise you that if you take it serious, and put your mind to it and practice you will be noticed. You would be amazed the amount of AM tournaments I personally watch and up and coming casters, because you never know when the next awesome caster could show up.
Speaking from my own personal experience and those of my colleagues I know all that to be true.
I started casting my friends and teammates games. Those that know my story know I was the leader of the almighty pSyChO Gaming Clan! I would cast everything I could and upload it to YT and ask others to critique it. Finally the awesome guys back then at EGL gave in to my countless asking and let me cast on a show match stream. I WAS ******** IT! But i did an ok job and and started doing it at events and the rest is history!
So if you take one thing from that answer, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from whether its pubs or comp, you simply have to do it and do it a lot!