Pro gamer. Commentator. Master of ceremonies. Host.
In the world of esports, Paul “Rabies” Santoro has done it all.
Rabies got his start in competitive gaming on GameBattles in 2004, and began to make a name for himself with Dead or Alive 4 around 2006. After years of competition, Rabies made the transition into esports casting in 2011, commentating matches for many prominent games and events.
Since then, he’s served as a commentator, MC and host for a plethora of top esports titles. Having worked prestigious events such as the Paladins Premier League and the NBA 2K League, Rabies continues to put his many skills to work, while also building up his Twitch stream during the COVID-19 pandemic.
We got to ask Rabies a few questions about his career, as well as the specifics of hosting and casting an esports event. Check it out!
First things first: how has COVID-19 impacted your work in esports?
Rabies: COVID-19 has dramatically impacted my business in esports. The main jobs that I get are as a commentator, MC and host, the vast majority of which are live events. Those were cut entirely starting in March, with no signs of returning.
Not to mention, my personal slogan “Stay Contagious,” which refers to being true to yourself and personality, started raising questions and turning heads in public areas. Let’s just say I got some dirty looks…
What changes did you make to try and bolster your brand in the absence of offline events and traditional pro circuits?
Rabies: Oddly enough, I got a lucky break when it came to COVID. Before, I was watching a lot of Joe Rogan Experience and I noticed how he was a multi-genre talent: he was commentating UFC and doing podcasting at home. He greatly inspired me so in November 2019, with the launch of the new Pokemon game, I started streaming full time on Twitch.
When COVID hit, not only was I already four months into streaming for 60 hours a week, but my numbers began to grow dramatically due to everyone being home. Since the pandemic, my viewership and community has continually grown and now, almost one year later, I’ve developed this side of my business. I am happy that I made the transition and was able to evolve in light of the outside circumstances.
You started out as a competitive gamer with Halo 2 on GameBattles. How important was that competitive online infrastructure for getting you more involved in esports?
Rabies: Honestly, the online GameBattles infrastructure was EVERYTHING to me! When I was 13 years old, I had such a drive and desire to compete in traditional sports, such as basketball and football, but I just didn’t have the guidance, discipline and my body hadn’t developed physically yet. I just felt like I couldn’t, so I didn’t. But I still had that fire burning inside me to compete.
Gamebattles flamed that fire and taught me that there are a ton of other gamers like me who share the same passion and desire to compete. Plus, being able to compete in video games at all hours of the day was a very fun advantage over traditional sports.
You’ve competed in esports events since 2006, primarily through Dead or Alive. Can you describe the growth and change you’ve experienced, from the more grassroots experience to the exponentially growing industry we see today?
Rabies: The growth in Esports since 2006 has been absolutely incredible but I can’t say I didn’t see it coming.
I was part of the second wave of original competitive gamers. Back in 2006, tournaments were 9-man locals in barbershop basements, complete with the dust on the old chairs and everything. It was the raw definition of grassroots with very, very few sponsors involved and only a handful of organizations participating. I was very fortunate because the games I played were DoA and Halo/Gears, which all had bigger events and sponsors than most other games.
However, as a player, you still were traveling all year round on your own dime, to maybe win $500 or less at a major event. Needless to say, when it costs $300+ to get there and the hours involved to train, it was BRUTAL but still an amazing experience.
These folks today have no idea how much the OG’s of gaming sacrificed to grow this scene when it was literally nothing more than competitors playing each other for bragging rights and some pocket change.
After many years as a competitor, you began trying your hand at casting in 2011. What made you want to make this jump?
Rabies: Well, I had the rough end of the stick. After competing for so many years before gaming was anything compared to what it is now, and winning little to no money compared to what I was spending to travel, I was disheartened. I stopped enjoying the 14-16 hour training days, traveling a lot and barely making a return on my investment, and it had me wanting to give up gaming.
Then one night, I sat there thinking to myself, “Man, I love this industry so much. How can I turn this into a real business model?” I started doing some research and found out that commentators were really the only ones getting paid back in 2011.
I had always been a fan of sports and casters’ talents such as speaking, annunciation, and pace. Plus, I had a deeper pool of particular esports knowledge than others, so I made the jump to casting and I haven’t looked back.
You’ve had experience casting multiple games of varying genres; how do you approach learning a new game? How do you identify what you’ll need to know to comment effectively on the game you’re casting?
Rabies: There is definitely a lot of preparation when learning a new game to cast. When I’m learning a new game, I start by watching tons of streams by the current games’ top players. I study their movements, their positioning and the types of characters or weapons that they constantly select from. I study all the aspects of their playstyle. I try to notice things they say they don’t like and do like, and I try to make mental notes of community “likes” and “dislikes” for each and every game that I touch.
I have it down to a raw science in my brain where I start doing community research and learn from the past and present histories of the participating teams and players. Receiving any and all information related to a broadcast is absolutely vital to building the storyline as a commentator. As far as identifying what I need to know to learn in a game, it’s really the same depending on which genre we’re talking about. You want to identify the win conditions of each particular game.
Hosting an esports event is an underappreciated skill: there are a million things to think about, and people will criticize for the smallest mistakes. What do you like about hosting as opposed to casting or competing? What do you wish people knew about that role, as someone who has to keep things entertaining and moving smoothly?
Rabies: I think hosting is another important talent in this industry. The ability to direct and pace the run of a show is a very important element to the overall experience of an event, whether it is live or online. To me, I have always practiced speaking regularly, and pride myself on having the proper knowledge and pace to be able to fit into multiple talent roles.
In addition to hosting, I can also MC, as I did for the NBA 2K League. In my opinion, it is absolutely vital for a talent to become well versed in all levels of production from casting to hosting to MC, and even potentially being a sideline interviewer. These are all critical to esports productions. I like hosting because it’s like directing traffic from the professional players to the audience. I always felt that a well-dressed and spoken host can make or break an esports event in my experience.
Most people don’t realize that a top tier host, commentator or even MC will even help sell copies of your game and expand your brand live on the air to the audience, if they’re invested enough.
Going back to casting, it’s a tough gig to land in esports, and an even tougher one to monetize. What advice would you give to esports casters that want to take their craft to the next level, and potentially get paid for it?
Rabies: Casting is extremely tough to get involved in, and it’s a nightmare to monetize effectively in today’s booming and oversaturated talent market. The advice that I would give anyone looking to take it to the next level is the same I gave myself, which is: you MUST be brutal with your persistence and consistent pursuit of your potential. You can absolutely never give up, as I always believe that the people who want it the most will always figure out a way to make it happen. That’s not by coincidence.
Another key piece of advice is to network, network, network. This may be the most important skill that I feel is needed, as you need to develop an identity as a talent piece. In addition, you must review and practice your craft constantly. It never hurts to ask yourself: “If I was a company, would I hire myself? Why would I?” Be honest with yourself then practice more.
(Questions and answers have been edited for clarity.)