Careers in Esports, Austin Wright, Freelance Esports Photographer

Being in the right place at the right time is critical for taking the perfect picture. That single frame that can capture the exultation of victory or the anguish of a loss. Behind those pictures are the tireless photographers who weave their way through the crowd and behind the scenes searching for a single moment. 

We sat down with freelance photographer, Austin Wright, to discuss his own photography experiences in esports and asked him what advice he would give to those looking to get into esports photography.

How did you first get involved with esports?

My first experience with esports was back in 2012 with IGN Pro League. That was my first esports event I had ever watched, and I was fascinated by it. I was playing plenty of League of Legends at the time, too.

Since then it’s always been something I’ve been interested in. My first role was doing some social media work for Flipsid3 Tactics. Since then, I’ve been doing a lot of gig work: some photography, some videography, some social media.

Mainly, a lot of creative roles in esports because that’s where I’ve found I’m really passionate.

You mentioned your first job there with Flipsid3 Tactics, can you expand on that?

My first role was a volunteer social media role for Flipsid3 Tactics, I believe it was in 2014. I was a big fan of Counter Strike, watching hours and hours and hours of CS. I had the opportunity to help out with some social media coverage for their CS team. Met a number of wonderful people during my time working there: Michael Finch and Hector Rozario. Both are incredible people and have been great friends of mine since then.

The main thing I wanted to talk to you about today was your freelance photography. Can you talk a little bit about what you do?

I picked up photography as a bit of a hobby three years ago. I only started making money off of it last year. Before that, I was just shooting when I could. The first big client I had in esports was working for AVGL—previously they were just known for their collegiate esports before their acquisition by Code Red. Their big involvement has been getting collegiate esports on the main stage at DreamHack. That’s how I met up with a couple people at AVGL, Andrew Garza and Victor Suski did plenty of photography for them at all of their DreamHack events in North America.  3 mins 

Since then I’ve branched out a bit more. The other more frequent gig I have in esports is with Localhost Denver, here in Colorado. I’m a big fan those people and love working with them to shoot their local events. That’s actually one of my bigger passions in esports is the grassroots, low-key esports where it’s just a bunch of people from one area coming together to play something they’re passionate about. It’s not nearly as much about the money as it is the bragging rights. Getting to capture those moments on camera is really fun for me. 

Unfortunately, we’ve had a lot of events cancelled because of COVID-19, but hopefully they’ll start up again once it’s safe.

Pertaining to these local style events, how would you get those jobs?

A big key to getting them is networking. I just try to meet as many people as possible, even going to events when I wasn’t an esports player. A big reason I’ve been able to make so many connections is because there is the LAN center called Clutch Gaming Arena in Colorado, and a good friend and mentor of mine who ran the center, Justin Moskowitz, connected me with a lot of people over the years.

I always try to grow my connections. To me, it’s not about the traditional networking where you try to get people on your LinkedIn. I don’t care about that. What I care about is making meaningful connections with people and being able to exchange value with them.

If it’s a great conversation or in the future we can help each other out—I want to help people up as much as I want people to be able to help me. It’s an equal exchange of value. It’s not about me trying to get somewhere in the world, I want to get everybody somewhere in the world.

Long story short, I met a lot of people and Localhost had an issue with their last photographer and they reached out to me.

What are some of the intricacies people would need to look out for when shooting in esports? Would you have to look for different things if you were shooting in the FPS scene versus the MOBA scene?

You have to be at least a little bit familiar with games to be able to shoot them. My first DOTA event, I had to do a bit of research on the game. I knew a lot about League of Legends, but you need to be able to know when things are going to happy so you can capture reactions.

It’s very easy to fill your camera roll with someone in a headset staring at a screen. Those get boring very quickly. You need to be able to capture the emotion, which is what makes esports separate from just watching gaming on a stream. That’s the reason we have photographers come in and shoot live events, to capture the emotions and the people.

If you’re familiar with a game, then you’re able to move around and be in the right place and the right time. That’s most of what esports and event photography is, being there with the right settings.

For example, in CS, you have to gauge how the round is going and be on the right side. If there’s a 1v2 happening, and the game is pretty close, I don’t intend to stand on the side with 2 people. That’s less likely to have an interesting reaction because they’re likely to win and they’ll just be doing what is expected of them.

If you stand with the single player in the 1v2, you can get a really cool reaction if they pop off.

Would you say that’s the hardest part of esports and event photography, knowing those moments to capture?

Absolutely. Everything else is pretty easy to come by. You can read about shooting in low light and learning about camera settings.

Nothing can replicate just being able to have a feel for the game and what you’re doing on stage to be in the right place at the right time. That’s not something you can really teach as much.

If a middle or high school student wanted to follow in your footsteps, what would you recommend they do?

Just get out there and shoot. It doesn’t even have to be esports, but that’s great if it is. Shoot as much as you can outside of that and shoot esports when you get that opportunity. Shoot for your high school club, your local club, your college club. Just have your camera with you whenever you’re at anything esports related.

Build your portfolio, try to get as much feedback as you can from other photographers, and post your stuff on social media.

Do you have any camera recommendations?

Whatever you’re comfortable with. There are a lot of fantastic offerings from Fujifilm, Canon, Panasonic, Sony, Nikon… whatever you’re comfortable with and can make it work. The equipment is so much less important than the person behind it. You’ll find what works for you and you’ll continue to upgrade as you work.

What are your thoughts about Scholastic Esports?

I think the involvement of scholastic esports in curriculum is really important. As someone who was never really good at school, it was very easy for me to get interested in other things. So if I could be interested in esports and school at the same time it would be a fantastic way to engage me. I’m sure there are plenty of other people out there just like that. 

I think that’s a really great driving factor for an industry that is growing so much right now. Esports is becoming such a big thing, so why not involve games and esports in school and education so we can get more people engaged directly to really get them learning better.

What’s your favorite esports experience so far?

My greatest experience so far was getting to work on the Rainbow Six Siege U.S. Nationals last year with ESL. Being able to see that project through completion, up until the LAN finals in Las Vegas last December was truly incredible. Getting to see that product that we worked on for over a year come to a conclusion—Spacestation Gaming won, and it was euphoric standing up there on the stage when they won. Grabbing shots of them and an interview. Turning around and seeing this massive crowd cheering them on—it was pretty unreal experience for me there. 

Finally, what is it you love most about esports?

Is how much of an escape it has been for me and knowing that it can be that for other people too. It’s been there when things are not so hot and always will be. Just knowing that it can be that for other people is a good feeling. 

Thank you very much, if people wanted to connect with you how should they do it?

You can find me on most social media @wroadie, though Twitter is definitely the best one.

All photos courtesy of Austin Wright