Christopher Pankhurst, better known as Panky to pretty much every one, has been around the eSports scene for some time. Things started out for him in League of Legends, where he enjoyed a stint working for Riot Games, before deciding to test the waters of freelance casting and streaming. Since then he has become the broadcast face of Rainbow Six Siege, helping grow the young scene massively and bringing an extra air of professionalism to broadcasts.
While at the recent Rainbow Six Invitational event, that saw the best teams in the world compete for the title of world champions, we caught up with Panky, fo find out a little more about his journey and the booming Rainbow Six Siege eSports scene.
eSports Pro: Could you give us a bit of a background on your eSports history, where you started off, and how you ended up getting here to the Rainbow Six Invitational?
Panky: “I started on League of Legends. I was at university and I did my university course and, luck would have it, Riot released their spectate mode slap bang in the middle of this time so I thought "I'm gonna do some of this". I got very lucky back then, very early on, uploaded things on YouTube. I got picked up by ESL and stuff and started doing lots of the early IEMs, lots of the early stuff with that. And then spent a couple years working with Riot in Berlin. I left there towards the end of 2015 and just found Rainbow Six, just through playing with friends and fell in love with the game. And at the time, I was job hunting.
So I messaged Geneviève [Forget, Rainbow Six Siege International Product Manager] and I was like, "Hey. I know this is kinda out of the blue, but do you have any kind of community openings, I'm looking for work, love the game, would love to be involved somehow". And at the time they didn't, but she kept my name for file, kept the CV, and then they were obviously talking about the Pro League, they were planning it. And ESL sent them a bunch of portfolios. It was like, here's shout casters we used, pick some. My name was on this list because of the work I'd done on League in the past and then Geneviève spotted me because of the conversation and thought I would be perfect.
So I stumbled on in, little bit by accident, and as a result I'm here with that. But through the years of working with Riot and they years of doing League of Legends it's just, I'd like to think and I've been able to help teach others like, my co-casters. They've never cast anything before, they've never worked on other things. So having that previous knowledge is just helping round out the broadcast a lot.”
eSports Pro: Is there a lot of people that want to get into casting Rainbow Six, or is it just a small group of you who do almost everything?
Panky: “Recently I've had a couple of extra messages. People that are asking, "how do I start", "how can I go about this?" But it's not as big as I would like it to be. There's plenty of things out there that go on and happen every weekend, ESL’s open tournaments. Those are free for anyone to cast if they want to. There are a few community things going on through. And there are a couple of people that would like to cast but some of them that already do aren't doing it in the intention of making it a career, they're not doing it with the intention of a job. They're just, they're having fun with it, they like watching the game, they like casting streams. So they do it for the fun side of it.
It would be nice to have a few people that want to do it a bit more professionally, we could definitely flesh out the numbers a bit and work with them. But I think we'll get there. The spectate mode is a bit of a pain in the arse to use at the moment. I hope it's being overhauled, that it's being worked on. But that's deep engine stuff apparently which is tough to work with. But when it does happen it should help a lot more and things like replay systems. Like even League of Legends wasn't filled with casters until the spectate mode, until the replay system.
So with luck if that comes through that should help. But there are people talking about it and people that have seen it and are asking. But there's no one yet, or there's very few people at the moment that are willing to just go and do it for the sake of doing it and being noticed for their casts. A lot of people a like, "could I do this?" Or "what were your tips?" Or "what are your pointers". It's the same for everyone, we have all got here, eSports started just because we all love the game, we love eSports, so we just did it. And then you'll get noticed because you did it. So we need a few more people that are just willing to put the work in, put the hours in regardless of conversation. But we'll get there.”
eSports Pro: Do you think there is any factors that will limit the growth of Rainbow Six Siege as an eSport?
Panky: “I think there's gonna be a point where we've hit saturation with the operators and the maps. I've said it multiple times, I would rather, rather than four new maps this year. We've already got sixteen in all. I would they go over four of the lesser played ones, four of the lesser refined ones and rework some of those a bit. And I think if that doesn't happen, we're gonna hit a slightly rough point of way too many operators, very hard to balance out, and a lot of maps just not working with the newer things. But providing that's on Ubisoft's radar, and that gets worked with the game, I don't see an end point for it. It can keep going, there's so much they can do there. They've definitely got the imagination and the design ideas and lots of operators. And as far as the numbers are going, as far as the community's going, it's just growing and growing and growing.”
eSports Pro: So if it does hit that point when the studio kind of realises, "We've got so much stuff in the game now, we should probably stop", do you think that they would look to turn to more micro-transaction based content?
Panky: “Well, that's the thing. This is a monetization setup unlike anything else Ubisoft have but they did, and they have now realised how successful it is being. They are earning a lot of money with this game. To the point where they went out, I want to say six months ago, and said they are going to use this model now on a lot of their other titles. So no, as far the monetization goes I don't see that changing any time soon because it's earning a lot. It's great as far as a consumer is concerned, like the season pass, yes is the price of another game, but considering the hours that we put in this game over the course of the year and the content they give back, which is for free is brilliant. And you get that content for free regardless of buying a season pass. You just get it a little bit earlier, you get a little bit extra. So no, I don't see the monetization needing to change at all.”
eSports Pro: Realistically, do you think Rainbow Six will ever be able to challenge League as the number one eSport in the world?
Panky: “I mean, nothing's going to hit League numbers any time soon, but, I think, Counter-Strike is its go to comparison, which has had 15 years to build its audience, but we're bringing in good numbers, and I expect this weekend's going to hit somewhere easily around the 100k mark. The growth over the last year has been exponential, from event to event and that was when we split focus for the pro scene, across PC and across Xbox, with the year two thing coming through, with the game getting massive updates, with Ubisoft putting a lot more into it and the focus going on just the PC community. I feel like the growth is going to skyrocket. The general player base has apparently skyrocketed, while they won't release anything officially all signs point to the fact that it's going up and the professional scene and the way they're supporting it is just going to follow that.”