Jonathon Ward is the founder of Wardi TV (previously known as SC2Improve), where for the past few years he has been managing teams, running tournaments and become a huge entertainer with over 2 million views on his stream. He has become one of the largest StarCraft 2 personalities in the United Kingdom and continues to run some of the most successful team leagues in the world. What started as a fun hobby from his room, quickly became a recognised brand in the esports world.
Video games have always been a big part of my life, even going back to some of my very first memories. My love stems from my Dad’s interest in electronics and building computers, which led to me having my own computer from a very young age. I remember we used to play a lot together, anything from flight simulators to Micro Machine over the LAN, and I have no doubt that it was these early encounters with computers and gaming which shaped my interest for the years to come.
I continued to play a lot of games as I grew up, with my first online game being a small MMORPG called “BladeMistress”, which I also played with my Dad. I didn’t have any interests in a specific genre, I just played whatever I was enjoying at the time and whatever my friends were playing as well, jumping from Call of Duty to Counter Strike and from RuneScape to World of Warcraft. Back then it was a hobby that I spent a lot of time with and even though I played competitively for a while in CounterStrike Source I never really thought about making a real living out of it, possibly because I was both too young and because it was not something that was really heard of about 10 years ago.
Something that always drew my further into gaming was the people you would meet and get to know, either within the games or through the games in some way. There used to be a LAN centre in Newcastle called Cyber Games Zone (CGZ) and I would often spend a few hours of my weekends there, playing in some of their tournaments, hanging out with friends and meeting others who were also interested in the games I was playing. Even online I met a lot of people through games, some of whom I am still in touch with today through social media. The social aspect of gaming is something a lot of people look past, or just don’t understand, but the friendships you make with your guild mates in WoW or your team mates in CounterStrike will always leave you with memories which will be with you for years to come.
A Diamond in the Rough
I actually found StarCraft 2 through this social aspect of gaming. One night I was on TeamSpeak with my WoW (World of Warcraft) guild and they were talking about playing on the StarCraft 2 Arcade. I didn’t really pay it much attention, but when I was in the city the next day I saw StarCraft on sale in Game and figured I would try it out and join in with my guildies (friend’s in his guild) the next time they played.
It turns out they were playing tower defense on the arcade, which I won’t lie I found really boring. I thought I’d wasted my money on the game, but I decided to try out the proper version of the multiplayer before I gave up on it and that is where I became absorbed. Since then (Summer 2011) I have not put down StarCraft for more than a week or two, something which I can’t say about any other game. Everything lined up in such a way that it really allowed me to get drawn deeper.
I went from finding out about the game to realising that I really liked the idea of RTS (Real Time Strategy) games, but that I was really bad at them. From there I started to research and learn how to play and memorizing which units countered what. This was just before I started University and so I went to University in Silver League. When I came back for the Christmas break I was in Platinum and by the end of Christmas break I had hit Diamond league already – I just couldn’t get enough of figuring out how to play and how to improve.
One of the things that encapsulated my interest in StarCraft was finding out about the emerging world of Esports. I remember tuning into the European Bliizzcon qualifiers and watching a TvT on Metalpolis between Strelok and Tarson(?), which was my first experience of Esports as we know it today. Seeing this competitive side of the game being broadcast and commentated and analyzed only continued to fuel my interest and I soon found myself regularly watching the events on TwitchTV and keeping up with all of the community websites about StarCraft 2.
Looking back what was really amazing was that I started watching in the era where Esports was just about to blow up in the Western world and so I feel I’ve almost grown up with Esports in a way, as the years have gone by.
My own involvement in Esports and my eventual career in commentary, event management and so on actually came from something of chance. I had a small group of people on Skype in what we called a practice group. We were looking for more players when I found a thread on a forum about somebody creating a chat channel for people to find opponents in on the American server. I figured hey, why not do the same for Europe? So I did. I called it SC2Improve and everything just went from there.
This was back in 2011 and since then my small chat channel grew to be one of the most popular chat channels on StarCraft EU Battle Net. As the channel and community grew I started to run some small cups for our players to play in and to give them something to aim for, as the whole community was about improving. From here a few of us decided to start streaming the tournaments and it became a fun weekly thing we did.
From here I ended up partnering with SCVRush, who were (and still are) an organisation that focuses on running events for players in lower leagues. We used each other for cross promotion as we were aiming for the same demographic of players. This led me to a lot more experience in the realm of running events and broadcasting as I worked as an admin for SCVRush for a few months. I remember one day they were missing a caster for an event I was meant to admin and so they asked me to cast, making it the first event I ever got to commentate which wasn’t my own.
From this point my journey through the realm of StarCraft 2 event organizing and casting is a mixture of tales of ups and downs, of putting in the hours and doing the work and of just loving what I was doing. All of this led to the general growth of my Twitch channel and to my own personal growth as an event organizer and as a caster.
What I feel is really special about my journey to where I am today is that it truly is my journey — I got here off the back of running my own events and figuring it all out on my own. Which isn’t what I would advise to anyone trying to do what I do today if you want to make it — networking and working with others is a major part of growing your presence and viewership as well as learning the do’s and dont’s of the industry. I definitely took the harder path doing the majority of all this on my own, but that is something I can look back at and be proud of now.
To skip to the present day I am now work full time streaming, casting and running events in StarCraft 2, something I committed to after I finished University in the summer of 2015 and since then had enough success to continue doing what I love. I re branded from SC2Improve to WardiTV and I currently run the largest long-running team league in StarCraft 2 – the WardiTV Team League is now in the seventh season.
I am now the second largest English community-casting channel for StarCraft 2 events, covering pretty much any online event (cups, World Championship Qualifiers, DreamHack qualifiers, IEM Qualifiers etc.) as well as running plenty of my own events under WardiTV. I have also moved into my own office-studio where I have a lot more freedom to work at all hours of the day and to improve the quality of my broadcasts.
I also get the chance to travel and meet people from around the world who are also travelling to compete or to work at esports events. Last year I got invited to cast the WESG America Qualifier Finals in Brazil, which ticked “casting a major offline event” off of my career goal list. Having the chance to see the world with so many different people makes me feel so lucky – not everybody can claim to have close friends from all corners of Europe or even in America, and get the chance to see them multiple times a year. When I think about that, I realise just how amazing the world of esports is.
It always feels a bit weird for me to tell my story because it reads as a bit of a fairytale and it’s almost ridiculous to think back to where I have come from and how much I have achieved since I started out with a small chat channel. But that’s what makes it all so special for me, I’ve put in the work and now I’m actually, somehow, living the dream. My dream.