PapaSmithy leaves an impact on English-speaking LCK fans

Christopher "PapaSmithy" Smith casts during the 2019 LCK regional qualifier at the LoL Park in Seoul, South Korea. For years, PapaSmithy has been the English voice of League of Legends in South Korea. Courtesy of Riot Games

LOS ANGELES -- Christopher "PapaSmithy" Smith is no stranger to making big moves in esports. First, he traded in a career as a school psychologist for a microphone to commentate. Now, he's jumping from casting to being the League of Legends general manager for 100 Thieves.

But let's go back to the start -- in western Australia.

While working as a school psychologist, Smith became enamored with the esports world, specifically League of Legends. Eventually he tried his hand, or voice, at amateur commentating, which quickly developed into a passion that took over his everyday life.

"[Commentating] started to occupy all of my thoughts," Smith said. "I really wanted to see it through and see if I could reach a level that would make it a full-time pursuit. Eventually, I quit my job and invested everything into making casting a viable future."

Smith's decision to go all-in on esports turned out to be the correct one. He was hired by Riot Games Oceania to commentate both the local Australian league and the Chinese domestic league. From there he was hired full time by South Korean television cable company OGN, and he moved to Seoul in the middle of 2015 to begin what would turn into his breakthrough in esports by casting League Champions Korea, the most dominant region in the world at the time.

Once a fresh-faced rookie on the South Korean broadcast, Smith was thrust into the spotlight at the end of 2016 when the league's star commentating duo, Christopher "MonteCristo" Mykles and Erik "DoA" Lonnquist, parted ways with OGN to cast the newly formed Overwatch League in Los Angeles.

Smith established himself as the English-casting face of South Korean League of Legends by not missing a day of commentating -- from Aug. 15, 2017, until Jan. 25, 2019: 530 days. Because of a lack of another color commentator on staff, he battled illness and fatigue at times to continue his streak, cementing his iron man status as he cast your favorite LCK teams.

After commentating the world championship final on-site in Incheon, South Korea, to end the 2018 season, considered the pinnacle for a League of Legends caster, the same thoughts which led him to leave psychology behind in Australia to go into esports returned.

What was next?

He'd accomplished his goal of making a career out of esports commentating, created a broadcast streak more than likely never to be outdone, and even cast the world final in the country he made a name for himself.

For Smith, it was all about how he could create something everlasting in esports. While crafting narratives for players and teams alike on the broadcast was meaningful to him, it left him wanting. Smith had delved into creating individual content on his own YouTube and Twitch channel by reviewing League of Legends games from around the world, and he found himself itching to branch out from his sturdy perch as LCK's English face.

"I've been looking for a future direction that lets me use my experiences to build something in esports because esports is the field I feel most passionate about," Smith said. "It occupies my thoughts of almost every minute of every day. ... That day-to-day, minute-to-minute skin-in-the-game reality of being a GM is so removed from the first chapter of my esports involvement, and getting personal with a project like this is super anticipating. There will be no curtains to hide behind. This is going to be me putting my heart and soul into a project and offering it up to be judged by the masses. And I hope I'm able to create something special."

When deciding where to go next, he confided in friends that went through the same process of leaving one legacy behind to chase another. One of those in particular was Martin "Deficio" Lynge, who transitioned from a famed color commentator in Europe's major domestic league, the LEC, to being the general manager of Origen. In Deficio's first season with his new team, they went all the way to the final, eventually losing to G2 Esports.

When asked about what made the general manager position too strong of an offer to pass up, Smith relayed the fact that the opportunity was a culmination of his life up to that point. Not only could he use the skills, knowledge and relationships he created through his almost five years of casting, but his psychology background could be utilized in his new role. It's a marriage of the talents he's picked up throughout the years.

Smith has created a chance most people in life don't receive -- a chance to create something which will stand the test of time.

"Chris Smith is one of the most well-respected analysts and commentators in the esports industry," Jacob Toft-Andersen, VP of Esports for 100 Thieves, told ESPN. "His background makes him more than qualified to be our LoL team's General Manager and his vision for the future aligns with what 100 Thieves is trying to achieve."

As for South Korea, which has become a second home, Smith believes he's leaving it in a stronger state than ever. Although the finals he cast in 2018 was the first time since 2012 in which a South Korean team did not walk away with the world championship, the scene's foundations are much stronger than when he touched down back in 2015. Back then the domestic league was in flux. A slew of the nation's top players, including the entire starting roster of the reigning world champion organization, left the country for better monetary opportunities elsewhere.

Nowadays, as Smith prepares to say goodbye, the South Korean scene is thriving, with organizations like SK Telecom T1 spending top dollar to keep the country's top talent. New organizations such as Griffin have arisen in the last year and followed suit, signing the team's newly worlds-qualifying core to lucrative multi-year deals. Instead of an exodus, there is a resurgence in the league that sparked Smith's love of League of Legends in the first place.

At the moment, Smith's farewell cast is slated Sept. 11, where one final team will be relegated into the minor leagues and one team will find itself promoted into the 2020 LCK. For what comes after in terms of commentating, specifically the upcoming world championships in Europe, those are decisions to be had within the 100 Thieves organization and with Riot Games.

And although he will be moving to North America by the start of next year to be fully integrated into 100 Thieves, the possibility of a cameo at the LCS studios isn't out of the question -- Deficio has done guest appearances on the LEC broadcast.

He might be moving into a new chapter of his career, but if it makes sense for all parties involved to never say never.

"Obviously at the start, I expect to be pretty swamped if I'm going to practice what I preach when it comes to being as involved in the organization as I want to be," Smith said. "I don't know if day one of the LCS would make sense for any party, but it's definitely something I'm open to. ... Just because the broadcast involvement is definitely going to be reduced in the future, it's not going to be my first priority, it's still something I love doing, and if the fans still want me, I'm open-minded coming on the broadcast if makes sense for all parties."

Beyond it all, though, through the stories of his past and his visions of the future, Smith's goal is clear.

He's not leaving South Korea without reason.

He wants to build. He wants to create. He wants to leave a mark on the scene which has changed his life forever.

"I want to make 100 Thieves an organization that North America is proud of," PapaSmithy said.