John Bain, better known by his gaming alias ‘Totalbiscuit’, or ‘TB’, was a gaming personality, critic, and esports caster who passed late in May after a long battle with cancer. From his home in North Carolina, Totalbiscuit touched the lives of millions through his content. He is perhaps best known for his time on the Co-Optional Podcast, and it will be a point of pride for TB that his show will go on, continued by his fellow hosts, and wife of nine years, Genna.
Originally from Newcastle, Bain was a broadcaster from the beginning. Whilst studying law at De Montfort university, he became the Head of Specialist Music for the student radio station Demon FM, and ran a successful metal show. He then brought his extraordinary presentation talents to talk radio, working simultaneously at a GAME retail outlet, (which he hated,) and at WoW Radio, into which he drove huge passion, hosting ‘Blue Plz’ and ‘Epic’.
World of Warcraft was Totalbiscuit’s first love, and the place where he stole the hearts of many for his professionalism and detailed analysis. Covering World of Warcraft in-depth would give Bain the skills in production and game critique that he developed over later years on his podcast.
His second love found over WoW Radio was his wife, Genna Bain, who he met covering Bizzcon (the main convention for Blizzard games.) They married in 2007, and Bain moved to the US shortly after, in spite of visa issues. Over time, his analysis outgrew WoW, and he left in 2010 to pursue a career as a full-time games critic. His ‘WTF is…’ series ran for 734 episodes. The show aimed to give potential buyers of PC games a ‘first impressions’ style look at titles. The format extended to interviews with developers, and more longform discussions on certain changes or practises. It was perhaps his background in law that made him a strong consumer advocate. ‘WTF is…’ was created primarily to save potential buyers money on poorly-conceived titles, or to highlight games by smaller, independent developers that might be due a closer look.
The Game Station, the network that represented TB, was at the time looking to start a podcast that covered gaming news and trailers. Bain was the obvious choice to host. Alongside him were Jesse Cox, with whom Totalbiscuit had worked over the WoW Radio days, and Dodger, who had joined the network at the same time as TB. The podcast eventually split from the Game Station under the ‘Co-Optional’ brand and became legendary in the gaming community for its mix of comedy, stupid segues, useful game critiques (mostly by TB,) and gaming news. It spawned numerous clones, but Bain proved his selflessness by promoting those that he thought were valuable, even appearing on early episodes of rival shows to boost viewing figures. He was known in the industry for his patient encouragement of newer creators to produce more content. Large personalities like itmeJP, Boogie, and Jim Sterling all owe much of their success to his efforts. He was such a professional that his wife eventually found him reviewing games in his sleep.
Bain’s impact was felt most deeply in games he thought were worth more attention. His Starcraft 2 team, Axiom Esports, was run at a substantial loss for its entire life, but his efforts to bring so-called ‘faceless Koreans’ into the Western spotlight were important in establishing Starcraft 2 esports. The scene profited from his boundless enthusiasm for creating personalities. He continued to commentate the game even post-diagnosis, and following his death, was cremated and placed inside his Starcraft trophy. Although his passion for Starcraft 2 was particularly special, he also worked to promote Planetside 2, roll-playing a ruthless dictator to generate interest in the game and gain supporters for his faction. Planetside was perfect for Totalbiscuit: it had the perfect blend of strategy, simplicity, and utter madness. Jesse Cox, in memorialising TB, wanted everyone to know that he was a ‘giant goofball’ at his core.
It’s ironic that Bain’s speciality was covering gaming news, because his face dominated the front pages of most gaming news websites, and even hit the BBC over the week following his death. The countless tributes from all corners of gaming fandom are a testament to his power to impact on how people broadcasted and thought about games. Even the titles themselves have been altered: he made frame-rate an issue, pushed back on industry malpractice like microtransactions, and forced quality of life features like FOV sliders into games. His influence will continue to be felt in gameplay for years to come, but the gaming industry will be a less happy place for his absence. Thank you Totalbiscuit. You will be missed.