Edgy title right? I guess that would depend on whether you like my work or not. Lesson one: not everyone will like you or your commentary, no matter how much you might improve. That’s something you’ll have to accept and be okay with. There’s no accounting for personal taste. For part two of my series on casting, I’ll stop trying to discourage you from getting into casting. 🙂 This time around I’ll focus on some of the mechanics and minutiae of broadcast commentary. I’ve been guilty of most of these things at various points.
What’s the point?
Is commentary about informing the viewer or entertaining? It’s a bit of both, however, I’d strongly argue that the entertainment aspect is the more important of the two. Players of your chosen game will undoubtedly tell you they want in-depth analysis and plenty of stats. Usually, they’re a louder voice collectively than the average fans of the game that might tune in, so it’s easy to think veering towards a highly analytical approach is the way to go. In actual fact, they’re louder because they’re more passionate about their game because of their deep involvement in it. That’s perfectly fine. Just remember that on even the very biggest esports productions the viewership always drops when the analysis panel is on screen. No matter how good or engaging the analysts are, 40 to 50 percent of the viewers will leave when they doing their thing.
Of course, as a caster in the early stages of your career you might very well want to pack as much analysis into your stream as possible. Sometimes to pander to the players and sometimes to try show how much you know about the game. Don’t fall into that trap. If you keep casting, you’ll have plenty of time to show your game knowledge over the course of many games. There’s no reason to spend the time after games dissecting the game in exquisite detail when the only people left are the handful or hardcore viewers and the people that fell asleep with the stream open. Wrap it up succinctly and move on. The same is true of the pregame. A few minutes is good, but talking for 45 before the match even starts is not the way I’d go.
As a formerly boring caster that’s happy to admit that, I feel qualified to comment on this. A lot of creating entertainment is in the little details nobody thinks about. It’s not about the dank memes or your bantering skills. Those things have their place, but the line between turning your cast into a tiresome meme-fest and being entertaining is a fine one. Joking is fine, but know your audience and know who you’re working for. Some tournament organizers (TOs) don’t take kindly to joking around on their broadcasts. It’s better to have some situational humor based on what’s going on in the game. Comment on that funny moment by all means, but don’t make the cast more about that than the game.
Onto the details! Find some inflection in your voice. In other words, emphasize some of your words differently to put emphasis on the important ones. Don’t just drone away in the same expressionless tone of voice for hours (I’m speaking to myself on this one). Get excited and shout if you have to. Just make sure your microphone gain is correctly set so that you don’t ruin people’s ears with horrible distortion when you do shout. Speak in a lower tone of voice to create some atmosphere in a clutch situation. Go quietly sometimes to build tension or give viewers a break. You don’t need to feel like every single moment requires some comment on it. It’s a common trap for new casters. Feel free to not talk sometimes! When you do talk, for the love of all things that are good and pure in this world, please sound like you’re enjoying yourself and actually want to be casting the game.
Learn some synonyms for the common occurrences in the game. If you describe every kill in the game in the same way, it starts to come across as you just reading the kill feed. The audience has eyes. They can see that. Make it more interesting for them. That’s your job. Ignoring what’s happening on screen occasionally and talking about another aspect is not a bad thing to do to change it up a bit. Just make sure you have the words in your arsenal to pull it off. You’re going to need to spend some time with a thesaurus to expand your vocabulary. Learn some figures of speech. If you don’t have a good grasp of the English language, you need to put in the work to build yourself up in that area or you’re going to grate on your viewers.
It takes two. Usually.
Solo casting is a very difficult thing to pull off. If you feel you’ve got the casting chops, go for it. Remember that it will mean you need to be even more on point when it comes to expression, inflection and vocabulary to avoid putting your viewers to sleep. I’d always recommend finding a good co-caster. That way you both get to share the load in terms of microphone time and add some interest to the broadcast. The dynamic and interaction between casters is one of the most critical in terms of entertaining viewers. It will always take time to create a good working relationship.
When you’re casting with the person sitting next to you, it’s easy to develop visual cues to avoid talking over each other. Online, it’s exponentially more difficult. You need to go in with the attitude that you’re going to give your co-caster space. If he’s talking, try to avoid interrupting him. I struggled with this for ages. No matter how important you feel the detail you might want to point out is, it can always wait. Be respectful of one another and leave your ego at the door. After casting with ten different casting partners in the last 12 months for the various tournaments and online leagues, these were lessons dearly learned.
In a traditional broadcast commentary, one person is the play by play commentator and the other is the color commentator. In esports, it’s become common for casters to be hybrids of both roles in games like CS:GO while other titles have a much more rigid PBP and colour structure. The PBP is all about calling out all the important actions and driving a running commentary of what’s happening in the game. This is the person that will usually be talking 60% of the time. The color is the person painting between the outline the PBP is drawing for the viewer. Colour is there to add the why and the how of things for the viewer. To add context and meaning to what’s happening. That person will get to talk less but will be the one looking at the more micro-actions and subtle interactions leading to what the PBP is describing. It may take you a while to figure out your ideal role. In my case, I was a color caster for a long time, but now switch roles depending on who I’m working with. Either way, go at it full out and learn your role. There’s plenty of information out there on both roles if you want to do more reading on the subject.
Learn to discern between useful feedback and useless negativity. Almost all comments on your casting will contain a measure of truth that often requires a thick skin and a self-critical eye to discern. As a commentator, you can never rest on your laurels. Every single outing, whether it’s a tiny online game or a big tournament is an opportunity to find something you could be doing better. Review your VODs regularly and focus on the details you were getting wrong and what needs work. Be hard on yourself but also give yourself room to improve. It takes time to not be a terrible caster.