Talking a good game
The videogame commentators bringing e Sports to the masses
When talk turns to eSports, the focus is largely split between the professional players who master the mechanics and the developers who make the games. But whenever a high-profile tournament is streamed on Twitch.tv or uploaded to YouTube, the action is framed by the commentator.
“One of my favourite examples is from a qualifying event for the Street Fighter 25th Anniversary tournament held in Los Angeles in 2012,” says fighting game commentator David Graham. “James Chen and I were on the mic for the grand finals between Justin Wong using Rufus and Snake Eyes using Zangief. Rufus’s character design usually lends itself best to playing offense, but that’s tough for him to do against Zangief, so he’s forced into a slower midrange game. That can be pretty boring to watch if you’re not intimately familiar with it, but James and I love that kind of matchup, because it’s about controlling space and limiting the opponent’s options. We explained everything in great detail in a way that we don’t usually have time for. Lots of people told us it was their favourite grand finals in quite a while.”
It highlights why commentators are so necessary. While fighting games rarely break the 100,000 mark in terms of viewership, League Of Legends holds the eSports record with a peak of over 8,500,000 concurrent viewers for the Season 3 World Championship. One of the English-speaking commentators for this event was Joe Miller, a former Battlefield 1942 pro player who now works as a commentator and editor for eSports
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League (ESL) TV in Germany. “At the start, we’d broadcast audio-only streams to just a handful of viewers via a Winamp plug-in,” he recalls. “Now we’re working on the League Of Legends Championship Series, a broadcast that is filmed in a large studio with a full production crew.”
Miller is one of the fortunate few who’s managed to turn videogame commentary into a full-time career. But while most commentators don’t earn a living from their craft, that doesn’t mean it can’t open doors in other ways. “It’s a great way to meet people, see friends and talk about videogames,” Graham explains. “I have no intention of making videogame commentary a career. But it’s helped me start a private law practice concentrating on entertainment and videogames. The people I’ve met while travelling for commentary have been vital in referrals and as clients themselves.”
More games are being made with commentators in mind, too. “Riot Games added the Spectator Mode at a very early stage,” Miller recalls. “This made our job easier and allowed us to be more informative. Showing the amount of gold earned by each team may seem like a simple addition, but it means we don’t have to guess what state the match is in economically.” It’s not just League Of Legends either – the CODcasting utility in Call Of Duty: Black Ops II was a clear recognition of the streaming scene’s growing importance.
Games that mimic real sports also affect how much commentary support is necessary. “Fighting games are behind other competitive genres,” says
“At the start, we’d broadcast audioonly streams to just a handful of viewers via a Winamp plug-in”
From top: commenters David Graham, James Chen, Joe Miller and Riot’s Leigh Smith