Talk­ing a good game

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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

The bur­geon­ing videogame com­men­tary com­mu­nity on what it takes to cover eS­ports

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

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