The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of ggChronicle
There’s an Americanism known to most: “eating crow,” meaning humiliation by admitting wrongness. It is not, by any means, a pleasant flavor – a sort of foul, loathsome oiliness that slides down your gullet and rests heavily in your stomach with the burden of knowing that somehow, somewhere along the way, you’ve let your analysis slip away from you and crash.
Right now, a lot of analysts are eating “crow a la Georgallidis.”
HotshotGG’s recent performances in the jungle have been nothing short of astounding… that is, for a man formerly considered strictly a top laner. While he’s still plagued by a limited pool of comfortable champions, teams are getting wrecked for underestimating his Shen and Nautilus. CLG.Prime’s founder seems to have found a natural role where he’s ganking as opposed to being ganked, and is allowed to play as aggressively as he wants, free from most concerns of positioning and overextending.
Of course, he still has some ways to go. George of the Jungle can’t seem to harness the might of the dragon well – and his visits to Dr. Mundo’s Clinic of Pain and Fire are scarce enough that I cannot be sure if he’s ever actually used the good doctor’s services. Nor does he appear to be much of a tree-hugger, despite brother team CLG.EU’s great successes on Maokai. But that is, frankly, quibbling over details. After all, he’s proven what almost all of us doubted – that, when called upon, he will adapt to the role, and do it well.
CLG.Prime went second and third place in two consecutive tournaments when everybody else had stopped considering them among the uppermost tier of North American competitors, barely losing by one match in both games against an overwhelmingly dominant Team Solomid – a hint, perhaps, that the team needs but a bit of tweaking to reach a new renaissance. No matter how you cut it, CLG’s showings are impressive.
Hotshot, I was wrong about you, and I will gladly admit it. I look forward to more servings of humble pie.
The analysts weren’t the only ones snacking on avian scavengers, as despite the success of the teams involved, the latest tournaments were of a controversial tone. Sundance Digiovanni’s hype over MLG Anaheim’s production values proved to be nothing but, and its highly controversial premium pricing seemed an unwise investment in light of the enormous network troubles they’d exhibited all event. The much anticipated presentation wasn’t anything particularly stellar either, as reports came trickling in from teams describing the substandard preparations of everything from the hastily arranged match schedule, to “tuning” problems with the soundproof booths’ white noise generators and other systems. Even its hyped presentation tech lost much of its luster, having already been done and refined before by Asian organizations. All of this was on top of a mountain of smaller issues including faulty non-USB headset drivers that forced CLG.EU to finally use non-regulation sets after a couple matches, the usage of Dominion instead of Summoner’s Rift Custom Games to practice, unfamiliar keybindings, et cetera.
Major League Gaming’s hastiness and obsession with having matches happen on time isn’t entirely wrong – timeliness is absolutely a necessity for a good tournament. From having seen the administration of ggClassic 1, I’m well aware of just how frustrating delays and sudden complications can be to absolutely everybody involved at any level for any tournament, be they administrators, players or viewers. However, work done to avoid those problems is supposed to accentuate the quality of the cast, and make it easier to watch – when it’s interfering with the quality of play, it’s no longer just strict, but outright draconian.
Of course, if MLG Anaheim was an example of excessive strictness, the GESL was a case study in the other extreme, with an overwhelmingly negative perception from the Reddit community over their sloppy execution. While having teams play in front of an audience is expected of LAN events, having them up close and so intimate as to smell the tic tacs from a fanboy’s breath is perhaps pushing the bounds of common sense. Worse, that was by far the least of the things that went wrong that weekend. Even after the internet came back, the casters were left liveblogging over chat the ongoings of the early matches – a slip-up that they would not easily live down.
To be fair to GESL, their problems were basically the expected growing pains of a first-time LAN event – spiced with passive-aggressive hints of sabotage by what GESL claimed to be “industry figures.” The former is something every tournament organizer has to bite the bullet on – even the first ggClassic had similar issues. We can only expect things to be better in the future.
What all tournaments need to improve on, regardless of their size, is the quality of casting – while individual capabilities have improved since the days of listening to casters backseat-driving champion selections, the art of live commentary in LoL is still underwhelmingly developed – and it is especially noteworthy when the team dynamics are improving. Even the presentation quality has gotten so that split-feeds are worthy of a ho-hum “seen it before” response.
When asked in a recent AMA (for non-Redditors: “Ask Me Anything” discussion thread), ladies’ man and all-around stellar caster Joe Miller stated that the primary problem with a lot of League casters is their tendency to try and play both analytical and play-by-play roles at once. While workable and expected of solo casters – where most of these guys got their start – it is a handicap to the dynamics of a two-person casting squad. The “2.5-man conversation” method of presentation can be quite good and enjoyable between two analysts in a post-match review, where they just talk at each other and towards the audience, but making it work amid a live game requires a godly amount of caster chemistry, and we simply do not, as of yet, have the equivalent of Starcraft 2’s “Tastosis” Casting Archon.
What we currently have is a lot of casters with a LOT of enthusiasm, and except for Riot’s house casters, not a whole lot of practical experience or guidance in professional presentation.
Here’s how you avoid stinking up your cast:
First, establish the right mindset – and most of this is in the hands of the play-by-play caster. Most amateur casters still haven’t gotten this right: the play caster is the master of ceremony for the match. Their job is, in fact, that of an entertainer, and there are a few casters that are especially guilty of outright ignoring the responsibilities therein.
Yes, we know that this is a boring match. We know that this team sucks. We know that poke comps make for dull matches, and that 30-minute farms are dull to cover.
Suck it up.
If you’re casting, and if you’re getting paid for it, your responsibility is in dredging diamonds out of dross – and failing that, at least putting a decent amount of polish onto the obvious turd. In short: you are the entertainer, and if the material you’re given is bad, at least improvise something to make up for it.
I think that bears repeating: you have a professional responsibility to make the match as bearable as possible, even despite itself. The more negative your attitude, the more negative the audience’s experience. Such is true in solo queue, and such remains true in casting.
Now, luckily, the play caster isn’t shouldering this burden alone, so long as they’re working with what is now the de facto standard of pair-casting eSports events. The color commentator is there to act as a distraction against the boring moments.
The play caster should not be doing the color commentator’s job for them.
A good color commentator is going to be a single-man encyclopedia on the ongoings of the professional scene – a bad commentator spouts inane guesswork that does more to highlight their lack of preparation than educate the audience on the background machinations of the match. They will (hopefully) be the ones with the background histories of the teams, the champions they’ve been practicing, their past experiences with a comp or matchup, etc.
Where the play by play caster is working the descriptive hype, spotlighting particularly important ongoing action and matchups, the color commentator ideally approaches the game from the angle of impact and consequences. It is not enough to merely describe a matchup – the absolute worst commentary I’ve heard to date was a hackish job in merely describing the itemization flow of a champion without giving the listener the slightest hint as to what impact that specific build had, and why you would choose it against certain laning matchups.
What’s frustrating is that it’s easy enough to avoid a half-hour of something that obviously inane. Where the play by play commentator is an entertainer by way of hype and structured presentation, the color commentator’s job is to add color to the match: by way of history, by way of predictions, and by way of explaining impact.
To get back on the play caster, they really need to learn to use the camera. Hint: if you’re using guided camera, turn it off. The AI isn’t smart enough yet to compensate for the most aggressive teams – and the best teams are increasingly the most aggressive ones. You’ll have to wait another decade or two for a computer that outperforms the human brain in complex pattern recognition, and it probably won’t be commercially available even then.
Instead, look at the minimap already. Learn to recognize the signs of an imminent conflict:
A. Motions lateral to the lane are attempts to juke out skillshots and maintain pressure.
B. Motions parallel are harassments leading up to overt clashes. And if it isn’t obvious yet,
C. If the jungler is moving towards a lane, expect a gank.
Why am I especially vehement on this subject? I’ve long since lost count of how many times the play-by-play caster’s lost the flow of the game and missed a fight because he was making idle chat with the color commentator. There are few things as frustrating to a viewer as the stammering of apologies and excuses as a kill goes out and the camera isn’t there to see it happen. Excuses shouldn’t be made when the caster has, now, two major tools to their advantage: absolute omniscience over the entirety of the gamestate, thanks to what seems a highly undervalued minimap, and a fifteen and even thirty-second rewind.
Garena’s Premier League make the best use of the tools they are given, easily outshining Western tournaments. When a replay is needed, they take a cue from television presentation, putting up a picture-in-picture splitscreen to keep an eye on both replay and live action.
So why are the major tournaments not using it? Even the Riot casters seem afraid to touch the rewind dial, most of the time. But the full suite of caster controls in spectator mode is designed to be used, and a craftsman that doesn’t know how to use their tools is nothing more than a rank amateur.
There are ways to cheat your way into seeming competence – and ones I fully encourage casters to start using. If you have a second monitor, keep information on all of the relevant champions open, so you’re not caught with your pants down on ability names and actions. It’s a good idea to have some sort of stats aggregation site up on another tab to track individual account performances, and what the players have played recently – Elobuff.com even has tournament realm performances, and if you can’t convince the tournament organizer you’re working for to cough up the cost of a subscription, it’s time to renegotiate that contract.
And then there’s the skillsets you can’t cheat your way out of. At least do tongue-twisters before the match, guys. At least practice your enunciation. Hell, do a practice-cast with your co-caster before the tournament, either using VODs or taking advantage of the live realms’ public games, just so you can both work out a pattern of behavior and signals. Memorize team members too – TSM, especially, has a habit of using alt names in tournaments, and if you can’t remember that it’s Reginald in midlane, you’re going to look, quite rightly, like an absolute tool.
If at all possible, don’t drop the ball on pronunciation too. The next time that Pwnophobia pronounces Maokai as “mayo-kee,” I’m going to backhand him from across the Pacific. You see if I won’t!
If there were Elo ranks for casters, the gross majority of them would be sub-1200, figuratively. There seems to be a misconception that all that’s required of a caster is for them to show up and talk in an entertaining manner. It bears asking whether any of them even bother practicing basic public speaking techniques, or even do basic research before showing up for work – and if they have, then how diligently.
But the biggest issue isn’t in their prep work. My most earnest plea to casters isn’t in the myriad list of bad habits they tend to have. It’s really just one, single, important issue:
Please, love what you’re doing.
The whole thing about good presentation, about maintaining a positive attitude even in the face of bad games… the whole reason to do it is to share your enthusiasm for the game. The whole reason why Tastosis is such a beloved casting duo in the Starcraft 2 community and why Day is forever associated with great streams and fantastic commentary, is not (entirely) because of their godlike skills at the casting game. It isn’t even their skills at the game itself, as it has been a very long time since any of the three were strong contenders in NA’s Brood Wars professional scene.
When they commentate, you understand why they love this game. And you start loving it too. That, alone, is what makes them so great: because they are the best evangelists the scene could possibly wish for.
All of the above advice, all of the criticism and practices and styles and nonsense involved in casting… all of it is towards the simple purpose of allowing others to understand why you’re here today — why you care. Casters can feel free to ignore advice from nosy busybodies (such as myself), so long as they can pull off just this one task: make your audience love the game as much as you do.