Putting a finger on esports commentary

Have you ever watched an esports broadcast where two commentators seem to have everything they need to be good, but for some reason they still don’t sound fantastic?  And you just can’t put your finger on why that is.  Maybe my finger will be of some help.

There are several obvious traits and skills that make a good commentator.  Those would be:

  • Great grasp of the language;
  • Charisma and personality;
  • Game knowledge;
  • A good voice;

There’s much more than that - that’s where most commentators fall short.


I will enjoy a broadcast much more if I care about one of the players.  If I started off being indifferent to one of the players, then I know the commentators have done a good job if mid way through the game I’m cheering for one of them.  That would mean they built enough of a contrast between the two opponents to make me pick a side and cheer.

Who is this guy, what drives him, what’s on the line?  WHY DO I CARE?!  Good versus evil, talent against hard work, on the verge of a comeback, on the verge of a breakthrough.  Please, spare me another one of “he is sooooo good.”

Most top players have got a fantastic story that make them worth following and cheering on (or cheering against).  We don’t find out about those stories out often enough.  It’s not all up to the players to tell their own stories, it’s the shoutcasters, too.

Storytelling is, in fact, one of the most important jobs of the commentator.  Every match is a story.  Some people are able to draw you in completely when they tell you about how the they put on the wrong socks in the morning.

That’s what sometimes makes a fantastic shoutcaster.  I love a commentator that complements what I see and draws me into the story.

http://youtu.be/wSJSaHDcVYo (Oh how I love those two.)


This is the more technical part of narration.  What’s being said is as important as how it’s being delivered.  It is a real gift to be able to heighten the mood and make things sound all the more epic.

The effect is often achieved with a hyperbole, by saying what “this battle that he has to micro justs right” means in the perspective of the entire map, match, series, tournament, sometimes even the player’s life (if the commentator is lucky enough).  It is more so about saying the right things at the right time, not necessarily about speaking the entire time.  It’s about skilfully crafting the story, not about incessantly generating noise.

You don’t always build tension with speech.  It’s sometimes about  knowing when to shut your mouth (very few people know that).  No matter who the commentator is, silence is the most dramatic thing you can hear on a shoutcast.

And the most important thing: don’t sell me epicness where there is none.  Don’t overdo the drama.

http://youtu.be/t0GESlaVNdE (Pay attention to the silence and the lack of a verbal diarrhoea. Give this commentator a knighthood!)


There are several ways this is done in television, but I believe in one.  There’s the man that paints the outline and there’s the man that fills it with colours.  Two different roles.  Contrast.

Without that there is no conversation.  Two commentators need to be complementary to each other and fulfil different roles in the broadcast.  Without that you have two dudes taking turns to speak.  Monotone and flat.

It’s the most common problem with esports commentary, that both shoutcasters sound like they’re exactly the same person.  The commentator’s job is not there to prove to the viewer how smart he is or how much he understands the game. It’s not about making you look good.

If both commentators think they can analyse the game and make play-by-play sound super exciting and want to prove the full extent of their skill to the world, then bet zerglings against brood lords that the commentary to be monotone.  As if they’re the same person.

Back in the Quake Live days Joe Miller used to commentate with 2GD.  The pairing was excellent in theory, but the problem was that 2GD was… too good.  He would do both play by play (excellently) and tactical analysis (also excellently) and sidelined Joe Miller most of the time. He was taking over his natural role.  By contrast, Tasteless always leaves complex strategy to Artosis and it works out very well.

http://youtu.be/fBVHOXXfNnc (Not really here to illustrate any point.)

This is why Marcus “djWHEAT” Graham with an eloquent StarCraft II pro or Joe Miller with an eloquent League of Legends pro will sound better than almost anyone in the industry.  They would have contrast and balance.

That’s something some highly paid esports commentator couples  with professional training are very apparently in short supply of.

7 notes

  1. ranleee reblogged this from mbcarmac
  2. zechleton reblogged this from mbcarmac and added:
    I agree with most of this, as...can probably imagine,
  3. iwouldsayblah reblogged this from mbcarmac
  4. mbcarmac posted this