The ReDeYe guide to being an esports broadcaster: Part 1

It doesn’t matter if you’re a casual or professional gamer – you’re likely to have heard or watched an online broadcast of an esports match or tournament at some point in the last ten years. Those who commentate these are often referred to as ‘casters’, or originally ‘shoutcasters’. At the top end of the scale today, these same people are now full-time professional video game broadcasters, but it wasn’t always that way.

The term ‘shoutcaster’ comes from the software written by the good chaps at Winamp.com, and introduced what we now know as internet radio. Then, a shoutcaster was simply a synonym for an internet radio DJ or commentator. As time moved on, it became inextricably linked to those who specifically covered gaming matches and tournaments. While the software is no longer updated (but still widely used for online radio), shoutcasters have expanded beyond the limits of the software to bigger and better things such as live TV productions, huge events set in sports stadiums and dedicated gaming TV shows the world over and, more often than not, they’re now called broadcasters or commentators. However, the term ‘casters’ is still widely used as an abbreviated version of the original ’shoutcasters’.

Your guide to being a video game broadcaster

Over the years, I have been asked a number of times how to become a video game broadcaster and how to get to the level of those at the very top of the tree.

Around seven years ago, I wrote a mini book to help those who wanted to get started in shoutcasting, as it was back then, and I’ve had many, many requests since to update and rewrite it.

Over the next six months, the ESL will be releasing the newly updated book in six parts, and in December release the entire thing as a free PDF document that will contain all of the different parts plus a ton of new information to help budding broadcasters take their first steps into the broadcasting world and improve along the way.

The six parts, to be released once a month over the next six months, will cover a number of different parts of the role, including:

  • Part 1: Introduction, background, tech setup, different types of broadcaster
  • Part 2: Your first commentary, knowing your game and community, the four Ps
  • Part 3: The voice, natural talent versus hard work, coping with negative feedback
  • Part 4: Style and technique, intros, throws, chemistry, storylines
  • Part 5: Pacing, volume, projection, dead air, cameras, how to cope with nerves
  • Part 6: Advertising, finding a company, learning other games, negotiating fees

The finished book will include all of these sections plus some bonus content as well as answering any questions raised throughout the different parts, hopefully meaning that you’ll get a complete guide to video game broadcasting, at least from the point of view of a budding host or commentator.

The extra content included in the final book will also cover expectations, networking, terminology, microphone use, working with producers, rundowns and scripts.

My first steps as a shoutcaster

We’ve come an awful long way since those early days of bedroom radio broadcasting, but many of the skills and talents required to succeed remain the same. That said, with the advent of Twitch and cameras everywhere, you’re going to need more than just a touch of natural talent to succeed.

I first started shoutcasting in 2002, and purely by accident, but I was extremely lucky as I could make a ton of mistakes and not get much abuse for it. Back when I started, we were thrilled to get a couple of hundred people tuning in, and don’t forget – it was on internet radio, with no cameras pointed at me.

Over the next couple of years, I poured all of my spare time (when not competing in esports) in to delivering coverage of various online cups, mostly for ClanBase and ESL.

In early 2005, I joined iTG thanks to Marcus “djWHEAT” Graham recruiting me as part of their drive to increase their European casting talent.

I continued with audio casting when I joined iTG, but quickly got into video casting at the ESWC Finals and QuakeCon, which was a totally different experience from providing audio commentary for online matches.

Firstly, there were cameras, and I had no idea how to react on camera or even where to look. I realised I needed help and enrolled in a local college course for a couple of evenings a week in order to help me understand the importance of voice projection, where to look on camera and how to use all of the tools available to me in order to present better on video streams. I was lucky enough to work on many top tournaments around the world, but while most of our expenses were covered, we rarely returned home with more money than we started with.

From shoutcasting to broadcasting

Things started to change in 2006 when both Stuart “TosspoT” Saw and I started to get other work in the form of voice-overs for commercials and movies, and had a chance to work on several segments for TV. We were also given a six part series to film for UK TV, which, while the production was pretty poor, did give us an insight into the workings of TV and allowed us to learn and make mistakes in a very low risk environment.

In 2007, I formed a new company called QuadV with the help of Joe Miller, Stuart Saw, Leigh Smith and Oliver Aldridge. Our aim was to have a dominant European commentary station for esports and, for the most part, we achieved our goal, certainly having the best European commentators on our books at the time. Almost all of them now work full time in esports in one way or another.

Over the next few years, I did hundreds of live TV shows on DirecTV, Eurosport, Sky Sports and Sky One, do small pieces for Ubisoft including two rock concerts and even a live TV show from the Playboy Mansion. In addition to this, I hosted the stage at Multiplay events in the UK and commentated at the biggest esports events of the day including the WCG Finals, ESWC, CPL Finals and QuakeCon. I even commentated on a dedicated gaming channel on Sky TV in the UK on a regular basis – esports had surely arrived.

Sadly, most of the TV contracts dried up in 2008 as the recession took hold, and once again we returned to scraping by on internet TV streams, but the experience we had gained was invaluable. Additionally, internet streaming costs at this time were huge and prohibitive to making a real salary, but Twitch wasn’t far away from launching.

In late 2011, having kept in touch with esports throughout this period, I attended the WCG Finals in Korea for the final time, and just as esports was really starting to lift off.

2012 was one of the busiest years for me personally as I was hired more and more for hosting duties, but I continued to commentate, too, and with a wide array of games in my repertoire I was considered one of the most flexible commentators in esports. Over the years, I have commentated on more than 40 different titles from as wide a field of genres as RTSs and FPSs right across to pool games, racing games and many from the fighting game scene.

I joined ESL TV in early 2013, and have been here ever since working as head of the commentary team, training and guiding them as well as hiring talent for all of the major events such as Intel Extreme Masters, ESL One and WCS. Alongside all of this, I continue to host major events and commentate on a wide range of games across the world.

Hopefully this gives you a brief idea of who I am and why I decided to write this book. I’d love nothing more to see more well prepared and passionate commentators enjoying doing what I do in esports, so if this guide helps just one person, I’ll be thrilled!

What different types of shoutcaster are there?

Before I jump in to the core of this series, it’s important to understand who it’s aimed at. To do that, you need to understand what I mean by ’shoutcaster’ as it’s not only an old term but one that confuses a lot of people.

There are lots of different types of broadcasters in esports these days, and not all of them can be considered commentators or hosts, which is what this series focuses on. This is not to detract from the other roles, but to establish who this series is aiming to help.

For those also looking to make a living from esports broadcasting, it’s not impossible that you will end up filling the role of several of these types of shoutcaster. Most will tell you it’s only a few that can truly make a reasonable amount of money from esports in broadcasting terms, and that to supplement the income derived from tournaments and events, they have had to do several other jobs alongside.

Roughly speaking, the following list provides an outline of roles referred to in this series.

  • Play-by-play commentator
  • Colour commentator (analysis style commentary)
  • Host/presenter (presenting programs, shows or stage action)
  • Show/anchor host (usually presents from an analyst desk or hosts a show)
  • Interview host
  • Voice-over artist (adverts, radio commercials, movies, documentaries, etc.)
  • Expert/analysis (this would be ’on the desk/sofa’ commentary for shows)
  • Streamer (anyone who streams video but isn’t considered a commentator or host; usually a very casual style)

The majority of this book will concentrate on advice for play-by-play commentators and hosts. However, many of the skills and tips discussed in this series are transferable to other roles within broadcasting.

Starting (with) streaming

Streaming is an important part of many budding shoutcasters’ repertoires.

Back when I started streaming (in 1834 or thereabouts), we didn’t have video streams – we relied solely on Winamp and shoutcast software to broadcast matches and tournaments. In fact, in 2005 I streamed an entire DreamHack Quake 4 tournament live from the venue via audio! How far we have come…

Today, of course, there are many options for streaming live video, but the one I’ll focus on here is Twitch. I’ve said this many times: without the advent of Twitch and video streaming that we today take for granted, esports may not have become as huge as it has, and I truly mean that. Twitch may well be one of the top three biggest things to happen to esports in its short life span.

With that in mind, you’ll need to get yourself signed up and set up. Even for the most technologically challenged (like me!), it’s not hard to get up and running. I’ve included a link to an excellent setup guide below, and although it’s for a specific game, there is enough in-depth information to be able to adapt this to almost anything you want to stream including shows, practice matches and even entire tournaments. You should think of this as a starting point, however – it’s not going to give you a home studio that rivals the BBC, but it will get you up and running.

To start with, concentrate on just streaming, and if you can (and you are serious about it), try and get a backdrop that sits behind your chair just to make it look cleaner – much better than a shot of your bedroom. You’ll also need some decent equipment, and there is a whole range out there to choose from. I’ve listed some of the basics below, and while I won’t recommend anything in particular (I’ll do that much later in the book when you’re sure you want to get serious), you can’t go too far wrong by using Sennheiser or Shure microphones and headphones.

What you’ll need to start streaming:

  • A powerful PC (or two if you prefer to stream from a dedicated machine and play on another)
  • A strong CPU, such as an Intel i5 2400 at minimum
  • A good graphics card that can show off the game well
  • A headset with a good mic or headphones and a standalone mic
  • A boom for the mic (if you have a standalone mic)
  • A small four track mixer (though you can get away without one to start with)
  • XSplit

You will find a guide on how to set up Twitch and XSplit here.

There are other pieces of software out there, but of all of them, XSplit is my software of choice. It offers great streaming quality, it’s reasonably easy to use and set up and it won’t give you headaches while you’re trying to focus on learning how to be a commentator.

If you get stuck, remember that there is a lot of help out there – the guys at Twitch can give you a hand with a lot of the issues you might face with both setting it up and using XSplit.

Resources

  • Twitch help: http://help.twitch.tv/customer/portal/topics/358640-broadcast-hardware-and-software/articles
  • XSplit help: https://support.xsplit.com/

NEXT MONTH: We’ll move on to the topic of the first broadcast, how to do it, where and when and what to expect from your viewers. We’ll also cover what ’knowing your game and community’ means and the four Ps (professionalism, practice, preparation and passion). Stay tuned!

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