Ever dreamt of being the voice that captivates the attention of a sold-out crowd of esports fans? That distinctive and revered personality that weaves an intricate and unforgettable narrative about your favourite esports title, bringing the highs and the lows of a classic matchup to masses of appreciative fans. The one helping makes those memorable moments all the more memorable with your iconic commentary. If you’ve ever thought about becoming an esports commentator in South Africa or more colloquially, a caster, I have some thoughts for you. This isn’t a how-to guide. I’ll write one of those in future. This is more of an opinion piece in which, using personal experience, I’ll try to mentally prepare aspiring casters for what to expect.
Casting all fear aside
Whatever your expectations are of its difficulty, you’re wrong. It’s much harder than you think. There’s more that goes into it than knowing enough about a game to talk about it without feeling stupid. That’s, of course, a part of the equation, but there’s far more to it. Should your expectations fool you into thinking that it will be a glamorous career path, working in big venues, you’re way off the mark. It’s many, many hours of grind week after week. More than likely from your bedroom, rather than a studio or stadium. Probably broadcasting to a small handful of people that are liable to be insulting of your fledgling abilities and totally unappreciative of your efforts.
Don’t be afraid. OK, maybe be a little afraid. If you want to get into casting, it almost goes without saying that you need to have a thick skin. The expectation of viewers is often of a flawless production and commentary that rivals the best international casters. The reality when you’re starting out is that you’re going to be nervous and inexperienced. For a large portion of the time, you’re probably going to have no idea what you’re doing or should be doing. It’s odds-on going to be terrible and some viewers will give you a hard time for it.
Give yourself some room to fail. Accept that it won’t be as good as you’d hope right off the bat. Starting out, it takes time to find your feet and figure things out. Find the constructive feedback buried within the comments on Twitch or YouTube chat. For the love of all things good, keep an eye on the comments for hints of production issues like sound or video problems, but don’t internalize negative comments or react to them. You can go back and look at them later with a more critical eye. You’ve got to stay positive, but you can’t totally ignore comments. Use feedback to improve. Go back and watch or listen to you work. Even now, my focus is always on improving and refining my craft. That should never go away.
There are so many casters out there though
That’s the thing. On the surface it might appear that way when you look at some of the big events that have happened in SA esports in the last few years. The reality is that many of those casters only work on those larger tournaments and do very little casting in the rest of the year. There’s a gaping void in most esports titles in SA for young, upcoming casters. Most top-level and mid-tier matches in SA go entirely unbroadcasted. There are but a dedicated few that grind away and give up their time for the love of SA esports. They can’t do it alone. We need more casters willing to work hard and sacrifice their time on the pyre of the greater good of SA esports.
Whats in it for me?
Complaints. Abuse. Very little in the way of money, if any. I’m drawing a rosy picture for you! That’s right, most online casting in this country is totally for free with no possibility of ever getting paid. There are occasionally some great opportunities at LANs to make a bit of extra money, but accept that unless you reach the very top, you may never make a cent. We do this because we love it. We do it because the community needs quality coverage to grow. If you’re doing it to become famous or make money, neither of those is very likely. Make sure you examine your motivations and expectations going into it.
Most tournament organizers will try to get you to work for free. That’s absolutely fine to a point. Even for me, as a top-tier caster, the majority of my work is still for free. I made good money last year on the various broadcasts I worked on, but that’s not consistent income. It comes and it goes. Once you gain some notoriety as a caster, the line of what’s OK to do for free and what’s not is up to you. Exposure is great, but it doesn’t make for a very filling meal. I’d highly recommend reading Beetle001’s piece for more on the subject.
The good side of what’s in it for you, is getting the opportunity to improve and become good at something that is not easy. To expand your vocabulary. To get immersed in a fascinating esports scene and become part of its very fabric. One day down the line, if you’re good enough and you put in the work, you may even start getting paid. You might even be one of those exceedingly rare SA esports success stories like Trevor “Quickshot” Henry.
The body count
Many, many fans and players have given casting a try. Very few of them stay the course. When reality strikes, most decide it’s not worth their time. If you’re in a relationship that’s important to you, know that casting will affect it without a supportive significant other. Your work or studies might suffer too. It will affect your sleep. Matches will start late and go into double overtime, leaving you going to bed way past midnight on many occasions. You might ask yourself why you’re putting yourself through this. It would be a very valid question. If the answer is anything other than for the love of the game and for the good of the community, then maybe it isn’t for you. If you thrive under pressure, don’t mind working your butt off and find you enjoy your time in front of the microphone, then perhaps casting is for you.
Bleak and beautiful
I’ve probably presented a fairly pessimistic view for you guys. I’d call it grounded in reality. My intention is to prepare you for what you’re likely to face. Too many newbies fly headlong into casting without giving any of this a second though. Most of them give up soon after. I want to see you succeed. I want to see more good casters on the scene with the right kind of attitude. If you’re new and need help, please ask. I’m happy to lend a hand and give advice wherever I can. Working together to build SA esports is what it’s all about!