When I began casting the earliest of iPlayWinner streams back in early 2009, we were among the very first to implement full play-by-play commentary on a fighting game stream. It was revolutionary for its time and along with casting, it quickly became a mandatory facet of all legitimate fighting game tournaments moving forward.
Despite this leap in awareness, the earliest of commentary for the most part wasn't necessarily for an audience, but for our own amusement. We were taking the playful banter from the event and piping it into a hot mic. We were using it as a new avenue to give our friends a hard time for making their way to the chat room but not the venue itself. We were a bunch of grown-ass kids who found a new toy to play with and it just so happened we were okay with sharing it.
It's nearly 2012 now and can we honestly say that much of anything has changed? The faces and the games they comment upon, sure, but are we as a community (iPlayWinner included, mind you) producing anything significantly greater than our earliest of experiments?
Over the past few months I've spent significantly more and more of my spare time watching Starcraft 2 broadcasts from a variety of outlets such as Major League Gaming, IGN Pro League and eSports League UK. Despite being truly, genuinely awful at Starcraft, I initially began watching these broadcasts for research purposes to see what these communities do different than ours in hopes of gleaming what it is that makes them so much more popular. Slowly but surely, my time spent watching Starcraft began to rival, if not surpass my time spent on fighting game streams. This ultimately culminated this weekend as I repeatedly found myself turning back to MLG Orlando as opposed to Seasons Beatings Velocity, despite there being matches I was highly anticipating. The reason for this dramatic shift in my viewing habits is directly linked to one, singular aspect of the broadcasts: commentary.
In terms of overall quality, the commentary presented in Starcraft II is on a completely different planet when compared to fighting games. What's more, commentators such as Tasteless, Day and Artosis are doing far more work and applying much more effort to their craft than your average fighting game commentator. Not only are these guys commentating on a game that is, on the surface, significantly more complicated than a one-on-one fighting game, but they're directing the player-cam for the audience across a giant map with multiple conflicts occurring at any given moment, all while remaining highly articulate and in control of their emotions at the same time
My girlfriend has a joke about this aspect of eSports commentary. If you offer a free ice cream cone to an eSports commentator they'll excitedly explain the raw emotion brought upon from this delicious, frozen treat. They'll tell you the how this specific flavor was exactly the right option at this point in time and carefully explain how this made their day. But if you make the same offer to a fighting game commentator you basically get the Nintendo 64 Kid screaming "ICE CREAM" at the top of their lungs until they pass out on the floor.
Something needs to change, and soon. We as a community need to face the facts that we, the religiously hardcore fighting game fanatics, are no longer the only ones watching what we produce. In fact, we may very well be the minority. Commentary isn't the only reason why other games being played a professional level are bigger and more popular than ours, but when their talking heads are considered to be just as important as the actual players, it's easy to see it as a major contributing factor on why that is.
The language we speak is largely foreign to outsiders and so we have a major education problem that exists within our commentary. We have some of the biggest, most interesting personalities within all of pro gaming but we're unable to tell a narrative. The greatest moments in the history of our games are largely obscured under the obnoxious braying of childish screams, better left to the audience
I firmly believe that there is no reason why games such as Super Street Fighter IV can't be as big, if not surpass the popularity of the Starcraft II and League of Legends' of the world, but it's not enough to have good games to play and great players to make them better. Everyone must do their part to push this beast of a community to the next level and at this moment, commentary is something that is desperately holding us back.
Or am I completely crazy? Do you watch any other competitive gaming streams? What do you think of their commentary? For that matter, how do you think we stack up against professional sports? Give us your thoughts in the comments section and let us know what you think!