Pre-Ramble – This took way too long to write
I’ve re-written this post 3 times now. In my first draft, I had written 1500+ words on the state of Hearthstone commentary and nearly convinced myself there were no good casters at all in Hearthstone, which I don’t think is necessarily true at all.
I purged it with fire and started from scratch. In my defense, it started off promising. I felt like I hit some great points with strong video examples to drive my point home. But I did a quick read-through and the tone was overly negative which is ironic given the title for this post. Didn’t like it at all. So I’m taking the post in a different direction.
Generally, I want to use this series to talk about my own casting experiences and share any knowledge I have for any aspiring casters or interested fans. Above everything else, I believe even writing it out helps me improve which I’m always looking to do.
Today’s topic is positive energy and the value added to a broadcast by consistently having lots of it!
Introduction – Hearthstone is different than other games
Hearthstone is very unique compared to other games on Twitch. There aren’t many climaxes in the game because all of the intricacies are cerebral/strategical. Lots of downtime between turns also can make the pacing slow…especially if players take their sweet time to make a pivotal decision. As such, sometimes long drawn out games can feel boring or tedious.
Yet, the game is fun as hell to watch. Both for personal streams and tournaments streams alike! There are several games where I don’t enjoy watching players stream from home, but I love tournaments. The converse is true as well…don’t think I can bring myself to watch many Heroes streamers, but the tournaments themselves are pleasantly entertaining at times.
I think ultimately the biggest reason why Hearthstone exploded onto the broadcast industry is because of the level of engagement of the personality has to the audience. Brave streamers can read chat, answer questions, and thoughtfully figure out ways to interact. Tournaments rely on the casters to engage the audience — that’s where guys like me come in.
#1: Bring high energy
There’s a common rule I learned some time ago when I was first doing stage performance gigs: The audience is only having as much fun as you are (unless you’re Reynad).
Therefore, the commentator, whose sole influence involves using his/her voice, sound like you’re not enjoying yourself, how do you expect those listening to enjoy the experience? Low energy itself can swiftly turn any cast sour or awkward. Whether you are being overly critical of how people made mistakes or general apathy towards the action at hand, that attitude slowly seeps into the audience. When you don’t care about the result or belittle achievements, you’re being that loner at the party that sits in the corner and says everything is lame. Everyone’s mood gets affected.
But the problem doesn’t stop there either. A negative mindset also saps the energy of the discussion, affecting the co-casters. Commentary with multiple people feed off of conversation. I sometimes see casters stonewall with short answers that don’t contribute anything with “ehhh” and nothing else. Not only does that end any the line of discussion, but that also makes you co-casters fear they said something silly or wrong. It’s also worth mentioning that the audience can sense when you have these moments. The energy levels don’t match. The chemistry becomes to wane and casters start sounding more annoyed at each other. Or even worse, ignore each other. Energy levels plummet. I’ve been there many times both because of my co-casters or because my own incompetence.
By bringing a consistent level of high energy, people naturally become engaged. Think about some of the best lecturers you’ve ever seen or the best salespeople you’ve encountered. From stand-up comedians to TED talks, most of the ones you remember tend to have speakers full of enthusiasm, humor, and excitement. These are all symptoms of high energy. Balance whining, complaining, insults, and distant behavior are symptoms of low energy that, while in doses can be necessary or even fun, need to be controlled in doses.
The first person that comes to mind immediately that has high energy is Ben Brode. The BlizzCon 2015 casting lineup was announced and while I’m glad to see many deserved invites, I sadly see that he won’t be joining us this year. Ben’s existence on a cast is like nothing I’ve experienced. Pure, effervescent joy.
If laughing could cure cancer, Ben Brode would be the world’s greatest doctor.
It’s like…how can I not be in a good mood after this guy gladly inhales your joke with roar that rivals the strength of 40,000 Spartan men. Why do people even want Ben around on a cast? Although he could, Ben doesn’t necessarily contribute any meaningful analysis or tell any compelling facts about the game/players. Very simply put, he is a person that has so much contagious energy that you can’t help but go along with it. Most people don’t have it in life, let alone a Hearthstone casting set. It’s always a pleasure to work with Ben…even though some of those moments were my least brilliant in my Hearthstone lifetime.
The broadcast is a combination of many elements. With Ben, even if the game is dull, the casting never seems that way. Not every caster has to laugh like Ben Brode, but he’s a great example of what we’re talking about.
Personally, my goal whenever I am casting is to act as an amplifier to whatever is happening on screen. I’ll always remember what my mother once taught me. People won’t remember what you said, but they’ll always remember how you made them feel. So this is the kind of style I adapt. If something hysterical happens, makes jokes and laugh. If the atmosphere is full of tension, yell along with the audience. Capture the moment and express it in the strongest way you can. This might not be a style for everyone, but it’s worked best for me because I can deliver high energy through this method.
#2: Be Positive
I remember the first time I donated blood, a nurse told me an awful joke that there were two kinds of blood donors: those who chose to B+ (B Positive) and B- (B Negative). If you choose to insta-Ctrl+W this tab after reading that, I wouldn’t blame you.
Casters need to be positive.
The concept of being positive is relatively straightforward. Be uplifting. Talk about the good that happens. Have fun. This is starting to turn into one of those motivational Twitters accounts that spew out daily quotes by philosophers and football coaches…but it’s true! Often times we get sucked into this mentality that success isn’t measured by greatness but by who made “less mistakes”. It’s a half-empty approach which caps our enjoyment of what we’re experiencing. If we were to imagine our dream job, we think of all the perks and benefits we get…not all the stuff we don’t have to do. Similarly, casters should be focus on the exciting things happening and why they matter.
Being positive is nearly as infectious as having high energy. Being negative, on the other hand, causes conflict and usually leads to disinterest — two things we definitely don’t want on a casting desk.
However, positivity alone isn’t actually always good. Sometimes you’re simply BSing the audience and trying to convince them of something that isn’t true. I’m not saying everything is always farting rainbows and butterflies. Mathematically speaking, positivity is a net result. There are things you can say which are harsh, but you better come up with a happy ending. Don’t be the deliverer of only bad news…then people will want to avoid you!
Think back to the most memorable moments in broadcasting history whether in sports, news, or our own little niche of eSports. In those climactic seconds, they are never are talking about what the players are doing wrong or how they could have improved the small things.
I tried hard to search for evidence against this theory by doing a quick search: “Greatest moments in sports history.” Every single clip has commentators doing all kinds of cool things — congratulating the winners, showing respect through silence, yelling intensely, struggling to come up with coherent sentences to describe a minute of awe, or simply relishing the climax.
What I couldn’t find is commentators talking about what the losing team could have done better or what failed to do. Some of these guys on the mics have had illustrious careers, some even more accomplished than the players you see. But it’s not about the casters nor has it it ever been about the casters. We are simply tools for the production, no different than a graphic overlay.
Again, I want to iterate that being positive doesn’t mean you can’t toss out your fair amount of criticism. If you’re going to be critical, be wary of three things: time, place, and manner.
Is this the right time to be critical? Can I wait for after the game to talk about this? Do I need to interrupt co-casters (or worse, stop listening to my co-casters) to make this point? Is this even relevant at all?
Is this the right place to be critical? If this is Seat Story Cup where things are informal and pretty much anything goes, I don’t see why not. But I don’t think it is good to try to be super in-depth about what is right/wrong based on your opinion in a setting like BlizzCon where there’s a huge chance that a large percentage of the audience can’t follow your line of discussion.
Is this the right way to be critical? Or an alternative way to phrase which has classically frustrated the male species: “It’s not what you said, it’s how you said it.” This one has been discussed many times over, most notably by Brian Kibler who has taken an aggressive stance against calling plays “wrong” or “bad”.
I think that commentators in Hearthstone should focus less on…pointing out what they think are “misplays” and more on trying to frame what a player’s options are, what they might be thinking about, and what’s important in the game at any given time … claiming anything else is wrong can only make either you or the players whose game you’re commenting on look bad.
The original post is about Challengestone, but it’s worth going to reading the entire excerpt at the bottom of the post. I agree with the sentiment of the post. Leveraging your microphone to talk about how you know better is a huge turn-off to most people, even if you’re right. Treat the players, audience, and co-casters with respect. Only then will you start getting your own respect.
#3: Find a narrative and focus on it
So we are upbeat and energetic on our casts, but something is missing…our casts tend to feel a bit shallow because we end up making the same jokes/memes about the same cards/decks. This is where it is important for the caster to set the narrative.
The journey of a player has much more to it than meets the eye. Some have practiced thousands of hours and perfected the craft ten times over (Kolento, Neirea, Ostkaka). Others are new to the game, but a wealth of knowledge and experience from other backgrounds (Stancifka, Kibler). Whatever the story is, it is the role of the caster to find it and bring it out in a compelling way.
Let’s take, for example, Firebat who IMO has one of the coolest stories in the eSports industry. Only 18-years old, Firebat came from Detroit with a rough upbringing. But despite his background, he finds Hearthstone and chases after the dream to become a professional player. Before he won it all in 2014, barely anyone understood the level of prep Firebat brought to events. In 2015, Firebat continued to prove he’s one of the sharpest minds in the game capable of winning many tournaments.
When we take time to bring out this amazing story of Firebat’s Hearthstone career, following him becomes much more fun and engaging. Firebat came super close to qualifying again for the Phase 2 regionals of NA this year, but got cut off by the Top 6 requirements while every other region took the Top 8. Rough stuff, but he doesn’t need that win as badly anymore. He’s already proven himself and is now even giving back to the community with his own earnings. Winning BlizzCon 2014 already helped reunite his family and his friends. Nowadays, fans and peers rank Firebat as one of the top 5 players in the world. Maybe even top 3. His journey makes some solid material for whoever wants to create a Hearthstone anime…or if you want to make The Blind Side 2.
This also ties into how preparation is a key ingredient to ensure that casters always have a strong idea of the player story. That’s another topic for another day. For now, this post has dragged on quite a lot so let’s get ready to wrap up.
When I sat back and read this over, I realized there are some points I didn’t address which I want to gloss over.
On Positivity: Following up with Kibler’s thoughts on negativity in casting, I want to point out that it’s important for casters to avoid diluting opinion to everything being the same level of “good”. No one is perfect and only one can be the best. So make sure you’re being real with yourself and the audience about these things.
In some occasions, honesty is the best approach, such as when Pavel fudged his Sylvanas play versus Lifecoach.
That decision was a legendary mistake which cost Pavel the game and the series which would have advanced him to BlizzCon 2015. It’s simply disingenuous to say anything other than Pavel gave that game away to Lifecoac. The entire situation was just a disaster. Everyone either had one reaction to that play — WTF? Again, it’s about accentuating the moment.
On Energy: Another thing is that casters often think volume as the only way to have high energy. While it is one method to convey excitement, if it’s not in your usual ability to do it, don’t overextend and shout for no reason. For example, I love about casting with Savjz. He stays in his zone and really aims to help support whatever you’re saying while never trying to dominate the cast by being louder than me. Once in a while though, he’ll open the pipes and when he does, it’s pretty meaningful. Still one of my favorites in Hearthstone to date.
On Caster Chemistry: Having strong opinions on strategy and decisions is actually very healthy for a broadcast because its fun to listen to different perspectives. Always think about the best way you can present your ideas. Be confident in your ideas, but don’t be afraid to be wrong. If Hearthstone is supposed to pit us hovering over a shoulder to watch a game, we should always be in a state of learning and enjoying the game. For me, Hearthstone is always evolving and I enjoy hearing what other people have to say more than what I have to say. That’s what always keeps Hearthstone casting fresh for me.
I hope this helped show you the kind of mentality I have when I go into a Hearthstone tournament ready to cast. BlizzCon will be awesome especially because I want to see how the meta does post-Warsong Commander Nerf. It will be a jolly good time.