Wizarding 101: Volume II. Preference, Audience and Finding Your “Style”

By Jeremy “Professor_wizard” Davis

Hey everyone, Professor_wizard here, back again to write some more about commentary. This time I have some topics I am really excited to talk about. They include the more individualistic aspects of commentary, the ways commentators can be different and how to achieve this.

Let’s get into it!

The Hard Truth

Before I give any advice on finding your style and catering to your audience, I have to talk about a truism of viewership and commentary that is sometimes hard to hear: there are ALWAYS going to be people who are not fans of your commentary.

It is just a fact that viewers have different preferences. Especially in the world of gaming viewership there is no established expectation on how to approach commentary (more on this later). The fact is that not everybody wants the same things. In fact, there are many viewers out there who are not fans of commentary at all, and would prefer to just watch with game sounds.

Now, in a lot of scenarios this is an “embrace the haters” kind of moment, but I will offer some slightly different advice: you cannot please everyone. Say it with me: you cannot please everyone. That does not mean you should ignore criticism, but instead you should be able to identify what is helpful criticism and what is a difference in preference. This is crucial for improving your commentary.

The key to filtering through critical feedback to find points for improvement is to try to consider who is watching and what your goals are for adding to the match for those viewers. Which leads me to my next topic.

Audience: From Supermajor Pools to Basement Grands

Audience matters a LOT. Are you commentating R1 of your twelve person biweekly or Grand Finals of Genesis 5? It does not take too much experience to see that commentating is going to be different between these two.

But there are times it can be a bit more subtle than that. Even commentating bracket of a 64 exclusive is different from commentating a multi-game supermajor. Are most of the viewers new to the scene and the game? Or are they familiar with the characters and players? If you are trying to take my advice from the previous section and appeal to the largest audience you can, thinking about who that audience might be is something commentators need to consider and prep for prior to hopping on the mic. So how do you prep for different audiences? I don’t have the space here to go over every circumstance you might commentate for, but instead I will go over two main dichotomies to keep in mind while considering how to proceed.

The first axis of dichotomy is: how new or experienced is your audience? This is something that is often discussed in Melee and Smash 4, as they often have events with lots of new viewers. If you are catering to newer viewers, it is important to point out things that may be a bit more obvious to experienced players, but are crucial to understanding how the game works. For instance: Kirby’s up tilt or Falcon’s grab can start really easy combos, and are therefore big threats the opponent has to work around when playing against them. This is something that may be a bit too obvious to say to someone really familiar with the 64 scene, but to a newer player,  explaining that it is a reason why not to approach Kirby from above actually has value to those viewers. For more exclusive events where there may be high level play going on, and more of the viewers are long time 64 watchers, they want to hear about the small adjustments being made to limit advantages like a strong command of top platform.

The second major dichotomy revolves around the stakes of the match. And this goes back to the most important ideal of commentary: what are you adding to the match? What I really mean here is that high level matches hold the attention of the audience and the job of the commentator is to accentuate the play with insights and energy. But what about games that are extremely one-sided? Or games that are low level? These are matches that may become a bit boring for the viewers, which leads to them being bored with the commentators as well. How do you add to the match? The general rule of thumb is when the match is close, follow the action closer, when it is not, talk about the bigger trends and narratives. If the matches are one-sided, commenting on how one player is making mistakes repeatedly is not very exciting, taking a step back to discuss a narrative may be more interesting.

How each caster pair approaches each of these scenarios depends on their strengths and weaknesses. Which leads me to my last section…

What is “style” and where do I get one?

The most important thing I can stress in this article is that not all casters are going to approach things the same way, and that’s not only OK, it’s a good thing. I have so far spent a few thousand words in the last two articles telling commentators what I think they should and should not be doing. But the real secret of commentary is that there are usually some wrong answers, but probably no “right” answers when it comes to the most basic question: “What should I be saying?”

If you want a good rundown of what NOT to say, and some hints on what to say if you are at a loss, you should check out Volume I. More or less everything else falls under the purview of “style”.

Now unfortunately, it feels impossible to tell someone how to cast in a specific style. The advice I can offer is 1) listen to other casters and try to absorb parts of commentary that most resonate with you, and 2) experiment with things you want to try. The only way to know if a commentary idea you have will be successful or not is to try it out, listen to how it sounds later, and ask for feedback on how it went.

The last thing I will say on style is to bring it full circle: not everyone will like every style, and you cannot please them all. Try not to take it too hard if someone in twitch chat would rather mute the stream, but also do not be stubborn and ignore all criticism citing “I just have a different style”.

Parting Thoughts and Feedback

The final takeaway that applies to all the above is that feedback is really important, but how you take it is just as critical. The best thing to do to improve on commentary is to keep an open mind when hearing criticism, and then make some decisions yourself on how best to internalize them.

I hope this volume has been helpful in trying to highlight some of the more individualistic aspects of commentary. Commentating is really important for the 64 scene, and there is always room for more commentators out there. Look out for another article in this series in the future, and let me know what you think on twitter.

Jeremy Davis is Puff/Kirby main from the Indy64 scene. Much better known for his commentary than his play, he also helps run /r/ssb64, and is a PhD candidate on the side. You can find him on twitter @Prof_wizard.
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