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.

Wizarding 101: A Practical Guide to Commentating Smash, Volume I

By Jeremy “Professor_wizard” Davis

Hey 64 community!

I’m Professor_wizard, a player from the ND64 scene, and here is the start of what I hope can be a community guide for commentators, one that will hopefully help aspiring mic jockeys of all experience levels improve their craft.

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Professor_wizard commentating at Super Smash Con.

A brief disclaimer before I begin: I’m not the best or most experienced commentator out there, but I do have solid experience and have spent lots of time studying others. The point of this series isn’t to be the definitive guide to becoming the top in the country – instead it is meant as a set of guidelines and tips that will hopefully appeal to commentators at all levels to help them focus on and improve their craft.

Without any more blabber, let’s dig in.

Volume I: Basics and Essential Do’s and Don’ts

The very, very basics a new commentator should focus on are to adequately portray the match, avoid common pitfalls and things that many are critical of, and finally – most importantly – add something to the match.

DO:
– Refer to the players by their tag, not by their character.

– Bring energy (not volume, energy) to the game. Get excited for exciting bits of the game, nervous at scary parts, and drive the narrative with the cadence and pitch of your voice, instead of getting loud for the sake of getting loud (of course, there are always moments for volume as well).

– Point out something neat about an interaction/play.

– Point out matchup nuances that people often miss. Don’t gloss over them.

– Give player background. This is HUGE, people love to hear more about the match rather than what they see. History and rivalries drive viewership and interest, cater to that.

– Put the effort in to try and learn something about who is playing and where they might be from.

– Drink water. DO NOT SKIP THIS ONE. You will lose your voice otherwise.

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JimmyJoe (Left) and BarkSanchez (Right) commentating at ODSII.


– Create some phrases or cool word play for things. Don’t force being catchy, but if you like to call Puff Uair “the salsa dance” (shoutout to Saltsizzle) lay it on the viewers! People love original humor.

-Notice TRENDS. See one player always tech one way? Make the same mistake? Point it out!

-Talk to your co-caster prior to your block if possible. It’s always so much better to have a set of basic hand signals you can use behind the scenes to help you from running into each other, and to improve synergy. (More on this in Volume III).

-Promote the event and sponsors. This can’t be overstated. You are the voice of the whole event, and it’s your job to build the scene up and support what the TOs are working towards. Shoutout sponsors, humans and social media presences in between sets.

 

-Dress appropriately. Contrary to popular belief, this doesn’t mean you should always dress in a nice shirt and tie, but you definitely need to a) adhere to what the TO wants for the tourney, and b) take what you wear seriously and fit the event. (think leis at Smash ‘N’ Splash).

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Clubbadubba and Maliki Commentating at Let’s Go! Baltimore. 

DON’T:
– Eat on stream. For the love of God.
INSTEAD: It’s understandable that in many situations you are stuck in long blocks and need food. At minimum, push your mic up and just don’t speak for a time.

– Over-meme or over-joke. Jokes are great, memes are even great, and saying something catchy or viral is always a plus, but be careful not to go overboard and center your commentary on quips or memes. The result is people cringing and just wanting you to take your role a bit more seriously.
INSTEAD: Use a joke or meme when the moment is golden and let er rip! Then chill on it and let it cook for a bit to call back to it later.  

– Refer to the players by their characters. “The Yoshi seems…”.
INSTEAD: Use player tags. Smash is about the players and their struggle against one another, the characters are their tools.

– Talk over your co-caster. This is hard if you have something to say about the match or your co-caster is rambling (I am very guilty of this).
INSTEAD: Do your best to use signals to let them know and not just barrel forward.

– Quote frame data or technical data if you don’t know it. No one is perfect, everyone makes errors, but the worst thing as a commentator you can do is be unsure about frame data on something and just go ahead and say it. Don’t be that guy, you’ll get shredded by viewers and players and frame nerds (shudders).
INSTEAD: Say you aren’t sure but “this” may be the case, or better yet just keep up with the match and let someone do match analysis later.

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– Call that someone loses a stock or is going to use a move before it happens. The best case here is you get it right and one guy on Twitch slow claps, the worst case is you are wrong and Twitch chat calls you a fraud.
INSTEAD: I’ve heard Jimmy Joe (among others) say something to the effect of “will that do it??” This is great because it builds suspense but doesn’t set you up for failure.

-Talk to chat. I’ve gone back and forth on this one a lot, but the truth of this is that focusing on chat takes you out of the match and makes you interact with something that will not be there for the vods. Remember that more than half of the people to watch your casting will be watching the vod.
(This rule is not true of locals or more informal events that are designed for Twitch viewer experience. Salty suites are a decent example).

– Give advice to the players. They can’t hear you and the stream doesn’t care.

Some parting notes:


I wrote a lot here to digest and to think about, and I’ve tried to distill it down to the basics. My best advice, however, is just two things: try to think about the vods and what you are adding to the finished project, and have fun! Commentators are crucial members of our scene. They add depth and marketability to players, sets, tourneys and the scene as a whole, and we need more of them! I hope I’ve helped guide players who may be apprehensive to avoid some common fears and pitfalls. Look for more in this series about commentators!

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.