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.