Casting is a big part of e-sports. If you do it right, its promoting your love of video games, whatever video game that might be, and introducing more people to something that you personally find highly entertaining. But if you do it wrong, best case scenario you won't have an audience and worst case scenario you'll do a disservice.
In my quest to become a better caster myself, I've identified six key things that I think are very important. They are characteristics that every top level caster has, and that many beginning casters lack - and would hugely benefit from improving them. So I'm going to share them with you.
1. Energy. You have to be able create excitement and genuine interest out of nothing, and to maintain that level for the entire cast. Some people do this naturally, they are the extreme extroverts. The rest of us have to do it consciously, until it becomes second nature. My prime example here is Nick "Tasteless" Plott. He's not constantly shouting: he will go there every now and then, but when he's not, he is honestly interested (even when half his mind is gone from casting for a day straight) in what is going on inside the game and entertains the viewer into watching the game along. He does it so well, you don't notice it - you're just enthralled in his cast. I think this is the biggest return-on-investment characteristic you can personally improve, because energy, when expended properly, can help a lot of the other stuff along. Lack of energy (monotone voice, being bored, etc) can hurt the most.
One up and coming caster who I've noticed has nice natural energy is adebisisc. If you're watching a cast and you think to yourself "I want to watch this guy cast again, I wonder what he will say next!" then that caster has succeded here.
2. Voice flavor. This is not something you can work on, its simply something you have to discover and exploit. My example here will be Marcus "djWheat" Graham. He has what could be considered a classic nasal nerd voice, but in fact it has become the classic djWheat voice - when you hear it you instantly know who is speaking. You might have a deep bassy voice, you might have a high pitched voice, you might have a funny accent, whatever. Whatever it is, understand it, exploit it. It adds flavor, and flavor is tasty. If you have some cool aspect to your voice and you're not using it, you're not getting the most out of yourself as a caster.
3. Diction and word usage. This one should be obvious. Its important to be able to speak fast enough (but not too fast) and to be able to rattle off the right words at the right time, all the right catch phrases. This is mostly a learned skill. Michael Goldberg of UFC fame is a great example here, but if you've seen some of the very first UFCs, you will see how he has evolved in this regard. Love him or hate him, you can't deny that he enunciates words very specifically and deliberately. (And of course, even he has funny gaffes, but because he's so good, the mistakes he makes are excused.) You shoulde note though that he is one short step away from going too far, the way some disk jockeys and weather forecastors do it, by over-exaggerating their enunciation and intonation. Don't do that, it sounds lame and cheesy. But don't mumble or re-use the same words over and over either.
4. Knowledge of the game. This should also be obvious. Play by play gets old and it gets old fast. Start introducing "because" into your play by play. Instead of "he picks up some health boxes and moves to red armor" its much more interesting to hear "he picks up some health boxes because his enemy is controlling the yellow armor and there's so much health here instead".
I believe even the most basic play by play should have bits and pieces of game theory sprinkled in. Casters like Artosis, Painuser, who are high level players are obvious examples, but you don't actually have to be a high level player in order to have a surprisingly deep knowledge of the game. In fact, any student of the game, even if physically unable to execute the theories, is still able to learn those theories and talk about them. And that adds richness (as long as you don't make it too long and boring) and immense depth to casting. And without it, it becomes just a boring train of "oh my god what a play!"
5. Meshing with the co-caster. Eventually you will be casting with someone else. The prime example here is Tastosis, the casting archon :) another is Joe Rogan and the aforementioned Mike Goldberg of UFC, they're really good together. MaximusBlack and NovaWar are another great team. Until you actually cast with someone, you will not know in detail what needs to be done in that unique scenario, but at the very least, you don't want it to be one caster doing his thing, and then waiting until the other caster is doing his thing. Or worse yet, when one caster is doing his solo play by play for a long time and the other caster can't even get a word on. It has to be a mesh. It has to be a conversation between the two, and that takes time getting comfortable with the other person. Call your co-caster by name. Talk to him/her about the game. Discuss what's going on. You can get away with just having a general discussion, but don't get too carried away aside - there's a game to be cast.
6. Technology. You need high quality video and high quality audio. You could have all of the above, but if your video and/or audio are low quality, you will be losing most of your audience. If you're lucky, then you are part of a company doing casting which has already figured this part out, but if you're not, you will have to make the setup yourself. It is becoming more consumer accessible every month (I've written an article on this, look around.) Then there's all kinds of production value stuff to be done, but this is optional, but if pulled off well it can really set apart a show. Having intros, outros, player introduction, map introductions, and other such doodads - produced not too amateurishly, of course - makes a big improvement.
So there you have it. Those are the six key things that, in my humble opinion, will improve any caster. Identify the weakest one and work on that first. If you don't, "you're killing e-sports" :)
P.S. Check out this link. It has a wealth of knowledge on this topic. (And, yes, it has the same title, but I swear I only learned of that blog/book after having written this column last night!)
Edited by !phil at 18:51 CST, 19 November 2011 - 15018 Hits