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Shoutcasting: The Underestimated Performance Art

Shoutcasting is a hidden art.

Even the general gaming community doesn’t really know what it is. So who are they, and why do they matter so much to our community?

This article is a part of the Notes from Leadership series, a collection of articles from leaders of the OU Esports Club releasing throughout the fall 2019 semester.

In the world of traditional sports, shoutcasters are known as sportscasters. Sportscasters, in the minds of most, are just talking heads who spout off stat lines and compare quarterbacks to the greatest who’s ever been. But shoutcasting is a different animal altogether. Where sportscasting is numerical, shoutcasting is qualitative. Shoutcasting caters to a younger generation than sportscasting, both in function and form.

Boiled down, sportscasters and shoutcasters have the same basic goal. Both want to deliver the game to their audience in the most palatable way possible. Whether it’s hyping a goal run, explaining the drawbacks of a Symmetra-Bastion composition, or just screaming at a walk-off home run, the two disciplines have identical jobs. Both employ a similar setup of commentators, too. One play-by-play commentator relays the action that’s happening live while generating hype, while a color commentator brings together background information and deeper knowledge to shed light on the intricacies of the game. However, the respective platforms of traditional sports and esports bring different challenges to the commentators.

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Historically, there’s only been one place to watch football. TV. Sports bars, man caves, and even waiting in line to get another beer at the stadium, the game will always be on a TV. Esports developed differently. Web-based streaming was the norm. Twitch is still the largest streaming platform for esports, from Riot’s LCS to the Overwatch League. And with new-fangled platforms like Twitch came the young people. And with the young people came social media. Compared to a traditional sports broadcaster, your average professional esports broadcaster is much more directly involved with the community. Shoutcasters use social media not only as a way to push their brand, but also to just chat and respond to feedback. Social media, whether through Twitter, Discord, or Twitch chat, is a fast and easy way to give and receive feedback. It’s a powerful weapon in a shoutcaster’s arsenal. But that weapon cuts both ways.

The Internet is brutal. Everyone knows the first rule of the Internet. Never look at the comments section. Internet comments seem to bring out the worst in people. But when live-streaming on Twitch or another platform, the comments are right there. Streaming software like Streamlabs puts the comments right next to the screen. Direct interaction with the community is something that esports offers over traditional sports broadcasting. This gives the feeling that everyone is involved in the production. Suddenly, you have your finger on the pulse of the audience. You know exactly where their criticisms will fall and their praise will fly. But when the chat turns nasty, this benefit bites back. People are often unnecessarily cruel and particularly unhelpful with their criticism. In my time as Shoutcasting Director of the OU Esports Club, I’ve lost a handful of shoutcasters to this harsh criticism. One of the comments in question? “He sucks.”

We’re not professionals. None of the college students that cast for the OU Esports Club gets paid. But in an industry where the only visible shoutcasters are highly-trained and competent professionals, the bar is set incredibly high. Even for amateurs. The professional shoutcasting world is minuscule compared to that of traditional sportscasting. The Overwatch League is the highest tier of competition and broadcast, equivalent to the NFL or MLB. But where the NFL and MLB have dozens of broadcasters per team across multiple television channels and other forms of media totaling in the hundreds of sportscasters, the Overwatch League has just sixteen shoutcasters, analysts, and interviewers for the entire league. That’s sixteen people that cover twenty teams for two hundred and eighty regular season games in a year. This small number of professional slots available means that only the best of the best are handpicked for the broadcast. This forces the “good shoutcaster” bar immensely high up, which in turn causes the community to equate the professionals being “good” with the amateurs being “bad.” There’s a big gap between an OU Esports shoutcaster and an Overwatch League shoutcaster. And when the community doesn’t see many of the mistakes that sub-elite shoutcasters regularly make, every mistake that they do see is an unforgivable sin.

“Every mistake that they do see is an unforgivable sin.”

Shoutcasting is hard. Done well and it enhances a game and makes it enjoyable to watch, even if you don’t really understand what is going on. Done poorly and it almost detracts from the game, taking you out of the action and making you question what you just heard. Incorrect analysis and too much off-topic chatter can be jarring. Especially for people who are used to listening to professionals. We all make mistakes shoutcasting. Even me. But with every mistake and every botched teamfight, we learn. Bad shoutcasters don’t stay bad for long, but these new casters have often never sat in front of a camera before. They need time to learn. Time to grow. Nobody is great at riding a bike for the first time. Nobody hits a home run on their first swing. And nobody has a “Faker what was that” cast on their first day.

If you’ve made it all the way here, thank you. Many people would just chalk this up to a wannabe caster whining after getting some harsh criticism online, but it’s just the opposite. It’s not about me. It’s about how the people who volunteer their weekends and put themselves out there in the spotlight to better themselves are never appreciated by the community. Only compared to the best shoutcasters in the world by people who have never put any work into casting before. I don’t like seeing my team disheartened after catching shade from the community. So please remember, if you’re watching a community broadcast, appreciate the casters. Speak up whenever they make a point you didn’t think of, tell them you liked the way they called that Ace! And if they do happen to make a mistake, point it out without being a jerk.

Don’t just be another one of the people that DMs me saying something like, “That caster sucks, I can do better than them.”

Hint: You won’t.

Shoutcasting Director

Bailey Brown

Bailey is an advertising major, nonprofit studies minor in her third year at the University of Oklahoma. She was given her first gaming device at the age of 9 and hasn't put it down since. She enjoys the exploration and puzzle solving of The Legend of Zelda and claims she can "beat anyone" in Mario Kart or Super Smash Brothers. Follow her on Twitter @MissBaileyKay

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