The Dilemma of Casting an Esports Grand Finals

No matter the game, whenever an esports grand finals rolls around, there’s contention as to the best approach for commentary. What is the best style of casting for the later stages of a tournament, when the audience tends to be the largest and the matches themselves tend to be the most high-level?

I don’t think there’s one true answer, because it really depends on the objective of a given tournament. Rather, I want to highlight to the esports-viewing audience what makes this such a difficult balancing act, and why commentary that does not cater to their own tastes is not necessarily bad or inferior.

The Top 8 and above matches of tournaments tend to get the highest amount of viewers. This means there are more non-experts watching. They might still be fans, but there’s a good chance that they’re not going to know the nitty gritty of the game. Things that a more experienced player and ardent viewer might recognize with little effort might fly completely over their heads. In this case, one sensible solution would be to cater to a relatively more casual audience. You might have to explain some of the more complex aspects of the game, or perhaps ignore or simplify them so that these viewers aren’t overwhelmed with information they can’t understand.

However, those final matches are also typically where the highest amount of skill is displayed between competitors. While earlier rounds might be filled with one-sided victories or lesser players making mistakes, by the time it hits grand finals there is a strong chance that the play will be on another level. If the accompanying commentary aims more for the larger, more casual part of the audience, it potentially alienates the more hardcore fans who want to know the small details. If a tournament wants to show the full depth of their game, it might be necessary for commentary to be more complex and high-level.

If going by a pure numbers game, the “obvious” solution is to aim for the larger, more casual audience, but there are a few monkey wrenches that need to be taken into account. The casual-hardcore dichotomy can be rather nebulous. Some fans who are casual might want to feel like they’re part of the hardcore audience, and the best way to give them that impression is through commentary. A “true expert” at a game probably does not need a commentator to tell them what’s going on, so they might find technical explanations tedious for the opposite reason that the casual viewer might dislike them. In that case, the dry delivery of top-level knowledge of a player like Mew2King can be more appealing, especially to fans of those players.

Depending on the game, there might be no such thing as a “casual fan.” After all, esports has a general issue with not being as obvious in terms of goals and objectives as traditional sports—compare looking at the score in basketball vs. trying to interpret who’s ahead in League of Legends without having any prior knowledge of either.

Professionalism is another factor. As esports scenes grow, a lack of professionalism might drive away new viewers, but at the same time a slick, polished product might come across as too sterile to maintain interest. Suffice it to say, different people want different things from commentary. There are so many conflicting values that some tournaments have even tried having alternative streams to cater to casual audiences, but that potentially leads to an inconsistent presentation for a tournament.

Any tournament, big or small, wants to put its best foot forward. The problem with reconciling all of these different factors is that no one commentary can possibly cover them all, not even a team where each commentator specializes in something different. Some consider play-by-play to be the most important. Others believe that emphasizing the human drama between the players is key. Others want deep analysis of every situation. Ultimately, it requires some sort of compromise, and I think it’s important to see it not as a concession or a loss of quality. Criticism of commentary is justified and should even be encouraged, but it should come with the awareness that one’s own perspective exists among many.

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