At the beginning of this month, Root published a caster ranking rated by progamers. It was considered a pretty controversial ranking. Now that I have the time, I want to write about the casters.
This is my own view and by no mean a wikipedia-esque page of casters.
Who are casters?
It is important to start with this basic question. By simple definition, anyone who casts the game is a caster. However, I personally like to categorise the role more specifically into shoutcasters and commentators. A good example of a shoutcaster is Husky (mainly referring to what he did at the beginning of starcraft 2 in his youtube channel). He basically tells you there is a drop going on when there is a drop going on. He simply transcripts what he sees into words verbally in an exciting manner, and perhaps mix in a few extra descriptions and jokes here and there. On the other hand, commentators (almost everyone you see at a live event) go beyond that and add value to the viewing experience by chipping in his/her own comments. The comments can be narrative and/or analytical. Although I categorise them differently, they have overlapping roles and are not mutually exclusive.
Roles of casters
This is the basic role of a caster. You need to tell the audience what is going on. “X is sending a drop ship across the map and Y saw it.”
Many belittle the value of this fundamental function, as it requires minimum knowledge about the game. Can you imagine a caster literally went something along like “X is building Marines and Marauders. Y is sending a scv to X’s natural. X kills the scv with his Marines.” That is certainly narration, but that is not what is expected or needed. Casters do not simply narrate play by play, but they paint the picture for the audience. Using the same example, a caster can go “X is going for a bio composition. Y was not able to get any scouting info as X’s Marines deny the scv.”
This is the industry standard. You must have a certain degree of knowledge to analyse the game. For example, “X is waiting for stim to complete before engaging the army.” Analysis goes beyond narration. The focus is on the explanation of what is happening. Analysis is not restricted to what is happening in the very game that is being cast, but also links with what the metagame is at that point. For instance, “X goes for a pool before hatch, and this is considered to be unorthodox in a ZvT match up. Because Zerg generally goes for hatch first before pool on every map now.”
Some casters do exceptionally well in analysis. I remember very clearly way back in 2012, when Marineking was considered the best along with DRG. MKP had a unique build that mixes bio and mech in TvZ. He would open up with reactor Hellions expand, and follow up by dropping 4 barracks (usually to wall off the natural). The best way to describe the composition is that MKP replaces the Hellions of mech with Marines. He upgrades both tech tree simultaneously too. Many did not know the build as MKP only used it for a few times in tournaments. Apollo was casting in one of these rare games, and to my surprise, he was spot on. Apollo exclaimed “MKP is going mech! He is going mech!” when MKP threw down 4 barracks. The forum was so critical about Apollo’s comment, “Apollo shouted for mech when 4 barracks were put down? !@#$%” Although Apollo’s description is not perfect, but it shows the research Apollo has been doing. Perhaps he is too good for his own good. #trololol
This is the next level of analysis. A typical critique should sum up what a player did well/poorly and explain why, then suggest how it can be improved. Obviously, this requires in depth understanding of the game. Most casters can do this to a certain degree, but often they neglected the players’ perspective. That is, a caster critiques on a player for making or not making certain moves given the situation from a observer point of view. It is important to note that the casters have perfect view of what is happening on every corner of the map, while the players do not have the perfect information. This is obvious in base trade scenarios whereby the players seem to make weird moves, but those moves are actually just normal if you put yourselves in their shoes. With that being said, it’s not about explicitly saying “the players don’t see what we see on screen.” Good casters can allow the audience to appreciate the moves done by the players by walking through what the players are thinking.
After all this is an entertainment industry, and fans/audiences need to be entertained. Being able to bring excitement and joy to the viewing experience is important for the sustainability of the industry. However, just like movie preference, the audience are unlikely to share the same preference. Sometimes certain perspective is overly dominating that it hurts certain casters and indirectly the community too. Moletrap is one example. People criticised him for faking his “excitement”. In contrast, people love Day9 because his “excitement” is more real. I can understand different people have different preference, but calling people out simply because you don’t like him/her is
This is perhaps the most underrated role. If there is only a group of audience that needs casters, they are the newbies. Newbies need help to understand what the players are doing. Tasteless does an excellent job in this, as he always explicitly elaborates the basics for the newbie viewers. The so-called experienced viewers hate him for that and even made posts on reddits to let the world know how much they think he sucks. I do consider myself as an experienced viewer, and I am often critical about casters making calls that are poorly informed. However, as much as I do not enjoy or benefit from Tasteless’ back-to-basic explanation, I appreciate it objectively.
Chemistry of casters
Casters don’t often cast alone as it is pretty dry and awkward. Some casting teams are so iconic that it seems strange to see one of them casting with others. The chemistry between the casters is often neglected, as people have preference for individual casters.
Let’s use Tastosis as an example. The community is very vocal about their love for Artosis and their dislike for Tasteless. In fact, in my opinion, Tasteless plays a big role in contributing to Artosis’ status in the community. No, it’s not because Tasteless sucks and that makes Artosis seems relativelybetter. If you pay attention to the way the casting archon works, each has dominant roles to make the team works. In reference to the roles of casters I mentioned earlier, Tasteless usually takes up most of the narrative and education job, while Artosis is more prominent in the analysis and critique aspects of the job. Together they entertain the audience. Like I’ve mentioned, analysis and critique require more knowledge of the game. This subconsciously primes the community to rate Artosis more highly. It is unfair to assume Tasteless does not have the knowledge for it. As a matter of fact, Tasteless sometimes leads Artosis to analyse certain things by asking Artosis questions. “Artosis, do you think X’s build is safe against what Y is doing?” Tasteless often asks the right questions to generate a good viewing experience. That is something that I feel he is underrated, undercelebrated and definitely underappreciated. So shout out to you Tasteless!
To bring this further, you may not have noticed that Artosis plays the “Tasteless role” when he is casting with IdrA. IdrA is, in my opinion, the best analytical caster out there. He does not narrate or hype things up (it will be weird if he tries to hype things up lol). Thus, Artosis has to take up that “Tasteless role” when they are casting together. The cast wouldn’t be as smooth if both try to out match each other by snatching the analytical role.
The firework of the no.1 and no.2 Root-ranked casters
Player casters are getting more popular. When I say player casters, I do not mean Home Story Cup style whereby players take turn to cast each others’ games. I’m referring to players like ToD and Ret, who really cast tournaments. They bring progamer level knowledge to the table that push the viewing experience to the next level. There are many mind games that you need to be a player in order to spot and understand. Moreover, there are many interactions of different builds that you really need extensive game experience to know. However, sometimes player casters have the problem with delivering the message well. QXC is an example. I understand what he says 99% of the time and I cannot recall myself not agreeing to what he said once. In short, I love his analysis. However, he has the tendency to be overly abstract in certain explanation. For instance, he used hand gestures to signify certain map locations and how they can make a difference tactically. I understand him because I play and have the same thought. But I bet a casual viewer will go “wtf?” For this, I have to credit TLO, I’m impressed on how well he delivers his thoughts across.
If there is one advice I can give to the main stream casters is that they need to play the game (more). I’m sure this is a cliche. From the Root’s caster ranking, it seems obvious that there is a relationship between playing and caster ranking. This is ,of course, mainly due to the raters’ (i.e., progamers) preference of accurate analytical casting. But you cannot deny that it is extremely important for a caster to have first hand experience and knowledge. I can relate to this myself. Many of the articles I wrote here are based on extensive research and first hand playing experience. I cannot deliver certain degree of understanding if I do not play it myself. To emphasize it further, I may not even have noticed certain details if I do not play the game myself. My piece on high ground 14CC building placement in TvZ is a good example of knowledge from a player perspective. You may have noticed that most of my articles follow the five roles I mentioned. Using a recent piece on Polt’s TvP as example, I start with narration and paint the picture with a background introduction. Then, I analyse and critique on Polt’s tactical movement. If I have, I may have taught something to the readers. In fact, as a self-critique, I could have more readers if I’m more entertaining.
EDIT: added HuK’s vlog on player casters
He just posted it today, and I think it is relevant to this post.